This is the last one. Promise.
More Rambling Disclaimers
I wanted to finish before our minds were full of SpursSpursSpurs, and before I forgot all the details of the trip. Too late on both accounts. Just yesterday I saw a team full of rookies and old farts lose to a team full of role players and almost-stars. Tonight they face Miami's Frankenstein monster, in one of those games that bring out the inner 4-year-old brat in us. The next few weeks will find us remembering why the old farts have already made Spurs history, cheering for the new guys that put the ball through the hoop more often, and then seeing them leave to the Toros or other lesser teams because (Popovich hat) they really aren't that good, sorry. It's a process we are familiar with, one I personally use to ease my way back into rabid fandom. I want this post to be a goodbye to the old season, closure. Because the season's about to start, didn't you know?
So anyway. I finished the last part on a tearful goobye to Jason "Manuwar" Wolfe and Jon "Pink Lantern" Jordan. I'm going to skip the "orange" security alert in Los Angeles Airport and the traumatic experience of losing my nail clipper, friend of the family and survivor of dozens of security checkpoints, at the hands of an overzealous officer that recognized the tremendous potential danger of the 2 inch long file cleverly hidden in it. There might have been a fat, round tear in the corner of my right eye as I boarded. Hard to tell.
And then, Vegas.
What Happens In Vegas - Nothing Happens In Vegas
There's nothing sadder than a city that does nothing to escape its stereotypes. I hadn't even left the airport and my senses had already been assaulted by too many slot machines and large ads for flashy shows in famous casinos, don't leave Vegas without seeing Mr. X dance, sing and go 12 rounds with Tyson. I thought about how nice it would be to watch Penn and Teller live while I waited for my suitcase to be loaded into the merry-go-round, and I thought I saw Teller wink at me from the humongous sign hanging from the ceiling.
Back when I still listened to him, SiMA suggested not to drive all the way from Vegas to Denver. The plan then evolved: I'd drive to the Grand Canyon and back, and then fly from Vegas to Denver, straight to SiMA's hut in the woods. I didn't have an international driving license, but that didn't stop a robot-woman from mechanically giving me the keys to a boring maroon car. "Uh. So how do you drive an automatic?" "You don't know?" "No." "Oh." It was just as easy as advertised, and quite comfortable once you got used to it. Of course, the unexpected jerks when the car changed gears on its own were unnerving at first and annoying later on, and I still prefer to feeling of total control a stick gives you, but it was nice for a change.
I asked for directions and left straight for the Grand Canyon. I never even got close to the city, if you're wondering. I saw the glass pyramid (better than the original!) in the distance, and a multitude of large buildings that appealed to the kitsch engineer in me, but a larger prize was waiting for me ahead. You see, for those of you that don't know, I'm a junior dam engineer, and right between Vegas and the Canyon is one of the meccas of dams: the Hoover dam, the first large massive concrete dam that didn't end in failure. I stopped a couple of times on my way to take pictures of the overcast sky and the reddish god-forsaken desert, proving that tourism turns a normal person into a photo-obsessed dumbass, but didn't see anything particularly aesthetically-pleasing until I reached the Hoover dam reservoir. In your face, Greenpeace!
Hoover dam is a what we call a gravity arch dam: sleek and curved against the water it holds, yet strong looking and heavy beyond what physics demands. Fittingly enough, they were building a big arch bridge right next to the dam - two large modern structures based on the basic Roman arch that shaped the ancient world. I looked around, secretly looking for opportunities to put the hundreds of hours of study to good use by answering someone's question, or at least noticing something really cool that the average Joe couldn't possibly notice. And some of that happened, I guess, but it was all so unexciting that I suddenly realized just how boring engineering can be sometimes. I should've been an astronaut. Or a a serpent charmer. Or a traveling magician. Or a genius, cynical, cantankerous, misanthropic diagnostician/detective who has a drug problem and exactly one faithful friend (Dr House/Sherlock Holmes, I mean).
Regardless of the useless nature of my hard-earned knowledge, I proceeded through the dam museum with gusto. They had a large, stylized sculpture of an angel with its (what's the gender of angels, by the way?) wings reaching skywards; they had a exhibit of photos, models and tools from the construction years; there were signs asking people to "report suspicious activity", with a drawing of a nefarious-looking spy-type wearing a black hat; there was a life-sized model of a generator you could walk through, and the photos I took are now a very important part of the Hydropower class at my college, although unfortunately none of the young delinquents in it appreciates them; there was a short visit where a retired engineer took us to the edge of the powerhouse and one of the outlets, but unfortunately there wasn't time for questions; we saw a mysterious fallout shelter deep in the bowels of the structure, where I imagine Magatron is secretly stored; there was even a list of how much (little) they paid workers at the dam site, workers like the "high scalers", poor people they talked into removing rocks from the canyon wall while suspended from the rim, using a jackhammer. And since I'm aware of how boring this list is, I'll just mention what they called the dam site in their lingo: the Glory Hole.
Moving on. The rest of the trip to the Grand Canyon was pedestrian. At some point I was feeling sleepy, so I stopped in the first store I came across looking for some coffee-induced energy, right in the middle of Nowhereville. There weren't any cars parked in the large parking lot. The front door was closed, but the sign in it said "open". I pushed it open, and saw no one in the long shop. My "hello" made a woman come out of a side room. "No, we don't have any coffee." I must've looked sad, because she offered me... some mate. Mate? Eh? She explained that she had been drinking some mate when I came in, and explained that it was a South American drink that a friend had introduced her to. Really, lady? What are the odds?
