Well, guys, I finally got my visa, so I decided it was high time to get some planning done. I want to set up a series of get-togethers during those weeks I'm traveling through the Big Scary Neighbor of the North (or at the very least one such meeting) so I can get to know some of the people that make Pounding the Rock the cesspool of depravity and hedonism it's become.
Just in case you haven't read about it, I've decided to travel through the US (from Argentina, where the women are prettier and FANGIO EATS YOU ALIVE) to watch my dear Spurs live for the first time in my life. I have as much fun as any of you sharing the game threads with the PTRers, but I'd love to be able to see the game and our Big Three with my own eyes at least once. And since there haven't been any dams in Texas hat have required my attention, I decided to save some money and put my vacations to good use.
In a previous post the kind folks of PTR gave me a lot of suggestions as to what to do, when to do it and how to do it, trying to save money (a salary paid in Argentinian pesos makes for a tight budget), visit interesting places and generally enjoy myself. I've studied the information and I'm finally ready to regurgitate my decisions. I'm still open to suggestions, though, so you're more than welcome to help me plan a successful, dream trip.
About that visa
It wasn't the first time I visited the US Embassy in Buenos Aires - when I was in high school I'd gone to get some information on -I think- the Atlanta Olympics. Back then it had been an experience that made an impression: two burly marines with a tenuous grasp of Castillian had gone through my things and let me through into the embassy proper. I was 13 at the time, and the security seemed something out of a wild mix of Mad Max, GI Joe and Blade Runner. But apparently the economic crisis is far-reaching.
Instead of imposing marines, local duded decked in private security uniforms greeted me. And when the taxi that took me to the embassy failed to acknowledge their frantic whistles and parked in front of the embassy until he finished meticulously counting my change, and that prompted no other response than more whistling... well, color me disappointed. Thought I have to admit I was kind of impressed when they told me I had headphones hidden deep in my backpack, thus thwarting my insidious plan of listening to illegal MP3s in USAian soil.
I had about a zillion papers and documents ready for my interviewer. They had told getting your first visa was difficult, especially if you didn't have any properties on your name. Considering I still live with my parents, that was a bit difficult. So I armed myself as best as I could, even bothering Wayne, Bell and SiMA for their personal information so they could vouch I wasn't trying to move to BurgerLand permanently. They took my fingerprints electronically and then I waited for about 45 minutes, playing it cool and watching how a couple of guys were bounced for this or that reason. Most made it through, however, which put me at east, and finally a heavyset blond guy was ready to meet me. His Castillian was nearly as bad as my English, but he greeted me professionally and after asking me for my name he started with the hardcore questions: "What do you do?" "Civil Engineer". "Where do you work?" "A company called [edited because Google is scary]". "Do you have any salary receipts?" "Yeah, here." Shuffling of papers, one moment, two, and then: "Okay, your visa's approved."
...That's it? I felt somewhat insulted, truth be told. Am I that safe? Maybe I should've checked on the "yes" column when they asked me whether I had ever been charged with terrorism. I can only imagine that looking like the Boss has its benefits.
Just so you know what the guidelines are, in order of importance:
- Take in as much of the Spurs and the game of NBA basketball as possible.
- Watch Manu play, and hopefully take a photo with him. I'll be writing a post soon at his forum, asking him how I could approach him during the trip, so wish me luck. Hopefully he won't destroy me again - but just in case I don't plan to link you.
- Watch Tim and Tony play, get photos, signatures, matching Merlin tattoos and rap albums.
- Ask Pop if he realizes he scares the piss out of sports journalists.
- Get to know as many PTRers as possible, take embarrassing photos and blackmail them.
- Sightsee, experience the natural wonders and cultural landmarks of the cities and states I visit.
- Buy books I can't find here.
I can't think of anything else right now, but I'll be adding to this list in the future.
