It’s 8 in the morning in Santo Domingo and I’m leaving my hotel to grab a cup of some superlative Dominican Republic coffee. I don’t make it 10 yards before a dirtbag attaches himself to me like a human remora.
“Hey amigo, what’s your name? Where you from? My name Miguel.” He never waits for me to answer, and that’s OK, because I don’t want to anyway. I keep walking, but he isn’t going to give up that easy, and falls into stride next to me.
“What you want, amigo? I take care of you. You want chica? I got chica for you!”
I’m actually lucky this guy came along, because if not for him I’d forget what was on my morning shopping list. Let’s see…coffee, milk, sugar…what else did I go out for? It’s on the tip of my tongue…Oh now I remember! A hooker! Before breakfast. Do I look like Charlie Sheen?
I’ve been all over the world, and these island people are some of the worst beggars you’ll ever encounter. They give the lowly Mexicans a good run for the money. You can’t walk down the street even in the well-patrolled Zona Colonia without some pitchman, huckster, street urchin, or pimp hitting you up for everything from massages to a haircut. What amazes me is that this tactic must occasionally work or they wouldn’t do it.
Yesterday a kid approached me with a box of shoeshine accessories. He asks me if I need a show shine, and I know he must be able to see that I’m wearing sandals. I look at my feet, and he looks at me. We both see it’s an utterly ridiculous situation, but I’m sure he’ll do it again, maybe for a girl wearing flip flops next time.
So now that I’ve been here a few days I have determined to protect myself. Here are my tips for avoiding the street people:
- Wear running shoes. No, not so you’re comfortable. That’s just a bonus. The idea here is that you are the zebra and they are the lions. Run, baby, run! Seriously, walk quickly and with a purpose. Wear flip-flops and they’ll smell the blood. You just can’t walk fast enough.
- Know where you’re going. Guys, you’ll still have testicles after you ask the front desk for directions. Do it before you leave the hotel. The last thing you want to do is pull out a map and start trying to remember your Boy Scout orienteering while standing on a street corner in Haiti. Again, the idea is fast and straight.
- Avoid any contact. Yes, even those of us from the South must behave like hardened Yankees down in the nether regions of the world. A good idea is to wear mirrored shades, which have the additional bonus of looking machismo, something Latinos respect. But you must do more. Resist the impulse to respond, even when the street scum are saying hello. If you’re not from New York, the temptation is great to say hi even if they didn’t initiate contact.
- Don’t try to fit in. You won’t anyway. Let’s face it, you’re a 6-foot 2 inch white man with blue eyes. Do you think you’ll be mistaken for the lawn guy? Even if you shed every scrap of tourist clothing, the brown-skinned peoples of the world will spot you as a visitor instantly. Besides, the only way you can hope to fit in with the locals is to wear rags. I’m talking ripped jeans and an old soiled T-shirt bearing some bankrupt company’s logo. It also wouldn’t hurt to disfigure your face in some way. I’d recommend drawing a knife across your cheek diagonally. Then piss your drawers, walk with a limp, and you’re ready for Guatemala. Is that worth it? The point is, you might as well be comfortable. Don’t wear long pants in the tropics just because the locals do. Trust me, they’d rather have your zip-off Columbia pants. They just can’t afford them.
- Swagger. Only a guy can do this. It helps to be big as well. Nobody wants to piss off a big guy, even the road rabble we’re talking about. So play up your manhood. The running shoes? Helps if they have a thick sole for the extra half-inch of height. Mirrored shades are best, but if you must show your face, do not reveal any emotion. Think Arnold in Terminator. Use macho body language. Big, bold moves help. Swing your arms when you walk like a Lowland Gorilla. Look neither left nor right. Scowling is a bonus. Today I returned through a crappy part of Santo Domingo with my shirt unbuttoned nearly to my waist. I’d been walking a mile in the equatorial sun, and I was sweating like Madonna at Confession. I looked like a guy who just didn’t care if he was attacked. I might even enjoy it from the look of me. For extra credit, grab your crotch occasionally just to prove dealing with you won’t be pleasant and also nobody will want to shake your hand. Disclaimer: Only do this if you’re alone. Disregard if you’re with your S.O.
- The Cell Phone Ruse. Cell phones are great tools. If, despite all your efforts, a sleazeball still manages to breach your defenses, just pull out your cell phone and start yammering nonsense. It’s amazing how many people still respect these conversations as if they were something unique. Continue until you’ve put the offenders in your rear view.
- The Dodge. Again, if you think you’re about to be overwhelmed, because some of these animals do travel in packs, duck into the Hard Rock Café, or any respectable joint. They don’t allow riffraff inside.
- I may not be as fast as the lion, but I’m faster than you. So, try to get in front of some other unsuspecting tourists that the beggar will also have to pass. He’ll be tempted to redirect his efforts. This may not be strictly ethical, but we’re talking survival here. A twist on this tactic is to borrow from the NASCAR playbook and draft behind someone who’s already getting the business as long as you can and, at an opportune moment, blow past all of them in a great cloud of Nike dust.
- Don’t travel alone. Actually this could go both ways since couples are more likely to buy tours or trinkets, and the vendors know it. But they also know that it’s unlikely one of you will want to stand around while the other hits a whorehouse or gets a haircut. I’m still going with sticking with a friend if you can. Just make sure you’re faster than they are.
- Screw it, it isn’t worth it. Maybe you should just stay behind the resort gates and have another Martini, or blow off the kinds of places where you have to run the gamut of Third World garbage in the first place. The trouble is, more and more of the world is getting this way.
I’m a little amazed that the authorities don’t do more to crack down on these abuses, but they seem far more interested in bristling weaponry pointed from behind tall fences at the citizenry. That is what the USA has in common with them, come to think of it.
You may be thinking that this article promotes a cruel or even cynical view of humanity. Not at all. I’m all for helping my fellow man…just not the ones who have decided the only way they can make money is by hassling people. If you feel the need for charity, by all means do it-on your last day. If you hand out cash before that, every homeless bum within a 3 block radius will descend on you like a plague of locusts every time you emerge from the hotel. That’s right. They’re waiting for you.
Better yet, help the needy in your own hometown. You know who they are.