For weeks now, I had been getting psyched about my trip to Valencia, despite the fact that I was going to be spending the overwhelming majority of it in front of a computer, frantically trying to keep up with the action in an Extended format that boasted an average kill of turn 3.5. I mean, this Extended format has the potential to be faster than a five-legged racehorse. Anyhoo, based on what little I knew of Valencia, I was planning to spend my off time enjoying the emerald sea, the resort town atmosphere, and the copious quantities of orange juice that literally grow on trees around here. It was as close to heaven as I could expect to get to anytime soon.
This was my Holy Grail…the Ciudad De Las Artes Y Las Ciencias in beautiful Valencia.
My travel out here was surprisingly simple, which should have been the first sign that something was wrong. As past experience has taught me, the longer away from home you travel, the larger the problems you have to deal with. I've lost luggage, been stranded due to storms, spent more nights than I care to admit in airport lobbies, and been strip-searched by security. And that's flying within my own country! I was expecting something grand for this trip. Nothing short of a live-action version of Snakes on a Plane
would do justice to the nightmares that I thought awaited me on my transatlantic flight. Instead, I got straight flights, minimal layovers, no delays, and even an edible in-flight meal. Something big had to be brewing.
I met up with pro player Gerry Thompson in Madrid and we began the final leg of our journey to sunny Valencia. Gerry looked like he wanted to kill himself. Or maybe like he had tried to kill himself and had failed miserably. He had bloodshot eyes, droopy eyelids, and a scowl that could boil an ocean. Apparently, he had been drinking the night before and had imbibed a bit much the night before. "I made good use of the doggy bags on the flight out here," he managed to slosh out. Apparently, his Keith Richards impression had not gone over as well as he would have liked, but now that he had someone to talk to he slowly regained his energy. And a vehement insistence that he'd never drink again. Right. I've definitely said that before. Luckily for Gerry, his experience in Europe had just begun!
We got to the baggage claim upon arriving in Valencia, and I quickly collected my bag. Notice that I said my bag. Gerry's bag was nowhere to be found. While we mused about riding the baggage claim to the other side and complaining to the people loading the bags, the next plane's baggage began to arrive on the carousel. Apparently, his bag didn't feel like a trip to Valencia. As a side note, Gerry lost his bags at Pro Tour-Geneva as well. This makes him two for two for foreign PTs this year. Who's ready for Kuala Lumpur? Anyway, the experienced luggage-loss professional that he is, Gerry went to fill out the requisite forms at the lost and found booth. Or whatever it was called in Spanish.
Being the good friend I am and knowing how funny it would be, I offered to lend Gerry some of my clothes, since I would be wearing mostly my Pro Tour coverage team shirts for the weekend. Mine and Gerry's tastes in clothing are about as different as Elton John and the Pope. Gerry is the kind of guy you would expect to meet at a Slipknot concert, while I'm more of the Bloc Party kind of guy. It's the typical indie meets hardcore scene, and guaranteed to be funny to see the end product. Sadly, Gerry looks almost better than I do in my clothes, so it didn't end up being as funny as I was hoping. Oh well, I'll just have to plan better for the next foreign PT.
This is the real Holy Grail … or at least that's what the folks at the Cathedral of Valencia say.
After arriving in Valencia, it became apparent that we had missed the sunny part of Valencia and had arrived just in time for the overcast, rainy part. Lucky us. We made our way to the metro and grabbed a seat. I was pretty sure that I knew the stop we needed on the train, but the stop we were at wasn't on any of my maps. Luckily for us, Jon Sonne and Eugene Harvey were on the same train, and we figured that we'd know we were in the right stop if we saw them get off.
Trains are fun. As anyone who has ever lived in a city with a subway system can tell you, trains have the potential to provide plenty of amusement. I usually take the time to listen in on a few conversations or simply check out the rest of the people riding with me. Usually, this is a fine idea. However, when the conversations you are trying to listen to are in Spanish, and the only Spanish you know is, well, not acceptable for print, you get more confused than amused. Tack on to that the fact that the passengers on the train never seemed to change and the amusement was kept more to a dull sheen than anything else.