It hasn't changed much, except for me cutting down a couple of games to keep a realistic schedule. Let's see:
- Mon, Jan 25 vs Chicago
- Wed, Jan 27 vs Atlanta
- Fri, Jan 29 vs Memphis
- Sun, Jan 31 vs Denver
Wed, Feb 3 at Sacramento
- Thu, Feb 4 at Portland
Sat, Feb 6 at Los Angeles Clippers
- Mon, Feb 8 at Los Angeles Lakers
- Thu, Feb 11 at Denver
- Sun, Feb 14 - All Star Game in Dallas, Texas
So I will still attend to the last four home games before the rodeo trip, and then skip Sacramento to enjoy the far superior (by popular consensus) Portland. Back to back games in cities more than 200 kilometers apart is an unrealistic goal for the common tourist, and I don't think the Spurs will let me hop onto their plane. And that's besides the fact that people kept telling me how butt ugly Sacramento was. The Clippers game was also scratched for two reasons: first I prefer to save my money for the real Los Angeles team, and second I want to use those 4 days between the Portland game and the Lakers game to visit San Francisco.
I'd love to finish my trip at the ASG - I think it would be an incredible way to cap it, even though technically I don't have the time for it. You see, I only have three weeks of vacation, so I should be back on Monday. Consider it's a 11-hour flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires, that's not very likely. ...Unless I lie. I plan to blame the airline for the unexpected delay, and buy tickets for a plane leaving during the early morning. Hopefully I can make it here by mid-evening, phone my boss and explain what happened, and then show up there on Tuesday, with gifts. Smooth does it.
But don't tell my boss.
Of course, that depends on me finding tickets for ASG. janieannie told me that the new Cowboys stadium where the ASG will be held holds 80,000 people (for comparison's sake, the AT&T Center holds a little over 18,000), so there are no more "good" seats available (and they started at $350, so it would've been difficult to justify them with my conscience). An option is to buy a pass for the other ASW activities, like the dunk contest and the skills challenge, and skip the game itself. What do you think?
Let's take a look at the updated merry-go-round. In red the legs I'll be flying by plane, in violet my car-toting venture into the cold mountains:
- I start with a whole week at San Antonio and, I imagine, Austin. Why Austin? Because that's where our Overload WVATS lives, and he's kind of stuck with me. Let this be a lesson for those of you kids who dream of owning a blog someday. Four home games against mediocre-to-good teams should make for a serviceable amount of memories of the AT&T I will cherish for years to come. I might even catch a glimpse of the Silver Dancers, if Wayne lets me.
(Cost of round trip ticket from Buenos Aires to Dallas = $1550, with one stop via AA. Add $60 to get to San Antonio.)
- Then it's time to travel all the way to Portland, crossing about half of your ginormous country. Should be fun. The only option here is traveling by plane, hopefully steering clear of Sacramento.
(Cost of ticket from SA to Portland ranges from $165 via Frontier to $100 via Southwest, but hopefully I'll find cheaper tickets closer to the date.)
- The Portland game will come and go, and then it'll be time for my side trip to The Rock. olf, our resident Artestmeister, suggested amtrack for this leg of the trip. I checked, and it costs exactly $82, and unfortunately there are no overnight trains. I'd be using nearly a whole day to get there - and honestly, 19 hours on board of a train isn't my idea of a good time, no matter how picturesque the countryside can get. The alternative is once again catching a plane: Southwest says it's $130 if I buy a "wanna get away" ticket (5 hours, 1 stop), and that sounds like something I want to do. Meanwhile, the better airlines tell me it's $280, nonstop, and less than two hours... Hm.
- olf and Hipuks will be waiting for me when I arrive at Los Angeles, waving their arms with enthusiasm, perhaps holding a sign that reads "Latin_D". So cute, those two. Unfortunately, olf told me that amtrack wasn't an option because it was likely to get me stuck on a bus for part of the trip.
(Cost of a one-way plane ticket from San Francisco to Los Angeles? $140 to $50 via Southwest, and hopefully someday I'll understand exactly what the "wanna get away" tickets imply. Surprisingly, the big airlines like AA only charge $60 for this one.)