I was driving down I-40, about to take the exit that would take me to the state route that leads to the Grand Canyon National Park, when it started raining. And then, a rainbow, right in front of me. I took it as a sure sign that Mother Nature approved of my visit to one of her wonders. 10 minutes later, it started snowing heavily, and by the time I found the entrance to the park it was too dark to do much but nearly get lost and die a cold, lonely death in the dreary forest. It was at that point when I started to suspect that the rainbow had been a warning.
The inner hot pool in my hotel was a small haven that night. I decided to closely study the map before trying the park's labyrinthine roads again.
Of Canyons and Assholes
I had a plan that morning: to see as much of the Grand Canyon as possible in the three hours I had before I was forced to drive back at full speed to Las Vegas. There was snow everywhere: snow gathered outside my room's door, snow covered my car, snow cluttered the roads, snow on top of snow snow snowsnowsnowsnoooow. The morning was overcast, but the white clouds suggested that the sun was right there. "Not a good day to visit the Canyon", the waitress told me. I made my way to the closest observation point with a heavy heart: was my visit to this wonderful place going to be a fiasco? I got out of my car, walked up to the edge of the cliff, and took this picture:
I quickly teamed up with a French tourist in a symbiotic photographic relationship, and we kind of dared each other to stand closer and closer to the edge in our different flavors of broken English. Thankfully, we were both cowards, so no one was hurt. Low clouds ruined a couple of the observation points for me, but most were just as beautiful as advertised. Time was running out, so I decided to start driving towards the exit of the park. The roads were covered in ice, so the going was slow. There were more cars by then than when I'd entered the park in the early morning, and then two of them formed a small caravan in front of me. Since they were driving even slower than me, I decided to pass them - I overestimated how difficult this would be in the sinuous, undulating roads of the park, especially with cars coming in the opposite direction at much higher speeds. I'm not sure how much time passed (2 minutes? 5 minutes?) before the car ahead of me slammed the brakes, skidding to a stop and forcing me to do likewise.
A large, burly man jumped out of the driver's seat, looked at me with wild eyes, and shouted, "Get off my fucking ass! Get off my fucking ass!" It took me a couple of seconds to understand what was going on. "I was just trying to pass you!" I shouted after lowering my window. "Then fucking pass me, but get off my fucking ass!" So I passed him, and his friend, who had also stopped his car, probably wondering what the hell was going on. I like to think that life itself was winking at me when only a few hundred meters ahead I saw a sign of an observation point I had missed: "Moran point". I took the picture. In all fairness, later on I realized that perhaps he didn't like someone being close to him in an icy road, in case he had to slam the brakes. Tailgating, I think it's called. Of course, the solution to that situation doesn't seem to slam said brakes and shout at the top of your lungs, but consider the lesson learned, my dear friend. Now all I have to learn is how exactly you're supposed to pass someone driving slowly in a curvy road covered in snow, and I'll be set for life.
Law And Order
It was time to head back to Vegas. By my calculations, I would make it one hour and a half before the plane took off, just enough time to peacefully board, if I stuck to the legal speed limits. My first problem was that miles per hour mean absolutely nothing to me, they are like a fake speed measure kids use when they run around the house with their arms extended like a plane's wings. 65mph? That slow? I'm used to the high one hundreds! As the irresponsible youth that I can be, I thought that 10 mph above the limit would give me a reasonable cushion I could use to meet with the infamous SinCitySpur. The traffic seemed to agree, because just about everyone around me was making 75mph in the 65mph zone. I felt at home among all those lawbreakers, and the party really got started when we reached the 75mph speed limit part of the freeway.
I was in the zone, listening to music, sipping an extra large espresso the hotel's waitress prepared for me in an efficient-yet-impersonal styrofoam cup (tasted like freedom), just enjoying myself - when I realized I had missed a turn 60 miles behind. You see, the trip to the Canyon had involved almost no thinking: just a straight like from Las Vegas to that exit I mentioned before. However, the way back required an extra turn at a city I had passed without a second thought, before taking the Interstate. Oops. I turned around as quickly as possible, and realized to my horror that the extra 120 miles would eat away all the time I had gained by speeding, and most of the hour and a half I had set apart to return my rented car, take a bus to the airport, check in my luggage and take one of the airport trains that took passengers to their planes. I panicked just a little, to be honest, enough not to notice that the 75mph limit had suddenly been lowered to 65mph, and my 85mph were not 10mph above said limit, but 20mph.
Inner monologue: "Ohshit, notgonnamakeit, oh shit. Relax. Just focus on driving. If the traffic at the dam is not bad, you'll make it. Right. Focus. ...Huh. There's a car behind me. Very close too. And it's got something written on it. ...You don't think... naaah. Policemen have white cars. ...Right?" And then his lights turned on. They were blue and red.
