Saturday, May 11, 2013
It Might Not Have Been Blue Mountain, But We Did Ascend a Mountain in Jamaica
Note: What follows is not a dream but a carefully crafted piece of fiction. Any semblance to recent, factual events is purely coincidental.
The Veaux-Hanns picked us up Saturday in Pat's Vibe after they had gone to some sort of comedy show down along the Loop. We were ready for them. It was ten thirty pm or so. I had had a drink or two, can't quite recall. They don't live very far from us, and their house is between ours and the airport. And I like to have both cars in the drive while we're gone. I never trust the cabman not to tell someone that he just picked up a couple going to the airport with a big suitcase. So we spent Saturday night in Undersea.
I sat and watched the Blues fall short on scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity. I was drinking...rye on ice? Something like that. Might have been a rye manhattan, it doesn't really matter. The Veaux-Hanns had grouped everything that they were going to pack, but they still needed a few hours. As I sat and watched Pat work through his packing process, I had a strange urge to lend a hand...although there wasn't anything I could have helped with, and there was no urgengy. So I had a funny New Yorker-style cartoon occur to me, and it would be something like a guy saying to another couple of people, "How can I micromanage this situation?" Or maybe, "How can I help micromanage this?" Ha ha.
B was on the couch, dozing off, not as interested in the hockey or the packing as I was. She had this kind of funny looking blanket that she was curling up with and at one point she pulled it over her head. I was getting excited, probably overly so, as the Blues kept failing to put another puck away. At some point I had a cigarette and Pat told me that it would be a new moon on Thursday. He also had more details on an impending meteor shower that was supposed to be occurring while we would be in Jamaica. Looking at a site on his iPad, he said that, "Yes. In the constellation Aquarius (the water jar). Peaking on Thursday, with a meteor a minute. The other nights would still have some, but not as often. Halley's comet is the source. In the star Etta." I remember seeing a shooting star the last time I was in Jamaica. I thought at first it was a missile coming right at me.
Our Delta Flight to Hatlanta was going to leave out of Gate A6. Starbies wasn't open yet so I was thankful that the Veaux-Hanns saw to it that we all got a hot shot of espresso at their place before we left. I don't think Anne went to bed at all. Pat might have snoozed just a bit. I had a couple hours or so but I had that espresso in me and also that pre-trip adrenaline that ought to be bottled so I can save some for the drudgery of return-flight politics. The Veaux-Hanns walked on down to the Dunkin Donuts for breakfast sandwiches and drip coffee. I snagged a table skirting the as-of-yet-unopened Starbies and they eventually sat in the one next to me. B went to fill up a water bottle that went through security empty. We must have eaten something but I can't remember what. The Veaux-Hanns had given us a sort of blueberry muffin-loaf, that came in a four-pack from where they'd shopped the night before. But that couldn't have been what we ate because I shoveled that thing in my mouth as our flight from Tatlanta made its descent into Montego Bay. My thinking was that we wanted to have less food as we went through Customs. More on that later; this story hasn't left San Luis yet.
I had tipped the Pork Express guy five bucks when he left us off at what used to be called the Main Terminal, but now is just called Terminal A. He had scouted us out pretty well when we pulled into the surface lot and got out of the car. Earlier I had wondered if they would even be up and running at whatever early o'clock in the morning and now here he was, virtually competing with the other shuttle driver on duty at that time to scoop us up.
We had checked in online but we had not printed our boarding passes. We tried to go up to the counter but we were rejected because we hadn't printed our boarding passes yet. That had to be done either at home/work or from one of the little kiosks that have pretty clearly become stop number one at this day and time in air travel. So we scanned our passports, got our boarding passes, and then went up to the counter so they could print a long sticker with a barcode on it, match our faces to our passport photos, and then tell us where to go drop our checked bag.
I wasn't carrying my phone. It was going to be different traveling without a 3G device. I was armed with several iPods, but one was an old nano and the other two were shuffles. So I had nothing that could even connect to wi-fi. B had her phone though. So I mooched off of her like I would over the course of the trip vis-a-vis Pat and ciggies.
She let me have the window seat and not surprisingly there was moisture on the outside of the little window. It has been an overly wet year so far in Taint Louis. But this was more a mist than a rain and I wasn't worried that our plane might suddenly be delayed, or that we'd have to like get off the thing just because it started raining a little harder.
