Matt CassedayShambling Through Paradise

The Tourism that Dares not Speak its Name

shambling through paradiseI was seated in the bar of a downtown San Jose hotel, waiting for friends to arrive. An attractive young woman took the seat next to me. We exchanged holas. Then she told me that I reminded of her of that ‘galan’ in Hollywood, “como se llama?” I looked at myself in the bar mirror—with my recent haircut and beard trim, and the gray in my beard offset by my still dark head of hair, I ventured: “George Clooney?”

“Si, si,” she said. “Yorzh Cloney!” Then she offered to have sex with me for 100 dollars.

I looked back at the mirror, and I had the amazing realization that I really looked nothing like that Hollywood galan after all! I declined politely, realizing she had mistaken me for just another tourist. But the night was young, and she would likely find her galan soon enough.

I remembered the words of one of the many ‘working girls’ I had met while tending bar over the years. Her job was risky she admitted, but as she casually informed me, sipping her wine, she could make in an hour what I worked all day to make. And it was true, too true—I wasn’t even offended by her seeming putdown.

I don’t know how many young women there are in this country who can make in an hour what I need all day to earn. The mecca for them, and the tourists who pursue them, is the Hotel Del Rey in downtown San Jose. I walked past the Del Rey a thousand times over the years without ever entering. I was married, knew what was inside, and saw no reason to check it out. One bleak November Tuesday, I found myself in San Jose in the early afternoon with a couple of hours to kill. At the time, one of my businesses was baking, and I had read that the Del Rey made deli sandwiches using real rye and pumpernickel breads. I went in to check out their bread. Honestly! I may have been the first man ever to enter the Del Rey for that reason.

I took a seat inside, and quickly saw that I was being looked at, appraised, by a couple of dozen attractive young women, scattered throughout the restaurant. Every time I glanced at one, I got a smile, a kissy face, a come-hither gesture. My thought was this: Good lord, is this what a woman feels like entering a bar full of aggressive men? I enjoyed it briefly, but quickly buried my face in the menu. I ordered a beer, which I drank in about 2 minutes, consulting my uncharged cell phone the entire time. I paid and left without asking about rye or pumpernickel.

Years ago, I met a guy I’ll call Jojo, who told me he was going to make a lot of money here in blackmail. He was joking, I think, but I sometimes wonder if any man has been a victim. I work in the travel business, and a few years back, I booked a group of 20 men for sportfishing at Los Suenos. They had a couple of condos and a couple of private houses. On their arrival, I received an irate call from the leader of the group. One of the private houses did not allow ladies of the evening to visit. The group leader was furious with me. He was insulting and demeaning. He questioned my competence and demanded I make things right. At some cost to the company, a personal representative was dispatched to Los Suenos to smooth things over.

I had no problem finding the group leader on Facebook. He lived in the Houston area, and on his page I saw his wife, children, place of employment. I saw the church he attended. I thought of Jojo years ago, and that word—blackmail. I don’t have the stomach for it, but I wondered if someday this fool would cross paths with someone who does. I sometimes hope so.

There are thousands of men who travel to Costa Rica annually to participate in this type of tourism. It is an alternate reality where they can leave behind their wives and families for a night or a fortnight and be told they resemble Yorzh Cloney, manboobs notwithstanding.