I pulled over immediately, my mind going into overdrive trying to find an excuse. Then the officer (sheriff? He didn't look like a common officer, and had the hat and everything) approached my window, and I had the answer: go full Apologetic Foreigner (tm). "¡Perdón, oficial, no me di cuenta!" was how I greeted him, my passport and driver's license already held high, like a supplicant. He did a small double-take, and asked me hesitantly "You speak English, right?" I answered in the thickest accent I could manage, and started apologizing profusely: I explained the missed turn, the plane leaving in two hours, the change in speed limits, and then simply looked just as scared and contrite as I felt when he said "You do know that at 85mph cars are considered lethal weapons, and you could go to jail because of it?" He looked at my Argentinian driver's license in confusion, said they shouldn't have let me rent a car with it (lies! I had checked), and then started explaining how to reach Vegas from that place. He let me go without a ticket, warning me to stay within the limits, and then took off. It took me a few minutes to compose myself, I won't lie to you - but I swear I did not pee my pants. Much.
From now on, I owe the Arizona police. I even promise not to get mad if I'm ever there again and they stop me because I look like an illegal immigrant and ask me for my identity documents because there's a law that allows that now, it seems, and yes, I know this is a run on sentence.
There's not much more to my Arizona days. I had to call SinCitySpur to apologize, maybe next time, it's a pity, shit happens. I was the last person to board the plane, and according to the flight attendant I was five minutes from missing it altogether. The heroic gardener that helped me navigate the streets near the car deposit shall go nameless, but he'll always be in my heart.
Encounter Of The First Kind
It was late when I arrived in Denver. SiMA was to pick me up, but he is as flighty as he is crotchety, so he still wasn't there when I finally grabbed my suitcase. Finally he arrived at a jog, wearing Manu's Argentinian national team jersey and with a sign that read "DAH-VEED". You can't make this up, fellows. We underwent the usual awkward five minutes of uncomfortable small talk while we tested the waters, but soon enough the Spurs became the focus on the conversation and we fell into familiar patterns.
How to describe SiMA? How to tell you a bit about him without dispelling the aura of mystery that surrounds him? It's something I wondered about for many days while in the US, and even discussed with SiMA himself. We agreed on the following comparison: SiMA is a mix of Kenny Rogers and Batman, a traditional country patriot with knack for controlled violence, a family man that has a secret man cave (I'm not kidding, he does) where he can unleash his beast. And by beast I mean his turtle. He's a man's man's man's man, and I don't mean that in a gay way. Not that there's anything wrong with that. A solid 9/10 in the ATUWTFTFISN scale, I like to think we enjoyed an easy rapport during our time together. Above all, SiMA's a truly great guy, the kind you want as a friend, the kind you want watching your back. Even though he tried to kill me.
We had dinner at a restaurant called "Champps", supposedly part of a chain of sports restaurants across the country (never found out why it had an extra "p" there, now that I think about it). It wasn't bad, and we had fun answering the sports trivia show that took place midchow. We went back early because SiMA had a treat for me: a hot tub looking out to the far-off mountains and cold beer. It was a cold night, colder than cold. Coldest of my entire trip, most likely. But as the men we were, we still stripped down to our manly swim shorts, grabbed our manly beers and manly hopped into the wonderful hot tub, the crippling cold forgotten. All of two seconds later, the hot tub turned off. "Oh no", SiMA said.
"Oh no" didn't begin to cover it. We couldn't stay inside the hot tub because if the water froze, the pipes would rupture. So we got out, and then we had to cover the tub, to keep the temperature. We were wide awake by the time we got inside, but it was time to sleep. Oh, the irony.
Denver, Or Thereabouts
I haven't mentioned this yet, but SiMA's shack wasn't in Denver, but in a nearby city called Colorado Springs. After a quick breakfast, we set out to see what the city had to offer.
First of all, Colorado is beautiful. From top to bottom, left to right, it's as if FSM touched it with its noodly appendage and blessed the place. Everywhere you look that isn't man-made, you'll see raw natural beauty. If I didn't hate cold so much, I'd live there. Our first stop was the boastfully-named Garden of the Gods Park, and I was glad to see that it almost lived up to its name. Impossibly tall, jagged rocky outcroppings, almost red in the morning sun and surrounded by a sparse forest of pine trees. In the background, ever-present, a barrier of the most typical snowy mountains your imagination can probably conjure. It was cold outside the truck, so we stayed only long enough to recognize the "kissing camels" peaks. Google that shit.
Then it was lunchtime, and SiMA seemed to have a hard time deciding where to go. He drove us past several microbreweries, telling me of the wonderful summers, just picking one of them at random, sitting down in the shade and just letting time pass, sipping his cold craft beer. I hate him. He settled on a pub called "The Keg", and then asked me to try their buffalo burger. I enjoyed it, and washed it down with fine local beer.
This reminds me. There was a happy coincidence in just about every stop of my trip: everywhere I went, people had me try different beers. I don't remember all of them, unfortunately, but I made a list of the few I do remember, and thought it might come in handy to future travelers. Please excuse any typos.
Double Mountain IRA
Deschutes Mirror Pond
Miller High Life
Why Have You Forsaken Me
Well fed, full of energy, It Was Time. It Was Time To Follow The Plan. A Play Deserving All These Caps: SiMA Had Made Arrangements For Us To Meet The Denver College Cheerleaders, And Then The Actual Nuggets Dancers. Hubba Hubba, Fellow Males, Right? I Believe I Purloined Some Cologne, We Grabbed Our Stuff And Set Off Towards Denver. It Was An Hour-Long Drive, And We Were On A Tight Schedule. We Were Cheery, Shooting The Breeze, Just 10 Minutes From Denver... and SiMA realized that he had forgotten the tickets for that night's game. It happens, folks, and believe me when I say that I'm not blaming SiMA. He was remorseful enough. So we went back to grab them, and by the time we reached Denver there was only time to pick up CapHill and then go straight to the arena.