I'm not sure I've ever been on an emptier flight, not for six or seven years at least, not since law school, perhaps on a Chicago to Houston Hobby flight after an interview, reading cases, highlighter in hand and asking for another cup of coffee. So people spread out; B moves one row up and it's like we're not even on an airplane. Not in 2013. Instead we're on some kind of monstrous cruising bus, or in a movie theater, or on a spaceship.
When we break through the clouds there is sunrise light, most evident in the farthest clouds. There is light orange and pink in the decking. It's the first multicolored sky I've seen in four days. The first song that comes up on my shuffle is Ratatat, I think "Mi Viejo." I can't see the name on the shuffle. I've no phone, no watch, no clock. I'm still getting used to that. I have a feeling of being stranded, cut off; of being amputated of the tube that brings...information and so much more. Life as we know it now. But now I'm relieved of that. Like, relieved of duty, or relieved as in, "What a relief!" Too soon to tell. The feeding tube is out of my mouth, but I put it there, didn't I?
Park Express, Pork Express. I'm having fun with words again and it's fun. Daft Punk now and I'm daft pumped. My little secret as to how good I feel right now. The captain comes on and lets me know that I can move around now, if I want. There is no one else in my row—A,B,C,D,E,F—it's all mine.
I've got some booze in my bag, nothing over three ounces per bottle of course. It used to be 2.5 oh-zees, now it seems to be three. They're all mini-bottles: three Beefeaters and one Smirnoff unflavored. If the travel goes as planned I'm not going to crack any of it—it's here in my satchel-cum-fanny pack for a layover gone long in the tooth. Or perhaps a long layover, identified as such, and just getting started. A little OJ perhaps? I'm at 22 for the week, it's Sunday.
The clouds up here. I could look at them for hours. I just wish I didn't have to crane my neck so much to do it. It seems like Boeing and Airbus could get together and decide, among other things, to enlarge these windows a bit. I mean, everything gets bigger eventually—why not these ridiculous little airplane windows. These clouds, if I let my focus go in and out like I'm doing one of those 3-D posters where the image slowly—or suddenly sometimes—comes into being, are like a landscape all their own. It seems like I could—should!—be able to just go out there and walk around on them. That's a skill I'd like to have, if a genie ever asks: cloudwalk. I see oceans of cloud but then up against them great beaches and mountains behind them. There has to be a way to walk on these clouds. Perhaps if we were to lace a cloud with a magnetic dust that adhered to water particles...and then someone like me could wear magnetic boots that were the opposite magnetism of the dust...and I would be pulled down by gravity but equally repelled by the magnetic forces at work. Like the trains that hover over their rails on a magnetic basis. It's worth doing.
I see sodium bicarbonate in the ingredients of the "cookie" (biscuit) just been handed me. I think the stewardess is German—could be French? Perhaps from the Alsace region, from which comes so much of that brilliant white wine, the effervescent Riesling—. And I think to myself, sodium bicarbonate, that's...baking soda, right? And that leads me to think of Church and Dwight (ticker symbol: CHD)...and how I managed to buy it for just one client, in 2010, and much I like what's in that client's portfolio...and how easy it was to construct a portfolio back then...and how hard it's been in 2012, 2013. All of that leads to my first Christ-Fuck-head-shake-about-the-market moment of the trip. I chastise myself for chastising myself. I've downed all of the cranberry I ordered. She didn't put much ice in it. Maybe they're conserving ice. I could pee if I had to. Which really means I have to pee but I don't want to admit because I'm kind of afraid of going to the bathroom on the plane. What I really fear is that the bathroom will be occupied, and that I'll have to stand in the aisle...and be in the way. And that while I'm standing the captain might TURN ON the seatbelt sign. And I will have led my body to believe I was going to get to relieve myself, and then I'll have to sit down. Then I would really have to pee. Even worse would be if I had monitored the bathroom occupation status, confirmed that it was open, gotten up in a sort of half-standing crouch, sidled by whoever was in my row...and then as I'm making my way to the bathroom someone closer quickly gets out of his or her seat and scoops me. If that has ever happened to me, I've put it out of my memory. So I generally try to put the thought of even having to pee out of my head. Other than that this is one of the most pleasant flights I can remember. Travel time: one hour and thirteen minutes. Easy money.
