Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Tourists

Los Cabos is a great area to visit. It is basically a little sleepy fishing village that has been heavily infiltrated by folks like the Jones family that have what is called “expendable” income. When their extra money starts building faster than their kids can spend it, it is called expendable. At that point, Jim and Jean Jones stash the extra cash before the kids realize that their cars and wardrobes should be replaced.

After stashing cash for what seems like an eternity but is actually only most of their lives, the Jones decide they need a vacation. It is mid January and they want sunshine! Their neighbors have told them about the wonderful beaches in Cabo. They would like to go but isn’t Cabo in MEXICO? So they bombard the neighbors with questions about drugs and murdering banditos. The neighbors have been there several times and assure them that Cabo isn’t like that. The Jones make their decision: To Cabo it is! The travel agent clinches the deal and the next thing you know, they’re stepping out onto the tarmac feeling the warm air of Los Cabos. They go through the line where the travel documents are inspected and stamped. Luckily, their bags appear quickly on the belt. Finally they pass through the baggage check with no problems. This all goes fairly quickly which isn’t always the case.

Suddenly and without warning, they are surrounded. The banditos are hard to spot even though they’re in plain site: deceptively dressed in casual dinner attire and speaking plain ENGLISH. The lead gang member lulls them into a false sense of security by offering kind words of welcome, then a second says they will be taken to their hotel without charge. Jim whispers to Jean, “Let me handle these jokers.” Out loud he says “I don’t know what you boys are selling but we don’t want any.” A third bandito then says, “Would you like to play a round of golf for free?” Before even finding the shuttle bus, they succumb to a time-share appointment.

In a short time the Jones are checking into an air-conditioned hotel room. By now, they’re relaxed after the harrowing escape from the banditos. In fact they are so happy to be there they don’t even bother checking the price of the room. This is heaven: beautiful room, beautiful pool and beautiful view. Who wants to think about money at a time like this? Their sleep is untroubled. The next morning, Jim and Jean slowly wander down to the pool-side restaurant still in a vacation fog. After paying 25 bucks for an omelet and coffee, the fog begins to lift. Jim says, “Honey let’s go verify our room rate.” When the clerk tells them the price (with a straight face) they are forced to control their reaction as not to appear like a couple of hicks that just fell off the truck. Jean’s hand involuntarily covers her mouth because her jaw has dropped several inches. She hopes that the clerk will think she’s stifling a yawn. Jim nods as though he’s ok with the bill which hides the fact that he’s trying not to throw up. They back away slowly, yawning and nodding, and retreat to the room. The kids are quickly called, instructed to empty the savings account and wire the money. Jim is beginning to think they made a mistake in coming to Los Cabos.

After the price shock wears off, the vacationing couple wanders out to see the town. They discover the Catholic Church next to the central plaza and spend some time walking around the old part of town. Jim, being a man, offers a constant commentary about which things would not be done that way in the US. “Look at this air-conditioner Jean. You can’t mount an air-conditioner over a sidewalk where someone can run into it! That’s against code!” Jean nods even though none of his commentary has reached the part of her brain that separates noise from spoken language. She’s an expert at ignoring his diatribes after having practiced for close to 30 years. Jean has no concern whatsoever about codes; she’s too busy soaking up the culture of San Jose. While her husband is mentally repairing the infrastructure, Jean is seeing colorful art displayed on the sidewalk and enjoying the old architecture. One of the buildings she studies was built in the 1700’s. After a welcome few minutes of silence Jim turns to face his wife, pointing out another building-code atrocity and ironically steps into an un-marked hole in the sidewalk.

A small crowd forms quickly to offer assistance. Jim is bent but probably not broken he thinks. A woman from the drugstore across the street says “You go doctor. I take you.” Jean quickly agrees and they help the poor man to his feet. Jim is adamant that he doesn’t need a doctor but the woman is just as adamant that he had better go. He reluctantly agrees. The doctor is only a short distance away and Jim is seated in the “examination room” quickly. Mr. Jones is wary; he’s sure he’s seen this same office in an old Bogart movie. The doctor doesn’t speak a word of English but goes about his business smoothly and efficiently. Soon he says, “rye-o ekis” or something like that and helps Jim to the next room. He’s told to sit. The doctor fiddles with an ancient machine that Jim assumes takes X-rays. Now the wallet starts talking to Jim. “Mistake going to Mexico man, mistake going to the doc. You only twisted your ankle and now you’re going to have to pay for a doc and x-rays and probably medicine. This is MEXICO DUDE! You’re a gringo! He’s gonna charge you 10 times his normal fee.” Jim is worried. The doctor finally comes back with the film and shows Jim that he has a slight fracture just above his ankle. He should have a cast and it will only take a little while to place it. Jean, who is listening, wisely agrees and stares Jim into silence.

Finally everything is done: Jim has a nice cast and a pair of used crutches. Now comes the real pain. The receptionist hands him the bill. The numbers are making him dizzy. With a quivering voice he says, “2500 dollars?????” The receptionist quickly replies, “Oh no señor, the bill is in pesos.” “How much is that in dollars, I only have dollars” replies Jim. She quickly puts the numbers in her calculator and holds it up. Jim is confused and says, “150 bucks. For everything??!!” He pays the bill and hobbles out with Jean.

Jean leads him to a park bench near the church. Jim is quiet for once. He’s amazed thinking about how quickly and inexpensively his ankle was mended. Abruptly a slight surge of shame forms and dissipates as he remembers his attitude when the bill was presented. There is a large band of musicians playing mariachi music on the stage. A smiling woman walks by and offers them tamales which they quickly accept for less than a dollar apiece. They also buy cups of red juice which has a slightly bitter-sweet taste but is delicious. Jim is staring at something in the distance. “Look at that old building, that’s really beautiful. See it honey??” Jean smiled back and said, “Yes, it’s really something isn’t it.?”