I can't believe it's this close.
Those were the words I texted to my wife as I stood between the subway station and Barclays Center looking around at the mass of blue and orange (and red and black) that had descended upon downtown Brooklyn that evening like an invasion from another dimension.
The signs pointing the way to Barclays in the Atlantic Avenue subway station lead to the high staircase and escalator that lets out onto the street above. I took the first step and looked up and saw the giant warped ring and light blue Barclays logo right at the top. Not one minute after getting off the train (that itself only left the station under my office about 25 minutes earlier), I was standing right in front of the Islanders' new home.
Well, it's not technically theirs yet. The Islanders don't move into Barclays full time until next October. And on Friday night, the whole scene seemed like a giant open house - every fan was either looking around and seeing if they liked the place or showing the new people around and selling them on cool little features or pointing out flaws.
The evening was different than the hundreds of games I have seen at Nassau Coliseum. That old barn has the tired feel of a close relative's house. There might be some new items in there once in a while, but it remains generally unchanged from when you were a kid. The smell is familiar, the feel of the seats is familiar, the sounds are familiar, you know where the cheap parking is and the fastest way out the door after years of experimentation. At the Coliseum, you're not taking as much in because you already took it in 15 years ago.
My Lighthouse Hockey friends Mike, Chris, Eric and I looped Barclays Center once and Mike and I took another stroll around between the second and third periods. We noted the many food options, rest rooms, standing areas, gift shops and other assorted features that set it apart from Nassau Coliseum. Mike had been there a few times before and was my tour guide throughout the evening. Before long, I was using the arena's free Wi-Fi, downloading its official app and looking at views from various seats. (Next time, I'll have to order food through the app and pick it up from an express window, just to say I did it.)
I wanted to see the infamous obstructed seats over the end goal. I looked around at the upper deck to see if it really was a sheer drop off a cliff like I've heard it is. Throughout the game, I periodically looked up at the off-center scoreboard, which for some critics renders the entire venue invalid for hockey. I saw the new seats underneath the obstructed end seats and wondered how the game would look from down there.
But I still don't feel like I saw enough. Not in the same way I've seen the weird out-of-the-way bits of the Coliseum. It might be years before I feel I've seen those places at Barclays, if I get a chance to at all.
There is no shortage of pictures and tales from the obstructed views and uncomfortable seats. The debates will no doubt escalate as the move gets closer. There's a good chance Barclays Center will never be good enough in the eyes of a large contingent of Islanders fans.
Barclays is in every way a modern arena, and that carries both positive and negative connotations. It's large and open and unusually sterile for a place that sees almost 18,000 people most nights a year. It has a laundry list of amenities you never thought of and some you won't ever use. It lacks the "character" - i.e. that oddball, lived-in quality - of the Coliseum.
In other words, I felt like a house guest. Not an unwelcome one - the Barclays people have been nothing but accommodating to Islanders fans, from big shot Brett Yormark all the way on down to the guys selling Cracker Jacks in the stands - but a guest nonetheless. I spent a lot of the time looking around and trying to remember as much as I could as if I was going to paint a picture for someone later.
I enjoyed the overall experience (and, of course, a win is a win, even if it's just a preseason shootout victory) and already can't wait to go back. But before you can move into a new house, you've got to clear out of your old one.
The Islanders' last year at Nassau Coliseum is a dicey issue that divides fans down many different lines. It's tied up in generations and history and priorities and lifestyles and fears. The emotions are only going to increase as the season progresses regardless of how the Islanders perform in the actual games. Suddenly, an April game against Columbus, which would normally be forgotten before it was even played, becomes an incredibly hot ticket.
I'll be attending a game a month this season at the Coliseum and writing a series of stream of consciousness articles about the games and the people I'm with and anything else that pops into my head related to that game or (probably, most likely) a game or games that came before it. But while I want to say goodbye to the Coliseum in a meaningful way, it doesn't mean I'm avoiding diving into the future.
I won't apologize for being excited about Barclays Center and I won't feel guilty about wanting to see my team finally get the long overdue fresh coat of paint that it has so desperately needed. Complaints about convenient mass transit, unfamiliar neighborhoods, the Feng Shui of Jumbotrons and where corporate entities "belong" are most likely going to be met by eye rolls and exasperation. After decades of asking, the question of "where are the Islanders going to play next year" has been answered. Brooklyn. Full stop.
There are real issues with both buildings that have lots of people pissed off, and the move is going to cause a mass examination and upheaval of traditions, conveniences and security blankets that will suddenly not be there any more. I think change is good.
And I can't believe it's this close.