The Best of 2021 Awards: Part VI

by Just Juan
2633 views 8 min read

We have reached December 31…the 365th day of 2021. This is the 6th and final part of The Best of 2021 series. I’ve enjoyed my return to writing this series for the first time since 2010. In this final post on The Book of Juan for this calendar year, I’ll present you with 5 last randoms and moments along with the one thing I’m looking forward to most in 2022.

BEST QUOTE. For Best Quote of 2021, the qualifier is a profound quote that I heard for the first time in 2021. This does not mean that the quote originated in 2021. The nominees are:

  • “Harder to tell the good from the bad, the villains from the heroes these days” by Felix Leiter. This was a quote from No Time to Die when Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter was talking with James Bond in a Port Antonio, Jamaica bar. In the film, the context was about how hard it was to tell who was good and who was bad in the world today. That’s very much true. I also think the quote represents my feelings toward the elected leaders in Washington…and even back home in Alabama. I’m starting to believe that there may come a time where I can only depend on myself.
  • “We all cry on our birthday” by Ernst Starvo Blofeld. This was Christoph Waltz’s quote, also in No Time to Die. In his captivity, he was having a conversation with Bond about a failed assassination attempt in Santiago de Cuba during a birthday party for Blofeld. Bond was the intended target but all of the members of Spectre ended up dying. Bond asked if he was disappointed and he responded with the quote. It took me a moment but the profoundness of the quote definitely wasn’t lost on me. Everyone literally cries on their birth day.
  • “Show them who you are and make them remember you” by Patricia Peterson. This was a conversation I had while I was waiting for my flight at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. It was certainly made to pump me up and motivate me to make an impact in the Foreign Service…a lasting impact.

And the Best Quote of 2021 is…Felix Leiter’s “Harder to tell the good from the bad, the villains from the heroes these days”.


BEST CONVERSATION. For Best Conversation of 2021, the qualifier is any conversation in 2021 that had a profound impact on me during the year. The nominees are:

  • The Firebirds conversation with high school friends. The opportunity to catch up with friends from my high school days is always an opportunity I’ll relish. On that night in the Birmingham suburbs, we took it back to those glory days of 2001, 2002, and 2003 but we also filled in the blanks all the way to the present. We talked about love lives, our experiences as parents, our successes and failures, or hopes for the future. It was very enlightening to see that we were all still on the same wavelength.
  • The I-20 East conversation with Jeremie Mason. Less than 12 hours after that conversation at Firebirds, it was me and Jeremie on I-20 East as he gave me a ride from Birmingham to Atlanta ahead of my departure. The longest-tenured of my friends, it’s always great talking to him. We have phone conversations often and we always have good exchanges on social media but our in-person conversations are rare these days because I don’t venture too far into the South that often. Just talking about life and how we’ve grown from kids that were part of the anchor of the best class in our high school ever was good stuff.
  • The spontaneous Spanish conversation with my classmates. The day after my 1st evaluation in Spanish Basic for S-2/R-2 Skills, my instructor decided to let us relax our minds a little bit. We had an open conversation. The objective was to have the entire conversation in Spanish but to not worry about mistakes that we made. I was first. My classmates—Best New Person nominee, Heather Kauffman and her husband Lee—asked me questions about Birmingham. I easily answered them and it ended up being something of an interview that involved me talking about my high school and college years, my first girlfriend, my wife and son, and my time in the Air Force. Somehow, I was able to answer all of the questions with very few mistakes…and without using Google Translate. I think I felt a little more comfortable with the language after that.
  • My final evaluation in Spanish Basic for S-2/R-2 Skills. In my final evaluation in Spanish, I had a conversation with an instructor from Mexico. He was a veteran of the Mexican Army. We easily got through all of my introduction and biography stuff but it was the military stuff we talked about that surprised me. We talked about our different experiences serving our nations in Spanish. It was cool stuff.

And the Best Conversation of 2021 is…the spontaneous Spanish conversation.


BEST NIGHT OUT. For Best Night Out in 2021, the qualifier is an electrifying evening I spent outside of my home in 2021. The nominees are:

  • My 5th anniversary dinner and DC swan song. The Queen came up to visit in my last week in the DC area because I couldn’t travel to where her and Ashton were in the South for our anniversary…that “needs of the Department of State” stuff again. We went to a restaurant in McLean, Virginia called J. Gilbert’s Wood Fired Steaks & Seafood. It was arguably some of the best food I had in my 5 years in the DC area. The service was fantastic too. Our waitress made our moment special. After dinner, we took a bit of a joyride through Downtown Washington and through Georgetown. We looked upon the city for the final time in what may be quite a while. The highlight of the night was my lady looking absolutely stunning in her black dress.
  • Seeing Encanto at Centro Comercial Gran Estación. As opposed to seeing the top film in the nation at my neighborhood theatre, I made the trek to Gran Estación to the palatial mall there. Not only was the film incredible but the atmosphere was magical at that mall.
  • The Walled City of Cartagena. During my debut in Cartagena, I stayed in the Walled City. It was reported to be one of the safest areas in the city and I could walk to just about everything. I did some walking around the Walled City at night and found it was a lively place…even with COVID-19 making for a reduced amount of people. You had the Palenqueras singing songs of heritage. You had a collection of taxi drivers holding court in one of the squares telling me about the history of Cartagena…in English. You had the smell of food from all corners of Colombia. It was very lively.

