“Aloha!” the barista in the garish Hawaiian shirt yelled from under the kind of headset I usually associate with greasy burgers, not tropical breezes.
“OK,” I said, my voice swallowed by très tiki hut décor. This newish coffee shack had been plopped on Route 550 in dusty Bernalillo, and I supposed the eighteen-wheelers whooshing by could sound like ocean waves given the right combination of imagination, medicine and corporate brainwashing.
“Mahalo!” my maniacally friendly guide sang at the end of our relationship. Recoiling, I almost sloshed the hot liquid on a cluster of chocolate-enrobed macadamia nuts on the counter.
“OK,” I said again, feeling like a strip-searched man without a valid passport. Outside, the sun beat down on a little square of white sand that was supposed to remind one of a beach, but instead probably reminded some cat of a litter box. Make that a few feral felines that had been sampling the dumpster tasting menu.
My wife Lala and son London were scheduled to meet me back at a nearby hotel where I was staying. I had attended a conference the night before and we were extending the business trip into a staycation, a day of fun and frolic at a fancy hotel only three gallons of gas from our home. Like Hawaiian coffee in New Mexico, the resort was brimming with contradictions: That morning, I had watched a busload of golfers pull up, eager to crush a white ball near pueblo-style architecture and two working hornos. I felt the same slight unease as I do when I visit my brother at Disney World and he introduces me to a real African chief flown to Florida to teach Xhosa clicking words to sunburned tourists in the Expedition Everest gift shop.
Once London hit the cool waters of the pool, I tried to put aside all deconstructive thoughts in order to carry him on my back and race him around the circular perimeter of a body of water designed to replicate a place for sacred religious ceremonies. Instead of prayer, however, the kiva was filled with 50-something women reading multiple copies of Eat, Pray, Love while a man and his son yelled both “Marco” and “Polo”.
During a break, Lala read from the spa menu. “They have Swedish and Egyptian massage here. Shiatsu and Reiki too.”
“Those are Japanese, right?”
She rolled her blue eyes. “You know they are.”
“Just trying to keep my colors of Benetton straight.”
“And one here where they use drums.”
“Can’t beat that.”
We migrated to the next pool where we watched London do flips under the surface. An Abigail Breslin look-alike swam over.
“What grade are you going into?” she asked behind green bug-eyed goggles.
“I’m going into fourth. Want to watch me do a flip like you did, only mine goes into a handstand?”
London shrugged. “OK.”
She awkwardly performed the maneuver then spouted: “Where do you live?”
“You live here?”
“What state do you live in?”
“So you live here?” Before London could answer, Little Abigail was called to dinner. As she was toweling off, Abigail said, “Hey Mom! You know this isn’t just a hotel? Some people live here.”
“Mmm hmm,” the mom hummed.
“I just met the nicest little girl and she lives here. She catches the bus just at the end of that path.” She pointed down a curvy swath of concrete that led to an insurance group enjoying a chuck wagon dinner. I could see their lantern centerpieces shedding light on checkered tablecloths and wondered when the war cries would begin.
Robert Wilder's latest book is Tales from the Teacher's Lounge. His column, "Daddy Needs a Drink" appears the first Wednesday of the month.