PLACES DaVinci Paints Ixtapa Red

When civilization comes to a sleepy village, can disco be far behind?

Once Ixtapa was an iso- I lated fishing village on Mexico’s west coast. The bay was perfection, calm and blue and framed with a sliver of beach, and freckled by fishing boats. Small alfresco restaurants served fish-and-tortilla lunches for a dollar. The greatest excitement was watching fishnets dry on the beach. I spent an indolent weekend there, lying in a hammock and not buying a stuffed iguana.

Ixtapa was a pastoral antique, mislaid, comatose, content.

Then the Mexican government must have decided that Ixtapa was the ideal site for a “government-financed full-service vacation resort.” Presto: New jetport large enough to land 747s. Condominiums and hotels and apartments along the beach. Robert Trent Jones golf course. Tennis courts. New highways. Restaurants and shops. Fish and tortillas now cost $2.50. Plastic ashtrays outsell stuffed iguanas. Pizza Hut would like to open near the beach.

Ixtapa isn’t as developed as Miami Beach, but it’s getting there, thanks to the Pratt Brothers, two-thirds of whom live in Dallas. There is short, balding Jack, the entrepreneur; Ed, the financially minded brother who looks like a young Art Carney; and Bill, a jolly attorney still living in Mineral Wells, where it all began. 1 like the Pratt boys. They build Holiday Inns that don’t look like Holiday Inns. They are personable and gregarious and can turn a buck with the best of the high-rollers.

After building an 85-room Holiday Inn and a six-booth Dairy Queen, the Pratts looked beyond Mineral Wells. They opened the Garland Holiday Inn, jumped the Mexican border to build another in Matamoros, moved into Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puerto Rico, and Panama. Their twelfth Mexican Holiday Inn opens this fall. By early 1979, the Pratt brothers will own and control more Mexican hotel rooms than anybody; within three years, they expect to be the largest hotel operators in Latin America. (Back home, construction begins this month at LBJ and Midway on the Pratts’ 300-room Plaza Centre Holiday Inn, which, it is claimed, “will be the Hyatt Regency of the suburbs.”)

The Pratts haven’t limited themselves to the hotel business. The Mineral Wells Dairy Queen begat four dozen Dairy Queens. They were sold. The brothers were early investors in Bonanza steak houses, and sold. They developed T.G.I. Friday’s into a successful chain, then sold. Success upon success. But now there is daVinci International, a chain of discos, which may be more than even the Pratt boys can handle.

The original daVinci is on upper Greenville Avenue among the apartment warrens of North Dallas. The Pratts spent almost a million dollars in fixtures and decor (“and we only lease the space, for God’s sake,” said an associate). DaVinci’s is dazzling, all twinkling glass and shiny doodads. The Pratts intend to install daVinci discos wherever dancers gather, but especially within the sunbelt and resort regions of this hemisphere.

DaVinci number two is a part of the Pratt brothers’ Mexican Holiday Inn number 11, on Ix-tapa’s superb beach, which is why one recent Thursday evening Jack Pratt was standing in the hotel’s lobby looking like a pleased landlord, hands stuffed into his khaki safari jacket, smiling, greeting guests for the grand opening weekend. “It’s not ready,” admitted Pratt, “but down here you have to tell the contractor, ’Get out of the way, we’re moving in.’ ” A sign in the lobby apologized for the ongoing construction. A Latin band played in one corner while workmen hammered off-stage and sweepers rid stairways of dust. DaVinci was adjacent to the lobby, its windows still draped, hiding.

