Day Five, Assimilation.

Today would be nothing like the previous day. When my alarm sputtered into my ear at 6 a.m. I got out of bed. On this day, my first task was to shower and being that I had a couple of years to practice this task, I was quite adept. I felt bad for whoever was on the other side of the wall to my shower, but only slightly, as I was singing “Dance, Magic Dance” as made famous by David Bowie from the 1986 Jim Henson movie Labyrinth. And before you ask, yes I was even doing the “You remind me of a babe. What babe? The babe with the power…” part. At ten minutes to 7 I sat down at my hotel room’s desk to attempt to figure out how to dial into a conference call using the hotel phone. My list of materials to accomplish this task was extensive: AT&T calling card, instruction sheet for said calling card, hotel binder with instructions for dialing the US, laptop with conference call phone number information, hotel phone, hard surface on which to bang forehead. As it turns out, this would be the most difficult and aneurysm-causing part of my entire trip.

First I tried the most logical of options and followed the instructions on the calling card. It instructed me to first dial my country of origin’s international access line listed on the opposite side. Easy. I then dialed my patch-through number listed on the back of the calling card, and waited for the prompt. A friendly computer told me to dial the number that I was trying to reach, so I did. Not a valid number. Okay, let’s try this again only this time I’ll add the “001” for reaching the US, which took me to the next prompt: enter in my access code from the front of the calling card. A different, but equally as friendly computer told me that I was not authorized to do “this”. How helpful and informative of an error message. So was I unauthorized to dial to the United States or unauthorized to use this card? I tried again, and again, and again using different combinations of numbers to attempt to reach the US. I even tried directly dialing the number without any calling card, which took me to a message in Spanish that while I didn’t understand, I could at least make out a maniacal “Ha ha ha”. Eventually I was able to figure out that repeatedly hitting zero while conversing with the helpful calling card computer took me to an operator. She said that I should not be able to reach the number that I was calling but she would put me through anyway. Ok, thanks? I think that little piece of advice may have actually been even less informative than the generic message I got from the computer. At least I made the meeting…

And that’s it. No really, the rest of the day is so boring that when I try to type out any details the upper half of my body slumps over as I pass out from boredom. To avoid any cerebral damage ( for both you and I ) I’ll give you the basic run down: I had my ID badge so I didn’t have any problems getting into/around IBM, I knew what to expect from the taxi ride, so while it was still harrowing, I wasn’t sweating bullets. I spoke a little bit of Spanish here and there, and I ended up staying at work until about 7:30 Guad time, then working from the hotel for the remainder of the night. I saved the world a few times in the process, but really no big deal. I did however find my new favorite Mexican beer while working in the Hotel lobby bar, which is called Tecate. It’s a lighter beer, and it’s nothing like Corona. So hooray. Anyway, let’s pretend this day never happened, shall we? Excellent. Moving on…

Day Six, Friday!! Victory.

Today started out much like the day prior, as I found myself repeatedly slamming my forehead into the marble desk in my hotel room before leaving the hotel and heading to work. During the 40 minute trek across Jalisco (the state that Guadalajara is in), I thought about how much nicer the taxi rides in the morning are compared to those on the way home. I realized that the taxi drivers that wait at the hotel are much more capable of driving a standard transmission, so there is much less jerking and neck snapping during the full speed, four-way merge process. It’s funny how excited I get as we pull into IBM, narrowly missing the speeding cars on the highway, as I get to pull out my badge and hold it proudly towards the guards for admittance to the technology campus. And it’s also funny how not excited I was when I was quietly minding my own business, working at my desk when a very loud and obnoxious klaxon started going off. Okay, I admit, that was a dumb statement. Have you ever heard a klaxon that wasn’t loud and annoying? Didn’t think so.

