Cheap Thrills for the
Broke & the Uninsured
Here are three fresh suggestions for you to spend the dog days of the season, all in North America. Since most of us have no tax-haven accounts to protect or offshore mansions to hide, so to avoid pesky inquiries about our personal wealth, we have to go for the jugular of the unvarnished entertainment, the raw sensations, the truly unexpected. Or as they say back home, the cheap seats.
Up north, there’s a former prison with all the lack of amenities a growing number of Americans ‘enjoy’ these days, except that you may bring your own toilet paper and no one will hurt you at night. Head down south to reenact the gruesome experience of illegal immigrants coming to the U.S. Or you can always choose to visit any of the continent’s dirtiest and worst-kept beaches. Bon Voyage.
Or rather, not so fast. Let’s check our luggage first, and see whether we’re up to the task ahead. You know what that means: anywhere you go, you’ll need some cash. Perhaps one of those dozens of credit card offers you’ve been getting lately would come handy. We’re not saying anything, and if you quote us on that, we’ll deny it.
Also, since you’re probably living off odd jobs for a while, you may think that no one will notice that you’re missing. Don’t make that mistake, for as soon as you take your seat on that cross-country bus, for the five or six hours trip, you phone will be ringing off, well, the battery. So you may want to take your time and let everyone know, just in case.
Not that it’ll make much of a difference. That last job, two weeks ago, didn’t really go as well as you’d planned, and we have a feeling that you haven’t had the heart to tell you significant other about the pay cut either. But if you still can talk, so talk yourself out of this one too. It’s definitely worth a try.
As a last resort, and we know what you’re going to say, there’s always Uncle Bob. Come on, you haven’t really forgiven him for taking little Timmy’s pig bank when you still had a decent job. What was that he used to call you then? High roller or something. Well, he’s constantly scratching those cards, so maybe he just got lucky, which means, you should pay him a visit.
Finally, you may want to instruct everyone that these are no ordinary vacations. So there’s going to be a lot of junk food, cold buffet, hanging at the pool of the Marriott without being a guest, the works. Teach them well, so you won’t be too embarrassed if they get caught. Which, if happens, will be by someone who’s just as broke as you, but at least, has got a summer job.
And think positive, will ya? Enough of this funky attitude. Time to kick back and have your iced cup of fountain water as if you own it. Don’t let the doldrums of the season get to you. You’re momentarily out of luck, that’s all. You’ll get back on the saddle and all that. In other words, don’t waste any beer, pack lightly and off you go.
HEAD (GLADLY) TO PRISON
The Nicholas Street Gaol, Ottawa’s main prison until 1972, was open for more than a century and home to some of Canada’s most dangerous and most notorious. Many were actually hanged there, and the best known of them was Patrick J. Whelan, accused in the murder of Irish Nationalist, and father of the Canadian Confederation, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, in 1869.
The fact that it was a political assassination, and that Whelan may have been a patsy gets into that familiar but slippery ground of conspiracies. For most people who now rent one of its converted cells (video), this and other interesting facts about the Gaol and Canadian history are irrelevant, of course. But some insist that his ghost still walks through those walls.
If you just thought that Little Jimmy would love that, you’re already catching up with the spirit; after all, ghost stories don’t cost anything and make up for the lack of cable TV and shower in some rooms. We’re sure you’d enjoy visiting the upper floor, where the death row used to be. You’ll feel so glad that you’ve never done anything to deserve to be locked up in there.
HIDE FROM THE ‘MIGRA’
Time to brush up your Español, get your shots and pack a few bottles of water. Mexico has great touristic attractions, just so you know. But somehow we have a feeling that this may not be the best year to go flashing dollars, even if you could visit that beautiful underwater museum they have there. Actually, let’s take that back: if you can afford it, by all means.
Otherwise, head to El Alberto, a small town a hundred miles of the U.S. border and far from Mexico City (or Ciudad Juarez. Don’t ask). That’s where you’ll find the unique Illegal Border Crossing Theme Park. You’ve read that right. It emulates the pioneering experience of those who pick the fruit and vegetables you buy at the Korean deli, all for a fraction of a dollar per day.
