We teach several alcohol and drug education courses at the probation department. Every two years, those of us who teach the drug offender classes and those who teach repeat DWI offender classes are required to attend a week-long training program. The first year we went, and every year subsequently, it has been held at the San Luis Resort in Galveston, Texas. (Eat your heart out, Jonboy.) We thank God on a regular basis for this because the San Luis is super-way-all magnificent.
You may have gathered from previous posts that the people I work with are, shall we say, interesting. They are for the most part female. They are loud, opinionated, and laugh-till-your-nose-runs funny. Being paid to tell other people what to do with their lives tends to make us a bit bossy.
Four of us, Mindy, M2, E. and myself, drug our small-town selves into the resort the Sunday afternoon before the conference. You know Mindy. M2 is a deceptively mischievous chica who can make grown men twice her size tremble with fear. She also collects stray cats and sings along with Barry Manilow whenever possible. She is short, stubborn, spiky-haired and has a slicing wit.
E. is the oldest of the group. I tell you that only because I tell you this - she looks just like Sophia Loren. She is intelligent and deeply empathetic to the deserving. She is eye-gougingly tough on the undeserving. She is also dingy as hell.
When the four of us drug out bags into the sumptuous lobby, the desk clerk only had eyes for E. Since I am somehow always stuck being The Designated Adult, I was getting us checked in. E. stood beside me, just being herself - gregarious and awe-struck. Poor little Richard the clerk was a bit awe-struck himself. We conducted the entire transaction without him ever actually looking at me. The good thing about all this was that he upgraded all our rooms to the penthouse floor. Score!
Well, yeah, but this is a card-access-only floor. No big deal, right? Richard gave us our cards and explained we just needed to insert them into the elevator control panel and we could access our floor. We lugged the luggage to the elevator, smiled our weary thanks to Richard, inserted the card and pushed the button. The doors closed.
The doors opened. We hadn't gone anywhere.
We laugh - ha, ha, silly us - and try again. Insert card, push button, doors close. Doors open. Richard looks up from the desk. We laugh, we wave, we insert different cardpushbuttondoorsclose.
Doors open. We try to look inconspicuous while we INSERT CARD. And PUSH THE DAMN BUTTON. We wait - and the doors open to the lobby once again. Then M2 says she has had enough of this and is going to ask Richard what is wrong with their elevator. Doors close behind her. Doors stay closed. We are going nowhere. Wonder if we will ever see M2 again, but are glad she left her luggage behind as we plan to rummage inside for snacks.
Doors open. Richard and M2 are standing there - Richard looking a little peeved like he obviously made a poor choice about who to spend a precious few upgrades on. We laugh, nervously, and Richard gets on the elevator and personally escorts us to the floor. He gave us a tutorial on the way, which consisted of "insert card, push button".
The conference was great. The food was incredible. And the classes ended early enough each day to allow for sight-seeing and whatever. One night after dinner, we strolled along the sea wall. It was getting dusky. E. and M2 were in the lead. They stopped and leaned over the edge of the wall. Down below the waves were licking the huge chunks of granite. Suddenly E. straightened up and yelled at Mindy and I - "Y'all - Come look at these rats! They're as big as - as beavers!" Not being too cultured to turn down a good rat sighting, we sprinted over to the wall.
We must have presented quite a picture to the passers-by. Four variously sized posteriors addressing the street as we leaned out over the wall, looking for rats. The debate rages today between the rat-seeing and the non-rat-seeing factions as to whom among us has ever seen a beaver and could a rat possibly be that big?
A couple of days went by and our only complaint was that this sizeable hotel had only one bank of elevators. There was another conference going on in addition to ours. Sometimes the wait for an elevator was pretty long. The hotel also liked to keep the stairs hidden away from view and actual use.
Along about Thursday, someone at the hotel decided to paint the elevators. Not a problem. Except that they couldn't paint a moving elevator. They had to be stopped in the basement for painting. Again, not a bad idea for a graveyard shift project. Except that they decided to do it at 4:00 in the afternoon. This was just the time both conferences let out for the day. This meant at least 250 people were milling about in front of stubbornly closed elevator doors, trying to get to their rooms.