There were blue lights flashing and I had no idea what was happening. Was the building on fire? A chemical leak? I didn’t know whether I should fish the key out of my pocket and untether my laptop from its security cable in case there truly was an emergency, but since nobody else seemed to be taking their belongings, I decided against it. I followed the flow of employees out into the hallway and down a metal staircase into a parking lot where I immediately noticed that familiar, smug look of the militant snobs who hold the stop watch and mark down the time of each group of employees to see how long it takes them to get out of the building during a fire-drill. They were in fact so asinine today that they were making us line up according to how fast we made it out of the building. I was one row over from the “<2 min.” sign. Yeah, they actually had signs stuck into parking cones so as to better identify the success/failure (life/death) of their employees. The sun was beating down on us, and I was profusely sweating in my jeans and polo. As I glanced around at the rest of the employees I noticed that many of them had jackets and sweaters on, and nobody seemed to be warm in the slightest. I guess living your whole life in such warm conditions slightly skews your perception of hot and cold.

A number of people started moving up and down the rows to my right, giving stickers to the people who “survived” the emergency. I didn’t know whether to be jealous of the stickers or appalled that they were treating their employees like fifth graders, but before I made up my mind a woman with a megaphone appeared out of thin air and started berating those of us there were too slow to deserve a sticker. I don’t know exactly what she said, but the people around me were groaning as if they were being told they had to work non-stop through the rest of the weekend. After an exceedingly obnoxious amount of time standing in the sun, we were finally allowed to go back inside. The rest of the day was business as usual, except for my occasional urge to trip somebody as they walked through my cube snake flashing their sticker on their shirt like they won some kind of prize.

Around one o’clock in the afternoon on the way to the cafeteria with my usual crowd, I learned that a number of years prior on this exact date a massive, terrible earthquake rocked this portion of Mexico. Every year since, on the anniversary of the quake, they have this emergency fire drill as a reminder that another quake could strike at any time. I also learned that I was lost? I don’t know why, but it seems that my entire life has been plagued with people losing me. First there was Wildwood, NJ and then numerous trips to Gabriel Brothers, and now this. Apparently, nobody could find me during the fire drill, meanwhile I was walking out with the rest of the employees seated around me. The guy that sits directly behind me said that he got up to leave and did not see me sitting at my desk, yet somehow he was in the less than two minute line. So he insists that I had to have left before him, yet he made it out before me. Well somehow this sparked a chain reaction with him calling all of my IBM contacts on site to make sure somebody was taking care of me. Nobody seems to believe that I can take care of myself for some reason. When I was “lost” in Wildwood I was taking care of myself just fine eating scraps of food out of the sand and bedding down in perfectly acceptable sand dunes for rest when I needed it. I was okay then, and my family freaked out. I was okay now, and my fellow IBM employees freaked. Oh well, that will have to be a mystery left unsolved.

The rest of the day was spent in anticipation of the night’s activities. Earlier in the week I had been briefed that every Friday is basketball and drinking for the Guad guys, wherein they literally play basketball and then go out drinking all night. It sounded like a great time, so I had been waiting all week to play and it was finally the end of the work day. Time to venture into the unknown again…

David, Daniel and I headed out into the parking lot and loaded our belongings into Daniel’s hatchback Honda. We drove across the parking lot towards a secluded section of the capus that was mostly fenced off. We parked the car and headed to an employee rest area where we all changed into our basketball clothes. The entire time I couldn’t help but wonder where this basketball court was, as I had only seen a soccer field on the way to the rest area. Once we were all changed and ready, we headed directly into the soccer field, or at least what remained of a soccer field. The goals were decrepid and falling apart, as their nets barely clung to their frames. The field itself was extremely unkempt and the grass itched my knees as we journeyed across the near side, behind one of the goals. There had recently been a rain storm that had passed through the area so my tennis shoes sank into the earth, and water splashed on my ankles with each soggy step. Got to the edge of the field, which was bordered by what looked to be a moat, but may just as well have been an open-air sewage or irrigation system. As we climbed through a broken piece of fence I couldn’t help but wonder if what we were doing was even allowed. We followed along the moat for about 30 yards before coming to a make-shift bridge. We had to cross this bridge individually as it wobbled and shook, bringing with each step the liklihood that it would go crashing down into the stagnant water below. Upon reaching the opposite side, we went back in the direction that we had come, squeezing sideways between two fences. Once we rounded the corner of the inner fence I could see the basketball court. The weeds that we were trodding through on this leg of the journey were even higher and more irritating than the high grass on the soccer field, but eventually we were able to climb through another section of broken fence to firmly plant our feet on the basketball court.

