Yep. I'm alive. I'm also still going to write about that trip, half a year ago.
Disclaimers For The Unwary
I write this at the risk of people thinking I consider Pounding the Rock, a Spurs blog, my personal page. I do it because of a few good reasons. First, I hate leaving things unfinished. I'm one of those people that read through the entire book, even though they already hated it 10 pages into the first chapter. In fact, the only book that ever made me quit was "Baudolino", by Umberto Eco. So skip that one.
Second, I believe writing can be compared with lifting weights: the more you do it, the easier it gets. My writing muscles are atrophied after months of procrastination and idleness, and I could probably cramp up (grammar error) after every curl (sentence). Hmm... I like this analogy. Blogging so much that you burn out (you know who) would be akin to your back giving out from overtraining, right? And comments on your posts could be creatine? (Wayne would be Richard Simmons.)
Third and probably most important, my trip was in part possible thanks to the bonhomie and kindness of my fellow PTRers. I feel I owe it to them to tell you what they did, what they are like, and why you should get your ass to San Antonio to meet them. Or San Francisco. Or Los Angeles. Or Denver.
Where Have You Been, Bum?
Now, considering people keep calling me out because of my radio silence for the last couple of months, I'm going to take a short detour and give my excuses before taking you back to sunny California. To me, losing in the playoffs is always paralyzing. I'm permanently amazed at the fans that can bounce back immediately. Only PTR and a bet I made with a friend kept me somewhat interested in the playoffs - and that ended up with me cheering for the Lakers to win a bet. Betting is evil, people. Evil.
Then came the World Cup. It's difficult to explain how important that is for me, for us, for the rest of the world. Every four years every country in the world gambles its happiness for a chance to vicariously hold the most gorgeous golden cup in the world. You only have one chance - one measly chance, and then you have to wait 4 years. Players hardly ever get a second chance, and they can participate at most in 2 World Cups during their prime. It's a high risk, high gain deal, and my first sports memories are of crying when we lost the final match against Germany in 1990. Dad consoled me that day explaining that we, much like the Spurs, won every other World Cup. 1978 yes, 1982 no, 1986 yes, 1990 no. 1994 was ours, he promised. I stopped crying, but we haven't won it again.
It's important, people. Football, that sport many USAians look down on, actually transcends sports for a month and becomes a matter of national pride. It's what we talk about at work, with our friends, at home with the family. And for 90 minutes, we walk the thin line between depression and unbound joy. Just one goal can push us either way, or a bad call, or a silly mistake. You've seen it happen, if you've paid attention.
Maybe this will help the people that wonder how we can find a game with so little scoring exciting. In basketball, the "daggers" come only late in the game, or perhaps at an end-of-quarter buzzer. You can basically sleep through 3 and a half quarters of any given game, and if it was close up to that point, you'll be able to gasp and wince with the rest of 'em in the final minutes. In football, though, the "daggers" can come at any moment, either 2 minutes into the game (Germany-Argentina, ouch) or in "overtime", a timeless period of extra minutes that referees can give or take at will. Even a 0-0 match can have dozens of close calls, near-misses, drama.
But I digress. Post-WC depression is only now dwindling down. Summer League is only interesting when a big free agent is going to be part of the team, and it hasn't happened so far. Thinking up crazy trades can be interesting, but I don't see the point - the FO's modus operandi is clear after so many years. They keep the assets they have, and do their best to grow through the draft. It's boring, it's predictable, and it puts me at ease thinking of our rebuilding years.
Let's get down to it. The last time I checked in, I was leaving cold, inhospitable Portland with my tail between the legs and California in my sights...
San Francisco Is Kinda Big
It might seem from reading these posts that I had my entire trip tightly organized. You'd expect it from an engineer, considering folk tales describe us as boring, precise, emotionless machines of math and logic. The truth is that I mostly depended on other people to get around, to figure out whether to go and what to do. I was one of _those_ tourists, the leeches that cling onto the nearest nice local with a vehicle and some free time.
