I was trying to find an excuse to leave the date with the large blond girl across from me.
We were at a small table next to the sidewalk under the yellow awning of Don Mario Italian restaurant in Playa del Carmen. It was one of the first ever built in the new area of the town decades ago. Playa had expanded from a sleepy fishing village into a tourist hub, growing over 1,000% since I’d visited 23 years ago at 13-years-old with my mom, sister and grandma.
Now here I was years later, with a lot more miles under the belt and a few more pounds as well.
The time was around midnight and I was tired. We’d already ordered meals, however, and it was too late for me to make an excuse to duck out. I sipped from a frozen margarita and tried to tolerate her typical opinions and whiny tone of voice.
This girl’s words were annoying me, as was the way she narrowed her eyes when I explained what my new book Cultworld would be about. Her lips were painted with too much lipstick and she sounded inebriated or on some kind of substance - possibly just the substance of being a basic bitch.
I tried to explain my dislike of modern architecture and why Playa del Carmen was too touristic and developed for my taste.
“I don’t get it,” she said.
“Humm,” I said, trying to think how I could rephrase it.
Suddenly there was a sound like firecrackers popping off directly behind my left ear. People screamed and in less than a second I saw bodies hit the floor in waves.
“Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!”
It took me over one second to realize someone was firing a gun behind me. I crouched down on the ground where the girl was hunched over.
“Oh my God!”
“Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!”
I lifted my head slightly but couldn’t see the shooter.
I reached out to ask the girl if she was OK but she didn’t answer, hunched over like an elephant in slow motion.
I looked to the left and wondered for half a second if the guy sprawled across from me in his khakis was dead. But he was actually just lying there paralyzed in fear.
There were already sirens and truck tires screeching as police pickups pulled up. The shooter seemed to have fled.
I crawled on my hands and knees over the beige tiles toward the bar and found myself past a pair of dark-brown swinging doors in the bathroom. A man was standing there with his girlfriend shaking slightly. The shooter had opened up right next to their table.
They said they didn’t know where he’d been aiming but it seemed like he was firing down the street or up into the air to scare rival drug dealers, for fun or as part of an aborted shooting attempt on tourists.
I was pretty shaken up but the restaurant staff seemed almost indifferent. A waiter named Ivan waddled over to me and asked how I would be paying.
“Are you sure you don’t want to take your gnocchi home, sir? You can always eat it later?” another grey-haired man behind the bar at the cash register asked me.
“No quero. No...No gracias. No tengo mas apetito por ahora.” I said.
I realized after that it was a precursor to him charging me in full for all the food, not a sign of being gracious in some way.
Our food hadn’t arrived and the girl had already left without saying anything to me, but apparently I was still expected to pay for both meals and the drinks.
In a state of confusion, I paid listlessly, not even paying attention to the fact that they’d not even apologized.
I talked to a nearby guy in his 20s in glasses from Guadalajara who spoke fluent English. He told me that the cartel war was heating up in the area and that since he’d arrived two days ago he’d already been around other shooting on the streets as well.
“I had no idea it was so dangerous,” I said.
When I got back to my hotel I started searching for local shootings. A Spanish woman had been killed in nearby Tulum the week before after being caught in cartel crossfire. In the past gumen had stormed a private resort and murdered seven people just to take out an investigative journalist who was giving them a headache.
A massage therapist had been gunned down several days before in PDC for an unknown reason, bleeding out as the gunman fled, never to be found.
Two security guards gunned down in February.
I started searching more news, finding horrific shootings that had happened inside the supermarket, at a seafood restaurant, at Chapultepec restaurant several streets from my hotel.
I was amazed, because I’d never thought of this place as being of so unpredictable. Ninety-nine percent of the time it was a safe and idyllic seaside resort town full of delicious restaurants, live music, friendly people and all sorts of foreigners.
To see how quickly that could shift into dangerous situations floored me. The following day, I started to look around like I was in a warzone, checking for cover and watching why people were reaching in their pockets in the coming days. Loud clapping made me snap around to check for the source of the sound.
Groups of harmless, laughing tourists made me nervous because they were soft targets blocking my line of sight from potential assailants.
Suddenly everything which had seemed beautiful and harmonious now seemed fraught with danger and menace.
To go off on a random tangent…
This is similar to the situation of the Western world right now.
What has seemed humdrum is beginning to crack.
Civil society and basic freedoms...severely curtailed.
Scientific consensus and basic social cohesion...genuinely under threat.
The currency system and future of economics...up in the air, temporarily delayed only by reckless government stimulus.
What comes next we can only guess, but it’s not going to be normal and it’s not going to be easy.