First Date. Last Night.

“I’m pleased and very scared to be here.”
-Penny Pingleton, Hairspray

First dates are scary. You never know how things are going to go. You hope for the best, brace for the worst, try to keep an open mind, and do everything you can to make a good first impression while hoping the other person does the same. That gamut of emotion is almost exactly how I felt as I walked into Rocket Ice Arena last night to sub in for my first game ever with the Windy City Curling Club.

Flashback: I’ve only been curling for the past three months, and have done so only at two different places around Lake Michigan, neither of them being Windy City Curling. All of the previous clubs I’ve been to I found online, so I kind of felt like my search for a curling club home has been like an adventure in online dating. Google searching led me to my start in Kalamazoo, Michigan. And while the Kalamazoo Curling Club was incredible and had a great group of passionate and dedicated members, a two-hour one-way drive was a bit too far for me to maintain, sadly.

From there I transitioned over to South Bend, Indiana to curl with some of my friends at Notre Dame. Although this was a much better drive, and curling with your pals is always a heck of a lot of fun, the league structure there is more akin to a collegiate style than a traditional club.  It’s weird how much broomstacking really does make the difference in this sport.

The major positive thing about Notre Dame for me was simply being cast in the role of skip for my team. You see, without that club feel to the league, there weren’t any experienced veterans to really help coach us newbies. I had to do a lot of self-teaching about this crazy rock throwing sport of ours by scouring the internet, and even then, everything I found and learned was untested game theory. In my searching, however, I found a fantastic community and resource for help on (r/curling, for those of you familiar with it). It was there in a discussion on league fees that I casually mentioned being close-ish to the Chicago Chicago Club, but the drive was still more than an hour away.

Thinking nothing more of it, a week later I received notification that someone had replied to my comment. This reply simply said the following:

“If you’re anywhere near Bolingbrook, we’d love to have you at Windy City Curling!”

After a quick click on the link, some light reading that turned into reading the entire website, hoping over to the Facebook page and liking it, and – ultimately- a few excited cartwheels later, I began emailing back-and-forth with Matt Galas. It was his friendly and helpful replies to my MANY questions about WCCC (and again – to Matt – sorry for flooding your inbox, dude) that convinced me to give this new club a try. Third club’s the charm, right?

Flash forward: So there I was at 8:30 p.m. on a drizzling Thursday night, less than an hour from home (the closest club I’ve ever found to me), sitting in the parking lot of Rocket Ice Arena, and downright honest-to-God nervous. Earlier in the day, I couldn’t type fast enough to reply to the email I received asking if anyone wanted to sub in for a team, but now that I was actually at the arena, all those dubious and anxiety-creating questions started to creep into my mind. Anyone who has ever joined a new social group of people should know them by heart: “What if I’m terrible at this? What if I embarrass myself? What if no one there likes me?” etc.

But you know what? It took less than an awkward, “Hello, I’m Eric and I think I’m subbing in for one of your teams tonight…?” to have all of those anxieties and fears allayed. From the moment I met Matt (finally in-person!), some other leaders of WCCC (I’m terrible with names, or else I’d give each and every one of you a personal shout-out), and my team for the night, I don’t believe I ever once stopped grinning like an idiot. Every single person at the WCCC that night was incredibly warm and friendly to talk to.

As we waited to take to the ice, I got to know some new faces over a really fun curling-like table top board game called Crokinole. Once we set up the rink and took to the ice, most of the guys put on their best ‘game’ faces, but even those couldn’t completely mask their friendly demeanor. They were all such a blast to play with. I couldn’t believe it when our game was over, it flew by so fast. “Wait, we’re done?” I believe I asked with an evident tinge of sadness.

I looked at the clock on my cell phone: 11:30p.m. Three awesome hours had flown by in the blink of an eye. I was stunned. Post-game conversations quickly followed with talk of shots made and missed, good ends and bad ends, and even talk of where and how to get a kickin’ pair of curling shoes for the newly initiated and addicted (Debbie McCormick at Goldline Curling!).

When I got back to my car, I finally allowed my stupid grin to turn into a full-blown smile. If this is what subbing-in with the Windy City Curling club is like the first time out, I cannot wait until the end of May to see what this summer’s ‘D’ league has in store. (Seriously – I can’t. If any of you need a sub until then, call or email me.) For those of you I’ll be playing with then, see you on the ice! And for those of you reading this that I won’t – change it so that I will. You gotta try this. 🙂

Eric is a guest blogger with a penchant for verbose analogies, musical theater metaphors, long-winded talks on game theory, and geeking out in general.