Try the Caminada Nocturna (the Night Walk), a hyper-realistic trek through rough terrain, full of spiders and snakes, where you often have to crawl through muddy tunnels, escorted by your knowledgeable guide, a coyote. Not the animal, you misinformed peon. He’ll help you hide from the border patrol, who may catch you and cuff you straight to, oh, we’re not sure it’s that realistic.
In its straightforwardness, it can all be a Sociology lesson, if you’re into that sort of thing. But it’s the built-in unpredictability of the experience, and the knowledge that every year thousands used go through that same ordeal, and sometimes back again, what makes the whole thing worth trying at least once.
In fact, with the draconian immigration legislation being enforced in border U.S. states, combined with our dismal economy, illegal border crossings may be destined to Mexican museums anyway. Who knows? Perhaps in a few years, it’ll be Americans who’ll have to struggle to cross the border undetected, in order to find jobs in Mexico. Sweet revenge? We doubt Mexicans care about it either way.
YOU DIRTY BEACH
So we’re down to your very last resort: going to a daily resort, the nearest beach, almost out of desperation. Let’s get sand in unspeakable places of your body, wait to buy junk food at long concession stand lines, and generally being annoyed by the record heat, record humidity, record crowds, and record amounts of sun protection dripping and stinging your eyes.
Hey, keep it down, will ya? You promised everyone you wouldn’t be cranky, and it’s not even noon yet and you’ve already swear you’re going to kill little Guinny three times. Give the kid a break and try to forget the stats. What stats? The Natural Resources Defense Council‘s annual guide on water quality at ocean and Great Lake beaches around the U.S., of course. We should’ve told you to read about Tom and Kate instead. Our bad.
Last year, for example, a report found that eight percent of samples it collected violated public health standards. That means that you’d better check to make sure the beach you’re heading to is still open. After all, 2011 had the third-highest number of closures or advisories in over 20 years since the NRDC started collecting samples.
And if your idea of ‘dirty beaches’ has something to do with medical waste or syringes and condoms left behind by drug-addicts, like in the U.S. beaches of the 1970s and 80s, well you’re not too far off. Except that now, that also means raw sewage and even debris that started to wash ashore recently, from last year’s earthquake in Japan.
We don’t mean to belittle you, but don’t go on complaining about your city officials either, you bully, because it’s not their fault. Since last year, cities have been facing severe budget cuts, and some are even considering bankruptcy. We won’t go as far as repeating why is that, though, because we’d like to preserve our own necks from your rage, thank you very much.
GOING THE DISTANCE
But we feel that we’re letting you down, so let’s inject (oops…) a healthy dose of optimism about this picture, shall we? First, not all beaches are contaminated. The trip to Mexico is pretty convenient, if you care to pawn that HD TV set. We know, little Finny will complain, but tell him to tough it up, you hear us? Let’s not have any crying babies babbling around this time. Also, you can always head to jail. No, not the real one, you bum, snap out of that.
Ottawa is not even that hot at this time of the year. And some say that to be happy, one needs to be able to compromise, to adapt. What if you get there and there’s no vacancy? No problem. Who says you’re dying to sleep under a death row anyway? You’ve got to be swift on your feet and change accordingly. If you don’t have any preconceived ideas, all that comes will be a plus, in the big minus of things.
Besides, if you believe that this is crap, sorry, but you do need to work on your attitude. Allow us to play the customer service rep here. They may not solve your problem, and for a moment you may feel like strangling them with no mercy. But then they ask you, sweetly: is there anything else I can help you with today? and you heart just melts. Or it should, in this heat.
Finally, if it’s clear you’re not going anywhere, and now there’s not even that TV (would you tell little Trinny to shut the hell up?), well maybe you can do as millions of people used to do before all that: get a fan, a watermelon, sit outside, talk about the stars and the great things you all are going to be doing real soon. After all, you don’t need no stinking vacation. Really.