How can I micromanage this situation? Don't forget Pat's idea for a television show: Buskers. But I want to take his notion of showing actual buskers and actual busking footage—which I think should be shot at least initially on a candid basis, so the buskers' performances aren't altered by their knowledge that they're being recorded—see Heisenberg and his Uncertainty Principle—and I want to mix in a recurring substory/subtext of actors acting like buskers—sitting on the street but it's really a TV set on the street, and they'd be juggling and miming, getting painted up and acting like the statues that don't move, whatever...but it'd be a sitcom within a reality show, something that I'm pretty sure has never been done. And/or, you could even weave in another thread to the show where real people have to do some busking and it's a question of seeing who can get the most donations—people playing bucket drums, being the figures that don't move—and further along that line you have time elapse photography of actual buskers who do the statue bit, and you play that time-lapse photos real quick so you can discern how much the buskers actually move, as a way of seeing who is actually good at it.
We had to scoot over a few of concourses in Atlanta. We landed on the B concourse and had to go E, something like that. It was Atlanta Hartsfield that B and I flew through in early January when we went to Puerto Rico. We had a long layover on the way back from San Juan and I was all kinds of cranky so on that occasion I walked down to the concourse-connecting tunnel that runs beneath the A through F concourses and just walked all the way from end to end for like a hundred minutes straight. There's a train that zips along the same route (or two trains I suppose, one on either side). But on this occasion as well I eschewed it (we eschewed it) and just walked (with the assistance of the speed ramps, i.e. flat escalators). "Hi, I'm Kaseem Adams, the mayor of Atlanta. I'd like to welcome you to Atlanta, etc. etc." That's playing overhead as you make your way from one place to another.
We didn't have much of a layover on this occasion, though. Forty-five minutes or so. But I was hungry. B and I were pretty sure there'd be a Chick-Fil-A in our destined concourse, like there was in the C concourse on our way back from P.R. We were kind of banking on it. And so we get up to our departing-flight concourse and yet there is no Chick-Fil-A. Oh well, the other one didn't serve fries anyway. B hits up Arby's, gets herself three chicken tenders; gets me a buffalo chicken sandwich and some curly fries. The sandwich was just OK; I didn't really want the buffalo sauce but then I didn't go get the sandwich myself, did I? So I opened myself up to it. Not that it tasted bad, it was fine. I was just kind of worried about the acid reflux/heartburn I had been having. I was really hoping it wouldn't carry over to the trip. We pound the Arby's. Pat maybe goes for a ciggie in the opium den. We board as scheduled and we're Jamaica-bound.
We just passed Cuba—flew right over it!—wow, what a a still-simple, plain, and appealing-looking landscape. Major cities were towns. It was hard to see clear, defined roads leading to what anywhere in the U.S. would be popular beaches. And as we are passing over an atoll south of Cuba—where the beach looks sugar-white and the water has that unreal, stereotypical Caribbean blue—a smaller United/Continental jet passes...what, 1000 feet below us. Geez. I have now seen several other planes seemingly pass near us on this flight. And, I swear to God, I thought I saw a drone-type aircraft (all white, simple construction, unmanned, like one of those balsa-wood toy airplanes of my youth). This was right on the interior of Florida coast as we traversed what I'd call the crook or the elbow of northwest Florida. You won't believe me, but I know what I saw. Maybe it was just collecting weather data. Let's hope it was ours, anyway.
I don't know that I've ever flown over Cuba, but considering that I have been to Jamaica before (that flight went through Criami) I probably have. It surprises me, and it heightens the hilarity, that we just fly right over a country we have no diplomatic relations with—nay, a country that was a strategic satellite of our Cold War nemesis. Odd. It was when we were passing over that crook of Florida that I, and I think B as well, started getting the notion in our head. And we both took our handy dandy airport magazine out of the seat pocket to see if there was a flight-path diagram, which there was. But I just want to caution everyone that it is not exactly accurate in showing the geographical path of each of the flights the airline runs. The designers have to leave room for the names of certain ports (cities) to read legibly on the map, so for instance flights from Seattle are all arcing way out over the Pacific to get to Cancun or Mexico City, e.g. We flew over Cuba, even though the flight mag showed us going around it, is what I'm saying. And Cuba looked like one huge, scrubby brown cow pasture lined by some of the world's most exquisite beaches. That's all I'm saying.
