I’m on the flight home from a birthday getaway to see Steven Retchless in Puerto Vallarta.
I had no way of predicting 4-5 years ago when we met at a pole convention in Las Vegas that he would become a regular in my home and that I would fly off to see him in Mexico. Life is unpredictable and wonderful.
He’s been asking me to visit for quite some time now, at first I wasn’t sure if he was being polite in the way that people usually are – making offers that they don’t really think will ever be taken up. In fact, I rolled out the idea little by little, testing the waters to see if he could possibly really mean it. There’s a big difference between running into each other at events and inviting someone into your home.
Not that I would imply that Steven could be insincere, but I’m me and he’s him and I can’t be the only person who would love the pleasure of his company, how does he even have time for me?
But with each step towards booking a ticket he remained enthusiastic. Truth be told, it was hard for me to wrap my head around leaving town. My home is hard to leave, my mother-in-law needs to be driven around and constantly looked after, my job (though setting into a routine) is demanding, I have a little red dog that needs me …
In fact, my kids are the lowest maintenance part of my life. Theirs are the only schedules with any sense of regularity, and they are great at getting up and out the door on their own. But I needed a break. I could feel my body rebelling against me and I couldn’t tell what was going on.
Was I feeling rundown because of that cold that won’t go away, or is it the stress, or the sleep deprivation, or maybe the late nights going out with Loony and Redactor, now a weekly occurrence? Hell if I know.
So I bought the ticket and woke up at 2am to get to the airport for a 5am flight and there I was, sitting at the little café on the corner waiting to meet him.
I saw him not long ago in Boulder so it was easy to pick up the threads of conversation we had already started. I inquired about something he mentioned a few months ago and he said, “You actually listened me?”
Baby, I hang on your every word.
That first afternoon was spent orienting me to the old part of Puerto Vallarta he lives in so I would be able to navigate it on my own. My sense of direction is legendarily poor and I’m not used to traveling without Sideboob or my step-mother or Loony, or someone with a solid idea of where we are.
Steven choreographs for a local theater group and is in a show, so his evenings were largely booked. I was prepared to have some time alone which is never a problem for me. Alone time is exotic in my world. Maybe even more exotic than Steven if you can believe that.
I’m a big fan of street food and we had our first dinner at a taco cart. We parted ways and I went back to his place to settle in with Rosita, the sweet dog he rescued from the streets.
His home is a lot like him when he’s not on stage: disarmingly unadorned yet splendid due to a plethora of natural gifts. In other words, great bones. Also like him – with the interior designer’s equivalent of heels and make-up – his home could be spectacular.
But ultimately it would be gilding the lily. Its minimalist simplicity is a pleasure in-and-of-itself.
It resides in the oldest part of Puerto Vallarta where you have to pick your way over the exposed cobblestone streets or hoist yourself to the elevated sidewalks that are designed to channel water during the rainy season.
You can hear the bells of the nearby cathedral and the river rushing past his terrace, drowning out the sounds of the city. The little island just across the suspension bridge hosts a cultural center, a few restaurants, and a several colonies of feral cats among the trees. This slender island that leads to the ocean divides him from the bustle of downtown PV.
My experience of Mexico has been 100% mega-resorts. It was a necessary convenience when my kids were tiny but far from what I look for in travel. I had almost written Mexico off entirely but now having experienced it with a local, I’m already dreaming of coming back with my family … or some pole dancers … or maybe both.
We went to Nunsense that night, an all-male cast production of a musical comedy about nuns. My phone rang as I waited in the bar to be seated, it was Kristen returning my call. She couldn’t talk last week because she was at a party in Bali. “That sounds amazing,” I said, “I’ll be right there!”
So when she called me I said, “Sorry, I can’t talk long. I’m at a gay bar in Puerto Vallarta about to see a drag musical with the most famous male pole dancer in the world.”
“That sounds amazing!” she said, “I’ll be right there!” I can’t help but feel like both she and I are doing something right.
The show was sweet, but I was so. fucking. tired. having not gone to bed until midnight the night before (Redactor came over to listen to music with me and Loony), and then I was up at 2am and I was running on a series of small naps on airplanes.
I was beyond grateful when Steven made up the couch for me and left the patio doors all the way open. Rosita curled up between my legs I had the best night of sleep I’ve had in ages.
Honestly, I can’t remember sleeping so well in a long time. Not being woken up by Loony coming to bed at two and then woken up by That Fucking Cat at four might have had something to do with it. Or it could have been the sound of the river or the rustling of the trees in the wind, or the fresh air. Whatever it was, I woke up a new woman.
Steven planned a beach day for us, really just a short walk from his home.
We had coffee at the place on the corner…
… took the boardwalk to his favorite restaurant that stakes out beach chairs and umbrellas on the shore and had breakfast – meanwhile connecting with a pole dancing friend of his (Roswell) – and set up shop for the day. Steven knows how I feel about the sun (insert sound of hissing vampire) and I blissfully reclined in the shade, sometimes reading, sometimes talking to a passerby, sometimes engaged in conversation with Steven and Roswell, and felt myself relax.
The ocean was the perfect temperature for treading water while talking, the water version of going on a walk together.
We swam, we bought food and drinks from the restaurant (their speciality is seafood salad served in a whole avocado), I tried any food that looked interesting from vendors walking up and down the waterline. The grilled fish was wonderful. The oysters, meh.
I didn’t drink much, to be honest all that I really wanted was limonata con gas – fizzy freshly squeezed limeade.
