Vacation Edition

March 4, 2010 – Airport – Cancun

Our plane is delayed. We were scheduled to board at 1:10 or so for our 2:10 direct flight to Cleveland. It is now ten of two, we have been moved to a different gate, and our plane has not yet landed. I wouldn’t be concerned, except the gate worker just told me that the flight originated in Cleveland. The Cleveland to Cancun flight normally lands at 8:30 AM. Six hours behind schedule is an issue, even in Mexico.

We are ending a near-perfect vacation in Cancun. I have been to Mexico a half a dozen times. Each trip was better than the last. The tourist areas provided wonderful food and service. The Mexican people have always been welcoming and friendly, happy to share their land and their culture with those of us who choose to visit for a week or so.

My last trip to Cancun was in 1998. Developers and hurricanes have both struck since then. But my life and even the way I vacation have undergone more changes than Cancun. Thankfully for both the city and me, we all appear to have weathered our storms.

This is my fifth annual trip with Sally, AKA the girlfriend. She is a terrific travel companion. No airport line is too long. No snafu is the end of her world. Where others (or one other in particular) viewed any minor problem as a personal attack that required my immediate attention in some futile attempt to avenge her honor and restore her smile, Sally is simply happy to be on an adventure. The glitches, the mistakes, help to make the trip more memorable.

Last night was just that type of adventure.

We stayed at an all-inclusive adult resort. No screaming babies! No eight year olds in the adult pool while we are trying to play water volleyball. The fact that most of the women were topless at the pool and on the beach was just a happy bonus. The food, service, and facilities were all significant upgrades over last year’s trip to Punta Cana, and we loved the Dominican. Last year’s vacation was nice. This was that much better.

The resort had six restaurants serving dinner each evening. Two, the Asian and the Italian, required reservations. Two were buffets. The other two served Tex-Mex and seafood. We never ate in the Tex-Mex. We hit the buffets for breakfast and lunch. The made-to-order omelets were incredible. Monday evening’s dinner was in the Asian restaurant. Tuesday’s, Italian. Blessed as we are in Cleveland with large active Asian and Italian communities, we know these cuisines. Hell, we ate at Tuscany the night before we left. What the resort restaurants may have lacked in authenticity was more than compensated by their excellent service and tasty, fresh ingredients. We enjoyed these dinners almost as much as the meals in the seafood spot.

The restaurants were filled with round tables suitable for up to four diners. We arrived yesterday evening at the Bellavista, the seafood restaurant, promptly at 7. There were five of us, two Finnish girls celebrating their 50th birthdays, a guy from Utah who was playing slap and tickle with one of the twins, Sally and I. Every table was taken and we were only the Maitre d’s second problem. Ahead of us was a party of eight that had been promised a table the night before. This restaurant didn’t take reservations, but this guy had blown a lot of money to be a member of the resort. The most basic of his privileges was a table for his guests. He was a big guy from upper state New York and he was doing a slow burn. The Maitre d ran next door to the Italian restaurant to find some open tables.

“I told him we would be here at 7. Eight of us. I dropped 50k on this. I don’t think I’m asking for too much.”

Since he was talking in my general direction, I figured it would be rude to ignore him. “I totally agree. You gave him plenty of time to be prepared.”

I had a new friend.

The Maitre d returned a few minutes later. After intense negotiations it was resolved that my buddy and his guests would retreat to the poolside bar, 20 feet away, and be seated by 8 PM. We would be next, also by 8. More trusting, I led us to a quieter place to have a glass of wine.

When we returned at 8, the Maitre d was gone. My buddy and his guests were seated. Most of the tables were still occupied and there was a line of hungry people waiting to be seated. Proceeding to the front of the line didn’t enhance my popularity. Crowded at the door, the line was getting restless. The servers seemed to be moving in slow motion. The entire vibe of the restaurant was off kilter. Minutes went by, and except for a couple finishing their meal and leaving, nothing changed. No one remembered when they had last seen the Maitre d.

Two tables had been open for awhile. I walked up to one of the waiters and advised him that we were next on the list, a party of five.

“Senor, these tables are for 4. Five is too many.”

These guys were lost. Their manager was MIA and they didn’t know what to do.

“Not a problem. Let’s put those two tables together and we’ll get my party seated. I’ll be at the desk.”

He started to move the tables and I took my pen out of my pocket and checked the list. “OK, who is Woods, party of 2?” My Finnish friends were scandalized. Sally was smiling. The crowd at the door didn’t know what to think. One by one I verified the list, joked with the patrons, and put a couple of the single diners together, cruise ship style, to get us all seated. I grabbed the menus and sat my group and promised to return in a few minutes.

“Schmidlap, party of 4.” By now everyone was totally into the moment. One guy tried to slip me a 20 peso note, which is about a buck and a half and way more than I was worth. The wait staff, sensing that everything was back to normal, picked up their pace. Everyone was seated and I was back with my group before the drink order was taken.

We had a lovely dinner. I was really proud of my three waiters and our one busboy for rising to the occasion. So if you are ever in Temptations Resort in Cancun, make sure you try the shrimp and scallop brochette. And tell my guys I said “Hola”.