- And now it gets downright frightening. I would love to drive from LA to Denver - I have some time, a couple of free days, and it'd let me visit Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, and know at least part of the country outside the cities. olf and Tim recommended but coming up through New Mexico, because driving from the west that time of the year could take a long time due to the weather.
Question for you good folks: did I mark the Gran Canyon properly? I'd like to visit it, but apparently the park itself is humongous. Is it necessary to go via Utah instead?
Renting a car would be a nice change of pace, too - but an expensive one. HERZ (probably not the cheapest option available) tells me it costs about $110 per day, and Google Maps says it's about a 23-hour marathon. I could probably get to Denver in two days, two days and a half, but three days would be better. It'd let me stay for a day in Las Vegas, and a few hours at the Gran Canyon taking photos and trying to produce an echo by shouting obscenities in Spanish at the top of my lungs. That's another $330 for me, plus... what? $100 for gas? More? Maybe I could make up some of that by sleeping on the car - but only if it doesn't get me jailed for vagrancy.
(Cost of a plane ticket = $100.)
- Denver to Dallas. And by then I will probably be incredibly tired of planes, and secretly hate the stewardess who's explaining where the goddamned exists are, and what we're supposed to do in case the plane crashes into the Rockies and we're left stranded for months, fighting the cold and hunger. (Answer: when all else fails, eat the dead.)
(Cost, according to Frontier = $130)
That brings us to a grand total of about... $2200.
Daaaamn. Guess I don't need to see the Gran Canyon that badly.
Okay, this is where I really want your input. When do think they should be held? I'm sure Wayne has ideas of his own - he told me he wanted to have a meeting at the Austin Toros, which would be pretty cool. But I still want you guys to join me for the San Antonio games at lease, show me the ropes as they say. I'm open to any and all ideas, so please speak your mind.
So far, only these people confirmed their attendance:
- San Antonio: BlaseE, LionZion, Big50, Wayne, Bell. I think that's it. I'm going to go ahead and count tomasito and jolly, because if they drag their asses to San Antonio sometime during that week, I'm going to find them and hunt them down.
- Portland: VWolf was going to be there to show me the Rose Garden (I promise that's not an euphemism), but he hasn't said much lately. Where are you, man?
- Los Angeles: An immigrant and a Lakers fan are there, and I hope to meet them both. I promise to take a photo of Hipuks when he's being whipped by his girlfriend, and of olf when the Lakers receive an old-fashioned 20-point Texan asskicking.
- Denver: SiMA is the lord of Tattoo City, and honestly, I don't know what to expect. But he has enticed me with a cornucopia of cool activities, so it might just be worth it to buy that LA-Denver ticket and get there fast.
- Dallas: Wayne will be waiting for me there, and we shall be reunited for two days. While he's doing his journalist thing I'll focus on Guy Dupuy slamming it down after jumping over BronBron and Dwight.
If you're around and available, let me know. I won't know anyone in those towns, so it's always nice to meet someone to chat. Maybe we could even go together to the games - even though I doubt many of you will want to pay for the tickets I'm planning on buying at Portland and Los Angeles, because...
This is the other item that could complete the destruction of my hard-earned savings: NBA tickets aren't cheap, and I'm planning on watching 4 home games, 3 more on the road and the All-Star Game. Fortunately, it seems that I might be able to get a discount (or even some free tickets!) for the games at San Antonio - which should save me some money I'll use on buying a Manu jersey to annoy the Lakers fans.
Just in case that's a pipe dream, the AT&T Center tells me that semi-okay seats are about $125, which strikes me as a bit on the expensive side of I-won't-be-able-to-swing-that. Hirschof said that the mid-court "nose bleed" seats are some of the best at the AT&T center, though, and those are only $50. I'm not sure what to do - on the one hand I don't have so much money, and on the other I'm traveling half-way across the world to watch those games. I want to be up close, see their expressions and experience a whole new depth of the games. What do you people think?
