The day I gave my notice at Mellon Arena and announced I was moving to Los Angeles was the day they were changing out the top of the boards so they could install new rails to accommodate the league-mandated netting around the ice. Chris the retail warehouse manager (who I had a “trying” relationship with at best, although I always really liked him and I don’t think I have ever met anyone else with his outstanding work ethic and who loved his job as much as he did no matter how many 16-20 hour days he pulled), made sure to grab me of piece of discarded hardware for me so I could always have a piece of the arena with me no matter where I ended up. On my actual last day two months later, my boss gave me a framed photo of Mellon Arena, an item which had been a running joke between us because a couple of the Aramark Vice-Presidents had been asking for quite some time why no one had these available for sale anywhere in the city, so she had one made especially for my departure from the arena family.
It is hard to pick out a favorite hockey memory at the arena, although I do have really fond memories of the ’96 playoffs when my then boyfriend spent way too much on tickets so we could see the Pens take out the Caps and losing to the Panthers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, standing and applauding even as they lost. My high school years were spent searching the lower bowl — either on the TV broadcast or while at the arena — for one of our favorite history teachers to see how hot his date was for that night’s game. He was very hip, very single, was also a golf pro, and looked like a young Alec Baldwin. The boys all wanted to be him and all the girls had a crush on him. Did I mention he had a motorcycle to go with those season tickets? He made hockey and hanging out at the arena seem that much cooler.
One year my best friend Craig, (who I met on the first day of third grade when my family first moved to Pittsburgh), took me to a game on my birthday and we had seats one row behind the goal on the visitor’s side, a section neither one of us had ever sat in before. We spent the game dodging every puck that was shot our way, comically ducking as fast as we could and later joking about how much our abs hurt from all the crunching and laughing, acting like we watching the game at home, because in many ways, we were.
I have probably gone to just as many concerts as I have hockey games at the Civic-then-Mellon Arena and each time we would have floor seats, we would try to figure out where on the ice we would be if there was a game happening instead of, oh, say the ’91 “Roll the Bones” tour. You were sharing a space where Mario, Jags, Ronnie, Stevens, and Barrasso played.
But I am not sad about the last regular season game at Mellon Arena. It was a mess when I left there eight years ago and I cannot imagine it’s in any better shape now. The building engineers would tell stories about what a struggle it was to close the roof the last time they opened it. The wiring was a mess. There were I believe only two grills available for food vendors on the concourse, so your options for snacks were always just nachos and nachos. (Although I always got them, asking for them to mix the salsa and the cheese sauce instead of the separate servings.) The incline on the upper balcony seats scared me to death.
It’s time for new home. New superstars. New memories. For a city that keeps growing and changing, and yet still feels the same.
Let’s go Pens.