Thus far in my lifetime, I've vowed never again to do three things: be pregnant, board a boat, or drink tequila. All three, you see, turn my rather weak stomach as easily as a hurricane upsets a kayak. So it was with no minor trepidation that I, four months in the family way, attended Jose Cuervo's Cinco de Mayo celebration last week. (So much for vows.) As it turns out, I was right to be nervous.
For starters the darn thing was held on a boat. The Sunsation, to be exact, which departed the Miami Beach Marina at happy-hour time for a two-hour cruise of Government Cut. Of course the mode of transportation was appropriate, given the fact that the goal was to lodge a replica of the bar located on the British Virgin Islands' Cuervo Nation in the underwater sands of South Beach. Jose Cuervo spent $45,000 commissioning and building this bar, essentially an artificial reef meant to become a major dive site, which was poised out on a barge in the Atlantic awaiting our arrival. (The money's just a sneeze in comparison to the major head cold that comes with purchasing an entire island devoted to tequila.) Once we were there to witness it, the reef would be lowered, our spirits would be raised, and we'd all go home drunk and happy.
Then, naturally, there was the tequila. Like most college graduates, I've done my share of experimenting with the stuff, and even today just a whiff can bring back some unpleasant memories. (I do enjoy sipping a fine tequila on the rocks occasionally, which bears no resemblance to shots of rotgut.) The corporate folks from Jose Cuervo greeted each party attendee with a foot-high glass filled with tequila and margarita mix, so we could sip while the strains of a mariachi band wafted through the cabin windows. Granted some oceangoers didn't need the extra alcohol; they'd already fortified themselves with a few cocktails at Monty's. But hey, it was Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican counterpart to St. Patty's Day, just another ethnic excuse to get plastered.
Finally there was the company. Aside from Mayor Neisen Kasdin and family, who presented to Jose Cuervo a faux key to the city of Miami Beach just before the boat set sail, a couple of PR people who were working the party, and (I hope) the captain, I was just about the only sober partier -- an oxymoron? -- on the boat. Not to mention journalist-with-fetus, the newest trendy hyphenate. It was my own fault, of course: A media tour had been arranged in the morning, so the event could make the early evening news. But who wants to stand around with a bunch of reporters all working the same story? Besides I thought the evening cruise would supply more color, if only from the sunset, and Lordy, I was correct.
As it turned out, Jose Cuervo had been sponsoring radio contests across the Southeast. Winners from Orlando, Tampa, and Atlanta (the Cuervo people called them the "consumers") received a weekend in Miami, courtesy of the company, to witness the sinking of the bar and swig a whole lot of tequila. It was fairly easy to pick out the 32 lucky consumers: They were the ones in inappropriate footwear, flamingo-pink skin, and Clevelander bracelets on their arms. They sucked down the remaining margaritas during the initial presentation, when Cuervo corporate drones thanked the dozens and dozens of flunkies who'd worked on the project; "I'd like to thank God for the fish and the lobster that will come to the bar," one woman professed. Then the contest winners were the first up the stairs to the top deck, where jugs of Cuervo Gold and a DJ had been readied for them.
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So it was to the strains of "Jose Cuervo, you are a friend of mine/I like to drink you with a little salt and lime," that we got under way. (Wisely the mariachi band had booked itself another gig and had to stay behind.) As we chugged toward the reef, I amused myself by studying the interlocking tetrahedrons, composed of recycled cement, which would shape a curving wall behind the bar. The bar itself probably wouldn't attract much algae and other assorted sealife to it, but the wall would, and in essence become the artificial reef while the bar remained as window-dressing.
It was right after the limbo contest, captained by a party promoter who wore a plunger on his bald head, that we reached the barge. A crane swung the bar out into the water; a helicopter with a camera crew buzzed overhead; the consumers shot tequila; and the bar was sunk. Nothing to it, literally. The bar actually was going to be raised as soon as we were out of sight, just as it had been raised again earlier that morning after the journalists had fled -- I mean sedately exited -- the scene. It would finally be sunk for good and jabbed into the sand, not just out of Government Cut where we witnessed it, but just off the Seventh Street beach.
If the whole procedure sounds a little hokey and melodramatic, that's because it was. If it sounds like a corporate ploy to spread the Cuervo name all over the media (as well as underwater), that's because it is. But despite the blatant commercialism, Cuervo has contributed to the community where it makes its Southeastern headquarters. The Jose Cuervo bar marks the fourteenth installation in the Artificial Reef Program, which was inaugurated in 1981. (Other sites include the Spirit of Miami, a Boeing 727, and Radio Mambí towers.)
The Cuervo reef was built by dive guru Ben Mostkoff, who recycles tires and concrete into things of underwater beauty, and was facilitated by Bruce Henderson, who directs resource management for the dive sites. The pair intentionally designed the project so it could be placed in a shallow, sandy-bottom area, allowing divers who don't own boats to visit it. In other words you can swim out from shore to sit on an underwater barstool and drink with the fish. And believe me, that's far preferable to drinking with the contest winners, who were so drunk by the time we headed back that they encouraged the DJ to play "Electric Slide," "YMCA," "Celebration," and "Shout" in rapid succession. All songs for which you need to be stupid on tequila, Cuervo or otherwise, even to tolerate, let alone sing along to. But then, they don't call 'em consumers for nothing.