My victim in San Francisco was none other than the one and only swgeek. He'd offered his services some time before the trip, and I had shamelessly accepted. Now, you haven't met someone _unyieldingly nice_ until you have met swgeek. And when I say "unyieldingly", I mean it. There were several instances that day when a lesser person would have dropped me at the hotel, defeated. swgeek soldiered through with a perennial smile to put me at ease, and if that doesn't show the kind of person he is, I don't know what would. He's fun, he's talented, and he scored a solid 9/10 in the ATUWTFTFISN scale.
In any case, swgeek picked me up at the airport, and we set off towards the city after a mildly awkward exchange of pleasantries. Immediately I realized that San Francisco was a city. A proper city, I mean. San Antonio was said to be the 7th largest city in the United States, but honestly the only time traffic was a problem was when we left the AT&T Center. The downtown area was quiet, the people were nice, and the really tall buildings few and well-preserved. Austin looked more like a city, somehow, but it was too self-contained by the highway to really register as one. Cities don't ask for permission, they grow chaotically in all directions. Portland was a boutique city, a life-sized scale model of a real city. It looked like a city at first glance, but then you blinked and the mirage fell apart.
No, SanFran was a City, with endless Cortázar-like traffic, shouts and horns, rude people pushing you out of the way and networks of wires overhead that looked distinctly unsafe. The people around us covered the entire spectrum, be it racial or social, and I would be hard pressed to describe the prototypical San Franciscan. It was... Buenos Aires. Or close enough. I felt right at home.
The Man, The Legend
Oh. Something I forgot to mention about swgeek: he's a photographer. He's also a programmer, a gentleman and a connoisseur of the fine arts, but I have a feeling that he's a photographer first and everything else second. For the entire time we spent together, him and his humongous professional camera stayed together at all times, a symbiotic relationship that appeared to border on platonic love to the casual observer. The good photos in this post are thus his, and the grainy, low quality ones are mine.
That night I learned about bouncing flashes off reflecting surfaces, about shutter settings and the importance of a directional flash. Mostly, though, I learned what being famous and having your picture taken by a photographer as you walked around the city probably feels like. I bet many wondered whether I was someone famous that night. I did my best to look lofty and unapproachable.
swgeek drove me to my hotel, where I promptly checked in, dropped my luggage inside my room, locked everything and then left to meet with him once more, just in time to see him walking towards me. It had taken him that long to park the car. See? Told you San Francisco is a City. Minutes later we were back in the car, and swgeek decided to take me straight to the tourist spot for a civil engineer: the Golden Gate bridge. It was... it was exactly what I expected. I'm sure I'm not unique in this, but there has been a distinct lack of emotional impact every time I've seen world-famous landmarks or objects that I could have already drawn from memory. It happened with the Eiffel tower, it happened with famous paintings like the Mona Lisa, and it happened again with the admittedly beautiful Golden Gate. At most I enjoy the sense of scale I get: "Oh, it's so small." "Damn, that's huge. Bigger than I thought." And that's it. But you're there, and you have to do it; you have to go.
I fear someday walking up to the Great Pyramid and going "Huh," then turning around and going straight back to the hotel. I sincerely hope someone shoots me that day.
The obligatory photos were taken, and I strained my poor camera's zoom trying to capture Alcatraz Island amidst the fog. Then, and with the night closing in on us, swgeek decided it was time to prioritize: we went straight for the most popular must-see touristy spots, armed with swgeek's trusty GPS. A nearby satellite city along the coast where swgeek wanted to have dinner, whose name I can't recall; the famous Lombard Street, twisting and bending in its way down one of the many hills that shape San Francisco; the Embarcadero neighborhood, Chinatown in the distance and then right there, no time to stop, we'll come back later, David, don't worry. Finally swgeek declared we had arrived to our destination: Fisherman's Warf.
