Friday, September 18, 2009

Cuba, Part 6

I stood there, at the edge of the hotel lobby, watching the old men play chess. A few minutes passed, and neither of them so much as glanced in my direction. The old man closer to me, hunched over on the stool, disembarked and headed around the corner, presumably to the bathroom.

The concierge guy, who bore a striking resemblance to Castro, picked up his glass of whisky and took a sip, fully savoring his libation. He then held the glass near his waist and stroked his beard in contemplation of the unknown, still not paying any attention to me.

I was fascinated by the level of customer service, but I decided not to let it bother me.

As I stood before him, his look indicated that my presence was an unthinkable intrusion on his privacy. I decided to proceed in English and save us both the hassle of my broken Spanish. This grand old hotel was expensive for Cuba (about a hundred-plus bucks per night), and I sensed that English was spoken here frequently.

"Excuse me, do you have any rooms available for the night?" I asked the old curmudgeon.

He glared at me for a few moments before answering.

"Look at you! I haven't even put my glass down yet! (and he swirled the whisky in his glass for emphasis) You Americans! I want to give you some advise about Cuba, if you will permit me...."

"Sure," I agreed. I liked how he was about to go off on a tirade, but he used the phrase, 'if you will permit me', like he'd become British for just 1.5 seconds. It was hard to be mad at the old man for some reason. He had that tough guy charm.

"While in Cuba, never start a conversation with a request or a demand. Try something like: 'Good Evening, how are you?' In life, there is always time to be polite. It's very American to start out asking for this or that, and it is not an attractive quality."

"Well, it's a good point. I'll remember that," I conceded with a smile. His advice was not bad, one had to admit.

"Now, what can I do for you?" he asked with genuine concern.

"I'd like to know if you have any rooms available tonight, please."

He thumbed thru some pages of a large, yellowed book next to the chess board.

"We do not have anything tonight or tomorrow night, but we have some available after that. Would you like to reserve a room?"

"No thanks, I have to get to back to my friends waiting outside in the car. Have a great night!"

"Good luck, and enjoy your stay in Cuba!" he exclaimed just as his friend reappeared from around the corner and made his way back to the stool.

'Interesting,' I thought to myself as I walked across the lobby toward the door. I turned around for one last look to see them both concentrating on the board, again, like nothing had happened. I liked the old coot.

I ran down the hill, back to the car, and got in.

"Well?" Danielle asked me once I was seated.

"Nothing available. Any advise, Melanie?"

Melanie thought for a moment.

"I know. We'll drop you off at a place where there are a bunch of hotels, not far from old town Havana. One of them will have a room for sure."

"Sounds good," Danielle replied.

It took us about ten minutes of driving to get to the place that Melanie was talking about.

I looked outside the car window.

"Why is it so dark out there?" I asked her.

"There was probably a power outage," she replied as if it were no big deal.

"It's almost pitch black out there, are you sure it's going to be safe?" I probed further.

"Definitely. The hotel is only a few blocks down on the right. You will be fine." she replied.

I looked over at Danielle. She seemed completely unconcerned. I regarded that as a good sign.

"Well, thank you all. We really appreciate the ride!"

Melanie translated for us and her boyfriend and the driver smiled at us, saying something in Spanish that I could not understand. Probably something to do with us having a good trip.

Everyone got out of the car, the boys helped us get our luggage out of the trunk and we said our final goodbyes with hugs all around. And, of course, we got Melanie's contact information to meet up later in the week for a little dancing.

The car took off and we were left on a pitch black gravel road with no one in sight.

Now that I was outside, and I could see that it was pitch black for a mile in every direction, and I didn't see anyone else at all, and I had approximately two thousand US dollars in my left pocket...I didn't feel so good about this situation. A terrible feeling crept up on me and was making its way to my brainstem.



At 9:46 PM PDT, Anonymous Jess said...


That primal fear of darkness. As old as time itself, I think, but I only have two words for you mister:

And then?!


P.S. And then?!

At 12:25 PM PDT, Anonymous Walter said...

I've been a fan of your site since '07 and enjoy the level of detail you bring to each story.

It keeps us the story engaging not to mentioned the "to be continued cliff hangers"!


At 2:23 AM PDT, Blogger Anonymous said...

much appreciated, ally and walter!

p.s. I hear that red heads are a superior subset of the human race!



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