Eventually, we got to our stop and started to make our way off the train. About the halfway from our seats to the doors, the little alarm that sounds before the doors shut starts going off. Great. In a herculean show of strength, I lift all five thousand pounds of my bags off the ground and hoist them over people as I make a mad dash for the door. I manage to wedge myself in between the doors to hold them for Gerry, and I learn my first lesson from Spain. Spanish doors hate people. Despite my giant frame lugging two bags, the doors sensors fail to realize that someone is in the way and decide to shut on me anyway. It did not feel good. Luckily, while they were reluctant to stop shutting at first, once they had done their damage, they decided to stop closing. Not reopen, just stop closing. I had to push them apart slightly so Gerry could slip under my arm and out the door before I tossed my bags off and got out of the train in the nick of time. I felt like Indiana Jones, and sure as hell wasn't leaving my hat behind.
Upon reaching the exit doors, I noticed one of our previous train companions, Eugene Harvey, caught in a situation I recently found myself able to relate to. Please allow me to set the scene. Imagine if you will the exit doors of a train stop. They're like the bastard children of the sliding doors you find in a supermarket and the swinging doors of an 1840's wild-west saloon. Here, on the exit side, stands Eugene Harvey, a man so smart he once went by the moniker Eugenius, staring at the uncooperative doors with a look of contempt. His arm, from the forearm down, is trapped in a rather loving embrace by the aforementioned bastard doors. On the train side of the doors, his arm and still attached (luckily) luggage are trapped. Apparently, this door had decided that Eugene's luggage wasn't up to standard and refused to let it enter the lovely city of Valencia. If this scene wasn't amusing enough, a couple of Japanese tourists were waiting behind him in the line giggling and chattering away in Japanese.
Did I mention how much I hate Spanish doors? Don't hold it against me, they started it.
Getting caught in the doors kinda felt like this.
After a few seconds of stewing in frustration, Eugene managed to summon all the strength he could muster and taught the insolent doors a lesson. Arm and luggage now firmly on the Valencia side of the demon doors, Eugene was now free to continue the long walk from the metro stop to the event site. First off, let me say that the map I was given said it was about a 15-minute walk from the Alameda metro stop to the event site. I, for God knows what reason, am always in disbelief of times quoted to me in directions. Surely it couldn't be a 15-minute walk to the event site. As the four of us left the metro station, the rapidly escalating rain made us realize what we were in for. It had better not be a 15-minute walk to the event site. After about five minutes of walking, Sonne uttered the thought that had to be going through all our minds at the same time—so why didn't we take a cab again?
While Sonne and Harvey were deciding which direction to head and whether or not cabbing was the correct play, Gerry and I said our goodbyes and continued on through the torrent toward what I was decreasingly sure was the correct direction. As the minutes and cross-streets passed, I began to wonder how anyone navigated this city. Barrier No. 1 is the Spanish street signs. Little kids who watch Dora the Explorer know more Spanish than I do. Add to that the fact that the street signs are rather whimsically placed at each intersection, and I spend about ten minutes at each street light just trying to figure out where the hell I am. Eventually, we find a street map that reminds me suspiciously of a mall directory, which I happen to believe are the only things harder to read than the street signs here. Luckily, I figured out where we were and that we only had two more blocks to go to get to the hotel the event staff was occupying.
Gerry and I stumbled into the lobby of the hotel only to run into Adrian Sullivan, who happened to be looking for the hotel his fellow Badger Mike Hron had ended up in. As a Midwest Magic player, I've been a fan of Adrian's for a while now, and was more than willing to have him hang out with us as we continued on our day. After striking out for the third hotel in a row, he and Gerry grabbed a seat in the lobby as I tried to check in. Operative word tried. Apparently, the hotel had never heard of me, quite a blow to my massive ego, and worse, my Spanish and the clerk's English were bad enough that I she couldn't understand to look for Wizards of the Coast reservations, and I couldn't understand her telling me that there was another hotel with the same name right next door.
. . .