I arrived in this confusion along with a squad of Dallas da Vinci discophiles, there to inaugurate canned music for Ix-tapa. About three dozen members of daVinci of Dallas had paid $158 each for a special inaugural weekend, and they scrambled for keys and the open bar. My expectations about disco habitues are prejudiced by middle age and a decidedly dull lifestyle, but 1 believed it to be a youth movement, and these dancers were beyond youthfulness. Among the women were blondes of all hues and sizes. Most were dressed as Annie Hall. The men were grayer, and wore clothes with penguin and alligator appliques. They were shod with Adidas joggers and tasseled loafers. They called each other “Stud” and “Man” and practiced the hand-slap greeting of pro athletes. Most seemed to be holding in their stomachs, which may have accounted for the healthy pink glow on their faces. I wondered if they occasionally rushed off to some dark corner to breathe.

They were, I learned, siding salesmen and shoe store clerks and insurance counselors. One or two looked like the kind of men who greet you enthusiastically when you enter a lot full of previously owned Cadillacs. At the center of the group was a Big Blonde. She had a cute face with high cheekbones and one of those Doris Day noses, all framed by blonde hair flipped up on the ends – a high school cheerleader 15 years after the last hurrah.

We had all gathered at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport carrying tennis racquets and flight bags and sunglasses, and were herded into an orange Braniff plane – all except a Jordanian, who had visa problems, and a grandfatherly type, whose girlfriend was late. He boarded. She arrived. He rushed off to help park her car, calling over his shoulder, “Hold the plane!” Time, tide, and Braniff wait for no man or his girlfriend, and we took off. Later, they mysteriously appeared in Mexico City to join us on the connecting Mexicana flight to Ixtapa.

We arrived long after dark to Jack Pratt’s handshake and the sounds of Latin music and hammering. After a while I collected my key and carried my luggage up to a green and yellow room, where maids were still installing soap and plastic fly swatters. The Gideons had come and gone.

I went to bed. The band’s drumbeat and the hammering seemed finally to be in rhythm. My commode gurgled. Somewhere a water pipe belched like a bassoon. I slept.

Early the next morning I had coffee in the open-air dining room. Leaving, 1 greeted one of the male discophiles.

“Good morning.”

“You know it, stud.”

I said I did. He continued into the cof-feeshop, his jewelry tolling like distant temple bells. I went to the beach and sat under a thatched-roof hut to scan the Mexico City News for the latest Rangers’ score. They had lost.

The Big Blonde, her husband, and a group of da Vinci people appeared on the beach. She looked good in a bikini. They surveyed the long sweep of beach, the blue flat bay, the rocky islands, the sailboats. Somebody said, “God, ain’t this a kick?” Everyone agreed that it was, and I wandered up the beach to a shallow estuary and sat in the cool water and thought of Hula Hoops.

I remember very little about my Hula Hoop except that it was green plastic, like a garden hose. Girls looked better Hula-Hooping than boys because the movement necessary to keep it in motion around the hips was overtly sexual, and things like that interested me.

Hula Hoops were illogical, impractical; but one day they were there, millions of them. Hula Hoops were the classic fad. Having no rational purpose for being is the essence of fads. Invariably, they are the property of the young; by the time we old folks take up a fad the youngsters have dropped it, moved on to some other foolishness, which by and by they will pass on to us.

Have the Pratt brothers seized upon the disco idea too late? Would you buy a used da Vinci from them?

I next encountered the Big Blonde and her entourage during an elaborate beach party at sunset. Chefs set a long table with ice and butter sculptures. Make-believe pirates with black nylon eye patches passed among the 500 or so guests, many of whom had strolled over uninvited from other hotels for free food and music. The Dallas disco people were splendidly clothed and bedecked with jewelry. Many of the men were all in white, like hospital orderlies. There were fireworks, followed by a real storm with doomsday lightning and thunder.

A Houston journalist drifted away from the cluster of disco people, muttering, “I can’t carry on a conversation about how fat Liz Taylor is.”

The grand opening of daVinci was to be staged at midnight Saturday, following the official inauguration banquet. At 9 o’clock, workmen were still nailing bamboo strips to plywood at the entrance. At the banquet the Big Blonde and her group occupied a center table, beside the dance floor. “Bored. I’m bored,” she said once or twice. The banquet hall was crowded, and waiters bumped through with the meal, which included ensalada Mimosa, beef Wellington, and sweet Mexican wine. “Don’t touch that meat!” cautioned the Big Blonde. “It’s got liver around it.”

