closer . . .
Cuban Sand \ Voice Recognition \ Mayan Revenge
Dear Blanca,

On the beach I see a very large woman with some sort of sun poisoning covering her ample calf—I swear it’s a sort of leprosy. She’s speaking with a couple four lounge chairs distant, and she’s picking at her leg as she says, “Did you like Cuba? I hear the sand on the beach is just great, really great.” and each time she pronounces the word “great” she plucks her calf like an angry mariachi guitar player. Please: you don’t have to remove her. Just cover her up. That would be great, just plucking great.
Dear Blanca,

I realize this may not be within your purview, but will you do your best to ensure the city of Playa del Carmen does not grow into an unwieldy, overdeveloped Cancun-like place? Muchas gracias in advance.

En route to town, I ask our taxi driver about the weather. My Spanish is just good enough to ask the question and understand the response in his language. He tells me, “The weatherman says it will be sunny, but he lies, just like el Presidente.” He says that the President, Señor Calderón, is only the second president actually born in Mexico, the first being his immediate predecessor, Vincente Fox.

Well, I find this hard to believe. “Y los otros presidentes, where were they born?” I ask.

Other places, he says. Blanca, I’ll research this.* In the meantime, please arrange it so that taxi drivers who fetch your guests don’t make shit up.
* Mexican Presidental Birth Research

  • Felipe Calderón, president 2006-present, born in Michoacán.
  • Vincente Fox, president 2000-2006, born in Guanajuato.
  • Ernesto Zedillo, president 1994-2000, born in Mexico City.
End of research.
Anyway, I tell him that Jimmy Carter was the first U.S. President born in a hospital. Everybody is impressed with my trivia. Our driver asks, “Where was the president before him born?”

And I say, “Other places.”

At night, a woman behind her stand on 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen, selling her CDs. Carole spies some of the Buddha Bar mixes and shops the music. Max and I approach the man standing peacefully a few feet away, and I engage him in conversation because he looks so peaceful and a bit sad, and maybe today peace requires a certain sadness, and sadness peace.

I ask how he is tonight in the city. He is in his late 50s or so, with a beautiful, wise, weathered face, shimmering dark eyes, a bandana, an open shirt with salt-and-pepper chest hair, some beaded chains around his neck and wrists.

He nods at me, pulls a device on a wire from his hip, holds it to his throat, and responds with a voice as stoic as it is lovely, haunting, the sound of bronze.

The city has changed, he says. And the city is changing. His hope is that Playa del Carmen does not grow into another Cancun because the quality of the local life here is still good, still fairly peaceful, still vital, still with the feeling of almost a pueblo and not a city.

He tells me that he was a waiter, loved being a waiter, but now—and here he tilts his arm and voice box just so—he cannot be a waiter, and so he and his wife sell music on 5th Avenue.

This man is, far and away, my hero on this adventure. Maybe he is not an angel, or maybe he is. No matter; Henry Miller wrote, “Never trust the writer, trust the tale.” This man is the heart and soul of my brief, limited time in the town of Playa del Carmen . . . may you stay pueblo-like, may the citied demons remain, up the coast, at bay.
Dear Blanca,

I have a bit more information for you about the time-share initiative. I learned from a Concierge on your property about the “recognition” that a previous Concierge alluded to.

“Recognition” means $125, U.S. currency, for any referral who agrees to a meeting and tour with your sharks. Well, that’s a generous commission. And I confirmed it doesn’t necessitate a sale; simply: the lead qualifies for commission.

Your unsuspecting Concierge also confirmed my suspicion of a 75-80% occupancy rate for the resort, or some 1,400 people.

If the average stay is seven days, this branch of the Occidental resort group is grossing some $140,000 a week, and that’s low-balling it at Travelocity rates, not including paid upgrades (I wouldn’t know anything about that). So, conservatively, you are grossing $7 million a year, not including incidentals like a percentage from the external salesmen you let on the property, or sales in, say, the tobacco shop on property where this morning I bought a hat and a bottle of mouthwash for $18. (At $5 for a 500 ml bottle of Listerine, I could set up shop in the Mall of America, where all the action’s at and, even with booth rental, be well on my way to paying off my credit cards in a year’s time—and just by selling Listerine at your prices.)

What I didn’t expect to hear was that your Concierges make no salary but instead depend on their “recognitions” and tips. No salary? No salary against commissions? Well, as our new Concierge friend said, if you can secure two or three commissions out of 25 tries a day, that’s not a bad day’s pay. And so they aggress.

I now view your resort’s aggressive time-share strategies as a Mayan revenge on Christendom. What the Spaniards did to you with war and forced religion, you do to the tourist with captive seduction and sloppy persistence.

And if this theory is not accurate, at least it enters you into a defensible justification of historical revenge patterns with which you should feel comfortable.

Only: your hotel is part of a conglomerate that is Spanish-owned. So, really, if you want to play by the rules, revenge would first require a mutiny.