Monday, September 8, 2008

A Gold Medal Olympic Vacation Competition

August 29, 2008 Southwest News-Herald - City & Suburban

A Gold Medal Olympic Vacation Competition


The competition for the Gold Medal was Olympic. Not in Beijing, but on the beaches of Punta Cana, where I spent a week researching Cuban cigars and teaching my son the basics of how to survive in the real world.

Every morning, I would get to the beach at 6:30 in a fierce race with teams representing Russia, China, Italy, France and Spain and a field of 130 others. There were only 10 perfect palm tree covered “cabanas” on the beach, and you had to get there early to claim one.

What’s the point of going to a beautiful paradise beach if you are going to schelp in at 11 and plop down on a towel in the sand?

I can report that I’ve won the competition every morning. Boo-rah for the American team! Well, I guess I’m considered about as American as Yao Ming. (OK. He’s an exception, a Chinese-born athlete who plays for the Houston Rockets basketball team. In the Olympics, he plays for China.) Did you ever notice that when mentioning American athletes of certain ethnic and racial backgrounds, they always mention their race but never the ethnicity of “Americans” like Michael Phelps?

Anyway, back to my own Olympic Gold Medal competition in Punta Cana at the Bavara Princess Beach.

There’s an art to securing lounge chairs and a cabana. It’s the same no matter where you go in the Caribbean, except that the world has changed. Dramatically. It used to be that places like this were filled with arrogant and obnoxious American tourists.

Well, that’s changed. Today, the resorts in the Caribbean are filled with Europeans, Russians and Asians enjoying the fact that President Bush screwed up our economy with the stupid Iraq war. (OK, that’s my last political reference. Just kidding.) Our dollar is worth less than a “peso” and I don’t care what Central American country you visit. It buys nothing.

But I wouldn’t let that deter me. I rushed out, research in hand, and made my way in a 3,600-foot dash for the beach. And every morning, beat the Russian by a nose (that’s where being Arab comes in handy, I guess). And the French, the Chinese and the guy with the full body tatoo.

They were right behind me and there was no courtesy “good mornings” or “hellos.” In any language. We were all there for one purpose. Keep our wives from screaming at us when we didn’t get the best spots.

There is an art to saving seats. You reserve them at 6:30 a.m. and don’t get back until around 11 after breakfast so you have a lot of faith that despite the tourists (any ethnicity), they will be there when you return.

You keep the towels from the day before and lay them on the lounge chair, stretched out and tucked in the niche in the back of the head rest and push that down to “lock it in.” 50 Points!

Then, you put a book you’ve either already read and don’t care if it’s stolen, or one no one will touch. I had Chelsea Handler’s book (Chelsea Lately) and made sure the cover faced out every morning. (Actually, Chelsea’s book is hilarious but none of the foreigners could figure out who she was, so it was a safe bet not to get stolen.) 25.35 points.

Then, to play to the sympathy of the crowd, I put my son’s little sand buckets and shovels on the chair. 19.15 points.


This happened every morning like clockwork, and as I said, representing the American team, WE WON. 94.5 points. (If I can add right.)

No one said hi. Mainly because we couldn’t speak anyone else’s language, I think. But still. The first morning I tried and said, “Isn’t it like a vacation? Your wife makes you run out at 6:30 to grab a lounge chair, too?” And the guy walking fast next to me — 25 mph — just grunted with a Spanish accent. That’s when I knew the competition was real.

And all of the men sat out there looking at each other. Until exactly 7:22 a.m. when the tall, blond haired Swedish woman jogged past.





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