Super Bowl Sunday in Panama: Life with a VPN

More than a decade ago we welcomed Emma into our family.  Emma came to us as an au pair from a German family living in the Spanish Canary Islands off the coast of Africa.  She brought her zest for life and for expanding her international experience into our house.  She joined our daughters and Brian in Tang Soo Do martial arts training.  She had high tea at the Empress Hotel with our family in Victoria, British Columbia.  She helped us move Audrey and girls to Louisiana when they headed south from Ohio a year before Brian could leave his school turn-around project in Cleveland, enjoying an alligator-watching pontoon boat tour of the Atchafalaya Swamp and attending an outdoor Fourth of July celebration in Lafayette that featured a teenage Hunter Hayes (from neighboring Breaux Bridge just before his first headliner national tour) on stage and fireworks in the sky.  And she learned about the Super Bowl.

More to the point, she learned that Americans participate actively in Super Bowl Sunday by eating and drinking with abandon in grand celebrations. Wanting to understand this American phenomenon better, she asked what goes on a Super Bowl menu. “Basically, crap,” Brian told her as he prepared to shop for supplies. She asked to come along on the shopping escapade, and said proudly to Audrey, “We’re going to buy CRAP!” And so they did, clearing out the freezer section of Giant Eagle grocery store in Rocky River, Ohio. When they returned home, Emma announced their arrival to the house with even greater pride, “WE BOUGHT CRAP!!!

While we do not claim to be football fanatics, we both have always enjoyed a good game.  Audrey’s grandparents bought season tickets for the Washington Redskins (now the Washington Football Team) starting in 1975 when her grandfather retired as Commandant of the Marine Corps, and in 2003 Audrey inherited the tickets (one of the hottest commodities among NFL fans despite only two playoff appearances since winning the Super Bowl in 1991), which – though we sold or gave away all but a handful of games over the years – on the off chance that we or our kids might someday end up back in the D.C. metropolitan area we kept buying until midway through our tenure in Morocco.  Our girls did not grow up in a house dedicated to football every Sunday, but as a family we did watch our share of televised games over the years, and older daughter Margaret (who played a season of community league ball) is an unapologetic Cheese Head fan of the Green Bay Packers.  Each year we made a big hoo haa about watching the Super Bowl, especially once we moved to Arizona and reunited with a University of Virginia friend of Brian’s and his wife, who had continued the friend’s tradition of annual Super Bowl bashes that began with a bunch of geeky Department of Government & Foreign Affairs graduate students and got classed up by his wife when they got married.

But we enjoyed our last Super Bowl extravaganza in 2016.  Moving multiple time zones ahead to Morocco, some of our expat friends arrived at school on post-Super Bowl Monday exhausted after staying up most of the night to watch the game live.  We liked football; but we loved sleep.

We came late to the world of VPN – virtual private networks.  For the uninitiated, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, “A virtual private network (VPN) extends a private network across a public network and enables users to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if their computing devices were directly connected to the private network.”  VPNs have existed for quite a while, as businesses use VPN’s to allow remote users, mobile users, and branch offices to operate as if they had connected from inside their business’ private network.  But the commercial use of VPNs has developed as well, letting Internet users connect to proxy servers to hide their IP addresses from the target servers with which they connect (like someone trying to watch Netflix shows available in the U.S. but censored in the country where the viewer resides, as well as other more nefarious purposes).  Preparing to move to Morocco in the spring of 2016, we read often that we would find getting a VPN before heading abroad very handy, especially for buying things and watching video content – movies and t.v. shows – online.  But we decided that we would not have a television in Morocco, and we had what we considered ample access to movies and t.v. shows logging on from Casablanca.  Yes, Brian had to binge-watch The Americans when traveling in Europe or the U.S., because Netflix-Morocco did not carry it.  But in general, because we were not too picky, because when we watched something we tended to watch movies instead of t.v. shows, and because we worked a lot (too much?) instead of coming home to plunk down in front of a television (which, anyway, we did not have), we still did not get a VPN during our four years in Morocco even though many expats we met there really enjoyed having theirs.

