Friday, July 04, 2008

airport turbulence in Cancun

When we touched down in Cancun Beth and I were preoccupied with the weather. The extended forecast called for thunderstorms for the duration of our visit and what we saw from the plane did nothing to dispel that notion. My own apprehensions centered around my desire to go snorkeling. I'd never been even though we had tried ten years earlier in Majajual at the southern tip of the Yucatan. We'd driven there from Chiapas in high hopes of getting into the world famous coral reefs nearby. Unfortunately high winds had grounded all the local boats for the full five days we were there. Not all eyes would have wept for us since we were after all on completely deserted beaches with the sea to ourselves and a nearby palapa restaurant run by an American ex-pat. Nevertheless, I've been carrying around an unfulfilled desire to snorkel in those waters. As we watched the lightning illuminate the cloudy masses above and heard the thunder roll overhead, it seemed all too plausible that we might be thwarted once again.
We cleared customs in short order and began searching for the hotel shuttle. I saw a young woman at a desk under a sign saying something like Tourist Info. She wore a uniform with a badge sporting her photo and name. I barely began my question to her when she smiled sweetly and gestured to a man standing in the wide corridor we were traveling through. He wore the same uniform. It was then that I noticed that there were at least ten men just like him, fanned out like boulders in a patch of whitewater. The man approached us and the woman turned her attention contentedly to something on her desktop.
"Hello, friends. Where are you going?"
I paused a moment and then said it. "The Ritz Carlton." I wanted to explain and perhaps I should have said, "But I'm not Ritz clientèle. I just won a prize, that's all. It's a free trip. I don't have money...."
Instead I merely let my answer stand. I could only imagine the calculations it triggered in the man's mind. I could sense Beth easing away from me, trying to insinuate my away from this man. She had already intuited what I would need another minute or so to grasp. For the time being, I thought he could help us get to our hotel. Before I could ask him though, he started in.
"How long you gonna be here?"
"Five days," I said wondering just how far Beth would go without me.
"What are you doing tomorrow?" he said smiling.
"We just want to go to our hotel," said Beth. "Come on sweetie." She gestured to me.
"We want to go snorkeling." I said even as I slid toward her just a bit.
The man nodded approvingly. He seemed to sense that Beth was his challenge.
"You want free tickets to go snorkeling?"
I looked at Beth. She looked at the man and at me not knowing what to say.
"I give you two free tickets for snorkeling and I give you two round trip tickets for the ferry." He paused for effect. I made an expression that conveyed the message, "Why not?" Beth looked despondent.
"You want to swim with dolphins?" he added.
"No, we don't want to swim with dolphins." I tried to show Beth that I was still in charge of my own good sense. "Look, we're not at the Ritz because we can afford it....I won a prize."
"You want to save money, mister. Look, these tickets cost money. You go snorkeling, you gotta pay. The ferry cost money. You gotta pay. I'm gonna give you free tickets. What else you want to do?"
"He's right, Beth. We're going to have to pay for all this stuff."
"No, sweetie. He's not going to give us all that stuff."
At this the man smiled gravely at Beth. He gestured us to a nearby table upon which rested a silver metallic briefcase. "I'm gonna show you what I'll give you and then you decide."
At length the scales began to fall from my eyes. I stood my ground not following him. "We don't want to buy anything."
"I don't sell you anything. Look." He opened his briefcase and brought out a tourist map. "Look, I show you where to go. Even if you don't want the free tickets, I show you where to go. Here, look, here is Cancun. Here is the hotel zone. There, there is your hotel, the Ritz. You see?"
I nodded. Here at last was some hard information. I let my guard down. He went on making small circles with his marker. "Here and here are the best shopping malls. Don't go here, no good. Here is Woman Island. You go snorkeling here. Here, the ferry. You want to buy tickets you go there. They cost money. I give you free tickets if you want. You can swim with dolphins, and look you can also have lunch. It's free."
"We don't want to swim with dolphins."
"Kevin, let's go."
"You want to eat lunch?"
"How can you do all this?"
"He can't," said Beth.
The man smiled and pointed to his badge. We don't want your money. The company I work for is very big. Like the Ritz. He leaned over the map and made a circle right next to the Ritz Carlton.
"See this? It's the Mayan Palace. Five star like the Ritz. It's right next door. All we want is to show you our resort. We give you breakfast free. You come over in the morning. You can walk. 90 minutes. You have breakfast and we give you free tickets for everything. You can leave. Don't worry lady. It's free. You'll see."
I looked at Beth.
"No." she said flatly. "They're going to take over our vacation. We'll be in a bubble with a bunch of other people. We just got here. I want to go to our hotel."
It seemed like we'd been there a half hour already. Beth was right. We hadn't even left the airport and already I was poised to sign something. I backed away from the man. He reached for a stack of forms bound in a rubber band. He unbound them and began flipping them in front of him. "Look, these people are just like you. Here's one from California. They gonna get free tickets just like you. Look, here's one from Texas."
"Sorry," I said as I turned to Beth. She slid her hand under my arm and tugged gently. "I don't know those people," I hollered over my shoulder. I suddenly felt angry with myself. Angry for the entire episode, my gullibility contrasted with Beth's worldliness, the wasted time, and angry for the final lame effort to explain myself to a complete stranger.
"Mister, why you don't want to save some money?"
"Come on," said Beth.
"I'm coming." I said it sharply. Beth could sense my irritation. For a few tense moments we both wondered if we had managed to get off on exactly the wrong foot. I could feel myself at risk of falling into a major league funk. A tiny voice inside me pleaded. We boarded the shuttle and headed for the Ritz. I wavered between listening to the little voice and worrying about how much to tip the driver. The windshield wipers were slapping furiously at the rain outside. It was eight o'clock and already pitch black. There was nothing familiar outside to look at, only a nondescript parade of traffic and hulking hotel facades with neon signs, some of them bearing the words "All Inclusive!" I turned to Beth whose face was half lit, beautifully familiar, familiarly beautiful.
"You were right. I'm sorry. I almost lost it back there. You were right." I could barely hear myself speaking, but I could tell that Beth heard me. I felt her hand squeeze my arm.
Try to remember this, I told myself, and all will be well.


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