And the Best Night Out in 2021 is…my 5th anniversary dinner.


BEST COMPETITIVE EXPERIENCE. For Best Competitive Experience of 2021, the qualifier is a moment that brought out the best in my competitive side. The nominees are:

  • The fantasy football semifinal. After a disastrous 2020 season in the Just Juan Football Association that saw me miss the playoffs for the first time—and worst, get swept by Deondrea Jones in both of our regular season matchups—I was determined to change the course in 2021. After a tough regular season on account of losing 2 key players to season-ending injuries, I advanced to the playoffs as the #4 seed at 7-6. I won my wild card game and advanced to the semifinals against one of the only people in the league I’ve virtually had little success against. In a back-and-forth game, he ended up winning because the Washington Football Team offered no resistance to the Cowboys in a 56-14 defeat. He won by 3.1 points and I was vexed because I had the winning difference on the bench in a decision I made at the FLEX position.
  • The air hockey game at Dave & Buster’s. During my September quick turnaround, I stopped in at Dave & Buster’s north of Atlanta. I was minding my business playing Gigantic Connect 4 when one of the other patrons asked if I wanted to play air hockey. I was cool with it…he paid for the game. I was casual at first but then I realized he was aggressive so my aggressiveness ramped up. At one point, we had what I would imagine to be a 40-strike rally that only ended when I did a quick whiff to get him to react before striking and getting the point before he recovered. I ended up winning the game 5-4. It was a lot of defense played there.
  • Playing HORSE with the Marine Security Guard. One of the Marine Security Guards at the Embassy asked if I was into basketball. While not my favorite sport, I told him I dabble from time to time. With the basketball court being right outside of the Facilities building, he challenged me to a game of HORSE. Let’s just say it was a game nobody wanted to lose. Once we both had Rs, we went on a shooting display where we didn’t miss any of the next 7-8 cycles. It only ended when I decided to go with the mid-range shot like my dude DeMar DeRozan.

And the Best Competitive Experience of 2021 is…the fantasy football semifinal.


HIGHLIGHT EXPERIENCE. For Highlight Experience of 2021, the qualifier is a moment that I consider to be one of the best I’ve had all year. The nominees are:

  • Learning Spanish. I’ve detailed already but formally learning another language was an experience of a lifetime for me. It expanded my horizons as a person.
  • Peter’s Party. In June, one of my colleagues from Foreign Service Orientation hosted a meet up at his apartment in Arlington. He’s a lively guy and I always have fun talking with my fellow orientees online so I stopped through. It was a great time…filled with laughs, good food, and some awesome stories.
  • Moving to Bogotá. I highlighted it in this post. My debut in South America has not disappointed me so far. I love it.
  • A success story as Post Duty Officer. This was a late addition…literally today. And that’s the reason why I’ll save Highlight Experience for the last day of the year because you never know. I’m serving as the Post Duty Officer this week—I’ll cover it more in a Dreams of a Diplomat post next week—and it’s been a challenging few days so far. Today, I received a frantic call from a mother back in the States after her son suffered a medical issue here. She was concerned about getting him home to the United States. As I learned in the Victoria Park incident, there’s a lot of things the Embassy or Consulate (General) can’t do when American citizens are in peril abroad. I offered my best advice to the mother and the son on what he needed to accomplish in order to cleanly leave Colombia. I just checked and he was at the airport, having completed everything I suggested he do. His mother was eternally grateful…going as far as to ask if she could send me a card of thanks. Of course, I deflected and simply said it was my job to help as much as I can. At that moment, I felt like a real diplomat.

And the Highlight Experience of 2021 is…moving to Bogotá.


LOOKING AHEAD TO 2022. The final category in The Best of 2021 series is What I’m Looking Forward To Most in 2022. This award represents something that I’m eagerly anticipating in the coming year. This is the only category in the series of which there are no nominees. What I’m Looking Forward To Most in 2022 is:

  • Baby Thomas on the Horizon. A few months back, Mercedes and I found out that we’re having a baby. We recently found out that it’s going to be a girl. The bundle of joy—due in the late spring—will complete our family. Remember, Item 42 of the bucket list did read that we’ll try until I get a daughter. I’m excited about the challenge of being a father to a daughter. The only experience that’s close is my relationships with my nieces and the relationship I had with my goddaughter. I’m excited to see how Ashton responds to being a big brother. I’m also eager to see how the experience of raising an infant abroad is different than it was in the United States. Above all things, I’m just praying for a healthy, happy baby girl. Chances are the Best New Person of 2022 is going to be a no-contest.

And that concludes The Best of 2021 series. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next year, on December 26, when I unveil The Best of 2022 series.

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