Traveling is odd. Tiresome, interesting, exhausting, and, for me at least, a great diet. There was a vacation, a plane that finally arrived in Buenos Aires, a missed combination flight, two mind battles with aloof immigration officers, two weeks in San Antonio, three Spurs games, an airline failure and a Caribbean island, boat rides snorkeling dams nice beaches but no topless beaches black sand white sand security checkpoints - and yes, some work too. Then 24 hours that took me across the Earth, and a suitcase full of presents and dirty clothes.
I work tomorrow. I want to vent, or share, or just write things down so someday I can remember.
Damn, I need to stop listening to Janis Joplin.
- San Antonio was just like I remembered it. A long city, sparse, almost deadly afraid of skyscrapers and public transportation. The highways had many exits and I missed several, and the Italian restaurants had bacon sauces. I arrived in time to see the Riverwalk covered in multicolored lights, and it was suitably romantic. By the time I left, the Riverwalk was devoid of water, and people were about to jump into the ensuing sludge and make a huge party out of it.
- Shoppings. They have names, some of them awfully-pronounced Spanish ones ("Lock and Terra? Aah... La Cantera..."), they have personalities, histories, even gravity. They are neuralgic centers in a society that seems really damn serious about its shopping. I would point fingers, but the bookstores are wonderful - we all have our vices. I came back with a bag full of books, which included both FreeDarko books, a couple of other basketball books I'm quickly going through, and a million and one science fiction novels. American Airlines charged me overweight, the bastards, but thankfully I passed the cost to my company. Life's good.
- I'm still shocked at how orderly the traffic is in Texas. Stop signs are respected, yields are heeded, and traffic is always 5 to 10 miles above the limit. Turn right if you're in the right-hand lane, pay attention to the ambulance, signs everywhere and clear exits, use the middle lane to turn. I was mocked for my initial hesitant driving - it wasn't easy to come down from the semi-anarchic, free-for-all Buenos Aires action to this orderly progression where the worst offenders dared to cut us off at only 10 mph faster than us. In the end, though, it made the transition harder when I had to face the twisting, dangerous, maddening roads of St Lucia.
- The most interesting man in the world? He exists. He exists, and I met him in the RiverWalk. I was walking around the popular center of the RiverWalk with my girlfriend, and we were on our way to meet Jason "Manuwar" "Speedostuffer" "The Wolf" Wolfe. We were chatting, enjoying the warm night and the muddy pseudo-river, and we saw him. Standing under a bridge, smoking a cigar. Three-piece dark suit, eye patch, slick snow white hair combed back, full but well-groomed beard. His uncovered eye carefully examined the passerbys, and on his vest, attached to a long, golden chain, we saw the monocle that probably covered it when he was reading the International section of the newspaper. One hand was busy with the cigar, the other grasped a long, sharp cane with an ornate silver handle. "He would never initiate a conversation about the weather, even in a typhoon," my girl quipped. "Sharks have a week dedicated to him." We left him there, beneath that bridge, puffing at his cigar and bringing a little magic to a night full of beers, baseball caps and loud people.
- Pounding the Rock, represent. It took some insistence, but I was able to meet some of my co-losers. Wayne was there, grumpy as ever, and we talked about this new blog. He doesn't look a day older, really. He couldn't. Jason looked younger, about 13, and I somehow escaped before he could get me drunk. The wonderful janieannie presented me with her homemade alfajores, and even made some for our little get-together. jolly was every bit the dynamo of good cheer that I remembered, and then there was Hirschof.
Hirschof was the only new PTRocker I met during my time there, so I'm going to pause and attempt to collect my impression. He looked... shaggy. Very short, full beard, long hair, long-sleeved shirt rolled up. He was parsimonious when he talked, soft-spoken. He had the look of a starving artist-who-can-also-juggle, or a dreamer/guerrilla freedom fighter, or a hitchhiker on his way to Canada, or a professional driller who will someday save as from a world-killer asteroid - or an engineering student. If I had ever been able to grow a beard, that is. He's got the sarcastic edge that makes him flourish and stand out in PTR, the razor wit that forces you to stop and listen to him, and then smile.
I saw him later at the AT&T, sitting behind the Spurs bench. He looked more comfortable than me that first time, a year ago. Then I read what he wrote. He's going to be an All-Star blogger if he keeps at it. (And not a Yao-type All-Star.) Look forward to that.
- Oh, yes, and the Spurs. I'm happy to report that my influence was enough to grant us three wins in games I witnessed: Lakers, Thunder and Tinderpuppies.
I bought tickets for me and my girlfriend for the first two, and despite paying for them with all the money my non-vital organs sold at in the black market, I couldn't do better than the 100 section, as close to midcourt as possible. The view was reasonably good - the scale was similar to the one that League Pass offers, with the benefit of the best 3D available outside of a James Cameron movie. Now a veteran, I had time to better enjoy the benefits of the NBA experience. What-a-Burger, Extreme nachos, assorted sweet crap and free-refilled soda to wash it all down. Practicing for the fan-favorite kiss-cam, not making the cut, and still enjoying it. The kids dancing during the breaks and loving it, the communion with so many like-minded fans, the pleasure of watching Pop react to good plays and bad plays. And the threes, especially the threes, the long bombs that seem custom-made for the show, with a pause just long enough for you to raise your hands and breathe in, ready to explode into action when the ball swishes through the net.
