Danny is an old acquaintance and a somewhat recent close friend. He graduated from Catlin Gabel High School a year after I did - a Darién Gap at that age. We first bonded over basketball - probably riding the varsity pine - and he wrote in my last yearbook that he thought we shared a profound respect and passion for the game.
In school Danny was an overachiever - an accolade towards which I couldn’t even aspire - and an unpretentious intellectual who was able to assimilate with immature teammates on long road trips. Now, he is a Chinese translator and interpreter, an aspiring novelist, and an occasional model. Basketball remained the foundation of our friendship for many years, until he began escaping the Portland rain by spending a couple weeks on my couch in sunny Los Angeles every winter.
He emailed me in January, soliciting ideas for a short visit in mid March, and didn’t hesitate when I suggested Cuba. We eventually settled on an 11 day itinerary: a week in and around Havana bracketed by a few days in Panama City. After a bit of research, we recognized Cuba was more appealing as an experience than as a checklist of sights, and that apart from the historic Canal, Panama City offers little more than a Hard Rock Cafe and a Trump Tower. So we planned a vague and spacious itinerary, with plenty of time for Cohibas, Havana Club, and the opening round of March Madness.