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Scenes from the SWSC chess tournament at H-F Jan. 24

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The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author. 


Opportunities like this are like shooting stars. Your see them for an instant and then they disappear into the night.

Tom Houlihan

There I was, minding my own business, driving to the store. Then, passing the Homewood-Flossmoor Ice Arena, I saw it.

The electric sign announced a couple of job openings at the rink. One for a skating instructor. And the other for — are you ready? — a Zamboni driver.

It reminded me of those old movies where they show the sun poking through black-and-white clouds and someone starts singing “Ave Maria.” Deep down inside, I heard a voice that said, “Tom, this is it. This is what you’ve been waiting for.”

Let me put it this way. When I was a young man, I absolutely had to have a little English sports car. So I got one, used, and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. It broke down every couple of weeks and you had send to England for parts. It wouldn’t start in below-freezing weather. It did not make me more attractive to young women.

Believe me, I learned my lesson. No more sports cars. But a Zamboni? That would be as about as cool  — literally and figuratively– as it gets these days. Plus, you probably don’t have to send to England for parts.

I picture myself tooling around the ice rink at a steady three or four miles an hour. I’ll wave to  little kids and flash a smile at the pretty girls. I am sure that scores of skaters will ask to have selfies taken with me and my machine, which I’ll nickname “Big Z.” When strangers ask me what I do, I’ll reply with a steely gaze and my best Clint Eastwood whisper. “Zamboni,” I’ll say.

Once a year, I might get to go to a convention of other Zamboni drivers. We’ll have Zamboni races and talk shop. We’ll brag about our rigs and speculate on slick ice-cleaning exercises with our 10,000 pound machines, progressing from simple figure eight patterns to sophisticated Olympic-level skating moves.

I got even more excited when I read the job description posted by the H-F Park District.

“This individual will be trained thoroughly on the operation and maintenance of the Zamboni Ice Resurfacer which is a vital skill needed to achieve success at this position,” it says. Perfect. I like to think that I’m all about vital skills. I look forward to years of productive ice resurfacing and making the rink safe for skaters young and old.

The job also carries some maintenance responsibilities that are referred to as “general cleaning.” No problem with that. When I was in college, I briefly worked at a floor buffing gig. I have decades of experience scrubbing floors, windows, bathrooms — you name it and I’ll clean it.

I’d also have to work nights, including on weekends. My wife Patty might not like the idea of me being gone at night. But she’d soon realize that life-changing, Zamboni-related opportunities hardly ever come knocking. When they do, you’ve got to be ready to report for duty.

Besides, she can come to the ice rink and watch me drive Big Z. I’ll flash her a smile, too.

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