Friday, May. 24, 2024

Managing Expectations

A few days before I left for Mexico I spent an evening at home, de-stressing in front of the television after a challenging week. The show detailed the difficulty an American faced when the Mexican police arrested her husband. After two days her husband’s bodyguard finally determined where he was being held, and the wife went to the police station to find him. There she had to take numbers and wait in lines all day, to be told alternately that the computers weren’t working or that she was on the wrong floor. This was not what I needed to see right before I left to work in Guadalajara.

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A few days before I left for Mexico I spent an evening at home, de-stressing in front of the television after a challenging week. The show detailed the difficulty an American faced when the Mexican police arrested her husband. After two days her husband’s bodyguard finally determined where he was being held, and the wife went to the police station to find him. There she had to take numbers and wait in lines all day, to be told alternately that the computers weren’t working or that she was on the wrong floor. This was not what I needed to see right before I left to work in Guadalajara.

I’ve lived in Latin America, and I’d worked one of these Pan American Games before. I’ve learned that managing expectations is key to keeping your sanity when you’re trying to get things done. For example, when I headed to the Mexican embassy to get my journalist visa (after receiving my necessary letter of invitation from the organizing committee a good six weeks later than promised), I knew in my heart of hearts that I wouldn’t be able to get it done in one go, despite calling ahead of time, triple checking my list of documents and bringing some extra supporting information just in case. I arrived to find the visa section of the consulate had closed early, but I convinced the official to take a look at my papers. Sure enough, my name had been entered incorrectly in the database by the organizers, so I’d have to hound them to fix the problem then return the next day. That part was easy.

You just expect things to be difficult when you go to these things. So when weather and a late flight crew made me miss the sole daily flight to Guadalajara, I wasn’t surprised. In fact, it worked out perfectly: I wrote a story I’d promised my editor, labeled a few photos and used my meal vouchers at a surprisingly good restaurant in the Atlanta airport. 

In Guadalajara, of course, I couldn’t pick up my accreditation at the airport as we’d been assured. (The accreditation, a big plastic ID you wear around your neck that marks where you’re allowed to be, is about as important as keys to any normal person.) I’d have to go to the Main Press Center to pick up my accreditation. I assumed (correctly) that while those at the airport assured me it was open 24 hours, it would be closed should I have followed their advice and gone straight there from the airport. When I went the next morning to the MPC, of course the photo I’d sent in had gotten garbled, and I had to get a new one. This is how it goes.

The press center at the Guadalajara Country Club had everything the journalists and photographers would need to cover the events well. Everything, that is, except lockers, reliable Internet, television or sound feeds, enough power sources, food, water, coffee, orders of go, results, enough desks or garbage cans. Some of these will surely be resolved as the weeks go on. (We already have managed to get some food sorted out, and we’ve started to get some results in a timely fashion.)

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These complaints may sound trivial, but these are standard requests at international events, included in FEI guidelines and important for the press to do their job.

Remember that the photographers are standing in the sun all day, and during the short breaks they simply don’t have time to wait in the one line for food on the far side of the venue. Also remember that photographers and many journalists, myself included, will lug multiple huge lenses and cameras to and from the venue every day. Being a vegetarian (and lapsed health food nut) I’d brought half a paycheck’s worth of snacks from Whole Foods and hadn’t really planned on eating at the venue. But I’d really hoped not to transport equipment across the city every day. It’s not entirely safe (I’m staying in a condo in a working-class neighborhood with two other photographers), and did I mention the cameras are really heavy?

Bear in mind, these are the people conveying information about the event to the outside world, so it can’t hurt to keep this notoriously crabby group of individuals as happy as possible.

None of this is a surprise, though. I wanted this assignment because I love an adventure, and it’s impossible not to have one when you’re trying to cover a big event and deal with the realities of being in a foreign environment. The thrill of managing to explain to the electronics manager in a Mexican Walmart that you’re looking for something you don’t know the word for in English (one of those cable locks you can attach to your computer) and having him understand can’t be beat. And getting to watch world-class competition isn’t too bad either. 

Editorial Staffer Mollie Bailey is in Guadalajara, Mexico, covering the Pan American Games for the Chronicle until Oct. 30. You can read her blogs from the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, here.

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