Who does that? Two hotels sharing both a name and a building! Where I'm from, we call that one hotel. Oh well. I cross the little path leading from one "hotel" to the other and check in with ease there. Once I get my room key, Gerry, Adrian, and I run up to drop our bags off temporarily and head off in search of food. Food in other countries is always fun for me. I am a big eater, and I love trying new things. I've had sushi for dinner in Japan, crepes for breakfast in France, and everything in between. Gerry, on the other hand, is only really a fan of what he calls "American food," a.k.a. pizza and burgers. Anyone other than me find that kind of funny? Knowing I'll have the chance to eat out more with the coverage crew, the three of us set out to find Gerry something he'll eat. The difficult thing about finding "American" food in Spain is that Spain is, well, not America. Who'da thunk it?
Luckily, the rain had decided to favor us with a brief respite. After a few blocks worth of walking and using alcohol advertisements as the breadcrumbs to return to the hotel, we stumble upon a little pizza joint that had pictures that were "close enough to pizza" for Gerry, and we sat to eat. Adrian, whose Spanish is so much better than mine that I might as well be speaking a better language (which I probably am), went ahead and ordered for us. Gerry and I had been relegated to pointing to what we wanted on out pizzas to order them. "I want this thing that looks like cheese, and what I can only assume looks like pepperoni. Hope I'm right." I also learned that the US dollar is not quite as strong as I would have liked. Things were a bit more expensive than I was hoping to pay. Our pizzas and Cokes were the price of gourmet pizza at "hole-in-the-wall pizza joint" prices. God bless our strong American economy.
Despite the cost and relative quality, it was hot and fresh, and we were starved. We decided to walk back to the hotel and eat in the room so we could watch TV. After flipping through channels and learning that I'm better at Spanish Wheel of Fortune than the native-speaking contestants, we settled on watching Scrubs in Spanish and tore into that pizza like a hobo into a bottle of cheap whisky. By the way, the Todd in Spanish is about the best thing to happen to television ever. The show should consider making the change permanently.
Our next stop was the event site. As usual, it's a quick walk from the staff hotel, which ended up being an unbelievable blessing. The event site is a hall in the Museo de las Ciencias Principe Felipe, which is a huge science museum surrounded by some incredible gardens and reflecting pools. It's an incredibly cool venue, as you can see by the pictures from the event site. As nice as the venue is, I had an easy time understanding why they would want the extra security I was told they would have. When I heard the word "security," I naturally assumed the type of security American airports have these days, which are strict enough to make Catholic school seem like a theme park. Instead, I was presented with an x-ray machine about a foot and a half long that I became convinced was mostly for show. I think they were actually watching Wheel of Fortune on the little monitor they had, but I wasn't going to tell anyone.
Anyway, as we arrive, the three of us part our own separate ways for now and go about our own business. I head back to the coverage area and check in with Greg Collins and Kelly Digges, who make the wonderful coverage you guys get to read possible. I get the skinny on the plans for the remainder of the evening, realize that I don't have any real commitments for the remainder of the evening and set off to get a nap in. On the way back, a bit of sprinkling began, which seemed innocent enough at the time. Guess not.
After my glorious, and far too long, nap, I round my stuff up and head back to the event site. The rain has picked up a little, but it isn't anything too special. I'm not made of sugar, and my laptop was locked in a waterproof bag. I get to the event site and wander around a bit before finding out that we're going to be on our own for food since things are taking a bit longer than originally thought for Greg and Kelly. Oh well, I decided to go watch Gerry lose four or five games of Magic in a row, all the while maintaining that he was winning the tournament. Eventually, I realized I was going to be watching Magic for the next three days, and I set off to find something better to do. A few minutes after I get into the coverage room to chat with Greg, Craig Gibson, our amazing event photographer, came into the room carrying bags of food people had ordered, and one extra ingredient. Craig was soaking wet. I'm talking "looked like he just went for a swim" soaked. This couldn't be good.
I said my goodbyes and decided to head back to the hotel room and read a bit before finally heading to bed. Upon reaching the door, I couldn't have been happier that my hotel was close. You've heard the saying "raining cats and dogs"? Well it was raining elephants and giraffes outside. So much for thinking the sprinkles were harmless. Being the blockheaded idiot I am, I was determined not to let something like rain stop me from getting to bed. So I hiked up my pants and took off like a bandit through the rain back to the hotel. By the time I reached the lobby, I looked like I had been on the losing side of an oil wrestling match. I headed into my room and took a shower before I prepared for bed. It did seem a little odd to me that after running through all that rain, I couldn't wait to put myself under more. But it sure did feel good.
