Last Days in Mexico
I meant to post this last night but it got too late…..
Feb 3, 2012
I’ve been in Guatemala City since Wednesday, preparing for the qualifying tournament in the last event I will be playing in Central America. I’ve had a few good days of training to get used to yet another set of high altitude conditions, but they are different this week than in Mexico City because they don’t use the pressureless balls I had grown to know and hate. I think I just have to get used to the fact that every new place I go will feel different and take some getting used to. It’s hard sometimes but the people who can adapt quickest are the ones who do the best. Or at least avoid getting frustrated the most. I’ll talk more about Guatemala next time though. For now I want to describe my last couple days in Mexico.
Most players would probably agree that one of the hardest parts of being on tour is when you lose early in a tournament and have an entire week to kill before the start of the next one. Besides the fact that you’re disappointed from having lost or performed poorly, you’re also put into a predicament of “what the hell do I do now?” This can sometimes be a tough and intimidating feeling and it is definitely the time when it’s the hardest to stay positive and motivated. It’s easy to get down on yourself and start thinking about home, and your girlfriend, and everything you’re missing out on by being stuck in some random city you know nothing about and in terms of places like Mexico, is probably not safe. But these are the times that you have to learn to cherish and use to make sure that your trip means more than just the results of a tennis match. I am as guilty as anyone of getting bummed out and questioning myself, and what I’m doing after a bad loss. But I’m trying to maintain perspective and understand that the time in between tournaments is important too. Not only is that the time when you can fix the parts of your game that may have let you down, but it is also the time when you can explore and actually take stock of where you are in the world, both physically and mentally. Hopefully this post will remain in the realm of philosophical abstraction, although I’m sure at some point its bound to straddle the border of existential breakdown. We’ll see though, I’m in a decent mood right now so hopefully I can keep the ship steered on course toward the former.
Regarding the tennis portion of between-tournament-time, my first method of coping with the post-loss letdown is simply to get back out on the court. Well actually, if I’m being totally honest, the first thing is usually to find a chocolate bar of some sort or at least a greasy meal or something to help signify that its time to relax a bit and take the shoes off. Maybe even a beer or two—or seven—if it’s convenient. Mostly though, I just eat a bunch of crap, take the rest of the day off, and find someone solid to hit with the next day. Since I’ve been losing early the last few weeks, I haven’t been in the tournaments very long. So what I’ve tried to focus on is really enjoying and taking serious the tennis I get to play once the real matches are done for me. Basically, I’ve tried to maintain the perspective that I came here to play tennis, and even if I can’t play in the tournament anymore, I’m still surrounded by some of the best players in the world, which is an incredible opportunity to keep playing the game I love at the highest level. Although it may not feel as important when there is no referee, or ball-boys, or linesmen, I’m still out there on the same courts as the guys that are still in it, and I can still compete hard and enjoy the backdrop of beautiful mountains that line the outside of my view. It is a privilege to be able to come to these places to play a sport, so I try to respect that sentiment by doing my best to enjoy all the time I get to do it. Obviously sometimes it is easier than others, but I’m definitely doing much better than I used to in this respect.
For the most part I’ll try to play sets or even full matches on these days so I can still compete and get match practice against good players. And with the egos that tennis creates in people, these are often as much competition as one could want. I must have played this nineteen-year old kid named Evan Song six times already on this trip and each one is as cutthroat and intense as most tournaments I’ve played. He was a top American junior before he turned pro last year and he travels with his dad and his coach, which provides us with a few spectators even to watch us battle. Whether it seems stupid or not, I take it as a
compliment when some of my friends ask me why I would want to go out there and play real matches after the tournament is done, because a lot of guys just go through the motions and lose their drive and fire to compete once their out and waiting for the next week. They may still train hard but it’s not what they are there for. I guess I’ve just come to feel that if I can make the time I’m playing between the tournaments what I am here for, I can’t really be disappointed if my results aren’t as good as I hope or expect. And then, the real, tournament matches I play become a bonus. I know for a fact that I will always remember a practice match I played against Evan in Mexico City where he fought back from six match points down in a tiebreaker in the second set to beat me by ripping more backhand winners than I had thought possible, and the pain I felt at losing that set was as real to me at the time as losing to the Brazilian in the qualifying two days before. Again, all this is easier said than done, but I’ve definitely made a lot of progress and I can honestly say I’ve been enjoying almost all of the time I’ve had on the court the past few weeks. In the end, that’s really all I can ask.
That all being said, between-tournament-time is also the only time I really have to explore my actual place in the world, meaning whatever city I’m in. Or at least I try to fit exploring it in during occasional breaks from my complex exercises in investigating my metaphysical space. So with what time I don’t spend on the court I make an effort to do the tourist thing and have some cultural experiences. As sad as it sounds, sometimes I really do have to force myself to put in that effort because it is easy to get lulled into just hanging out at whatever club the tournament is held, pretty much just watching the week go by. I’m proud to say that before leaving Mexico City I was able to make two interesting cultural outings. One was simply a ride on the “Touribus,” which is a double decker that takes you all around the city, showing you the various landmarks and places of interest. The other was a professional soccer game between the Pumas, of Mexico City and the Chivas, of Guadalajara.
