From time to time, newspaper writers are invited to do cool stuff.
I have driven a dragster, a Metro bus and a locomotive.
I have floored two of the fastest production cars on the planet -- the Ford GT and the Porsche Carrera GT.
Once I even got to fly the Goodyear blimp.
Seriously! The blimp!
I thought I was just going to get a ride, but once we got to cruising altitude, the pilot invited me to take over.
Which blimp? Well, I'd rather not say.
OK, OK. It was the one that crashed in Portage County. But I didn't have anything to do with that. At least I don't think so. Heck, the $5 million Spirit of Akron didn't meet its maker until 11 months after I smacked around its joystick.
But we digress.
The point is: I'm no longer easily impressed. Earlier this month, however, I was more impressed than a little kid on Christmas morning.
In fact, my professional life is now complete. Somebody threw me the keys to the coolest, most sought-after ride since the invention of the wheel.
Need I even write the word? Of course I'm talking about the Zamboni! What else?
Hipper than LeBron. More lovable than Snoopy at Christmastime. Part of more male fantasies than Jennifer Aniston.
Just ask Rich Mest, who has spent the last 25 years driving various Zambonis around the Kent State Ice Arena. He hasn't met a soul who, when informed of his job, hasn't expressed a burning desire to run those studded Goodyear tires over a vast expanse of ice.
"Everybody knows what it is," he says. "You say 'Zamboni' and they know."
Just why, exactly, is this thing so cool? Good question.
It certainly isn't the speed, because these beasts top out at about 8 mph.
Maybe it's the connection to the breathtaking sport of curling. Yeah, right.
I'm thinking it's the name. First of all, you've gotta love anything that starts with a "Z" (with the possible exception of Zack and Zaffino). And the "zam" part of Zamboni is kinda like "zoom." And the "boni" part rhymes with Mony Mony.
It's just fun to say. Go ahead. Say it out loud. Zamboni!
And how can you not love the fact that it's named after the guy who invented it in 1949? First name: Frank. Destiny: immortality.
Still, there's something else at work here, too. Otherwise, people would be pining to drive Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
Maybe it's a little like the first few times you cut the grass as a kid: You were taking all those unruly blades of various sizes and lopping them off into one smooth blanket of green, single-handedly bringing order to chaos.
With the Zamboni, the finished product is even more glamorous because you're not only scraping away the imperfections but also laying down a new, sparkling, pristine layer of liquid glass.
The Kent Zamboni is typical: a gasoline-powered box retailing for $65,000. Some use propane, and the most expensive ones are electric. But they all do the same thing: shave off the ugly ice and lay down a thin film of water that quickly turns into pretty ice.
As usual, there's more to Zamboni-driving than meets the eye. My machine had one lever to drop down the shaver (a "conditioner," in Zamboni parlance) . . . another lever to start the augur that pulls the shaved-off ice toward the center of the machine . . . another lever for the augur that lifts the shaved-off ice into a storage tank . . . two handles to control the flow of water . . . a button that swings out the "board brush" . . . and a couple of other levers and buttons that I never quite figured out.
But at least I didn't crash into the wall, like one of the professionals did the first time the ice was cleaned after the installation of new boards.
Actually, we Zamboni drivers refer to the cleaning process as "cutting" the ice.
Which is exactly the kind of inside information that makes your 25-cent investment look pretty darn good right now, doesn't it?