There isn't much to say about it. It's a famous tourist spot near the piers and has all the restaurants, historical buildings, shops and shopping areas you could possibly expect from a famous tourist spot. We walked around talking about photography and then swgeek decided I had to have the local sourdough bread. For the laymen, sourdough breads are bittersweet, and ours came hollowed out and with a bean sauce filling it. Much to my surprise, it reminded me of a local bread that my mother loves, so my culinary bravery was rewarded. Pier 39 was nearby, and we had to dodge even more tourist traps even as we heard the sea lions calling for us like overweight, mustachioed sirens. While heading back towards the car we came across another Zoltar machine, and I had to kneel in awe.
swgeek decided the Rainforest Cafe was weird enough to be interesting, and in we went. It was... a temple of nature - fake nature. A plastic jungle with inanimate beasts that seemed to follow you with their eyes as you walked around. Trapped in their aquarium, several colorful fish looked out in horror, as if asking me to free them. Instead, swgeek knelt and calmly took some photos for Hipuks. We left, and I believe we were near Ghirardelli Square when I spotted an art gallery claiming to be selling Dalí aquatints. I decided to give into my Dalí fetish and dragged swgeek inside. Soon the curator/saleswoman was delighted to ignore the other people walking around to chat with the two foreign-looking men about Dalí's The Divine Comedy aquatints, comparing them to other works of his and generally having a jolly good time. My smile did not waver in the slightest when she offered to start me on my own collection at the low price of 3500 dollars. "It's worth it," she said, and I nodded in agreement. Finally, she had to ask. "Are you a painter yourself?" I think my cool "I merely dabble" answer earned me a calculating look from the saleswoman and a double take from swgeek. It was a good moment.
Chinatown, our next stop, was underwhelming. We walked back and forth its main street, and swgeek quickly admitted it was only interesting during the Chinese New Year and if you wanted to eat Chinese food. (Don't worry, swgeek, I doubt anyone from Chinatown reads the blog.) Chinatown itself is fairly big, but my interest didn't make it past the Dragon Gate. And then my cell phone woke up, and Manuwar was at the other end of the line. Mumblings ensued about having some drinks at their friends', going to a bar, meeting in an hour or two, swgeek is of course welcome to join us. Unfortunately, there was time for one final place: the Castro neighborhood, famous gay and lesbian community hot spot.
It took some doing, but we were able to both find Castro and park right in the middle of it, on the main avenue. Castro was bright, colorful, boisterous, and the good cheer was contagious. Soon swgeek and I were trying not to ogle at the crazier-looking passersby and laughing at the most over-the-top shops and signs. (I'm sure you are all aware at how easy the bad jokes flow when you're looking at a foot-long dildo.) We walked around for a while, and when we realized that it was almost time to meet up with Manuwar we hurried back to the car.
I was perhaps five meters away from the passenger's front door when I realized someone was sitting in my seat. He was just sitting there, unmoving and looking forward. My mind was racing: "Is it swgeek's car? Yes, it has to be. How? If he's a thief, why is he just waiting for us?" I even suffered that moment of extreme stupidity when you wonder "Hey, maybe this is something common in this country, I'm only a tourist here", but then swgeek noticed him too, and after a pause rushed towards the door. "What are you doing here?" he asked the man, and when he slowly turned towards us I could finally see his face. He was young and tall, and his eyes were glassy. His explanations were spoken in a slow, slurring monotone that suggested he wasn't a criminal mastermind. He stepped out of the car and walked away, mumbling about being told by someone else to sit in the car. swgeek and I just looked at each other, and then just entered the car. "Weird, eh?" "Yeah." And then I noticed the GPS was missing, and swgeek jumped out of the car and started running in the direction the strage man had gone, me running behind him.