I woke up next morning and introduced myself to Hanno Terbuyken, who was sharing my room and snuck in while I was asleep the previous night. Hanno's a coverage mainstay on the European Grand Prix circuit and a pretty cool guy to boot. We got ready for a fun (read long) day of coverage and went downstairs for some breakfast. I believe Kelly Digges said it best when he said "say whatever else you want about Europe, but they know how to do breakfast." It was a typical continental breakfast buffet, but instead of bad things you didn't want to really eat, they had gourmet meats and cheese, many different kinds of bread, more types of juice that should be legal to make, and fresh fruits and pastries. I was in awe.
I filled my plate to the brim with food and sat to eat. As Hanno and I began to eat our food, Craig dropped by and asked if we were planning on drafting later. I said I'd be down for it after we finished up for the day, but I didn't really want to think about it until we got closer to done. "Oh, you mean you haven't heard? They cancelled Day One of the PT."
Flooding waters jeopardized the Pro Tour late Thursday night.
At first I didn't want to believe it. After all, Pro Tour-New York had once been held despite a raging blizzard and Pro Tour-London went on during a terrorist crisis. Nothing short of an act of God could stop a Pro Tour, and even that would be hard-pressed to try. After hitting the next table to talk to Kelly, I just stared in shock. It was actually true. For the first time ever, part of a Pro Tour had been cancelled. Apparently, the torrential rain had caused the water level around the venue to raise high enough that at about 1 a.m., a foot of water was standing in the event hall. Buried underneath all that water were electrical cables, various other electrical equipment, and about half the chairs and tables. There were emergency evacuations of all the dealers' gear and as much electrical equipment as those in the venue could carry, but the venue was still unusable until the building engineers cleared us to re-enter. I didn't know what to do.
Kelly told us about the crisis center that Wizards had set up on the floor above us that was acting as their temporary base of operations since they couldn't get to the venue. Any decisions made about the future of Pro Tour-Valencia were going to come through there. Hanno and I finished our breakfast, discussing what we were going to do. We're a coverage team, and though there was no Pro Tour as of yet to cover, this was definitely an event worth chronicling. We brainstormed ideas on things we could write about, and how this was going to impact the remainder of the weekend. As we headed to the "crisis center" to speak to Greg, the writers' head honcho, it dawned on me that the rain had finally started to ease up, and there couldn't have been a better metaphor.
From that point, everything started to move in the right direction. Wizards decided to take over one of the ballrooms in the hotel and give away product so people could play Lorwyn Sealed Deck or whatever else they wanted in a secure environment. Magic is a community game, and the major meeting area for the weekend's community was now closed. This refuge for Magic players was the perfect thing to begin to raise peoples' spirits. It also instilled a great sense of faith in Wizards of the Coast that they had contingency plans in place in case something like this happened. After all, many players had invested a great deal of time, money, and effort in reaching here, and the last thing they wanted was to have it taken away from them by something beyond their control. Wizards gave them a place to go where they could forget that the rain had taken away their first reason for being here. It was Noah's Ark.
The next piece of good news came at a meeting around 2 p.m. Apparently, the building engineers over at the venue had given the go-ahead to let people back into the building. Not only that, but they had spent the better part of the night and day drying the electrical equipment and cleaning up after the mini-hurricane that swept through. The quality of work they had done in such a short time was absolutely astounding. It was as though they had turned back the clock. With the exception of the occasional spot of dirt and tiny puddle, the building was almost better than it was when I first arrived. I was as speechless as when I found that Friday was cancelled. How quickly things can turn around.
The final announcement for the day was the continuation of the Pro Tour. Despite missing an entire day, the European judges, who happen to know a thing or two about running large-scale tournaments in two days, had devised a schedule that would allow them to finish the Pro Tour in a reasonable amount of time, without compromising its integrity. It seemed like with a little hard work, what could have been a disaster had been salvaged into a reasonable event. Side events were back open, the PTQ was still going to happen, though not until Sunday, and, most importantly, this was still Pro Tour-Valencia—not Pro Tour-Cancelled.
Best of all, as I sat writing this, the sun began to break out of the clouds and return a little light to the weekend. Mother Nature really does have a way with appropriately timed metaphors.