The Vocabulary Story: “Ya Voy”

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Mexico, 2006.

I’d taken Spanish classes for three years back in high school. All we ever learned, though, were verb conjugations and basic sentences like, “Buenos dias, como estas?” I has learned a good number of words also, through the useless vocabulary tests Mrs. Watson insisted on in 10th grade (and that I proudly cheated on a time or two). Not once in four years of high school did we practice any serious conversational Espanol, nor did we ever engage with a person fluent in speaking Spanish.

Like I did with all the “knowledge” bestowed upon me in high school, I completely forgot all of my Spanish as soon as my success no longer depended on memorization and regurgitation of information, to be displayed in the passing of standardized tests.

Six years later, I signed on to play pro basketball in Mexico.

After gaining a basic understanding of how things went between Mexican females and us, the superhero American basketball player gringos, just stepping outside my apartment became a fun game.

You see, in a place like Mexico, even a huge city like Guadalajara (more populated than all but 7 U.S. cities), American athletes were (maybe still are) celebrities. Kids ran up to us for autographs. Males wanted to shake our hands and hang out with us. Females of all ages gave unambiguous stares and flirted as hard as they could without actually speaking. Girls who you’d know were too young to be looking at grown men in such a way (legal age of consent in Mexico: 12) would stare in our faces hard, as if we were the fools for not picking up the signals.

I had come to Mexico on the word of my guy G, an American who had been playing in Mexico for years already and had two kids with his Mexican wife. G had told me how “ready” the females I’d meet would be.

When I first arrived in Guadalajara I was staying in Hotel Minerva on a busy street. Look at that photo above. Hotel Minerva was/is a piece of shit. Dirty, molded, dusty, every other adjective that’s synonymous with “bad.” The windows didn’t close. The shower was not pretty. Plenty roaches. Asbestos, probably. A shady worker manning the front desk. The only thing Minerva didn’t have was rats, and I probably just didn’t see them.

Me and a 6’8” guy from Chicago were roommates at Minerva. He’d played college ball at DePaul University.

Naturally, we spent as much time as possible outside of the hotel. We would literally wander the streets of Guadalajara and talk to girls who spotted us (we did not have to spot them). As soon as I realized that most of these women spoke no English whatsoever, miraculously, my high school Spanish started coming back to me.

My ability to conjugate (i.e. make past-present-future tense of) and use verbs was very useful. I am from… I am doing… I’m a basketball player… I live at… where are you going… what are you doing… Just with verbs alone I could get along well. My roommate from Chicago didn’t know any Espanol, didn’t try to learn it, and still did pretty well for himself in the women department. Remember, we were roommates.

As more and more Spanish came back to me and I met people who could translate and explain new sayings to me, I remembered how similar English and Spanish were. A lot of words sound the same. Soon I was putting sentences together. I was ordering food, talking to fans on the streets, and having intelligent (I think) conversations with females — all in Spanish.

Before I left Mexico, I even dated a girl who didn’t speak a word of English. I’m a fast learner.

My teammate Tim had been had been in Mexico before me, and we hung out often off the court. Tim didn’t know much Spanish aside from a few words. I never heard him speak a sentence in Espanol. I doubt he knows much more now than he knew then. One thing Tim did know, was where to find Mexican women at.

There are a lot of stories under that heading. We would go to club Wall Street every Tuesday on “Avenue of the Americas.” For us, Wall Street was a candy store. Once I was sitting at the bar with some girls that Tim knew sitting to my right. Tim was doing most of the talking. On my left was a female who was switching between discreetly caressing my arm and shoulder (with eye contact to boot), and making out with her Mexican boyfriend.

Tim took me to a different nightclub once. He knew some guys there that insisted on us drinking beer with them and we happily obliged. Every time we finished our bottle, a new bottle appeared. A bottle of beer, at least then, cost less than ten pesos (10 Mexican pesos today = $0.53 cents USD).

I started talking to one of the girls, who didn’t speak English. She was friends with the Mexican guys that Tim knew. They were her ride home, and ours too. So I didn’t make a move. The girl and I exchanged numbers.

I called her the next day, and shared some rough directions to my place, the apartment we all shared off of a dusty road not far from Ricardo’s house.

“Ya voy.”

We hung up, me a bit confused as to what she was going to do, even though I’d made it clear, in my rudimentary Spanish, that I wanted her to come to my place. Problem was, I didn’t understand what she had last said.

So I waited.

15 minutes went by and nothing had happened. I called her again and tried, in my limited Spanish, to figure out what was up and if she was coming by.

“Si, si. ¡ya voy!”


Ten more minutes go by and I’m getting annoyed. I called again. I communicated my aggravation as best I could in Espanol. She kept saying the same damn thing.

“!Ya voy!”

I hung up on her. Thirty minutes of my day, wasted.

I walked downstairs to the street exit of the apartment. Maybe I could meet some other girls and salvage the night.

The girl I’d hung up on was at my front door.

She greeted me warmly, seemingly unbothered by our last conversation (good thing my Spanish sucked). She tried, futilely, using gestures and more Spanish words that I didn’t known, to explain what she had been saying to me the whole time.

Ya = “already”
Voy = “going”

A new phrase for my vocabulary.