That I’m traveling across the Mexican border, with two fifteen year-old girls sporting short skirts and enough sunscreen to enshroud a large moose, is not how I imagined surviving my mid-forties. This trip, however, represents a launching point for young athletic careers. The two females are tennis players, both embarking upon their first professional circuit, one, which includes Caribbean beaches, ancient Mayan history and enough humidity to dampen Steven Wright’s humor (look him up).
Today, we leave on an early morning jet from the States, which means I’m currently surrounded by bovine-stepping people with epidemic bed-hair and the sort of half-mast eyelids that suggest there will be a fistfight for the tic-tac sized pillows on United’s international flight to Cancun. Having just been TSA’d, to the point where I now know I don’t have colon cancer, we’ve made our way to the plane’s center aisle and are doing our best to stash overstuffed tennis bags into the overhead compartments. It’s a bit like jamming a mid-90’s Oprah into size 6 jeans, but without the audience applause.
Today’s stewardess is Juanita, a portly woman with awning-like eyebrows and a face that would look gorgeous, if only in silhouette. While waiting for the passengers to upload, Juanita and I converse. She explains she’s been attending planes for twenty-three years and is virtually tenured, although her impending retirement is a bit satirical since she intends to travel a lot. I confide that I’m here as a coach to aspiring athletes, although their hopes of actually getting into the qualifying rounds of these $10,000 tournaments are almost zero, and we’re here for the experience of practicing with professional players and learning the character-building traits international travel inevitably provides. She laughs, knowingly, and I feel I may receive an extra bag of peanuts today.
I am in aisle-adjacent seat 31C , which means very shortly I’ll succumb to the low-oxygenated cabin air so I can experience that shameful moment when my head falls off my hand and drops into the aisle to be cranially-rammed by a four-ton drink cart and an apologetic Juanita. As the engines rev, both girls surrender to their sleeping pills and I find out the hard way that I’m apparently traveling with drug traffickers. In a few hours, we’ll land to the soothing sounds of thirty-thousand hideous-shirt wearing tourists whose Spanish-speaking prowess lies somewhere between “Hole–ah” and “Grassy-ass.”
Arrival. Traverse professionally smiling customs agents. Navigate America-has-not-been-kind-to-our-people-so-we’ll-get-you-back-on-cab-fare taxi services. Steer through inconceivably slow check-in. Wait a foot-tapping then wall-slamming hour for unfathomably slower bellhop. Skip shower and return upturned noses and palm over mouth gestures from dinner folks who don’t appreciate how malodorous one can become while slamming walls in 90-degree heat. Dip toe in Caribbean. Reserve tomorrow’s practice courts.
We are here now.
Tomorrow: Practice Begins