In Denver SiMA told me that he "had it covered". I was too scared to ask how exactly, so for the meantime I'll just thank him and move on. Portland and Los Angeles is where I plan to splurge: both are elite teams, and these games should be the best ones I'll have the opportunity to watch throughout my trip. The best seats at Portland for that game cost $160, and I'll be buying one soon - just in case. The courtside seats at Los Angeles are only affordable to celebrities and Arab sheiks (at over $3000 each), but relatively good seats can be had for $275. It depends on how much money I will have spent up to that point, but if all else fails I'll get the $195 seats. Or the $20 seats. As I said, it depends.
Regarding the ASG, whatever tickets are left might not be worth the money, as I mentioned above. I'll have to look into ASW packages, but for now I'm not as excited as I used to be.
All in all I could be spending about $800, which means that I'll have to subsist on McDonald's and rainwater.
It's not all basketball in life, despite how much time we waste in this blog. These will be my only vacations of the year, so in between games I want to have as much fun as possible. That's why I asked for recommendations as to what to do in each city I visited, and you were kind enough to give your opinions. Let's see:
- San Antonio
Tim suggested hitting downtown, which is a given - I need to see what that Riverwalk looks like. Then the Alamo, and the Tower of the Americas. Then he talked about Tex-mex food, but spicy food doesn't sit well with me so we'll see. Finally the mentioned the old Spanish missions... I've seen the like of those here, but it might be interesting.
Spurs20 has a bunch of recommendations: At downtown he repeated Tim's suggestions and added Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum - which was quickly shot down by SiMA and tomasito. They aren't fans of Ripley's, no sir. He also mentioned a couple of theme parks, a zoo, a mall and a Japanese Tea Garden. They're all fine, I'm sure, but I don't think they're the kind of stuff I absolutely can't miss when I'm in a new country.
Close to San Antonio are Austin, which I'm sure I'll visit at one point, and an hour to the north is Hill Country. If the weather is agreeably, I might drag by butt all the way there, because it looks like it's worth it.
Portland was a fan-favorite, particularly the Columbia River Gorge. olf also mentioned the Bonneville Dam, which must be an spectacle by itself, but honestly I see enough dams at work. I don't need to go looking for more semi-interesting dams in my vacations.
I don't mind hiking a bit, I really don't, but in Winter it might inhospitable. I'll look into alternative programs, and hopefully find interesting stuff to do in the city. In our previous post no one suggested any famous museums: are there any in the cities I'm visiting? I should know this stuff - it's probably a strong googling away.
I haven't done my homework here, but I'm sure just walking through San Francisco should be a treat. There's a certain bridge I won't miss for anything, a jail that I want to see with my own eyes, pier 39 (the classic tourist trap), and of course Chinatown. And I won't leave the city before riding one of those cable cars... or however they are called. I'm such a rebel.
I'd love to visit Yosemite park, too (pictured above), but I'm not sure I have the time. When I get to San Francisco I'll try to find local tours, or something like that that comes and goes within the day.
- Los Angeles
The beach, the people, and olf said something about a fighter jet museum of some sort. Is Hollywood worth visiting? Whatever. If I have time I'll just do the boring touristy thing and visit J. Paul Getty Center, the Griffith Observatory, Disneyland, Universal Studios, Venice Beach, Queen Mary, Sunset Boulevard, etc. etc.
Denver: we go back to SiMA once again. He told me he could take me to the Royal Gorge bridge, which should be very cool, and also somewhere else that would be amazing but I'm not sure I can talk about. If I do go there I'll show you the pictures. ...If they let me take pictures, that is. Finally, it might be feasible to go to Denver by plane and then use one of the days between games to travel back to the Canyon, but I'll need SiMA's ruling on this.
I'm tired - Monday 12th is a holiday in Argentina, so in a couple of hours I'm traveling to visit my family. Fitting, eh? As I said above, I welcome each and every comment and suggestions you have for me, so drop me a line.