“I’ll tell you where I’d go. Zihuatanejo. In Mexico. A little place on the Pacific Ocean. You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific? They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory. Open a hotel, right on the beach, buy some worthless old boat, fix it up new and take my guests out charter fishing. You either get busy living or get busy dying.”
It was December 2020 at the height of Covid. Conventional dating turned into pandemic dating. Home dining, home entertainment. Pick up some sushi and watch a movie. My son Scott and the lovely Cayla Kondo were on their second, maybe third date together. Scott hosted at his place in West Hollywood. Cayla’s not real big on movies but she didn’t say a word when Scott suggested The Shawshank Redemption, one of his favorites. Cayla had never seen it, but she kinda liked the guy, so she went along with it. Little did they both know. Little did we all know where we’d be headed.
Andy Dufresne’s classic monologue above, with Red Redding in the courtyard of the Shawshank State Prison in Maine, caught their attention. Or maybe it was Tim Robbins pontificating to Morgan Freeman. Same thing.
Now everything has come full circle. That Covid date almost three years ago with The Shawshank Redemption parlayed into an engagement a year and a half later.
It was a moment both Andi and I had not-so-patiently awaited. We hoped Scott loved Cayla as much as we did but knew to keep our thoughts to ourselves. As it turned out, he did. Then came the phone call making it official. Finally, time to plan a wedding. The high probably of nuptials in their hometown of Los Angeles with no doubt a reception at maybe the Hotel Bel-Air or Beverly Hills Hotel or even the Beverly Hilton which, if it’s good enough to host the Golden Globes, it’s good enough to host my kid’s wedding. Silently I really wanted to hear the Bellagio or Wynn or spend a few more quid at the Four Seasons right here on the Strip.
I never thought I’d be asking ‘Zi what?…. Zi where?’
Zihuatanejo, tabbed a friendly fishing village and beach town, sits 120 miles north of Acapulco. Population of 120,000, the same size as Waco, Texas, which has a river, the Brazos, but no ocean. Waco had David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. Fortunately Zihua didn’t.
Zihuatanejo is easier to pronounce than it is to get to and that’s saying something. Zee-wha-ta-neijho. Zihuatanejo, simply translated to mean, ‘land of women.’ Great news for every single guy passing through.
Cayla and Scott ultimately decided a wedding in their hometown of LA was not going to happen—the potential guest list would be too large. They are both popular and well respected in the community: Cayla as a commercial real estate marketing and branding exec and Scott as the general manager of a five-star luxury hotel in Beverly Hills. Too many people to invite. Too many potentially offended by being left off the guest list.
Thus a ‘destination wedding,’ trendy these days, became the choice in order to limit the guest list. Zihua, because of the impact The Shawshank Redemption had on both of them early in their relationship. Its tropical beauty cinched the deal. After all, it’s not Waco. Just about the same time we found out we were headed to Zihuatanejo, the movie Shotgun Wedding hit Amazon Prime. Darcy Rivera, the film’s bride-to-be played by Jennifer Lopez, said they chose a destination wedding to make it “as hard as we can for our guests to join us.” I know now the feeling. Ms. Rivera’s site was a private island in the Philippines that was invaded by pirates right before the pigs in blankets and mini egg rolls were circulated at the reception. I hate when that happens. Scott refused to watch the movie.
Unlike most of the civilized world, I never saw The Shawshank Redemption until last Sunday when I finally gave up hope of a last minute venue switch to Bellagio. It was time for me to understand Zi what, Zi where if I was going to Zihuatanejo. I liked the film so much I watched it again on Monday. So, I’ll do a couple of things this week that I haven’t done in seven decades and a year: first, visit Zihuatanejo. While in Zihua, as all of us cool cats call it, and considering charter fishing isn’t high on my list, this coming Saturday night at sunset I will stand next to the Pacific Ocean, in this case a place that I hope does have a memory, and watch for the first time one of my sons get married.
While Zihua is probably a little easier to get to than an island in the Philippines, it’s not by much. A handful of airlines service the main airport of Ixtapa, but there’s no daily service. It’s hit or miss. Want to get there on a Tuesday or Thursday? Forget about it. In fact, the place is so tough to access that the final scene of The Shawshank Redemption, portrayed to be on the beach in Zihuatanejo, wasn’t in Zihua at all. Too damn tough to get there for a film crew. Instead, it was shot in St. Croix which has daily airline service. However, the good news for all of us going to Zihua is Cayla and Scott’s first movie together wasn’t Hotel Rwanda.
And while we won’t have the convenience of a 45-minute flight or even a four-hour drive to LA from our Las Vegas front door, I’m proud as all heck of Scott. This is a kid who struggled when he was young growing up in the shadow of his older brother Jason, who had all the answers. Traumatically, they lost their birth mom, Bonnie, when Scott was 14, Jason 17. Undersized and with an inability to focus, Scott changed dramatically when we moved to Birmingham, Alabama, in 1999. Enrolled in Mountain Brook High School, one of the top-100 public school districts in the country, he fell in with a great group of kids and started to excel. His newfound friends taught him the basics of being a Southern gentleman, an art he has perfected. He grew into himself both in size and self-confidence. I wanted him to stay in the Southeast for college: Alabama, Ole Miss or heaven forbid even Auburn would have been okay, but he had other ideas. He wanted to get into the hospitality business, so he headed West and wound up at UNLV in their renowned school of hotel management. Twenty years later Andi and I would live a dozen miles from its campus. Scott was Dean’s List every semester, graduated in three and a half years; did his internship at the Wynn Hotel during its grand opening before being recruited by one of the country’s great hotel brands, The Peninsula Beverly Hills. He stayed sixteen years climbing from the prototypical entry level overnight graveyard shift to prestigious hotel manager. He learned under one of the best in the business, Offer Nissenbaum. He was recruited a year and change ago to become the general manager of the L’Ermitage Hotel, also in Beverly Hills. It was a property long on history but short on money. Along with its new investment group, EOS, who put in the capital, Scott has taken it to five star, five diamond status quicker than a knock on the door with room service coffee.
A proud father beamed two weeks ago watching Scott handle himself during a City of Beverly Hills Planning and Zoning Commission meeting where some of the hotel’s residential neighbors strenuously objected to the L’Ermitage’s renovation plans. Scott was as smooth as a newborn’s tush — no hint whatsoever to the imminent newlyweds. He got his agenda approved. Then two days later he fielded questions on Peter Greenberg’s syndicated CBS radio show, Eye on Travel, like his old man did back in his day.
The kid also has keen judgement. Cayla is a gem. As smart as she is classy having attended American University in Rome; Fudan University in Shanghai, and earning her degree from Pepperdine. And, as they say down South, she gets it honest. Her mom, Joy, is a lovely as her daughter and dad Cody spent virtually his entire career in retail as a merchandising senior vice president and managing director for luxury brands such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Polo/Ralph Lauren, Christian Louboutin and Nordstrom. Cody played college baseball at BYU and for some reason has maintained a loyalty to the New York Yankees.
While it may have taken Scott, 40, a bit longer than the conventional means to find his bashert, as we say in Yiddish, the new norm says no rush until you get it right. And they did. After all, 40 is the new 20, right? We and the Kondos couldn’t be any happier.
So, this weekend thanks to a Shawshank influence, about 100 of us will hopscotch airport terminals to make connections to Zihua. After all, we need to stay busy living. However, it doesn’t make me stop wondering why Scott and Cayla’s first movie together couldn’t have been Viva Las Vegas?