That's not to say I enjoyed the whole experience. Music cues and the coyote remain the only two methods to unite the crowd in their cheering, and only one of them is entertaining. Chicken chicken dinner fuck you, bald guy. Stop saying that! The League assumes that you need to be entertained every single second of your time, and the fan must put up with a long procession of cheerleaders, half-time shows, jumbotron sections - and perhaps the most popular of them all: the t-shirt cannon. A cylinder of folded cloth worth its weight in gold, spurring more excitement in the crowd than any play that happens in the first three and a half quarters. You see the arms extending towards the fashion missile like so many Kraken tentacles, the short skirmish when it falls and bounces, the victor grabbing it with both hands and holding it high, a trophy unlike any other. Well, except for the 30 other trophies the Coyote gave away that day.
- Did I mention that I met Manu again? We're, like, BFF.
- And then, for my third and last game, Tom gave me good tickets. 10 rows behind the visitor's bench. I'm back in his debt, maybe forever more, but I must say I enjoyed my return to the really good seats. The players are big down there - they loom. And when the security personnel opens the barrier for you, you know you've made it. There's a food area behind the seats, right beneath the 100 section. It's never too crowded, and the decoration is nicer than in the entrance level. My gourmet burger was twice the size of What-a-Burger's proudest, it was just as tasty as it looked.
There's a better life, guys - and it's right below you.
- Sometimes it's the little things that remind you that you're a foreigner. As the Prime Ambassador Supreme of my country, I make a point of being nice to everyone. Thankews aplenty, big smiles, firm handshakes. That's why I couldn't decide what to think about the San Antonians' response to my niceties.
"Thanks," I would say, or "Thank you". And invariably, my interlocutor would answer with a curt "Yeah." Was I doing anything wrong? Did I have something in my teeth? No "You're welcome"s, no "De nada"s from the Castillian speakers. I eventually ascribed it to a local quirk, and moved on, but it still bugs me. Another small failure of communication, one in about a million. Later on, in St Lucia, random St Lucians walking by me on the streets would nod at me and utter an oh-so-cool "Yeh man." "Eh... hello? Thank you? Yeh back at you, man?" "Yeh man" and its proficient subtlety haunted me for ten days. It was a term of greeting, agreement, farewell or something else.
I tried it once. Arthur, the local employee from my company and my guide while I was there, came up to me. "Yeh man", I said. He looked at me, then laughed.
- Say you're planning on taking your vacations in the Caribbean. Say you can't pick between the dozens of tiny islands. Say you wonder about that small small one, north of Venezuela's oil platforms and South of Timmy's swimming pools, St Lucia. Say you value my opinion on vacation spots. Say this is getting old. Say.
- Being close to the court is not 100% blessing - there's a little curse in the equation, too. Behind us, a group of young hecklers, being loud and obnoxious as young hecklers are wont to be and focusing mostly on the Freed Darko. "SIT DOWN, DARKO!" "Remember when you had blond hair, Darko?! That was fun!" It was the distance to the angry giant, Stern's post-RonRon rules, the security guards, the false safety numbers provide - but mostly, it was the stupidity feedback you can find in early-twenties males trying to outdo the other.
In front of us and to the right, an older man and his wife. Every five minutes he would shout at the top of his lungs at the refs, or the opposing players, or anyone that made him angry. "YOU SUCK, REF!" "LET THEM PLAY!" It was very loud, and his face was always red with exertion. We all looked at him in surprise the first time, but then just ignored him. His wife was expressionless, probably used and resigned to the spectacle. The kids behind thought it was hilarious. I wonder... do all young hecklers grow up to be impossibly angry men? Is there a key moment in their transformation, or is it just the effect of age and a bitter life? That night, looking at both expressions of sports fan stupidity, I couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for the kids behind me.
- Imagine St Lucia as the top slice of a sharp mountain range, floating on the Caribbean and covered in the densest rain forest I've seen. White-sand beaches, palm trees, and banana trees growing everywhere inside the island. The people were friendly and talked as if they had just stepped out of a Bob Marley song - eh, well, the men were friendly. The women seemed wholy unimpressed with me and Diego, my Argentine sidekick, and we toiled hard and long for the few short smiles they granted us.
St Lucia is as advertised a paradise of white sand beaches, turquoise oceans and perfect evenings - but a paradise for only a few. Beyond the walls of the luxury hotels and international restaurants, precarious multicolored house cover every bit of space near the cities. Hurricane fodder. In Castries, the largest city in the island, the tallest buildings have only a couple of floors. As you drive down through the city, the 10-story tall cruise ships peek over the shorter structures.
Short rains can start at any point, drench you for thirty minutes and then disappear. One hour later, when you're finally dry, another cloud bursts open. Rinse, repeat. Somehow, no one uses an umbrella, and the surplus of rainbows goes largely ignored.
- I bought a notebook while in the US. Blank pages, good quality paper, leather bound, with a wraparound band and a nice accordion pocket where you can keep loose papers. Moleskin, it's called. It's beautiful.
So why the hell am I still using NotePad for everything?