My pulse quickened when I saw the sign.
"Kelly's Irish Pub."
I had been wandering the beach at Cancun, marveling at the colors of the Caribbean, taking photos and notes and downing tiny $2.95 cups of Corona at seaside bars along the way.
I wanted to go on all day. I was, after all, on the clock. But while my mind was willing, my flesh, especially on my feet, was weak.
Darn these Tevas. The sports sandals might be fine for a stroll through a tide pool but aren't meant for long-distance work. Not only had I hiked up and down the beach, but I had also wandered the hot concrete along Kulkulcan Boulevard between kilometer posts 10 and 14, past the Planet Hollywood, La Isla Mall, Margaritaville, McDonald's and Senor Frogs.
I was ready for the shuttle back to my downtown hotel where I could take a dip in the pool, tend to my notes and my wounds and watch Yogi Bear dubbed into Spanish.
Maybe I would even break out the xtabentun, a honey-and-anise Yucatan liqueur I'd bought.
My shuttle wasn't due for 45 minutes, though. I could have hopped a city bus, but that would have added several weary blocks at the end of my trip.
Then I noticed the sign in the lobby of the Avalon Grand Hotel.
Irish pub? The saints be praised!
Thoughts of Guinness Stout and Jameson's whiskey filled my head.
I made my way down the steps and sidled up to the bar.
The bartender, who was definitely not Irish, offered me a cerveza.
"What? No, we have only Corona."
Indeed. Quickly checking the bottles shelved behind the bar, I saw the usual lineup, mostly tequila.
The only foreign booze in evidence was Stolichnaya and Smirnoff. Perhaps, I thought, there is no Mexican vodka? But then I noted Oso Negro, which ruined that theory.
A bottle of Beefeater gin -- hardly Irish -- also held prominent shelf space.
And in the corner, lonesome, sat a bottle of J&B Scotch.
The one Irish note in the place was Sinead O'Connor singing on the jukebox.
"So what is it, my good man, that makes this place an Irish bar?"
The bartender just smiled and laughed, and I suspected a language barrier. But facility with English is not something I demand from barkeeps. In fact, those who speak my native tongue tend to interrupt my monologues far too frequently.
While I was babbling, a waiter, who spoke a little more English, approached and asked my hometown.
"How close is Ohio to Boston, where my girlfriend lives?" he asked.
As I tried to explain the vast gulf, he showed me a phone number, supposedly hers.
"This is for Boston?"
It might have been. The number of digits was right. It looked correct, but he couldn't connect.
"She is very beautiful," he told me, explaining that he had met her recently in the bar. "I want very much to talk to her again."
I kept pondering the number, trying to figure out how he could be misdialing. In a halting mix of Spanish and English, we hashed over the intricacies of international area codes and dialing protocols.
The sad and obvious likelihood -- that the number he had been given was never meant to be correct -- didn't strike me until my fourth Corona, when it was almost time to catch my shuttle.
"I'm sorry, amigo. I hope you reach her and everything esta bien."
I got up from the barstool and he went back to work.
"Wherever you go," I mumbled to myself. "A bar is a bar."
I left a tip, wondering what would happen if I tried to order xtabentun at a Mexican taberna in Belfast or Boston.
MARCH 20, 2005