I had only a few hours with the wonderful CapHill, and I feel that I got to know more about her after my trip than during those few hours. Still, she was patient with me (8/10 ATUWTFTFISN), curious, kind, downright spunky. She's very much an engineer, I could tell - the sort of engineer that makes the rest of us look better by association. I wonder what it is about PTR that attracts the best sort of people.
I would tell you about the game that night, probably the best one of my trip, and the perfect goodbye to our Spurs. However, SiMA already covered all the important parts in his wonderful recounting of the game, which I'm going to link to right now... eh... where is it? Sorry? What's that? He didn't do it even though he promised? Oh... I guess I'll have to write something after all.
SiMA had procured our tickets, and they were just about perfect. I had been closer to the court in San Antonio, but always near one of the hoops. These seats were right in the middle of the court, and the view was exactly what I was used to after so many years of televised NBA games. I was sporting SiMA's Manu Argentinian national team jersey, and it fit me like a glove (would've made a perfect present, in fact... hmm). All night, I couldn't move around the halls without meeting a multitude of excited countrymen, faces alight with joy at finding a fellow Manu fan. Once in our places, we quickly realized we were surrounded by obnoxious Nuggets fans. I have a feeling the night might've ended up with my deportation if we hadn't won the game so beautifully. At one point the jumbotron presented the following question: "Before they became part of the NBA, what was the name the Denver Nuggets had before becoming the Nuggets?" "Rockets," I told SiMA before the options were even given. Apparently knowing that much about your own team in unheard of in Denver, because I received some surprised looks from the people decked out in baby blue and pee. That should give you a measure of their quality. I ignored the jeering all night and often looked up to their lonely "Northwest Division Champions" banner. Aah, karma.
It was a victory, 111-92, sweet, sweet victory, high fives with SiMA and CapHill, the people leaving so early that she was able to sit with us, grumbling behind us as 10 boring players ruin their night, loud Manuuuuu cheers that resonated in the silence. A time out was called midway through the third quarter, with the game still within Denver's reach, and I was amazed at the difference between the team's attitudes. The Spurs gathered around Pop in a comfortable huddle, eyes focused on his whiteboard. The Nuggets moseyed around the bench aimlessly, some looking at the jumbotron, others at the cheerleaders, only the ones in front of former Spurs star George Karl actually paying attention. It would happen again in every timeout they called for the rest of the game. I love this game.
Dinner was had at one of the few places open at those ungodly hours (past 10 PM? oh my!). We dropped CapHill off and made our way back to SiMA's, tired but triumphant. Who needs cheerleaders anyway?
You Go First
This was the day when SiMA tried his best to kill me. He was sneaky about it, too, claiming he just wanted to "show me around Colorado". I like to think he regretted his choices while he drove across a bottomless pit, big meaty hands clutching the steering wheel.
First things first: Colorado is big. Big enough that waking up late meant that we would only have time to visit a couple of places. I wouldn't get to know Denver, but honestly at that point I was already tired of cities. We jumped into the truck with adventurous vigor. First stop: Bishop Castle.
Bishop Castle is what happens when you teach crazy people how to build. Its constructor is called Jim Bishop, an anti-government craftsman that single-handedly built his own castle with rocks, concrete, steel, and suspect knowledge of structural integrity. Before you can even get near the castle itself, you're assaulted by hand-painted signs warning visitors that Bishop wouldn't be responsible for any deaths or injuries, that the government is trying to take what's his and violate the constitution, and that drunks aren't allowed inside the castle. Or pets. You are also assaulted by the acrid stench coming from the precarious public latrine, officially the most unsanitary and disgusting place I had the misfortune of visiting. The Bishop Castle itself was a sight to behold, something that could have come right out of Escher's mind - during an LSD trip. The stairs were twisted enough to make Gaudi pass out, with uneven steps bending in opposite directions, no rails at times and open unbarred windows large enough for a grown man to fall to his doom. In one of the few steel steps, someone has written "Bella muerte". There was a wizard vitraux, a steel dragon head coming out of a rock wall at one of the highest points in the castle, and even a random wooden arm statue holding a gigantic axe. Seriously.
But the pièce de résistance was the steel sky bridge connecting the two towers. It was made of steel frame that looked way too flimsy to support the weight of a grown up person, or a young person, or a toddler. It was waving in the breeze like a flag-bridge hybrid, waiting for us. We kind of dared each other up to the edge, looked at it intently for a few minutes - and then we chickened out in a manly fashion because, honestly, there was a sign that said Jim Bishop didn't care.
We kissed the ground and left, giving the latrine a wide berth. SiMA wanted to take me to the Royal Gorge Bridge, one of the highest suspension bridges in the world. Finding it involved a couple of hours of driving around Colorado, lost but refusing to accept it and enjoying the scenery: pine tress of every sort, small pocket of snowy desert, small rivers running swift downstream where SiMA used to practice kayaking, even endless ghost trains stranded in the middle of nowhere. We reached the bridge as the sun was falling behind the mountains, and unfortunately the security guard was the only one there. The bridge was closed for the day, and considering I left the following morning, that meant I would never get to close that bottomless canyon.
