I'm back in my beloved Argentina, exhausted but happy. Hopefully now I'll have more time to write, so that I can finish this travelogue within the next two years.
I'll be skipping ahead here and there, because there's still much to cover. Come in, read, and let me know what you think of.
Just Getting Started
I had a day off between games, so you would think that maybe I would take some time off from my Spurs craze. You would think wrongly. A couple of days before, the one and only janieannie had invited me to an event the Spurs organization held for its season ticket holders, and of course I had said yes.
She picked me up early in the morning and started driving out of the city. The event was going to be held at a ranch, or rather a ranch-turned-make-believe-western-town. Those of you who have gone to a live game this season know of the pseudofunny introduction to the games in which a man with a cowboy hat lays the laws of the land as actors flail about in the background, cursing, fighting and being generally unruly. Well, the ranch was owned by the guy, and the video had been filmed in the fake town we'd visit that day. In fact, janieannie speculated if the video hadn't been traded for this party. Hmm.
As we were driving down the highway janieannie kept pointing key areas of San Antonio to me; amongst them was Dominion, the private neighborhood where most Spurs players and coach Pop have their homes. We thought we spotted Pop's house on the side of a small hill, and considering we were a mile away... well, it likely was a big house. We finally arrived to the ranch, parked, and had to wait for the shuttle to take us into the town proper. The place was packed, and we missed the first one. Then the second. After 5 missed vehicles (of different kinds, sizes and ages - like a tractor and what looked like an oversized golf car made of iron), we decided to foot it. With hindsight, bringing my shoes to the muddy ranch probably wasn't a good idea.
I've never been to real historic Western towns, but they probably are nothing like the one we visited - there was something very fake about the place that made me feel as if I was entering some sort of boring theme park. It might have been the burly, mustached sheriffs roaming around and taking photos with the fans; it might've been the fake-looking wood; or it might've been the ATMs next to every store.
At the entrance a honest-to-goodness Silver Dancer gave presents to the season ticket holders as she tried to stop her shivering in the cold Winter morning: Spurs coozies, "coozy" being a word I learnt later on while traipsing around California with young alcoholics. Thus, when someone showed off his Colts jersey coozy during the Superbowl, I was able to swiftly counter with my badass Spurs boot one. Take that, "football"!
There were quite a few fans going about their business in the town when janieannie and I first got there, but an hour later, after we had finished eating our free brunch on the steps of a faux saloon, the place was packed. It was a world of lines: lines to watch the live country music (pretty female singer with a BAMing voice), lines to grab some chow, lines to go to the restroom, and most of all, lines to receive an autograph.
Personally, I'm not a person who enjoys keeping autographs. Autographed mementos? Yes. Autographed jerseys? Hell yes. But an autograph in a piece of paper feels worthless to me, and I prefer to get a good photo instead. I apparently am not the norm in this, though, because people waited for long minutes in winding, twisting lines just because of the mere rumor that it lead to a Spurs player. When in Rome, though... Our first line lead us to DeJuan. He was hiding in the "jail", and a guy his size was keeping everyone from getting close to him for a photo. Thank you, silent gorilla! The autographed paper was received, thanked, and given the following day to a fellow Spurs fan.
All of the Spurs players but the Big Three were there, and we saw most of them walking around the town at some point. We then grabbed our second beer, and witnessed McDyess making a nail Like They Did In The Old Days. Prompted by a Spurs employee, questions were asked to Antonio, but evidently there were no Wayne Vores in the fans watching him. Then we got bored, found another line, entered the church and met... Antonio McDyess. What? Is he a ninja of some sort? He did allow people to take photos (there was more room, too), but he didn't bother to stand up. That is, until he saw I was fairly tall. "Do you want me to stand up?" "If you want to," I replied, thinking "Hell yeah" all the time. My brilliant conclusion: the guy is pretty tall.
Hipuks asked, so here's my take on Antonio's personality based on the few minutes I watched him be a character, not a person: he's shy, awkward but likable in a crowd. He acted like someone that never wanted to be that tall, that impossible to ignore, but has learned to live with it. If his smile is any indication of the kind of person he is, well, he's a pretty nice guy indeed.
I forced janieannie into the next line myself: it was the Coyote's. Throughout the day and the games I had gone to, I couldn't help but be amazed at that guy. Mute and without any facial gestures, he was able to convey emotion perfectly. If you stop and think about it, it's an outstanding piece of mimicry - at no point are the fans scratching their heads at what the Coyote is trying to say. He's great with kids, continuously entertaining, and probably one of the best mascots in the NBA.