Now when I look down—nothing but water. I snoozed a bit on the tarmac in Ratlanta. It was cool and dreary there, too. There was quite a taxi line, planes waiting to take off. Probably half an hour. And I snoozed through part of that. Then I snoozed some more in the air, until Florida probably. Oh man, the guy left of B was cutting a pretty loud, but also somehow consistently clean chainsaw. And now my throat feels kind of sore. Please, God, do not let me get sick on yet another trip. Please.
But I trepidate despite my prayer. I'm hoping it's just some soreness from some acid reflux I've been fighting recently. Too much gull-darn meat this week, and drink, and tabak.
Compared to Cuba, Jamaica—over which now we are—is rolling, more than hilly...green, the deep green of a tree-filled mountainside...quite the contrast to the spartan, flat, sepia palette of Cuba. And with the mountains, Jamaica seems fated to having a few more clouds—thus more rain. We had a little bit of turbulence as we made our approach to the port of Montego Bay, as we dipped through that cloud layer—it's sunny, don't lose me—and now I can see some of that crazy, dreamy blue shallow Caribbean hue. I could jump into that Aqua di Gio right now!
We are literally only 200 feet above the water and coasting right along it, cruising Montego Bay like a hungry pelican. Landing, landing, landing...a little bumpy but we're down. This is one of those, "Surprise! There's a runway here right along the coast, asphalt next to water all of a sudden runways."
Remember that blueberry muffin the Veaux-Hanns gave us at their place early this morning? Yeah, I just pounded it so we wouldn't have to declare it. It is food after all. So I'm sitting there as we're all waiting to get off the damn plane and B is like, "What should we do with this?" I had filled our our customs declaration form and as far I could tell, if I was being completely forthright I had to declare the almonds and peanuts I had in my carry-on. And the form said that if you were declaring anything—we were also going to declare some prescription medicine one of us was carrying—that if we had any doubts at all, that if we checked "yes" to having any of food, medicine, tobacco, etc. that we were supposed to stand in the "red" line, meaning we were declaring something.
So we go get our bag off the carousel and then we go to the customs area. We go and stand in the "red" line for a few minutes, and not only are we two of only a handful of people who haven't gone to the "green" section...but among the people in the "red" area we're also the only people that look like they don't have a bunch of stuff, and also probably some other types of "baggage" that can't really be described. It's clear we're not in the right place but, dang it, I'm following what the form said to do. After a few more minutes pass—and mind you, of course I have to go to the bathroom—a guy comes over to us and asks us what we're declaring (he knows we need to go "green"). And so I say we've got some nuts and some medicine and some tobacco. He asks, "What kind of nuts?" And I say I've got some almonds and some peanuts. And then he asks if we have over 200 cigarettes and I say no. And he basically just tilts his head over toward the green area as if to say, "Get the fuck out of here, don't waste my g-d time with your almonds and one pack of cigarettes." And I'm thinking, "Alright, I filled out the form and tried to comply with what it said to do." Here's my conclusion: you're supposed to lie on those customs declaration unless you are carrying A LOT of cigarettes, booze, perfume, pharmaceuticals, etc. Because if you WERE carrying something illegal, you're obviously not going to shout it out...and so they know those people are going to lie anyway, and go to the green area. The whole customs thing is one big play to act out and everyone has his role. Mine was not to go the "red" line.
Outside of customs we were re-united with the Veaux-Hann Jaxon Vonns. I'm sure they went "green" all the way, the scoundrels. Once a traveler slides through the sliding doors separating baggage claim and customs from Jamaica proper, it's one constant barrage of guys asking you if—telling you that yes—you need a taxi. It is so constant that at some point I wonder if one of them really is the guy who is driving the van/taxi we have previously booked online, through a service called Irie Routes.