The Touribus was about what you would expect from a double
decker bus tour. It was interesting to see a large portion of the city and fun to get out places and walk around a bit, although not too much since your liable to get robbed or murdered if your too ambitious. Unfortunately it was rush hour for a large majority of the tour, and being stuck in traffic while breathing the fumes of twenty million cars from the top of an open-air bus can be taxing to say the least. Jon and I made it through about nine of the seventeen stops on the tour and bailed, feeling like we’d seen more than enough.
The soccer game on the other hand was awesome and I loved being a part of 60,000 rowdy, screaming, Mexicans. I’ve always loved soccer and going to a Professional Mexican league game was not unlike going to a Blazer or Duck game. Except maybe that a double barricade of police in full riot gear separated the opposing crowds, and that the fans seemed to be allowed to throw their cups and beer cans onto the field when they didn’t like a call, which was often. Jon and I were taken to the game by Siggy, the son of our host family, and we were all very disappointed not to see our Pumas win since the game ended in a tie. Oh well though. It was still fun to get out and immerse ourselves in what seemed a very positive part of
Mexican culture. I say this because you hear so many awful things about Mexico and how dangerous it is and the poverty and everything, so it was fun to be a part of something so
clearly positive. I’ll admit I was a little worried beforehand that it would be dangerous to put myself in such a vulnerable position, surrounded by 60,000 people any of whom could rob or kidnap me, but in reality I never felt any sense of danger at all. My spidey sense remained calm and although perhaps in other circumstances many of the people around would look at me with malicious intent, it really seemed like everyone was just happy to be spending their afternoon drinking beer and watching soccer.
The funniest thing that happened this week was definitely when the mother of the family Jon and I were stay with took me to the Western Union to pick up my emergency wire transfer. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I’ve developed an annoying habit of losing my debit card as soon as I enter a new country. Most of the time I end up leaving it in an ATM after making a withdrawal, which is what I did in Europe when I was nineteen, what I did in Laos a year and a half ago, and what I did in Monterrey two weeks ago. I don’t know why I started doing this, but it is really frustrating and makes traveling difficult when you have no access to cash. To make a long story short, Bank of America could not get me a new debit card, so instead they wired $1000 dollars to a bank in Mexico City where I could go pick it up and have for the rest of my trip. Unfortunately the bank could only pay me in Mexican Pesos, so, duffle bag in hand, my host mother and I went to the bank to collect my dough. As the teller counted out my 13,000 pesos for the fourth time, I couldn’t help but realize that the bank was packed with people, and most everyone new at that point that we were about to walk out with a bunch of cash. My host mom was pretty anxious too, which didn’t help my mood any, and when we finally received the cash she put half of it in her purse and gave me the rest—I was just kidding about the duffle bag.
As we turned to leave she whispered to me in Spanish to act normal, like nothing strange was going on. This was exactly what I wanted to hear and made me feel great. I was sweating bullets, looking left and right trying to decide who was going to mug us and whether I could take them or not. When we got outside I breathed a sigh of relief as my host-mom literally sprinted to the meter to get our parking ticket stamped and that’s when things started getting weird. After dealing with the meter, she came running back and started looking around frantically because she couldn’t remember where she parked the car. I had no idea where it could be because she had dropped me off in front of the bank and the parking lot was pretty big. We started casually walking up and down the isles looking for her car, trying not to look like we had our pockets brimming over with Pesos.
Finally, she came to the great idea of using the clicker on her keychain to find the car, except that rather than hit the unlock button she pressed the panic button, setting off the alarm which started screaming from forty feet away. By the time we ran over to the car everyone in the parking lot was looking at us. Unfortunately for us though, somehow she managed to break the clicker so that we couldn’t get into the car or turn the alarm off. After a couple minutes, the car went into stage two of its alert system, meaning that the siren got louder and faster, just in case the next neighborhood over hadn’t heard it yet.
So now, not only were we trying to get away with a ton of cash, but we were also for all intents and purposes trying to steal her car in broad daylight. I guess it’s a good thing when security systems work properly, but the damn thing just wouldn’t shut up. Even after she eventually got the door open by shimmying the actual key out of the clicker thing, which was some sort of automated contraption, and we started driving away, the alarm kept ringing. Thank God Mexicans don’t seem to mind car thieves though because nobody did anything but stare at the crazy lady and gringo as we finally made our escape. All in all it was probably the least discreet getaway in history, and the only good part was that it would have been pretty hard to mug us with literally everyone in the shopping center looking, especially when they thought we were car thieves as well and probably not worth messing around. It was basically the epitome of hidden in plain sight, which looking back may not have been all that bad for us.
Anyway, sorry that was kind of long and involved and nothing really happened except that we got freaked out and made fools of ourselves. But its funny looking back and wasn’t that bad besides the fact that now I’m stuck with a stack of Pesos and Guatemalan Quetzals which feel like play money and are hard to understand.
I’m going to sleep now because I have a match in the morning and it’s late. It turns out my opponent tomorrow is my good friend Joel Kincaid who I grew up playing and went to high school with. Its Ironic we came all the way to Guatemala just to see each other in the first round of qualifying, but that’s the way these things seem to work. Night