Around three we packed up and went back to his place. We both set out after showering, Steven went to rehearsal and I went for a pedicure and massage. They were, um, interesting.
The pedicure was like something a friend would do for you, not bad but definitely not professional. But it was sooo relaxing. The next part I call the #metoomassage.
While I was getting my toenails done some Americans filed past me for massages. I thought I heard one of them mention a “rub and tug” AKA a massage with a happy ending. Whatever, maybe it was a bunch of bro’s engaging in wishful thinking.
I went into the massage room, undressed and got under the sheet, if you can call it that. It was more like a sheet of disposable “cloth” that hospital gowns are made of. Calling them fabric would be generous but I wasn’t expecting luxury.
I started off on my front with my face in a cradle which was a piece of cut out wood with a cushion not quite attached to it. Not so great. But the massage therapist (again, not quite what I would call her) asked if I wanted reflexology, deep tissue, relaxing, etc. No mention of happy ending. Cool.
She massaged my back I was relieved when she asked me to flip over because my face was killing me from being mashed into the cradle. She did that thing where she raised the sheet in front of her and averted her eyes so I could roll over. THEN SHE THREW AWAY THE SHEET!
LIKE, WADDED IT UP IN A BALL AND THREW IT IN THE CORNER!
So there I am, fully naked on my back and not feeling at all comfortable. Far be it from me to protest, of course. Part of me is always curious to know what is going to happen next and since I didn’t feel threatened by the woman, I was like, yolo.
She proceeded to give me the front side of a mediocre “friend” massage but only she totally massaged my boobs! And she full-on hosed me down with baby oil. Like, squirted it all over my body.
I was wondering where this was going to end up and you might be relieved (or disappointed) to know that we only made it to second base (aka got my boobs felt up). I came out completely drenched in oil, paid and went back to Steven’s to shower and dress for dinner. He got a kick out the story.
“That doesn’t sound like any massage I’ve ever gotten.”
Yeah. Me neither. It was not relaxing.
We decided to have my birthday dinner the night before because he had a late rehearsal the next day. We went to Haceinda San Angel, one of the fanciest places in PV. It was simply gorgeous. The tables were set up in a candlelit courtyard overlooking the water and the lights of the city. It was obviously a special occasion place because the mariachi band sang happy birthday not one but four times.
We polished off a bottle of wine, I valiantly fought my way through dessert, and we waddled home.
Did I mention he has the most beautiful Spanish in the world? Swoon. I’ll admit that there was a part of me that pretended we were at prom together.
Maybe it was the wine but I didn’t sleep so well, I was riddled with anxiety dreams about work, etc. Steven woke up the next day saying he had the strangest dream about pooping.
I informed him that he was dreaming my dreams. I always dream about gross bathrooms and awkwardly needing to go in front other people. Sorry about that, hon. At least you weren’t driving an out-of-control car backwards while wrestling an angry cat.
We got up early to have breakfast and meet his mother and step-father at nine. They drove us to Boca de Tomatlan where they parted ways with us.
They took a water taxi to Playa del los Animas while we hiked there. It was about a 2 hour walk that hugged the coast, dipped into the jungle, and took us through several small resorts I filed away for potential family vacations, and a tiny village where chickens roamed around freely.
We met up with Greg and Victoria at the beach where they saved us space on the beach. We ate chips, guacamole and salsa, drank limonatas and some crazy agave moonshine, and bought slices of pie from the vendors cruising the beach.
Did you know that was a thing … people selling pie on the beach? Life is a wonder, I tell you.
We hung out until one-thirty and took a water taxi back to Boca and drove home in time for Steven’s rehearsal. I was on my own that evening and I enjoyed a solo dinner on the little island with a book (dreamy) and then walked through town to the boardwalk and along the beach.
I took in all the music and dancing, appreciated the art, and kept my distance from the vendors lest we make eye contact and I feel trapped.
Oh, and I saw the WORLD’S CUTEST PUPPY!
It was a tiny pug, must have been less than eight weeks old and sooo small. I moshed with him hard. I have no regrets. None.
I got home around nine, just before Steven got back, and fell asleep reading. Why can’t it always be like this?
My flight was leaving that next day at 3pm so we got up, had breakfast in a place that reminded me of the cavernous Asian indoor markets.
He led me to his favorite place that he said had the best tortillas. He wasn’t lying, they were so good! People recognize him everywhere he goes, which is really fun. Then we walked through the city to a long flight of stairs like the ones in LA that lead to the Griffith Observatory. Atop we took in the gorgeous view of the city on one side and the ocean on the other.
We had an early lunch at what appeared to be a very sketchy ceviche cart on a corner near his home. It was always mobbed and he confirmed that it indeed had incredible ceviche and fish soup.
The ceviche tostadas were served on plates inside a plastic bag (for easy clean up) and the soup came in a disposable cup. Two tostadas and soup was $4. I would eat there every day if I lived there.
Coastal Mexicans eat very well. The food is so fresh, much of the produce comes from local farms and are sold in small grocery stores, and the seafood is incredible. And the seafood is so fresh.
I had some pesos to burn so we stopped in a little store where I purchased a few things for the boys, I had a homemade coconut popsicle and I was on my way to the airport.
It was short visit but in many ways completely perfect. I feel refreshed, celebrated, relaxed, and ready to get back to my life.
Steven, thank you so much for your generosity, you saved me from a total physical and mental meltdown with your hospitality, knowledge of Puerto Vallarta, and your gentle, loving spirit. I can’t wait to see you again.
And for those of you who think it would be really fun to do something like this with Steven, go to his One Pole Retreat in March 2019.