We caught up with him near the corner. There was a wiry woman there, jumpy and eager to shout "It wasn't him"s at us. There were explanations about some guys convincing him that he should sit in the car, requests for amateur frisking to confirm his innocence, drugs-induced mood swings. Eventually swgeek gave up, and as we walked away I asked swgeek if he wanted to call it a night. I would have, really. He refused, and a few minutes later, when we were driving around the city towards Manuwar's, he commented with a smile that it was an old GPS, anyway, and he had been thinking of buying a new one. He wouldn't lose his smile for the rest of the night.
swgeek, ladies and gentlemen.
A few minutes later I realized swgeek was completely dependent on his GPS, and we passed the same corner twice before I decided to channel my inner homing pigeon and point him towards the coast. Time to meet Manuwar.
Enter The Jason
Manuwar already wrote about our time together, as you can read here. I could very well skip the entire thing, since he: a) did a great job of writing about our experiences, and b) already took all the good jokes, the bastard. Still, I wouldn't feel right just skipping four of my favorite days, so you'll get to enjoy my version of this lurid story. Suck it, Manuwar.
Day 15 started with swgeek and I being greeted by Manuwar in an apartment building lobby somewhere in San Francisco. Up we went, and we were then greeted by two pretty ladies whose names I don't remember in predictable chauvinistic fashion, and one of Manuwar's best friends, Jon. What to say about this merry band... what to say.
I usually don't use PTRer's names in my little travelogue because it feels like I'm "outing" them. In Manuwar's case, he's so proud of it that I'm probably doing him a favor. Jason Wolfe (ATUWTFTFISN 8/10), his FSM given name is, and he often refers to himself as "The Wolfe". Ladies beware. (No, really.) Jason looks like a 15 year old, but is my age. He has fun like a 15 year old, but he can be down-to-earth when he wants to (he just rarely does). He drinks like a 15 year old who drinks a lot and will probably have a drinking problem when he's 40, but hardly ever throws up. He's that fun-loving guy who you immediately want to befriend, and projects a tranquil-in-the-face-of-fun attitude that put me at ease immediately. I owe him four great days, and after our time together I really feel like I have a good friend somewhere in California, drinking himself into stupor.
It wasn't all him, of course. His partner was Jon Jordan (ATUWTFTFISN 7/10), a superhero name if I've ever heard one. If Jon were a mathematical formula, I believe it would go a bit like this: endless comedy + no shame + lazy eye + alcohol + silver tongue + big heart = Jon. He wins hands down the title of Funniest Person I Met During My Trip Sorry Queness (tm), and he's a good argument against the complete obliteration of the US by elite Argentinian gauchos in what will forever be known as the Cowpocalypse. But you didn't hear that from me. Just a great guy to be around, and the perfect Joker to Jason's Harley Quinn.
The most observant among you might have noticed a considerable number of ethylic references in my comments about Jason and Jon. After my time with them, I'm convinced that the solution to the world's energy problem lies in finding a way to somehow harness the supreme alcohol consumption prowess of all Californians. My days with The Wolfe are blurred by a continuous drunken haze, and considering how unused I was to their suicidal drinking rate, it was everything I could do to survive. That night, though, the cuba libres came early and often, and completely annihilated any chance we had at feeling any awkwardness. The ice was not as much broken as it was melted with rum and good cheer.
I remember telling Jason to drop the straw and start chugging the drinks - not a good idea, with hindsight. I remember swgeek fluttering about with his camera, taking photos. I remember moving the party to a nice little bar called "The Bigfoot Lodge", a few blocks from the apartment. I remember coming back and playing some sort of game, in which I continued being inappropriate. I don't remember much about swgeek driving me back to my hotel. It was a good night.
Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow
Predictable, I woke up with a headache. My hotel was clean, and relatively cheap, so I didn't have big expectations for its complimentary breakfast. A tea and three cookies later, I was greatful I had made other breakfast plans with swgeek and the dynamic duo. I checked out, met with swgeek, and we headed out toward a little cafe called "The Grove" in The Marina neighborhood. It was... "completely deck" (hat tip), a hipster hot spot where the waiters and waitresses had odd, alien roles that didn't seem involve actually attending the tables. My expresso was served in a large, styrofoam cup, and I once more longed for the feel of ceramic in my hands.
