El Squid Roe

The music was loud, the lights were flashing, young bodies slid around each other like water preparing to boil. The woman across from me took my hand. She wore a tight outfit with a low cut top. She was younger than me by decades but old enough to be in the night club. Old enough to work in the night club, in fact; she was one of the roaming waitresses of Cabo’s El Squid Roe, dressed like a sexy sports referee with a whistle around her neck and a bottle of something bright red that she’d placed on the railing next to us. She turned my hand palm side up, produced a pen from somewhere, and started drawing on my palm. Stroke, stroke, stroke, stroke, circle… it was a tic-tac-toe board, with an O in the corner. She leaned her mouth to my ear so I could hear her. “If you win,” she said, “I’ll give you two free shots.”

Let me pause and tell you that it was really clear that I didn’t belong in that night club. I’d parked myself by a rail with a good view of the action, but I wasn’t near anyone else. While the dance mix of Taylor Swift’s Love Story bounced off the metal walls, I stood still. I wore a bright orange Patagonia jacket, zipped up, because I’d been worried it was going to get cold since the sun had set. Perhaps this waitress was just being a good hostess, finding the person uncomfortable at the party and trying to make him feel welcome. Or maybe she hoped two free shots would loosen me up and get me to buy more drinks.

I looked down at the tic-tac-toe board on my palm, closed my hand, and shook my head. She leaned in to my ear again. “Do you have babies here?” she asked, and followed my gaze over to the knot of people dancing in front of the bar. Babies. While they’d hate to be described that way — they were high school seniors! — yeah, I guess to us parents, they were still babies. I nodded back at the waitress. Realizing she wasn’t going to get me to drink, she smiled and walked off, looking for the next person she could loosen up with sweet, cheap alcohol. I returned to watching my babies jump around.

This is a story about that uncomfortable parenting moment when you realize your child is growing up and making different choices than you would make. Perhaps making different mistakes.

When my wife and I decided to join dozens of other families from our kids’ high school for a spring break trip to Cabo, we had no idea what we were getting in to. We agreed to this because a warm weather beach-resort vacation sounded like a great way to chase away the Seattle gray. I know for our teens, it’s much more fun to do stuff with friends than family, so taking them to resort filled with schoolmates seemed like a wonderful idea. They could go off and have fun, we could relax and read by the pool. Dear reader, you will laugh at our naïvety: We really didn’t consider that we were traveling to a country where the drinking age is 18.

There is a school of parenting that believes that teens will drink no matter what you do, so the prudent approach is to let them drink in a safe and supervised environment. Parents from that school of thought organized the Cabo trip. I can see the logic, and maybe I would have quickly adjusted to it if this was about letting the kids have beer with their tacos. But that’s not why people come to Cabo, I’ve learned. People come to Cabo to party. If you’ve met me in person, you won’t be surprised to know that I’ve never participated in “party culture.” It’s not a matter of careful cost-benefit analysis. I don’t weigh the cost of tomorrow’s hangover versus the fun of tonight’s party, because nothing about loud drunken revelry seems fun. I don’t like crowds. How are you supposed to talk to people? It’s too loud! And “dancing” that is really “jumping around” — I don’t get it. I have a fear of letting my brain get foggy when I’m around others.

I realize I may be the outlier here. The urge to cast aside all inhibitions and just party seems as old as civilization: The Romans had their Saturnalia, the Middle Ages had the Lord of Misrule, and the 21st century has the El Squid Roe night club in Cabo San Lucas.

An image of El Squid Roe night club in Cabo San Lucas.

This is where we were bringing the seniors for one final event for their spring break trip. Responsible parents planned everything: Transportation to and from the club. A battalion of chaperones. Making sure that the club management knew what was up: a class of high school seniors were coming and might not know their limits.

In spite of all these preparations, though, I found myself increasingly nervous as the Squid Roe trip approached. This wasn’t just my son’s first trip to a night club, it was my first trip, too. I had no idea what to expect but could easily imagine how things could go wrong. All I know about wild parties comes from TV and movies. No screenwriter adds a party to a script to have it be a fun, uneventful, and somewhat boring evening. Something dramatic always happens: The alcohol-fueled fight, the trashed rooms, the drug slipped into a girl’s drink, the arrival of the cops.

In this case, at least, real life was more boring than TV. The kids had a fantastic time. When we brought them back to the resort at midnight, it appeared that only one or two of them took things to “you’ll regret things in the morning” excess. (One girl had trouble walking. One boy was belligerent with his friends.)

In spite of my initial fears, even I had a good time. The people-watching at El Squid Roe was excellent! As the night went on, better and more experienced dancers than our 18-year-olds joined the club. The most memorable example: For about fifteen minutes, an older mixed-race couple put on a sultry, sexy dance show nearby. When they danced, I found my attention split between watching the dancers and watching the kids watch the dancers. Some kids, jaws literally dropped, openly stared with such intensity that I thought they were filing away slightly misguided life lessons of “this is how adults behave.” Others filmed the dancers on their phones, surely destined for TikTok. They were a hit for the crowd.

When that couple was leaving, the woman stopped by me and leaned into my ear. “Do you have daughters here?” she asked. (Why assume that parents only want to keep daughters protected?) I tried to explain how I had a son but was here with a group of high school students. “That’s great,” she said. “It’s good to have fun but it’s important to be safe. You’re a good dad.”

I don’t know if that’s the right lesson for this story, but it did feel irrationally cool to earn the sultry stranger’s stamp of approval at the end of the night.