I don't remember much about the guard, or what he looked like. I do remember that his looks inspired us to make up a name for him: Cletus Hawthorne. Reverse engineering that name doesn't produce a pretty picture, but beneath the thick mustache and the quiet dignity lied a heart of gold. After seeing as wander around for a few minutes, despondent and looking for a restroom, he decided to hint that we could go through the gate. Unfortunately, we didn't catch the hint. Or the next one. So eventually he just told us "Go through", and we did so.
Minutes later, we were wondering if he didn't just want us out of the way. Royal Gorge bridge is an old bridge, a narrow bridge. It has hung above the deep gorge that gives it its name for many decades, and is currently only used by the people that come to the park. As we went through it in SiMA's truck, the wooden planks that formed the age-old deck creaked and groaned their protest. I prepared myself to grab a hold onto SiMA if one of them broke. If I was going down, he was coming with me. Nothing happened, of course. Boooring.
That was it. Time to say goodbye to Colorado's natural beauty. We stopped for food and ice cream on the way back? Why ice cream? Well, you see, the hot tub had been repaired while we were driving around Colorado. So that night we were going to try again, this time with beer and ice cream - because SiMA insisted that ice cream in a hot tub was godly.
Do you remember when I said the night of the 19th day was the coldest of the entire trip? That was a lie. That night was the coldest, by far. I practically jumped into the hot tub once I left the warm interior of SiMA's hovel. I grabbed my ice cream, a spoon, SiMA reached for his beer, and... the hot tub shut off. Again. This is getting repetitive, so please allow me to quote myself from a couple of pages ago: "So we got out, and then we had to cover the tub, to keep the temperature. We were wide awake by the time we got inside, but it was time to sleep. Oh, the irony."
Hot tubs hate me.
Of Douchey Owners And Highways
I admit I might be biased, but to me Dallas looked like the perfect city to engender an NBA owner like Mark Cuban: dull, ugly, financially powerful and chubby. Before the Dallas-faithful start spamming my inbox, I would like to point out that my knowledge of the city is limited to the highways between the airport, my hotel, the Cowboys stadium and the other smaller convention centers/gyms where the different All-Star Weekend events were held. The sunless sky, the freezing cold that hit you like a block of ice every time you left the car, the steel-and-glass skyscrapers with pictures of LeBron LeBroning, the grayness around me, gray roads merging with gray sky and gray buildings - it all added up to a bleak, vaguely oppressive atmosphere that (dis)colored my days in Dallas.
I met with Wayne at the hotel he had booked for us, near the airport. We didn't waste much time before leaving towards the ASW facility where we would receive our press passes. Eventually, largely thanks to the wonders of Wayne's GPS, we found the right place. I remembered to smile when they took my photo. Happy surprise: the pass came with presents. Not-so-happy news: open practice ("media availability", they call it) was practically over, and we had missed it. I won't ever forget the moment when I gained a nice shirt and missed the opportunity to walk around the best players of the league. Gift bags in hand, spirits down, we tried to at least score some free lunch, but we were late for that too. Heads hanging down, we hopped onto one of the free shuttle that went from the ASW headquarters to the Dallas Convention Center where most ASW activities would be held.
We were the only passengers. I guess they were all busy acting like real journalists and actually being somewhere important. We were waiting for the bus to get moving when a bald man showed up, hurrying up the path with the energetic tramp often used by people with places to go, articles to write, worlds to conquer. He sat a couple of rows behind us, and almost immediately started talking on the phone about a soon-to-come trade in the NBA. I had recognized him almost immediately, but Wayne confirmed it: the man was no other than John Hollinger, the PER master. I would see him again later that day, sitting in the sidelines of the D-League All Star game, hardly ever looking from his laptop and more or less ignoring the wannabes. I have never seen a guy so comfortable with a computer on his lap, in fact. He struck me as a man completely focused on his job, who enjoys being in the thick of it. I think I remember Wayne saying something to him, and a confused look, as if the he had interrupted some inner discussion.
So That's Why Hermits Exist
We arrived, got lost, Wayne found someone or another, directions, escalator, then a side door to a large open space: before us, the NBA All-Star Jam Session. Imagine if you will a basketball god. Imagine now Him eating some bad fish tacos. Imagine him now, blowing chunks inside that room. You now have a good idea of what that Jam Session looked like to me. Basket was everywhere around me, and I couldn't make sense of most of it. There were kids of all ages playing basketball, and men and women dressed as referees but with little power over the proceedings, blowing their whistles but unheard of in the roar of the crowd, rising and dwindling but always present in the background like so much white noise. There were basketball clinics, and shops selling merchandise but not Spurs merchandise, I checked, and banners hung from the ceiling showing the faces of the All Stars, and there was even one of Timmy, smiling (smiling!), and Bill Walton was spotted, grinning and trying not to crush the rascal running around under his gargantuan sneakers, and lines everywhere (free tacos!), twisting and bending with no end in sight. I like people, believe me. I'm not sure I like that many people.