Jason and Jon eventually joined us, but we didn't stay long. We decided to say goobye at Twin Peaks, one of the highest spots in San Francisco. Twist, turns, and we made it. I made friends with my first ever "automatic toilet" (not as cool as it sounds, and I guess it doesn't sound so cool to begin with) while Jon and Jason looked sleepy and swgeek took panoramas. Then some group shots, a few hugs, promises, thanks, and we were driving south. I tried to invite swgeek along, but he couldn't come - I hate responsible people I hope to meet him again someday.
Our first destination was an apart hotel in Avila Beach, a small coastal town midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. We stopped to have lunch at a place called "Garlic world", located in the middle of "Garlic country", and I had to look hard to find something in the menu that didn't have any garlic. Jason ate "David" brand sunflower seeds the entire way, like a sad copycat of Fox Mulder. I found out that Jason is "really, really good at basketball", that Jon was a waiter, that Jason could speak Castilian with an accent that was half Inigo Montoya and half Mini Me. I also enjoyed my first good look at the Pacific ocean, which I had never seen before in my life, and was amazed at the soft, green rolling hills of California.
I didn't take photos for the rest of that day, suffering what I now believe was swgeek-abstinence, so I'll be uncharacteristically brief. Avila was beautiful - one of many pockets of buildings along the beach, tourists towns that were almost placid in the winter. Once we reached the hotel I met three more of Jason's friends, two guys and a girl, and for the most part I think that they weren't sure what to do about the foreigner. cojones2thewall arrived eventually - imagine a cheery, cute, compact woman with the utmost patience towards drunken fools and a pleasant disposition that makes chatting with her a real pleasure. Since she's Cuban, I'm not sure the ATUWTFTFISN scale is fair. I'll just give her a 9.
I was tired and still reeling from the previous night. I decided to relax in the bedroom, do some writing and watch that night's game versus the lowly Clippers. Still, there was a party atmosphere in the living room, and my desire to mingle ended up with me drinking an indeterminate number of beers and eventually joining the male contingent in the hotel's jacuzzi after hours. We were soon kicked out, but I was at least able to show off my brand new Spurs coozy. The night ended with cojones2thewall, Jason and me sharing a bed. For some reason they gave me a lot of space.
Oh, and the Spurs won.
King of Swamp Castle
The Pacific did its name honor the next morning. I stuck my head outside and looked at the bright sun above me, felt the cool winter breeze and finally saw the rocky cliffs at both sides of the hotel that seemed to separate a section of the beach just for us. It was a beautiful sight. Right then and there I decided that the Lakers didn't deserve California. Bastards.
Breakfast found us at a local place called "The Hungry Fisherman". I was equal parts happy at my discovery of hashed browns with gravy (and trust me when I say gravy is magical, fellow citizens of the world) and horrified at the Captain's face in the sea scene indoors mural. There's a photo available for those of you who are curious about that perspective/good taste catastrophe, but I won't inflict it on the casual reader.
We were well-fed and eager for adventure. Next in our list was the famous (or so Jason claimed) Hearst Castle. How to describe Hearst Castle to my fellow foreigners... Well, for one, it wasn’t a castle. Rather, it was a manor so opulent and decadent that no one batted an eye at the misnomer. But maybe I should first share what I remember of its history, since I did sit through 15 minutes of an introductory video before riding a bus up the hill atop which Hearst had "built" his dream. Seconds into the short, a voiceover told us that Mr. Hearst could've been called many things: pioneer, journalist, rich prick. But if we had asked him how he saw himself, he would have said "he was a Builder". You could hear the capital B in that word, the solemnity - the gravitas. And then the narrator was kind enough to explain the origin of Hearst's money, a true American dream come true.