I frowned during my photo with him, though. Meh.
We had had enough of the Spurs ranch, so janieannie took me home. On the way she took an exit somewhere and drove up to a futuristic-looking building, which according to jannieannie was the new Spurs practice facility. I saw no "Spurs" signs, and the NBA logo was nowhere to be found. The only recognizable feature was the metal ladder that Manu walked up and down tirelessly when he was rehabilitating from his injury. I'm still trying to figure out what this odd building's aspect says about the Spurs' organization, but in the meantime I'll go with "professional" and "they value their privacy".
Back at Tom's, I took a shower and started digging into my suitcase for something even remotely formal. It was time for the Symphony.
PTR Gets Cultural
During my 5th day in San Antonio my wild bike ride had taken me past the famous Majestic Theatre, already mentioned in bellasa's must-read post. I decided I wanted to see it, and a charitable soul that shall remain unnamed-but-not-unthanked offered to give me tickets for the Symphony. My thundering "yes!" must've deafened this person.
My first problem was logistic: I had come with a respectable-sized suitcase full of clothes, but I never thought to include a suit. I had to make do with wrinkled jeans, a tie I didn't quite remember how to tie, a matching light blue shirt and a red V-neck sweater, and then of course the pièce de résistance: my blue corduroy jacket. During the break in the show I almost bought a drink, just so that people wouldn't ask me to get one for them.
My second problem was cultural: I had only gone to the symphony once, so my knowledge of what was supposed to happen was at best limited. I love cello music, and if you ever find me reading a book with cello music playing in the background, I'm either very relaxed or borderline suicidal, but that's the full extent of my classical music knowledge. I survived by clapping when everyone else clapped, rising when everyone else rose, and generally being a copycat of the elder citizens around me.
I had wonderful seats, right in the middle of the upper ("Mezzanine") level, above the orchestra, and had a perfect view of both the performers and the wonderful walls and ceiling. I think someone described the décor to me as Mediterranean, or maybe I read that in a brochure somewhere. To me it looked like a shared acid trip between a zoologist, a sculptor and an architect. Above my head the ceiling was curved and painted blue, with stars shining here and there. The walls were full of buildings, plants and birds, too many to count - even the white peacock bell mentioned, perched on the far wall high above the crowd, looking down on us.
I believe I spent as much time looking at the orchestra as I did checking the decor, trying to take it all in. There was much to see, so many details, you risked not seeing anything at all. But there's beauty in that building, there's good taste and art. I would go watch just about anything there, whether it's a play, the symphony, or even Married with Children reruns.
Before I move on I wanted to mention Bohanan's, the bar/restaurant I went to before going into the theatre. Classy, expensive, and just the kind of place I wish I could afford on a regular basis. But I can't.
Efficiency Is The Name Of The Game
Wayne woke me up the following morning with breakfast tacos. At last! What are tacos, some may ask? That name can define just about anything, I think, as long as it's spicy and wrapped in a tortilla (circular pastry). "Breakfast" tacos were, then, bacon and cheese and some other breakfasty things wrapped in a big, bulging tortilla. It was... okay.
I remember Queness describing tortillas as "the most efficient way to eat". How could I possible not like them? That for me was the proverbial lightbulb turning on, my eureka, the moment a small window opened and let me obtain some insight into the collective consciousness of the United States. The pursuit of efficiency controls just about every action in your country, whether you realize it or not.
An example: During one of my first days in the US, Wayne and I were driving around San Antonio when his SUV run out of gas. We stopped at the nearest gas station, he stepped out and then to my utter surprise he started pumping the gas into the truck. On his own. Where was the gas station employee to do that for him? Wayne explained that in the US pumps were automatic, and all that stood between you and the gas was your credit card. But... why? It was more efficient like that. Cheaper. It made sense.
I proceeded to explain about the Argentinian way, shared by most countries that I knew of. The short chats between the men waiting next to their cars and the employees, the acquaintances that came to be after many years of friendly banter. I told him of the devil-may-care entrepreneurs who had hired beautiful women instead of the traditional young boys, dressed them in hot pants and tight shirts, and seen their sales increase exponentially. I spoke of human interaction, contact and reciprocation.
Wayne looked at me unimpressed, perhaps with a bit of pity - his reaction was repeated by every other USAian I talked to about this during my trip. Cost-efficient, they said, and that was it.