The recent rain storm had deposited three large pools of water on the court, which were hastily being swept off the court with the help of an old broom and a few bunches of palm fronds. Those that weren’t helping to clear the water were practicing their shots at the side of the court nearest the area that we entered. After a quick introduction, I took my place in the rotation and tried my best to appear to have the ability to shoot a basket. This was ultimately a complete failure, and I might have made two shots out of fifteen. It had been about fourteen years since I had played a proper game of basketball, and I was having a heated internal struggle trying to mentally prepare myself for what was about to take place.

The first game started poorly. At first, I was running the length of the court just to make it look like I was contributing. I didn’t touch the ball in the first fifteen minutes and once I did, I wished that I hadn’t. It was a direct pass from one of my teammates, which I immediately lost control of and allowed to bounce out of bounds. It was a number of plays later before I would touch the ball again, and this time I made sure to give up the ball almost immediately. After a few other touches I finally had a perfect opportunity to shoot. It would seem that the opposing team had caught on to my inabliity to do anything and left me without a blocking defender. I received a quick bounce pass, put the ball up, and tossed. I had awful form, and always have but somehow the ball managed to find its way into the basket. It was a good feeling to have scored a point, even though our team was losing. It was not so good of a feeling that for the remainder of the game, I did nothing else to positively contribute to our team.

The next two games were even worse. I was failing miserably at every aspect of basketball, and our team lost three games in a row. This made me a sad panda. I was having a hard time breathing, I was ready to give up and worst of all, I felt like I had let my team down. They asked if I wanted to play once more and not wanting to look like a quitter, I agreed; however this time they had intended to switch up the teams by switching the best and worst player (me) from each team. The game started off on the wrong foot, as the opposing team scored four unanswered points. Our defense got it together and slowed their scoring down, while the faster players managed to tighten the score gap. It was looking grim for our team, especially considering my contribution as of yet, which made it seem like a game of 5 on 4, when suddenly something strange happened.

We were down by two points, and somehow my quick and awkward hands managed to block a shot and take control of the ball. One of my teammates was already at half court, so I “tossed him the rock”. I thought this was a sure score, but somehow their defense caught up to him and forced him to miss. Luckily, he got the rebound and after a few key passes, the ball came to me. I was wide-open and very far away from the basket, yet for some reason I took the shot. It was awkward at best, with the ball spining in directions that you don’t normally see, and after a few moments of silence, there was only the swoosh of a job well done. We were only down by one now. We stopped them from scoring and drove back to their side of the court. Within a few passes I found myself open again, and in almost the exact same position. A quick bounce pass to me, and another point for our team. I was feeling pretty damn good about myself right about then. We were tied, and for the first time in all four games my team was not behind… On the next play the same set up, but this time I didn’t try to shoot. Instead, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and did a very awkward bounce pass to one of my teammates moving across underneath the basket, who thew a layup and got our team in the lead. After finally attaining a lead, our team was able to seal the deal quickly; and the best part was that I had the pleasure of knowing I actually contributed.

After basketball, we left the technology campus and headed about a mile down the highway to a little bar called Pino’s, which was quite literally on the side of the highway. We odered a 20 gallon bucket full of bottled beer, and drank the rest of the night away. The waitress would bring us ramdom plates of snacks such as spiced assorted nuts, sliced cucumbers mixed with slivers of hotdogs, weird fried little funyun-type things drenched in hot sauce, and bowls full of sliced lime. After our second bucket of beer, we called it a night and I got a taxi ride back to the hotel. As I lay in bed that night, watching Golden I thought about how awesome it was to hang out with the Mexicans that evening. I had a great time playing basketball, and had lots of laughs at Pino’s. Even though I couldn’t understand every single thing we had talked about that night, I was quite positive that this was the most vulgar group of people I had ever been involved with. And that made me smile.