The opening of daVinci was, I thought, anticlimactic. The disco people gathered early, but so did others, including local youngsters. The workmen had put away their tools. DaVinci started an hour before midnight. I entered shortly before 12 o’clock, and the small beige room was crammed with people. The music throbbed.

The lxtapa daVinci glints and glitters less than the Dallas club. The Pratt brothers have spent fewer dollars. There are lights that flash and bits of tinsel and a revolving mirrored ball, but mostly the room is like a well-padded lounge. The bar is larger than the dance floor. A Mexican disc jockey stood in a glass cage, operating the elaborate sound console, blowing a police whistle, flicking light switches, shaking his arms like an apprentice symphony conductor, racing the music from song to song without a pause. Once I thought I recognized “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and if so that seems an incongruous tune to discotize. But perhaps not; the music was nothing but beat and an occasional erotic moan.

The Big Blonde and her people were on the tiny floor, but they had no chance to demonstrate their steps. The floor was so crowded nobody could dance. They swayed together, and, as with Hula Hooping, the women looked better doing it than the men.

Shortly after midnight I went to bed, not to escape the noise and disco show but because the group was scheduled to leave early: bags out at 5:30 a.m., departure an hour later. The Big Blonde and her disco gang danced away the night.

They came to the lobby before dawn, like cripples to Lourdes, aching and praying for miraculous hangover cures. The jewelry hung limply from their limbs and their wattles lay unmoving. Most of the men no longer bothered to suck in their stomachs.

Many clustered in the coffeeshop, hunched over tables still dirty from dinner.

“Last time I saw you, you were walking an S curve to the elevator.”

“Did I make it?”

“Wanna gather ’round and watch me take a little nap here in this chair?”

“I couldn’t see myself in the mirror. I kept waiting for some focusing to happen.”

A small blonde wearing a blue strapless pullover with “90% Angel” emblazoned on the front, “10% Devil” on the back, began passing out extra-strength Tylenol. “I’ve got Excedrin, too,” she said, “But that stuff will hype you up, really put you on the ceiling.”

The Big Blonde was there, sipping coffee, stoically watching her husband pace the lobby. He was still drunk. He had thrown up in the bar, she said, just after the fight.

Fight? Who fought? “Two Mexican guys. Nobody was hurt,” somebody said.

When the buses came, I stepped into daVinci for a last look. The room was salmon-colored in the early light, and deserted except for a pair of Mexican men locked in a passionate abrazo. They sang a tuneless song.

On the way to the airport the Houston journalist asked me, “You want a seat in the drunk or non-drunk section?”

The plane was two hours late, and in the delay, the disco people collapsed in the terminal. They lay on the floor, heads on flight bags. A few opened the bar and drank beer and pineapple juice laced with vodka. The Big Blonde stretched out on a low table and slept. Her husband, dressed in plantation hat, black velour shirt, dirty white shorts, and sunglasses, walked the lobby, still drunk. Mexican travelers walked among the bodies, disapproving.

Another small blonde rested in a chair. She wore braces on her teeth and a gold chain holding a lucite cube labeled “1.”

Was she Number One?

“Sometimes,” she giggled. “Not always, but sometimes.”

Well, how was it? The weekend, the hotel, Ixtapa, the new da Vinci?

“They won’t believe back home how great it was . . . you can see the brochures and all . . . and talk . . . but being here. . . the fun . . .”

What was fun about it?

She thought a long time.

“Just being here . . . the beautiful people.”

She said that, honestly did.

And then she and the other Dallas disco people, the grown-up Gidgets and aging Travoltas, flew away home.

The next da Vinci will be on the grounds of the Guadalajara Holiday Inn. Watch for the grand opening announcement.

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