There were other examples, easy to find if you were looking for it. Only in the United States could fast food have been invented, such a blatant example of the quest for expediency. And later came the drive-through, which eliminated the need to leave your car for 10 freaking minutes, to actually talk to the waiter to place an order, to sit down with your family and look at their faces. The speaker blares, you talk to an impersonal, tinny voice, and then pick your food through a small window. Human contact: minimal. Mission: accomplished.
As I keep telling people, someday I'll write a book about it. The title has already been chosen: "Efficiency and the American Dream, or Why Manned Gas Pumps Lead to Happiness". I thank you in advance for your patronage.
A Game, And A Little Extra
I won't mention this game. This game did not happen. The Nuggets were shooting like a full team of Larry Birds, and we couldn't catch a break. It's in the past, and we I got to see our boys taking their revenge.
The routine didn't change much from the previous games: we used our media passes to stare dumbly at the tall, athletic players practicing their shots, then Wayne went to his spot high behind the Spurs' basket and I went to my seat. For the first half I sat in the same section that Wayne and I were at in the previous game, and simply enjoyed the game despite my silent surroundings. A few rows ahead of me were TdotSpursfan, the Spurs fan from Toronto, his wife Alison and his tiny, gorgeous baby, Griffin, wearing headphones to protect his ears. Alison had a silver hairpiece, and her face was painted white. Spurs gear covered almost their entire bodies. It was the perfect Spurs family, and during the game the Jumbotron displayed them for all to see.
Halftime rolled around, and I decided to visit Wayne up in the rafters - or close enough, compared to my seats. He was doing what Wayne always does when you leave him on his own: talking to a stranger as if he were his oldest friend. The stranger was none other than Dan Oshinsky, young and up-and-coming reporter from KENS 5. Dan looked tall even while sitting, he had an easy smile and he seemed pleasantly surprised that I could actually speak his language. Wayne introduced me as "the Argentine guy", as he's wont to do, and I joined in the conversation. The short story of my trip was soon fed to Dan by both Wayne and me, and Dan and I started chatting hoops while Wayne went back to charting plays.
At some point I think I mentioned PER, which prompted a "You know of Hollinger?" from Dan. (He was easily impressed when it came to Argentines, I think.) It was a nice chat, especially since he didn't give up after hearing my accent. Then suddenly he shook his head and told me, "Okay, I might have to write an article about you." Wha-? I looked at Wayne for emotional support, but he just told me to do it, and I cracked. It was weird, tense, and awkward, but it was also new, so pretty cool. This was the result. I hope the Hoopdata folks don't hate me.
(A quick note: I'm aware that I look stupid in the first photo. Dan caught me unaware, and we had just missed an would-be-big shot. You're not supposed to cheer or show much emotion while sitting with the media types, so I was trying to contain myself. I do not - I repeat, do NOT - have the mannerisms of a 5-year-old who really wants to watch more TV, mooooommmmmm! Ahem. That's all.)
We finished talking as the third quarter came to an end. I walked down, still unbalanced by the experience, and sat with janieannie for the rest of the game. The fans were better in her section, and we even managed to start a relatively strong D-FENCE chant near the end. We all know how well that worked.
After the game, Wayne, jannieannie and I hung around near the exit commiserating each other. We decided to stay when we noticed that some people were gathering in one of the corners of the stadium. Something was brewing, we could feel it. Then a few minutes later, none other than Bill Schoening appeared before us... oh, and some guy named Manu Ginobili too. The Q&A than ensued is not worth reproducing, but three things were clear: no one cared about poor Bill, Bill is a funny guy, and Manu is an excellent spokesman. Manu for Congress, anyone?
The rest of day 9 and day 10 were uneventful and relaxing. I was driven around the city, shown more neighborhoods and malls and roads that I could possibly retain, and taken to some pretty good eateries. When I finally got to the airport on my way out of San Antonio, I found out that most cheap-o airlines (like Frontier, United, etc.) charged people for the suitcases they checked in. Joy. To add insult to injury, it turned out that Southwest was the only airline that didn't do that, so I could've avoided paying if I'd known that beforehand. The moral of the story? Fly Southwest - and tell them David sent you.
There's not much to write about, so I'll just skip ahead to the third USAian city I got to know: Portland. Or how I like to call it, "The Wet Town Up North FSMdammit I Should've Gone Straight To Cali".