Flim-flam City

Flim-flam verb
To swindle; cheat.


I asked the driver how much after we’d arrived. A mistake. I should have asked before. She spoke barely above a whisper. I couldn’t hear her over the music from the clubs, and when I gave her 100 pesos she asked for fifty more. O was the only other Welshman we’d met in ten months. The three of us, we decided to go out in La Zona Hotelera, Cancún, to celebrate. I’d had a bottle of wine already.
Outside the cab, the club promoters were already circling, licking their lips. I got out of the car and looked around. Clubs and bars lined the street on both sides, the lights of them bright in the night, and the music poured out of them like the sea into the street and mixed with the people joyous, laughing, screaming, and loudest of all were the promoters
I looked at the others. “I have no idea”, I said. I really didn’t. There was no chance to think. All the sights and sounds. This guy had latched onto us like a limpet and he gave us the run-down on the scene. All of the bars were open bars. You pay the cover and that’s it.
I looked at the bar in front of me, then at the one across the road. “That one is $30 to get in, and this one costs $60, what’s the difference?”
“Ahhhh, that’s a bar and this is a club”
“Well, all right…”
We decided on the US$60 one. It had to be sixty clams for a reason. My nose started bleeding as I handed over the money.
“This better be fucking worth it…”
A waiter quickly introduced himself and took our drinks order. His name was Gustavo.
“What’s the English equivalent of Gustavo?”
“Uhhh, Guuuu…”
“Gaaaa gaaa ga…”
He came back with our drinks before we could think of it. We pointed at a table we liked the look of, overlooking the dance floor. Well, there wasn’t really a dancefloor, it was a table overlooking other tables. We told him that’s where we’d be.
“$60 and no dancefloor… I thought that guy said that this was a club!”
“That place over there looks exactly the same as this one!”, I said, considering the $30 ‘bar’ across the street. I squinted over at it. “In fact, it looks even better…”
Another waiter approached us. “Hi, I’m Gabriel. Can I get you anything?”
“Hi Gabriel, how are you doing? Not right now, thanks”
“OK, anything you need, I’ll be here…”
“$60”, I said, shaking my head.
Two girls were dancing on the stage in front of the DJ. They were grinding and moving and rocking in rhythm, dancing to the beat of the music, they danced. It wasn’t really sexy but at the end of those slim backs, there were perfect asses. Gabriel brought us some more drinks.
Something was afoot behind us. Gabriel and Gustavo were arguing, then Gustavo wanted something.
“Yes, mother?”
“Follow me.”
“Que pasa, Gabriel?”, I asked. He shrugged his shoulders.
That’s nice, I thought. They were fighting over us, fighting over our tips. If only they knew.
We followed Gustavo down to the worst table in the club, nestled in a black corner we couldn’t see anything. We were out of the way.
“They’re reserved up there. You have to stay here.”, he told us
“I PAID $60 TO BE IN HERE, I’LL GO WHERE I DAMN PLEASE!”, I screamed, bringing my fist down on the table
Gabriel had reappeared to remind us of his tip.
“All right Gabriel, we won’t forget, don’t worry…,” I said, winking at the others
Just then Jesus came over, “You guys want anything?”
“No thanks.”
“Fuck this, let’s go back upstairs.”
We went back to our table. Gabriel was waiting. Gustavo was looking up at us from down below with a face like a smacked arse. He thought that Gabriel had won.
O put his hand on Gabriel’s shoulder, “Three more drinks please, Gabriel, my good man!”
He went off to get them.
“Gabriel, what is the most expensive drink that we can have?”, I asked
“Hmmm… and how much more would we have to pay for that?”
“$150 US”
“Three tequilas, please”
There were two girls on the table next to us. I had already said hello to one of the girls, just being friendly, like. They seemed to have reached a stalemate with Gabriel. He had brought them the bill but they had no money. Frankly, Gabriel looked as if he was in for a long ride on a chicken bus. The girls had come in expecting to get by on their assets alone. Some mopes would come along and pay for all their drinks. After I had said hello, she quickly changed seats with her friend to be next to me. They thought that they had found somebody. Obviously they didn’t know who they were dealing with either.
Our glasses were empty.
“GABRIEL!!! Three more, please”
“Remember my tip!”
“Oh Jesus… yep, we haven’t forgotten…”
“Poor Gabriel”, I said.
He spent the remainder of the night flat against the wall behind us enshrouded in the nameless dark, like a night prowler watching his prey, and every now and then he would step forward out of it and remind us of his tip before vanishing back into it like an apparition. I kept telling him we’d tip him at the end of the night.
Some other suckers were paying for the girls’ drinks next to us.
“Ha ha, look at them… wasting their money”
“Is it me or are you not getting any drunker?”
Soon it was the end of the night. I wasn’t too impressed. This famous scene, it didn’t compare to those nights in South East Asia, those were the nights. I’m not sure what Gabriel was doing but we snuck out of there without him seeing us. Poor Gabriel.
We stepped out of the club into the wasteland of the night and immediately were surrounded by hookers.
“You want something, baby?”, I asked
“Yeah, come with me” She had her hand in my pocket
“No thanks, and keep looking, there’s nothing in there”
She felt something, thin and floppy, but defining a clear shape in my trousers. I felt her pulling at it. “What’s this…?”, she purred at me
I got out of there.
We dropped another $15 dollars on the 2km taxi ride home back to Cancún city and woke up the next day to the sound of a man chiselling something. There were renovations going on in the hostel. The bar looked as if it had never been operational and there was a tarp closing off half the swimming pool. They must have been talking advantage of the low season when it was quiet. But this place had an air about it like it was always quiet. They sold it as a party hostel online. $18 a night we were paying for this dump.
“In my dream I just heard that noise, like somebody was chiselling a Moses tablet…”, O said. “But I’m not really hungover at all considering what I drank last night, what was in those drinks?”
“Hmmm, I feel pretty good too”
“Gabriel was probably bringing us shit drinks because we didn’t tip him”
“Yeah, but it’s a vicious cycle isn’t it? If he’d brought us stronger drinks we would have gotten drunker and been more likely to give him something…”
“Uhhhh, I spent another $40 on top of the cover because I wanted to get drunk… WHAT THE HELL IS THIS!” I couldn’t stop scratching.
A mosquito had gotten me right in the arsecrack.
We decided to go to the beach. We got there on a bus. Staff from all of the resorts got on with us. We found a public entrance to the beach and walked on down to it. The sky was gray and angry and it looked like rain but the sand was bone pale and the water cyan, a siren beach, as if it was to be mistrusted, too good to be true.
We walked along it a while. We passed hotel after hotel. The entire beach has been privatised and claimed by the hotels. The general advice for bums like us is to just act is if we’re supposed to be there. We decided to go back to the street.
“Let’s try that one up there”, O suggested. It was the biggest, most impressive hotel on the beach but there appeared to be a way through to the other side. Inside, we found a tap to wash the sand off our feet.
“Hey! It’s better than the shower at the hostel!”
“Right, come on, let’s go for it”
“Remember now, walk through as if you own the place!”
As we approached the tunnel a female security guard came upon us from nowhere like a messenger from God. She was as tall as my waist.
“Uhhhh, we don’t want no trouble, ma’am, we just want to pass through to the street”
“You can’t go this way”
“Why not?”
“You don’t have wristbands”
“Where can we go?”
She pointed in the direction from which we had come.
“There’s a public entrance a couple of kilometres away”
“It’s the nearest?”
“Can’t you just escort us through the hotel?”, O asked
We walked back down the beach and through the scrubby little public entrance back to the street.


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