Hearst' father -let's call him Mr. Hearst- found something he believed was gold, carried it on his mules across half the country, and was finally proved right when only one mule was still alive. Mr. Hearst received an obscene amount of money for his gold, enough to buy a hill in Los Angeles, to take his young son there every summer to camp, and to spoil the impressionable kid rotten. Our Hearst used his inheritance to revolutionize journalism by inventing and promoting yellow, sensationalistic press, thus making the world just a little suckier for the rest of us. When he wasn't busy corrupting the ethical values of his employees or pushing his country towards nonsensical wars, he liked to go to his lands in California and revel in the glorious sights. In fact, he loved the place so very much that he decided to completely change it.
First he brought trees and plants from all over the world, replacing the local species. Then he built a zoo, the largest private zoo in the world, full with zebras, bears and just about every animal he simply could not do without. And overlooking it all, at the very top of that once-grassy hill that he used to climb as a kid, The Builder Built His Castle - and he did it by calling a civil engineer, and having her try to make sense of his nonsensical requests. You see, Hearst was a great builder in the same way that the Pharaohs were great architects, the Popes were gifted artists and Nero was an unmatched arsonist. He was a back-seat driver, a compulsive buyer or art that wanted to create a fancy deposit for his hundreds of statues, tapestries and paintings.
That's not to say it wasn't an interesting place to visit.
No, really. I walked around the buildings, pools and gardens that formed his castle, taking in the weird, eclectic potpourri of Spanish, Roman and Egyptian styles, and just had to laugh. Women with impressive unibrows looked at Egyptian gods, invaluable antique wooden tables with ketchup bottles on them ("Mr. Hearst just loved his ketchup!", laughs) underneath six hundred year old wooden Venetian ceilings. I didn't even known prior to that day that people could buy ceilings and walls. It was all there: outdoor pools, a private theater, tennis courts, outdoor pools, a freaking airfield for his aviator friends to land their planes. It was a vicious assault on restraint and moderation, but it was entertaining.
We saw movies of him hosting Churchill in the guest houses, playing tennis against Chaplin - and winning. I think it was then that Jon, Jason and I started speculating about what we would do if we had that much money. Either Jon or I proposed finding one of Chapin's descendents, bringing him to that tennis court - and pwing his sorry ass. Later on, while we were driving away, Jason said that he would buy a big, rocky hill we passed and then build a manor on top of it. I told him I'd buy it from him, break the entire thing into parts and take to Argentina, put it together and then proclaim I'm a builder. Fun times.
Nirvana Four Times Four
It occurs to me that my negative reviews of popular tourist spots might soon (already?) get me labeled as a "complainer". All in all, I enjoyed pretty much every place I visited during my trip, Hearst Castle included. I simply find it more fun to nitpick and rant. Sometimes it's easy, like when a magnate spends billions to ruin a perfectly nice hill, but sometimes it's simply impossible.
In-n-Out is the best burger joint in the USA. Have I been to all of them? No, I haven't. Do I need to? No, I don't. Jason insisted that we had to go there before the Superbowl started, and I love him for it. It looked normal enough from outside: the restaurant favored the aseptic, off-white and red style that seemed to be a classic in California. But while we were waiting in line, the Californian contingent explained to me what was what. Even though In-n-Out's menu was rather sparse, there were items that you could ask for that weren't in it. For instance, you could ask for as many layers of cheeseburgers as you wanted. Two layers (a 2x2, 2 meat, 2 cheese)? Sure. Three? Yup. Four? Why the hell not! One of Jason's friend claimed that he had once ordered a -sit down, hold your pants- 10x10.
