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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

Atheist Life Hacks: How To Meet An Ex-Con In A Pirate Bar In The Caribbean

There was this bar we used to frequent when we lived in Playa Del Carmen. Bad Boys, it was called. You could see it from miles down the beach because it had a giant Jolly Roger flying out front. The bar itself was more or less a palapa in the sand with a bunch of plastic tables and chairs. There was a stage at the back, where Godless Dad often played drums with the Nasty Bastards, the house band. The bar was started by a man they called the Captain and the flag flew at half-mast for a week after he died.

R.I.P. Captain Dave

R.I.P. Captain Dave

We’d head out there on a Friday or Saturday evening, walking along the beach. Our toes would dig into the soft, talcum sand as we approached Bad Boys, sandals in hand. The bar would inevitably be full of expat Canadians, expat Americans and expat British. Some had been there all afternoon, lying on the shore, soaking up the Mayan sun while the boys served cool cervezas right to their cots. Some came after dinner, some just came for the music.

We’d pull up a chair in the sand and order a bucket of Coronitas and chat with the people we knew, the people we’d yet to meet and the people who were just passing through. All the Canadian and American holidays were celebrated there: Thanksgiving, Canada Day, Labour Day… There would be fundraisers for the pet shelter most of the expats were involved in and there would always, always be a pack of dogs roaming around our feet looking for scraps of food in the sand.

On one Saturday night, Godless Dad and I sauntered down the beach, working our way through the soupy Mayan air, and decided to stop in for a cheap beer. As we approached the bar, we noticed there was an event going on that we hadn’t been aware of. Curious, we headed inside, ordered some beers, and looked around for someone we knew.

I quickly spotted Joanna, the dolphin trainer from Australia who worked at the dolphin resort down la Carratera Federal. I had only met her once before, but I decided to ask,

“What’s going on? A lot of people here tonight.”

She sipped her marguerita and giggled, already half-cut, and mumbled, “Ambrose just got out of the joint. We’re celebrating!”

“The joint? You mean prison?”

She cocked her head to the side. “Yeah, didn’t you hear he got out?” she called as she walked away.

Bad Boys Beach bar

Bad Boys Beach bar

I had no idea who Ambrose was. Godless Dad and I shrugged, took a seat in the sand and drank our cervezas.

Within moments, the crowd erupted. A larger than life looking character of a man, wearing a massive sombrero made his way up the beach to the bar. He was waving, smiling, and had clearly already been celebrating for most of the day. He tripped and laughed and smacked hands and boomed over the crowd as a chorus of “Ambrose!” and “Free at last!” filled the palapa. The Nasty Bastards got on stage and started playing a cover of Jailbreak by Thin Lizzy. I spotted Drew, the man who founded the pet shelter and who we had gotten to know quite well. Godless Dad waved him over.

Red-faced, sweaty and out-of-breath, a very smiley Drew sat down with us. Pleasantries were exchanged and then I dug in.

“Who’s Ambrose? Why was he in prison? I want the whole scoop.”

Drew began by telling us Ambrose had just spent two years in a Mexican prison. No wonder I didn’t know him. We’d only lived there a year or so. I cringed, assuming Mexican prison could only be worse than American prison.

“No. No, I know what you’re thinking and that what all of us thought, too.” Drew began to explain. “Mexican prison must be amongst the worst prisons in the world, right?”

I nodded.

“Yeah. Not so much.” Drew clarified. “If you have money, it’s more like a retreat. Ambrose paid the Modelo truck to deliver beer to his cell every day, which he stored in the fridge he was allowed to buy.”

“What the fuck? Are you serious?” I was dumbfounded and leaned in to hear more.

“Yep. Also, inmates with money can rent a condo-style cell and their family is allowed to move in with them.”

“Wow! No shit?” Godless Dad’s eyes were wide.

“I mean… they don’t have their freedom. So that still sucks, but if you had to rank it against the American penal system, it’d win every time.” Drew sipped his Sol.

“So, what did he do? Why was he in prison?” I asked.

“Who, me?” I looked behind me to see Ambrose towering over me, grinning from ear to ear. He had two beers in his hands. He put both in one hand and with the other hand, grabbed a plastic chair from another table and spun it so it landed facing ours. He sat down.

“Ambrose.” He looked me in the eye, smiled and held out his hand. I shook it and told him my name. He did the same with Godless Dad.

“What’re you saying about me?” Ambrose turned to face Drew.

“Just what a menace to society you are. The usual.”

“Ahh. Good, then.” Ambrose holds up one of his beers to clink against Drew’s. He turns to look at me, again. “So, you wanna know what landed me in Mexican prison, huh?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I do.” I nod.

“Well, it all started in my penthouse condo on la Quinta… near Calle Corazón. I was sitting back in my birthday suit on a Sunday morning watching my Dallas Cowboys play…”

Ambrose proceeded to tell me that he’d had a large quantity of marijuana in his possession that morning. Apparently, a local petty thief found out and decided, after seeing Ambrose in a club until the wee hours of the morning the night before, that he would break into Ambrose’s house Sunday morning and steal his weed. Ambrose speculated that the kid thought he’d be sleeping in after the night out. So, the kid broke in and apparently tried to steal this large quantity of weed that Ambrose had. The only problem with his plan, was that Ambrose was awake, and Ambrose had the expat weapon of choice lying around his condo: a machete. Ambrose spotted the intruder and in an instant, had his machete in hand and was going after the would-be thief. He chased him out onto the street.

What ensued was a foot-chase through the busy streets of Playa Del Carmen. One fully dressed Mexican thief fleeing a large, naked gringo wielding a machete.

“The tourists got a bigger vacation package than they bargained for.” Drew chuckled, holding his hands apart by about 12 inches and winked. We all howled.

“Well, it was nice to meet you all. I’m off to mingle.” Ambrose rose from the table and walked toward the bar.

“Geez. That’s a story out of a Tarantino movie. So, he only got two years?”

“Well, no.” Drew signaled to the server he wanted another beer. “He was held for a year until his trial, then another until sentencing. His sentencing hearing was on Wednesday afternoon. The judge said he’d get 5 years unless he could come up with $3000 USD.”

“He had $3k just lying around?” Godless Dad leaned back in his chair.

“No. We pooled it together for him. Walked it down to the prison this morning. Now, he’s a free man!”

I couldn’t believe that’s how things worked in Mexico. I guess you could buy your way out of anything. Ambrose, it turns out, never hurt the kid and swears he never intended to. He just wanted to put the fear of death into him, so word on the street was that a crazy Texan with a machete lived there.

I mean, it worked. No one had plan s to mess with Ambrose anytime soon.

Bad Boys at sunset

Bad Boys at sunset

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