In Spring 2007 I published an essay called “The Low Season” in The Cimarron Review. It’s the story of how my wife and I paid for a month in Puerto Vallarta with money we made by attending timeshare presentations. Because I now live in Myrtle Beach, a place that exists largely thanks to the vacation industry, the time seems right to revisit the piece. So I’m going to serialize it here. One part every week for ten weeks. To start reading from the beginning, scroll down.
The Low Season
Part Two: The Mark
This is how it starts.
“Where you from, my friends?”
In Mexican resort towns this is how it always starts.
“You from England? Canada? Germany?”
With a voice shouted from a six-foot wide, four-foot deep booth in the storefront stucco.
“You speak English? Parlez-vous Français? What, amigos, Deutsch?”
With the tout.
The booth is wallpapered with posters. Palm trees and Jungle. Clear skies and sparkling water. A clean-cut Mexican guy sits on a makeshift wooden counter, painted a fresh coat of white. He’s thumbing a scrapbook of guided-tour information. “You wanna go on a boat trip? Rent jet-skis? Go parasailing?”
He’s about forty, and he’s wearing a golf shirt and khakis. When he jumps to his feet, his boat shoes smack the cobblestones. Like many in this Pacific port of call, he speaks near perfect English. And he makes his living from your vacation. “Come on, amigo. Where you from?”
“Ohio,” I say, as my wife Kate and I skirt past him. We’ve been through this routine many times in the four days since we arrived in Puerto Vallarta. This is late September. The low season. An in-between time. Summer vacations have ended, and winter migrations are still being planned, existing only in cubicles, on computer screens, over water coolers. Kate and I have the Plaza Principal and the waterfront Malécon pretty much to ourselves. We don’t have extra money for booze cruises or dive lessons, so we’ve said no to everything. Most of the touts now recognize us, the bald guy and the pretty brunette. They nod hello as we walk by. But not this guy.
“Ohio, amigo?” he says. “My mother lives in Ohio.”
This recognition of our home state stops us, turns us around. But I’m dubious. I wonder how many mothers he has. In how many states? How many countries?
“Lorain,” he says. “You know it? Near Cleveland.” This guy has either memorized the Rand McNally or he’s telling the truth. He reaches for an album thick with Polaroids of sunburned Norteamericanos in scenes of organized, guided recreation—on horseback, behind snorkel masks. “Looks like fun, yes?”
“It does,” I say. And I mean it. But I can’t stomach the sales pitch for fun Kate and I can’t afford.
“When you decide you want to go, come and see me. Okay, amigo? Eyder. I’ll get you a good price.”
“Very nice to meet you, Eyder,” Kate says, nudging me forward. “But we’ve got to be going.”
“How long are you in town, anyway?
I look to the hills above Viejo Vallarta, where a blanket of haze settles on the trees, and I think, Well, amigo. That’s complicated. Six weeks ago Kate and I moved out of our Columbus apartment, put all our stuff in storage, and loaded my band’s Econoline with clothes and camping gear. The plan is to drive until the money runs out. Three months, maybe. Four if we scrimp. We just spent a month tooling through the western United States, our cash supply bleeding through the van’s shoddy transmission and 200,000-mile-old engine. Most nights we camped or crashed on floors, but we also treated ourselves to the occasional hotel room, knowing that one night in an American hotel—even a low budget motel along the interstate—would mean one less day at the end of our trip.
So here’s the thing, amigo. You know the old cliché time is money? Our trip is governed by the inverse. For Kate and me, money is time. And now that we’ve made it here to beautiful, and, let’s face it, cheap, Mexico, our financial outlook is improving. If we don’t break the bank on one of the activities you’re right now trying to sell us, we’ll be able to tap the nest egg for another few weeks before pointing the van north and limping home.
I could say all of this to Eyder, this tout with a Buckeye for a mother, but I don’t. I say, “We’re not sure,” and I extend my hand toward him. We slide into that three-part handshake—first palms, then thumb webbings, then fingertips—of universal maleness. “See you around.”
“Hang on, amigo,” he says. “Where you staying?”
Playing in a band for twenty years has made me wary of this question. What I hear is, Where will your van be parked tonight? But I must have felt something trustworthy in the handshake, because I tell Eyder the truth. “Estancia San Carlos,” I say. “Over on Constitución.”
“That’s a nice place,” he says.
It is. The San Carlos is three stories of clean efficiencies wrapped around a bean-shaped pool. Our apartment has a tiled living room and a functional kitchen with a refrigerator and stove. From the balcony we see the green hills above and the yellow cabs below. In the evenings Kate and I share a bottle of Mexican wine and watch the comings and goings of the cabbies lined up on Constitución. They crouch against a painted wall, facing the long row of their Nissan Tsuru taxis—the Mexican version of my own Sentra. They laugh and smoke and steal an occasional glance at the gringos up in the balcony. Kate and I have settled into a nice routine. So what if the apartment smells of leaking propane? What’s a headache when you’re paying thirty dollars a night for a spot in paradise?
Now Eyder reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a brochure. “My new friends,” he says. “What are you doing tomorrow morning?”
Kate throws me a look that says, Please, can’t we just go get dinner?
I peel open the brochure. The Mayan Palace. In large yellow letters. For all the talk of snorkeling and bike tours, the touts are ultimately, always, working to get you to show up for a timeshare presentation. “Sorry, man,” I say to Eyder. I take Kate’s hand. “We’re busy tomorrow morning.”
This is not the truth. We have no plans for tomorrow or any other day. And Eyder knows this. He knows that busy tomorrow really means, How much is the Mayan Palace willing to pay us? What’s our time worth to them? Because, as Kate and I have learned, the resorts always sweeten the deal.
The only question is how sweet.