We soldiered ahead - the D League All-Star game had just started, and we were not going to miss that too, doggone it! A respectable court had been erected behind a walled off area of the hall. Once again, we were lost - where should we sit? Wayne set off to find someone who could tell us, and I tried fruitlessly with the security personnel around the entrance. Behind the stands, cheerleaders and acrobats practiced their craft before the halftime show. People looked so busy, I started pondering on the organizational nightmare an event of this magnitude probably was - but then Wayne arrived with help, and I went back to being an uncaring fan.
Our seats were good, second row on the baseline, very near the West bench. If you want to know more about the game, that day, or even the next one, I suggest that you reread Wayne's account of the All-Star Weekend, both part 1 and part 2. They are far more accurate and entertaining than anything else I could produce. Pay attention to Wayne's iPhone charger drama, which I believe can serve as some sort of metaphorical commentary on modern life and our increasing dependency on multipurpose gadgets that slowly turn us into texting, e-maling, soulless machines.
The D-League All-Star game was entertaining, but odd. The players competed, intent on earning the call to the Big Leagues, and I even thought I saw a smattering of defense at one point. The atmosphere was relaxed, and the players looks suitably NBA-sized when jumping after a rebound a few meters from my seat. I mostly spent my time trying to get a picture of a Malik Hairston look-alike that played for the West team and stalking Hollinger at a distance. At halftime, many of the NBA mascots entered the court and entertained the crowd. They were good, but not Coyote-good, and the Coyote wasn't there. Then cheerleaders showed up, dancing - and yet more cheerleaders doing summersaults off big men's shoulders, looking tiny and malleable. But the Mavericks franchise had one final surprise for us: a group of fat men in short shorts and cut off tank tops that exposed their blubbery bellies. I wondered at the choice: are fat men dancing really that funny? Do plump man-butts shaking around as the men danced and struck would-be sexy poses somehow fall into the disgusting-yet-funny category? I remembered the Bulls had a similar dance team. Maybe I was wrong, and this was just a vindication of their right to dance and have fun. Weren't cheerleaders just as derogatory to women, yet everyone seemed to accept them? And most importantly, will anyone reading give a flying crap about your Deep Thoughts? Fat men came, danced, left. No one asked me how I felt about it. I think the West won the game.
Wayne and I took a cab to the American Airlines Center, where the real ASW Saturday contests would be held: the three-point shootout, and oh-mama, the dunk contest. It wasn't easy, and elevators and stairs had to be navigated, but in time we found the media workroom - or at least one of them. All the big names were inside, and the room buzzed with activity. Wayne begged virtual strangers and San Antonian big names about iPhone chargers while I sneakily took a photo to share with my beloved PTRers. I think one of them saw me, so I schooled my face not to show my embarrassment. I calmly took three more pictures, just in case.
We hadn't eaten anything since breakfast, so we headed to the media hospitality room. Just outside, free massages were offered to the tired members of the fourth power. "Do you think we should...?" "No." We entered the curtained off area and evaluated the buffet. Remember my praise to the people organizing the ASW? I almost took it all back right then and there. The burgers were burnt and tasted like sorrow; the fries were half-cooked and cold; the hot dogs were bland. There was no real food. I chewed slowly and washed the burgers down with about a liter of soda. I had fun listening to the jokes the waiters and waitresses told each other - the stories seemed to be true: they all spoke Castilian and looked more Mexican than the Chavo del Ocho. They looked surprised when I joined in the fun, but took it in stride. I left the AAC shortly after; Wayne ditched me for a beautiful journalist with an iPhone charger.
No-Star All-Star, And Here's Becky
Now we jump ahead in time, skipping some personal tasks I had to take care of. If you don't think my wall of text is detailed enough, wait for the director's cut.
The hour? Late, very late. The place? Deep in the bowels of the AAC's basement levels. The mission? To find a way to reach Wayne in section 306, row 3, seat 7. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Unfortunately, everyone seems to equate people with press passes to anthropomorphic homing pigeons, so there were no signs or any indication of how to get to what I assumed was the third floor (it wasn't). The foreigner must've been strong in me that night, because some people took pity of me and pointed me in the right direction. I almost burst into song when I spotted Wayne, surrounded by bloggers in the absolutely worst seats of the arena. (You know blogging wasn't considered important when every blogger I met was seated at a level above the jumbotron.) I greeted the awkward bunch in my half-English - and then Wayne informed me that the Shooting Stars had just finished, and we needed to go back to the media workroom level for the post event interviews. Screw you very much, Big Boss.
The winners were going to answer questions in a classic press conference format. I was excited about seeing the behind-the-scenes of one of those, but Wayne had a surprise - he grinned and informed me that we would have a mano-a-mano interview with none other than Becky Hammon. Whaaaaaat? Yep, Becky Hammon. Cute, badass Becky. I concocted some passable questions for Wayne and some for myself, and quietly practiced them while sitting at the conference room, waiting for the winners to arrive. As luck would have it, Becky and none other than Dirk No-wit-zki had won, so they were the ones to face the musics. Questions were sparse, but Wayne himself made the best one, asking Becky to compare Dirk to the two other 7-footers who had played with her in the event in the past (Twin Towers, for the unwary). Everyone had a good laugh. I felt like a proud father eagle, watching its hatchling take to the air for the first time.
