Friday, March 13, 2009
I used the ride to Monte Hermosa to think of questions I wanted to ask P-Mac. I considered the standard backpacking questions: Where are you from? How long have you been traveling? Where are you headed? They seemed apropos to P-Mac's situation. I decided it would be best if I didn't over think it.
The bus dropped me off right in front of Nené's house. She was ecstatic to see me and I was just as excited. She gave me a breakdown of the entire lodging situation in the town as she did not have any room for me in her house since her grandchildren were all staying with her. She showed me around her digs and proudly displayed photos of her family. She offered me a ride to my hotel, so I threw my backpack in her car and we drove around the town. She pointed out where her son worked, where the El Nacional squad stayed and her favorite eateries before we arrived at the Prince Hotel.
I walked a block to the hotel where El Nacional and P-mac were staying. Through the window, I saw two tall men wearing athletic gear sitting in the lobby. I prepared a little speech and then manned up and went inside. I talked to the guys and learned one was a player and one was on the coaching staff.
I told them I was a big fan of Paul McPherson and I was only here in Monte Hermosa to watch their game. The coach asked me if I had a blog about McPherson. I told him that it was mine and he laughed. He said he found my blog after Google-ing Paul McPherson.
Five more long, awkward minutes went by in which the two El Nacional guys and myself bullshitted in Castellano before P-Mac walked down the stairs into the small lobby. The other player broke his Castellano and let Paul know in perfect English that he had a fan here. I introduced myself and asked if he was familiar with Where's P-Mac.
P-Mac told me he'd never heard of it, which was fairly deflating. I explained to him that it was equal parts running-joke and actual mission to find him. Then I told him how I had been a fan of his since he played for the Phoenix Suns. He was cool the entire time and told me to come back to the hotel at 3:00 when he was done with practice.
I went back to my hotel room, watched three episodes of Los Simpson, ate a really shitty ham and cheese sandwich and contemplated the paradox of finding P-Mac in a country 30 years removed from its "Dirty War", in which 30,000 Argentines "disappeared". Throughout my travels, I had seen several bus terminals with walls still littered with missing persons posters from families who still hoped their children might be alive, and I had simply stumbled upon the person I was looking for.
I returned to the players' hotel and found P-Mac sitting on a ledge outside wearing a pair of all black Nike Air Force Ones, white Nike basketball shorts, a black Nike tee and a black du-rag. Fortunately, I had just had my laundry done for the first time since I left Buenos Aires, so I was able to throw on some clean clothes for the meeting.
I had my expectations set a little too high. I expected P-Mac to have all the answers to life, offer me a job in New York City, become best friends forever and maybe he would have a Microsoft Zune charger as well as battery charger compatible with the Cannon SD850IS. Instead he was just a regular guy who felt like he was in "basketball punishment" for having to play for El Nacional.
After the underwhelming encounter I was wildly depressed, and on top of it all had to think of a new blog name.
On the plane ride to Argentina I had read the book God Save the Fan, in which the author Will Leitch wrote that if you ever hung out with your sports hero, you'd most likely end up hating each other. While that was not quite the case, there was no way my dream of becoming best friends was going to happen either.
P-Mac's background and mine were a little different. I grew up with two and then four loving parents in the affluent community of Scottsdale, Arizona. P-Mac grew up in a single-parent household in the rough neighborhood of Dorchester in Chicago's Southside. P-Mac talked about running with gangs and robbing drug dealers. I never ran in any gangs and the most disrespectful thing I ever did to a drug dealer was eat their last slice of pizza when I was getting high with my drug-dealing friends in college.
P-Mac also talked about how he always hated school, barely graduating high school and how college was just a way to get into the NBA. He brought up an athletic booster from DePaul, the university he attended before he declared for the NBA draft, which kept trying to get him to return, and how he never had interest in returning to the classroom.
I'd like to return to the classroom and give a lecture to journalism students on the most inefficient but fun way to find sources. I would encourage the students to create a blog with the desired source in the heading, and after 18 months of inconsistent posting, pick any country on earth to go backpacking, then eventually your source will just show up.
He didn't have any entertaining stories after playing professional basketball in Europe for four years, killing my biography idea, which was supposed to turn into my career after my travels.
As I'd suspected, the 30-year-old P-Mac was only playing basketball for the money and didn't care what team he was playing with. He wound up in Argentina after his time was up with the French team Hyéres Toulon Var Basket that he was previously playing with.
He had offers to either play in Spain in a more competitive league or in Argentina in a league of lesser quality, but for more money. P-Mac was earning $11,500 tax-free US dollars a month with El Nacional. Plus he was provided with an apartment in Bahía Blanca, which he always called Baja Blanca.
I still hoped that P-Mac would be able to take care of my next obstacle in life and he would have magically have a dream job waiting for me back in the states. However, the only employment he had to offer was working for his wife's daycare business in Chicago, but I had no desire in working in daycare.
If there were any valuable lessons I actually learned from P-Mac, it's that you can't live in the past or dwell on anything too long, because if P-Mac did he'd probably go insane over two regrettable life decisions. He spoke of his two biggest mistakes in life, but reiterated what's done is done as he knows he cannot do anything about it. The first was when he left DePaul after his second season with the school, a year too early since he went undrafted and had to hustle his way into the NBA through the Suns summer league. The second was one year into the league, he fired his agent over a minor argument and ended up hiring a new agent who wasn't half as qualified as his first.
Once my expectations became more realistic, I realized P-Mac was a real cool guy. There is a lot more that P-Mac told me which can never make the blog because it would ruin any career P-Mac may have left.
I left the hotel feeling fulfilled and walked right into some sort of multi-cultural fiesta which had eight men dancing on stage in purple velour tights and one man dancing wearing a horse. This was not quite the setting I envisioned meeting P-Mac, but I guess that's just how life works.