In Panama, the lot of household things we bought from our house’s previous residents included three televisions.  But when we ordered cable service from Cable Onda, we stuck only to a generous Internet bandwidth instead of adding t.v. service, and after deliberating again over the VPN questions we again decided we did not need it for our empty nest lifestyle in the tropics.

But a couple weeks ago, after our football loving daughter Margaret (the chef in Phoenix) shared her excitement over streaming NFL playoff games on her phone’s Yahoo Sports app, something started to stir in Audrey.  She decided that, after a four-year hiatus, she really missed watching the Super Bowl and explored getting a VPN that would allow us to stream it by computer onto our two-story “home theater” living room wall.  Brian said, “But even with a VPN we’ll still have to buy Pay-Per-View access to the Super Bowl in order to stream it.”  We together having seven collegiate and graduate degrees, a few intellectual rounds of “Nuh uh!” versus “Uh huh!” ensued between us.  Then, before he knew what had happened, we had spent $100 for 15 months of VPN service and Audrey hopped to action setting it up.  (For the record, Audrey was right; we do not need to purchase additional PPV access to stream the game.  On the other hand, Audrey also surmised that the VPN would give us access to the final season of “Homeland,” which was filmed in Morocco and GWA had some interactions with the cast.  Brian suggested ever so politely that such access would come only by signing up for Showtime, and another intellectual “Nuh uh!” versus “Uh huh!” dialectic ensued until Audrey initiated another solo expedition, then a few minutes later declared a Pyrrhic victory saying that we would not have to pay for it if we initiated a free Showtime trial.  So the score that day was 1:1…or was it 2:0?…not that we have any element of competitiveness in our relationship.  We insert that purely to fit the background context of competition in a post about the Super Bowl.  Really.  No, really…ish.)

So, having committed ourselves to joining folks stateside and expats around the world in watching the Super Bowl tonight, the next step was in planning how to do that.  Since Panama retains its weekend lockdowns, and we remain inclined to avoid avoidable human interactions until we score a couple COVID-19 vaccinations, we knew we would not host a big Super Bowl party…or a small one, for that matter.  We will miss gathering with others on this best/worst of America day.  “Super Bowl, party of two!” sounded good to us.  And what does one do at a Super Bowl party for two people?  Why, of course, we eat CRAP!

So earlier this week Brian cleaned out the freezer section of Riba Smith grocery store three minutes away, texting Audrey from the store, “At RS buying CRAP,” to which Audrey responded, “Yum!  I love CRAP!”  He came home with our freezer bag full of potato skins, Jalapeño poppers (with cheddar, not cream cheese and bacon like one of Brian’s Roosevelt High School classmates posted on Facebook that he’s making today from scratch), ham croquettes, black bean and cheese pupusas, onion rings, with super-deluxe nachos planned as a “main course,” all accompanied by a batch of Brian’s internationally-famous “Brian’s ‘I Think I’d Better Sit Down’ Margaritas.”  Lest one think that two people cannot rightly consume such a load of Crap, we would agree.  The purpose of Super Bowl Crap, though, is not to eat it all, but to have a wide array of Crap available for enjoyment.  Leftover Crap consumption can happen later.  Of course, foodies that we are, we cannot just enjoy Crap.  We feel obligated to make it the best Crap possible.  So, again in the spirit of Super Bowl-inspired competition, we will have a Crap Test Kitchen that compares Crap prepared in the oven versus Crap prepared in the air fryer.  Cue the brass instrument-led fanfare, and let the competition begin!

After not seeing Emma for a decade following the year-and-a-half she spent as a daily part of our family, we were so happy to have Emma join us from her Canary Islands home in Casablanca for the cultural milieu Moroccan wedding of our daughter Charlotte two summers ago.  We wish we could watch the Super Bowl tonight with her, with our girls, and with all sorts of friends.  But thanks to our VPN, at least we will get to watch it on the BIG SCREEN of our Panamanian “home theater” while we think of them all.  Good luck to both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as they battle it out tonight.  And good luck also to our gastro-intestinal systems as they do battle as well.

On your mark, get set, here we go!

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