The interview with Becky is a blur now. I can't recall many details. She was taller than she appeared on TV, as if often the case with basketball players of both genders. She had an interview with a small crew before talking to us, and they had a camera, and a microphone, and another guy that was just there, which is an underrated asset (the "we have the money to have another guy here, so we have another guy" guy). When it was our turn, Wayne brandished his iPhone while I awkwardly tried to keep my hands busy behind my back. Becky was a pro, and answered our questions with so much focus I thought she might make us spontaneously combust. She only cracked a smile when I asked her about a teammate whose signing wasn't certain at the time of our talk, and she leaned back to consider the charged question. I congratulated myself silently. David 1, Hollinger 0. We thanked her, thanked the boss lady who had gotten us the interview, waited a full minute and only then high-fived each other. Oh, and just in case you're wondering, yes, she is that cute.
As we went back to our seats, Nash, winner of the Skills Challenge, swept by. He was surrounded by people and performing a silly victory dance for our benefit. I love that guy.
I'm not even sure I want to talk about the two events left. Paul Pierce's star power was sufficient to win against subpar competition, but the shootout failed to deliver either good shooters or popular players. The angle and the distance didn't help us, but Tiny Paul Pierce and Tiny Chauncey Billups were the only players that woke the crowd. To add insult to debilitating injury, the dunk contest was a travesty, the worst in the last 10 years. Tiny strangers couldn't finish a dunk to save their enormous salaries. Tiniest Nate sucked the energy out of the entire building with a ludicrous dunk in the final round, and he somehow was rewarded with his third trophy. Judges were replaced by phone voting in a decision probably inspired by one too many American Idol episodes, leaving us in the arena with nothing to do but twiddle our thumbs and wait for democracy to work its magic. The good guys didn't win - mostly because the good guys weren't there.
Want a real dunk contest? Look no further than the street dunkers that were invited to Dallas for a small side show. T-Dub, Werm, Young Hollywood, Jus Fly - my favorites, too: Air Up there, Guy freaking Dupuy. Hell, where are the D-League wonders, like our very own James White? It's time to invite them to the main event, Stern and Co. If the NBA stars' ego won't let them lose to the one-trick-pony dunkers, then it might be time to do without the exalted likes of DeMar DeRozan, Shannon Brown and Nate Robinson. Or clone Vince Carter.
We left with the bloggers, all four of them. I wish I could remember them - the only two that stayed with me are Matt Moore from Hardwood Paroxysm and Spencer Ryan Hall from Salt City Hoops. I talked quite a lot with the latter, mostly because Spencer could speak Castilian (Spanish's proper name, philistines) and had lived in Córdoba, Argentina, for almost two years. He's the nicest guy I met in Dallas, hands down, and it's always fun to swap notes with someone who has mirrored my international roving. He smiled a lot, talked with gusto, and those are underrated characteristics in my book. I left Spencer with promises of meeting in Buenos Aires in 2011, and I secretly decided to root for the Jazz if the Spurs lost. Matt Moore was a peculiar character: he spoke in mouthfuls, the root of the verbose writer that we all enjoy reading in HP. He seemed to appreciate my honest praise, although he looked confused at times about who Wayne and I were. Considering how the other less famous bloggers seemed to flutter around him at times, asking him questions about this and that ("So how did you come up with Hardwood Paroxysm"), he seemed to have become the neuralgic center of the group before I arrived. Then again, it might just have been his impressive words-per-minute rate shaping the conversation. In the few minutes we shared, Matt came across as an active, intelligent, feisty character.
We left with the blogging posse in am SUV Spencer had rented. There were six of us, so Wayne sacrificed himself and was relegated to the cargo area. Basketball was talked, but I mostly kept to myself. We reached the hotel where they had first given us our press passes, promised to meet for the All-Star Game, met Mrs. ATS, then came upon two more journalist/bloggers that Wayne had talked with in that Wayne fashion of his during the day: Aaron from Dime Magazine and James from a British blog called Basketball 24/7. Both were actually paid to write - honest-to-goodness professional basketball writers. At one point, I swear I saw them glow ethereally and rise, rise, rise, tall and imposing like a sort of ungodly fusion between Shaq and Hemingway. We took turns lambasting the dunk contest, somatizing our aggravation. It was fun.
I didn't realize my last day was about to start until I laid down in bed.
Size Matters, Guys
I was tired, deeply tired. I closed my eyes while Wayne drove us to the city for breakfast, and witnesses claim that there was drool in the corner of my mouth. The restaurant was called Bread Winners, and apparently it was a popular one. We must've waited for almost one hour for a table to be cleared, but when at long last we were led to it, I must say I liked the place. It was an eclectic mix of decors and indoors and outdoors spaces, probably a remodeled old house. I had a heavy chicken fried steak and waffle mix, covered in enough gravy to make a model pass out. It was my first ever encounter with the head-scratching local custom: "brunch".
After we finished eating, I convinced Wayne to help me spend my dollar coins on a nearby arcade game. We held twin plastic rifles at the ready and proceeded to shoot defenseless virtual moose. The Texan won, of course. It's in their blood. I promised myself that I would force him to play Call of Duty with me someday, and take my revenge. Someday...
It was time for souvenirs and presents in a random Dallas shopping mall, but honestly, there's nothing to tell. As I mentioned before in my travelogue, shopping malls are an universal constant, like the speed of light or Pop's crotchetiness. I did notice that there was more bling than in the San Antonian equivalent, but that could be attributed to it being a Sunday. I conducted my shopping with efficiency and sureness of purpose - five of my friends did receive different shirts of college basketball teams, but they all seemed grateful enough. We left towards the Cowboys Stadium with time to spare.
