I’d seen the shows and the movies. I’d been there three times before. I’d even written a play that took place there. But nothing really prepared me for my trip to Cancun this Spring Break. On previous trips, I had been with my family, which meant that I’d done every single little touristy thing: Mayan ruins, swimming with dolphins, shopping at Isla Mujeres, the whole shebang. Actually, not the whole shebang–I’d never set foot inside of the pulsating nightclubs that dotted the vibrant downtown area. So, as I stepped off the plane on a sweltering night with my OA buddy Mike, I planned to let loose for seven straight days: the week was going to “Justin Gone Wild.” But it didn’t really start out that way.

After dealing with a confused cab driver that overcharged us for the airport trip, we met my mother at the hotel. Yes, my mother was there. I didn’t care, though, because she left us alone ten minutes later with the simple advice not to rape anyone. (I didn’t, if you’re wondering.) Now, I told myself, the fun is going to begin. We were going to some club, it would be Girls and Liquor Land, and all would be fine.

Well, we got to some club, and I was proven correct: there were plenty of girls, and tasty drinks galore. But the dance floor was too small, and so I remained in my Princeton mode, choking down some alcohol (though not Beast, thank God) and bouncing around the dance floor (occasionally getting up the courage to ask someone to dance but spending most of my time walking in circles). But when Mike and I finally stumbled out of the club at four-thirty or so, I realized that I wasn’t in Princeton anymore. I mean, I had known that, but it hit me then because a really boring o-fer night on the Street really pisses me off while that first night in Cancun—save the lack of tongue collision—had been ideal. And so I decided that I wouldn’t be Princeton Justin down there: the polite but ultimately unhappy guy was going to take a week off, and the cocky, smirking guy was going to stretch his legs a bit and get a tan.

The next day, we met a ton of people at the hotel. But none of them were freshman. But Mike is 19, so I kept up my half-smiling cockiness and aged two years in a matter of seconds. I didn’t really care about one girl’s skepticism: I wasn’t the Justin who let the little things (windows that won’t close, lines at the U-store, weak people taking so long on machines at the gym) piss him off; I was more grown-up, and I was having a blast.

That afternoon, Mike and I bought some nasty Mexican liquor, took a few shots, and decided that we needed to share this gift with the students around us. That night, we went out again, to Coco Bongo this time, rated the best in… blah, blah, blah. Though the music was fine and the silly trapeze show cool, it was over-crowded and over-priced. I didn’t strike out this time, but the hook-up was like, “Is that your tongue? Oh, excuse me.” A step up from the night before, for sure, though so I left happy.

The next day, I brought the nasty liquor down to the pool with my new shot glasses and spent most of the day walking in a big circle drinking with people. I actually didn’t get into the pool all day, and amazingly, after a dozen or so shots, I still wasn’t off my ass drunk. Of course, I became the shirtless guy walking around the pool with the liquor bottle, sunglasses, and goofy grin. Normally, I’d be ashamed of that, but that’s who I was in Cancun, and he was a lot of fun. I met a gazillion cool people just at the hotel, guys and girls, and the joy of toasting people and taking warm shots all day is on its own level.

Each night, we all went to some club together, “Open Bar” wristbands already purchased, most of us already trashed and smiling like stoned clowns. That third night, even though the dance floor was small, I was just happier. I ran into Eli and Alex from school, and I took another step up the hook-up ladder, making out with this girl from Oklahoma for as long as the cool smoke flowed out of the vents in the ceiling. I didn’t care that she would only kiss me when no one else could see it, ‘cuz it was all good. But then it wasn’t.

Mike got so trashed so early that night that his logic was as follows: “I don’t feel so good, man. I’m gonna drink, like, one more drink and see how I feel after.” Needless to say, he went home. So I was kind of alone in the middle of a crowd, and Princeton Justin came back to life. I got upset. In Princeton, this means go home and sleep, but in Cancun it meant go buy some Domino’s pizza, and wouldn’t you know it? My bad mood evaporated as fast as I could shove that little mound of grease into my mouth. This was a big difference between Princeton Justin and Cancun Justin: Princeton Justin got pissed and stayed that way, but Cancun Justin was always happy again soon after.

The next day, Tuesday, I spent another day out of the water. Mike rented a jet ski. Cool, I guess, but I was schmoozing with the CSU girls and the strange dudes from Colorado, Balding Drew and Pervert Jeff (my words, not theirs). My voice had been nonexistent since Sunday, regenerating by day and getting ruined as I sang along to every song every night. We went to Senor Frog’s and Fat Tuesday that night, and even though I didn’t hook-up with anyone, I danced and drank and had a grand old time, as usual. So, I learned, hooking up is a dumb thing to use to make or break my night. Yes, it was immature to think that way to begin with, but I’m seventeen, so leave me alone. Anyway, Tuesday was cool. But then, Wednesday morning at dawn, the trip changed. Yes, folks, Mike left.

After I woke up alone in the hotel room, Princeton Justin made a return. One girl comforted me, which was nice, but she mentioned that I talk about myself a lot, which is true (you seen any one of my articles not about me?), but I’d been told that before. It wasn’t insulting, but it made me realize that, in life, I had to change my MO. I felt kinda lonely and kinda sad, but mostly kinda curious as to how things were going to go from that point on. Princeton Justin had to change. Princeton Justin couldn’t just let life’s little issues bite at his ankles anymore; he had to step on life’s little problems so he could tackle the big ones without being pissed off in the first place. And even though Mike is all that and a bag of chips, his departure was not one of life’s major issues. So… I stepped on that problem and moved on.

From that point on, even though Mike was gone, I chilled with the wealth of college students at the hotel, drank more alcohol than I knew I could (all without booting, rallying or hangovers), and went into make-out overdrive. Seriously, by the end of the week, the girl count was equal to the number of nights that I spent there, and even though most of them were simply random dance floor “ooh, she’s cute” kinda things (including the last one…see picture), one did lead to an uncomfortable encounter on a beach chair. But fuck comfort, it was fun.

In fact, the whole thing was fun. Once I decided that I could mush cocky Justin and mopey Justin into one happy, genuinely confident – though not cocky – person, nothing really got to me. Sure, the hotel’s sneaky expenses for the Cyber Café got me cursing at the front desk with my hoarse voice one day, but we’ll ignore that, because a minute later, I was over it. So, even though I was a little annoyed to be back here with the cold and the work, Princeton Justin, though still 17, morphed into a new person. Now I’m actually happy and confident and so on, and I’ve realized that if you actually look at things the right way, life is good. I’ve even come to grips with the fact that freshman girls will perpetually ignore freshman guys. See, we’ll just ignore them when we’re older, so they might as well enjoy their fleeting high status. Haha. (I’m kidding… I think.)

I knew this trip would make me happy for a week, but I had no idea it would change my outlook on life. Amazing. Can’t wait ‘til next year.