We were at the front of the crowd. There were only two people there in front of us and they obviously weren't attending a conference. There were a small, elderly couple just returning from an afternoon by the pool. The man was wearing his swim trunks and standing at attention by the elevator buttons. After a few moments, you realized there was a woman standing behind him. She was so mousy and withdrawn it took a while to register her presence.
We all waited. And waited. There began to be mumbling. And gnashing of teeth. The cattle were restless. We were bored with waiting. It is not good for E. to be bored. She is generally so hopped up on caffeine and nicotine that she requires constant stimulus. She engaged the robust little man in conversation.
At first we were too busy grumbling, mumbling and gnashing our teeth to pay attention. E. was flashing the man her friendliest smile and inquiring about his vacation. She explained why we were there. She asked the man where he was from. He said "Jerusalem."
"Ohhh!" said E. "You're Jewish!"
"I. AM. NOT. JEWISH. I AM ARAB - PALESTINIAN!"
The crowd was hushed. The gnashing ceased.
"That is what is wrong with all you Americans," the man practically spit. "You think anyone from the middle east is Jewish!" He then launched into a long tirade about the atrocities committed against his ancestors by these retched Jews. They had taken his land, the land of his ancestors and he had been too much of a coward to fight against them! He'd come to the United States in the 1960's and if he were not too old he would be back in his homeland today fighting the Jewish thugs. The Palestinian bombers were not terrorists - they were freedom fighters, bent on driving out the scourge of the Jews! No more was he a coward! One day he would go back to help his people and to reclaim the land that was rightfully his! His eyes were blazing and he was practically foaming at the mouth.
All during this, his poor pitifull wife slunk deeper and deeper into the tiny space between him and the elevator door. She seemed mortified by the situation, but not surprised. Evidently she'd heard all this before.
E. stood there, open-mouthed, until he said he would help drive out the Jews.
"Wait a minute!" she said. "Don't you know the Jews are God's chosen people?"
250 heads snapped in her direction. Jaws dropped.
She looked him in the eye. "Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal savior?"
250 people collectively drew their breath and took two steps back. In unison. It was like Moses had parted the moat of people that surround E. and the nearly naked angry little Palestinian man. The man had turned a freaky shade of red and looked ready to stroke out.
250 people also apparently all appealed to whatever deity they worshipped because just then, the elevators came back to life and all the doors opened. The small sea of humanity enclosed E. and the man again as we rushed into the cells. We pretty much gang tackled E. and pushed her inside. We managed to get the doors closed before the man could jump inside and proceed to strangle which ever of us he reached first. Insertcardpushbuttonprettydamnfast.
The really amazing thing is E. never really understood why the man was so upset.
Two years later, M2 and I went back to Galveston to attend this same conference in the same hotel. M2 is not a breakfast eater, so I left early each morning with a book in search of a food. One morning I stopped at Whataburger.
I was minding my own business, reading and munching. I heard a voice from a couple of tables over, but didn't pay any attention. But the voice kept getting louder and more strident.
Nah, I said to myself. It can't be.
I lowered my book ever so slightly and peeked over the top. I could see the back of a grey-haird man's head. He gestured wildly as he talked to the man in the next booth. Across from this man sat his wife - quiet and mousy, solemnly eating her breakfast sandwich as she stared at the floor. She sank deeper and deeper into the hard plastic seat.
He was railing against the Jews who had driven him from his homeland. One day the tide would change he said. He would do all that he could to eradicate them from his holy land.
I sat there and stared in amazement. I desperately wished M2 was there because who was going to believe I had seen nearly naked angry little Palestinian man again? Clothed this time.
They finished their breakfast and left. I guess I had been pretty obvious in my eavesdropping because the minute they were out the door Palestinian man's audience of one turned to me.
"Do you know how to make tamales?" he asked.
"Well, don't let those Mexican women fool you! They try to make it sound hard so they can take all your money! Its not hard. I make them all the time. I always start with the filling first. You take the meat and you shred it up real fine. Did you know some of those Mexican women use cats? That's illegal, but they do it anyway. Well, not me! What I do is..."
Next year we're going back to Galveston again. Should be fun.