Or so we thought. We were still a couple of kilometers from the stadium when traffic just stopped. Throngs of people walked in the sidewalks around us, and parking was offered at expensive rates in just about every empty lot available. We decided to soldier on, since Wayne thought the press pass would mean free parking. Forty-five minutes before the game was slotted to start, we were within sight of our objective, but starting to worry. We decided to part ways: Wayne was going to use his press pass to watch the game from the bloggers seats. I had bought tickets for myself through the kindness of a PTRer, who sold me his when he couldn't go. They were fairly expensive, more so than any other one I had bought during my trip so far, but I was told that the stadium was too large for a basketball game and that there were really no good seats available. I got off the truck, found my entrance, and tried to ignore the crippling cold while waiting for the line to move forward.
Cowboy Stadium is a sight to behold. From outside it is a massive, multilayered steel-and-glass oval, with a beautiful reflective domed roof and two large curved trusses jutting out of it, framing the main entrance as if guiding the visitor inside. Yet as impressive as it was from without, the interior just blew my mind away. No columns were seen beyond the second-level stands - an oval within a larger oval forming a road for people to move and buy junk food, and if you walked beyond that line there was nothing but vast, empty space in front of you, all around you. I ogled the retractable roof and the colossal screen hanging from the ceiling (calling it a "jumbotron" would be a joke, this was far more), which was high, very high - yet oddly it didn't seem high enough for some of the kicks I remembered in American Football. I stood there for a second, just looking around me, but time was running out. Nachos with cheese, sodas and assorted junk were bought, and seats occupied.
My seat was as bad as previously advertized: behind the main stage and so far away from the court that players were undistinguishable. I spent the entire game looking at the humongous screen, all the time thinking that watching it at home on TV would have been more fun. Someone called Usher sang and danced like a marionette with a puppeteer on meth, and he sucked big time. Then Shakira came, and her limited talents came as no surprise to me - she's our fault, guys. I'll take responsibility for the entire Latin America. Alicia Keys was a nice surprise, a lovely lady playing the piano and showing off a great voice. More of her, less of the stupid auto-tune dependent singers, please.
Players were introduced, and it wasn't as fun as in past years. I must say I missed Shaq - the big lug has two functioning neurons, but he sure knows how to put on a show. Timmy smiled as he was introduced, and then proceeded to disappear for the rest of the game. Around me, half of the fans seemed to be cheering for LeBron, half for Kobe, and most didn't seem to know anything about basketball and didn't even care enough to watch the screen. Only Dirk seemed to be able to wake them up, but it wasn't his night.
The halftime show rolled around, more or less mirroring what I had already seen in the D-League game, but with a better lady/fatso ratio. The Toronto mascot had just swallowed a cheerleader when fate winked at me. "Ladies and gentlemen, your Dallas Maverick dunking cheerleaders!" And off they went, long haired and lithe, off their trampolines and right through the nets and into my heart. The game felt lackluster after that. I don't remember who won, and honestly, I don't care.
There was a final dinner, a final night, but I think it's time to wrap up. My days as a Spurs stalker were over. I had had my basketball fill. I said my goodbyes, somehow managed to zip my suitcase shut, collapsed in my uncomfortable plane seat.
It had been fun.
Let me tell you something about Wayne. In our last day in Austin we were driving around the town for some reason or another, and then he told me he would show me something. We stopped near some nondescript building, right by the highway, and he asked me to follow him. I crossed the threshold of the door he had opened for me, and I was caught off guard by a heat wave. Around me, plants of all sorts, sizes and colors. Flowers, small trees, bushes - you think it, it was there. There were other buildings, and eventually we found a woman, or she found us. She was the owner, and apparently quite familiar with the bald, bespectacled Texan in front of me. Then we were there: before me, tall, lanky plants with petite flowers of wide, symmetrical petals. "Orchids", he informed me, and looked back at them fondly.
I always thought this was a good example of the kind of person Wayne really is; not the hairy murderer that stares at us from his avatar, but the affable, friendly, talkative, soft-spoken nerd I got to know. Wayne was kind enough to welcome me in San Antonio, to find me a place to stay, a press pass, tickets. He is the main reason I was able to go on a trip I won't easily forget, see the NBA first hand for the first time in my life, meet Manu, meet my fellow PTRers. And before that, he was the reason we even have a blog, this blog, where me meet and have fun and share silly links and befriend strangers and even discuss the Spurs and their chances for glory. He took over when no one else did, and kept it afloat. He's gone from the site now, more or less, partly because of the demands real life has put on his free time, partly because of SB Nation's behind-the-scenes draconian overtures. I hope that someday soon he'll be back. I owe this man a lot.
It wasn't all him, of course. I also owe Janie Annie's big heart, bellasa's generosity, jolly's good humor, p2cat's companionship, Queness's awesomeness, Lauri's brilliance (and secret pills!), Tom's ridiculous altruism, swgeek's natural kindness, Jason's laughter, SiMA's badassity, CapHill's warmth. It wouldn't have been the same without you, guys. So "thanks to all at once and to each one". You all have a place in my heart, and my eternal gratitude. I hope that someday I find a way to repay you, at least a little.
Anyway... how about 'em Spurs?