I chickened out. The 4x4 I ordered looked impressive but insufficient when compared to that mythical 10x10. It tasted even better than it looked, and I cursed the day McDonald's was accepted into Argentina before In-n-Out. However, deep down, my cowardice bothered me. I could almost imagine that accursed 10x10, laughing at me. I swore then and there that someday I would return and slay that 10x10, even if I had to travel around the world to buy it and sacrifice every last one of my shipmates. What say ye, all ye men?
The Superbowl was interesting. Neither Jason nor his friends seemed to care much about the outcome, despite the blue-jersey coozy and the jersey one of them was wearing. In fact, they seemed more excited to me about the half-time ads than about the precise offensive plays. I was explained some of the rules by the most tolerant of my coviewers, and I must say I enjoyed the game. I asked who the underdog was, they told me, and of course I immediately started rooting for them. They won with heart, skill, and the quarterback sounded like a nice guy in the postgame interview. That's as positive as it gets. (Mind you, I still think it's pretty much like rugby - only the players wear pads and helmets, the coach is more important than all the players combined, there are too many time outs that break the flow of the game and I can't imagine it's fun to play for anyone but the quarterback. So it's a watered-down, boring rugby. Boo yah!)
cojones2thewall left us shortly after, and thus our party of six was left without its more down-to-earth member. The consequences would stretch through the entire night, and would involve: Jason running like mad in front of the radar speed meter to make it measure his speed, and then nearly puking from the effort; being told the local bar was closed, just because, get out now; me touching the Pacific ocean for the first time (see commemorative photo below); taking ridiculous photos at the lifeguard post, because a "keep off" sign is just asking for it; barhopping in a near town called San Luis Obispo, and seeing pretty ladies inhaling nondescript drinks atop the bar counter as her friends went crazy. The scene I'm still trying to forget, though, involved a young cowboy drinking a glass full of his friends' spit, thankfully mixed with something that I hope was pure alcohol. No group is worth that, is it?
It's frustrating to try to share that night. So much happened, and I know I won't do it justice with my snippets. Jason already mentioned the gum wall in an alley, gums of all colors, sizes and ages in a gross analogy of collaborative 2.0 projects; the cute bartender at "Frog and Peach Club", the last bar we went to that night, that eventually joined us after Jon told her I had come all the way to Argentina just to visit her bar; the race inside the bar between Jon and a drunk; the large, bald taxi driver fond of piercings and of breaking speed limits; breaking into the spa at night to enjoy the jacuzzi, and being kicked out for the second night in a row.
When I finally wrestled Jason to the hotel, I was sure of two things: it had been a night for the ages - and I couldn't take it much longer.
I woke up to Jason's lamentations about being given a parking ticket. He had left his truck at San Luis Obispo, and apparently night parking (3 AM to 5 AM) was against the law. In fact, the ticket had a table with possible violations and their fines, and a quick scan suggested that parking in just about any place, way and time was illegal in that town. They even ominously left the fine for "parking meter" blank, and had a fine for parking in the "wrong way". You don't mess with San Luis Obispo.
Breakfast was had in a nice, random restaurant by the beach. I was somehow talked into having "clam chowder", which wasn't nearly as disgusting as its name. In fact, it was rather tasty. I barely paid attention to the argument about whether the real clam chowder was the Western or the Eastern variety. Not five minutes away was the aptly named "Rock". Despite my derisive inner laugh when I read the plaque that claimed it was sometimes known as "The Gibraltar of the Pacific", Morro Rock was impressive. Massive, proud and unapologetic, the Rock was a mystery that couldn't easily be explained by anything but a good geology book and a basic understanding of the physics behind erosion. Since I had neither, I stared at it for a long time before I let Jason and Jon go back to the van.
It was time to part towards Los Angeles, but before that the guys and I had a mission to accomplish: find, approach and touch one of the elephant seals that every year came to those beaches to mate. I had first heard these beasts in San Francisco, but the night kept them hidden from prying eyes. Driving to a public beach Jason knew of where we were likely to be able to get close to them, we first saw the females, black and smaller than the males. We had to leave the truck and slowly go down a rocky trail to see our first male. It was huge, gray and vaguely amorphous. It was also moving slowly, stretching, so we quickly decided he did not want to be touched. We edged away, then turned and scuttled among the rocks.
Suddenly, there it was: the largest and meanest elephant seal we had seen that day, sleeping on its side in a small recess in the cliff, almost a private beach. It wasn't moving, but we could guess beneath its thick layers of fat the taut muscles of a trained killer. Two men stepped forward, and one stayed behind. Let's call him "Chicken". Now, apparently it's illegal to disturb elephant seals, so we did NOT ignore that law - especially considering I was a tourist and thus liable to extradition. We did NOT. We did NOT approach the beast step by step, running away at the merest twitch of a whisker, but always coming back like twin Rockys against fat, sleeping Apollos. We did NOT finally dare while Chicken stood on a rock far away, taking photos, and lightly touched its tail. It did NOT roar mightily (or was it a soft gurgle as he rolled even further on its side?), and we did NOT fall over ourselves trying to scramble away on all fours. We did NOT come back to touch him again, softly, a few times, confident and just a little taller. We did NOT think less of Chicken for leaving us in the lurch. So please remember, guys: we did NOT do anything illegal.
Also, Jason is Chicken.
All Good Things
We had plans for Los Angeles. Those plans were deeply buried by the insane traffic, as it took us about six hours to drive from Avila beach to the Lakers' arena. My first impression on Los Angeles was colored by the few glimpses I had of the city from above that highway: a city of reds and whites and pastels, of ceramic tiles and brick walls, with an uncaring, organic vastness that made it seem endless. We arrived just in time to make sense of the mindless drones trying to find their way into the arena. Outside, guarding the main entrance, Oscar de la Hoya stood with his arms stretched in a victory pose.
The game was bad, and I won't go over it here. We had our chance against a depleted Lakers team, and we managed to rise down to the occasion. I'll focus instead on my experience of the show around the game. You're welcome.
Security made Jon relinquish the lilliputian pointy metal thing he had hidden in a pocket with nefarious intentions. Then we got on an escalator, and then another, and another, all the way to infinity and beyond. You see, Jason had been in charge of buying the tickets for that night. Up to that point my worst tickets had been behind the backboard, midway up the first level, or perhaps the VIP suite for my first NBA game. Jason, being such a cheap-o, bought tickets in what probably was the fourth level but felt like the 18th, in one of the corners. I'm convinced that there were only 30 or 40 people in the Staples Center that had worse seats. I heartlessly mocked him for it, and stopped only when he looked on the verge of either punching me or starting to cry.
Once seated, the clichés about the Lakers fans proved true. I expect to be seated among the hardcore fans, like BlaseE always tells me. However, no one seemed to cheer much, and a few morons left midway through the third quarter. Two things I did like about the Lakers' arena, though: the introductory video was several orders of magnitude better than the Spurs', and there was a live music band near us, in the third level, that made all the difference in the world when compared to the PA system music you have to sit through in every game. Another anecdote of that night: a male singer from a local indie band messed up the lyrics of the national anthem. Jason and Jon enjoyed it.
Jason and I walked back to the car depressed, and Jon mercifully kept to himself. It was definitely not the way I wanted to say goodbye to California - I had hoped for a raspberry instead of a whimper, a high-five instead of a facepalm. Thankfully Jason's abuelita had cooked empanadas for us, so soon we had put the horror behind us. We chatted well into the night, napped for three or four hours, and then they took me to the airport. It was a modern maze built to confuse, divide and conquer, but we solved it just in time.
I said my goodbyes, and there were promises to meet in Buenos Aires, in Los Angeles, in San Antonio and online. I walked towards the security checkpoint thinking of how great California had been. I didn't think anything else could possibly match the intense fun that Jason and Jon had imposed on me - but then, I had never been to SiMA's mancave before.