I've never just showed up at the Montego Bay airport needing a ride somewhere. I guess a person in such a situation could actually hire one of these guys—and people must, or why else would they, could they, be here—but if you have an Orange Vacation package lined up, or if you've booked through Revolutionz online and coupled that by going on Trip Advisor and reading the good reviews of Irie Routes...these guys in the "lobby" of the Montego Bay airport are one long, annoying gauntlet to get through that ceases briefly why you drain one and resumes immediately once you come back out of the bathroom and appear to be looking for anything or anyone.
I did have, I should say, what appeared a legitimate airport of Jamaica Tourism employee ask me whether I was looking for transportation. And of course I totally ignored him, once, twice, boy he's persistent...and there must have been something about him. Because I told him we had private transportation lined up. I guess it was because he wasn't offering me anything that I told him that. And he said, go out that door to meet a private transfer. So I did, we did. And there were more guys out there pitching taxis.
There was that traditional line of guys holding up signs and somehow I picked out the Irie Routes guy, or maybe I just picked a guy at random, I don't know. But it was actually our guy, and I gave him B's real name, that confirmed the arrangement, and he went to get his car or whatever it was he would be driving. He seemed pretty indifferent, and that was fine for me. I didn't catch his name immediately, Chris, Casey, or Carson, something with a C. He says, "Wait over there." Which was along the sidewalk, where all sorts of taxis and vans were pulling along to pick people up. Pat was burning a heater and cut me in on some. Offers of "smoke" occurred, which didn't happen last time. Of course I declined.
Before long our guy was there and the slide door was on the left-hand side of the vehicle, not the right. That would take some getting used to. It was a...Corolla van. Very basic. But it seated eight at least. We were loaded up and on our way.
It's one of those moments that I dread, I'll be honest. I dread it either way: either the guy that's just picked us up wants to talk to us, and *cringe* I'll have to offer at least some part of the small talk myself (though I hope Pat and anyone else will take sufficient care of that). Or the guy doesn't try to make small talk at all; prefers the Buscemi Fargo "total fucking silence" in which what an asshole, and how awkward. The grass is always greener and I'm a hypocrite, fine.
Carlson, though, he made things pretty clear pretty soon. He grabbed the mantle of "tour guide" even though it wasn't required or expected, when he announced right away in that somewhat Brit-influenced but really all-its-own Jamaican English, "We will travel westerly to the Great Platinum." That's our hotel. Check the periodic table, use your imagination.
"How far is it from the G.P. to Negril?" asked Pat, who was reaching into his bag for a wee little taste of what's that, could it be...Jim Beam?
"Forty minutes, or so," says Carlson. Pat repeats that number. Carlson says, "Yah, man."
It's sunny. It's beautiful. It couldn't be more beautiful. Last time we flew into Montego Bay we made this drive in a big, shitty Orange vacations commie bus. And it was raining. This is much, much better.
I see a Scotia Bank, and I think of Canada, my honeymoon. Carlson asks us if there's anything we want to hear. He's got something plugged in aux-style to the van's music system. I'm not sure I said anything, but if I did I would have said I wanted to hear whatever he had been listening to at the time. He's asking us all of our names, efforting to make eye contact in the rear-view mirror. I'm sitting in back and still I can see he's looking for me. I had him pegged as indifferent outside the airport initially and now it's clear I'm mistaken.
I remember what we are driving by, it's a mall-type area, but sort of a strip-mall mixed with an industrial park. Hey, there's an office for the good folks at Christopher, Wray, & Nephew Ltd. (do not omit the limited!). What do they do, oh, I don't know, perhaps they simply make some of the world's most popular overproof rum (something like 98 proof, 49% ABV). And then there's a Wendy's. Is this Heaven?
Carlson is playing reggae, but it's not Bob Marley. We ask and he says it is, "Shockodemas". That's what I wrote down originally, and that isn't the correct spelling. I will correct the spelling but not yet, because at this point I had no idea what the correct spelling was. He is telling us that this area we are passing with the mall-feel and the export-import offices is relatively newly built; that this neighborhood we are passing is pretty upscale, the whole area referred to as Bogue Villa, or Bogue Village. See, I'm not making this stuff up.
He says that it would take $80,000 of my dollars to buy a place in there. And God, I gotta tell ya, that doesn't sound very expensive. I am intrigued! And Pat a few minutes later makes reference to it, going in together, we could do it. We could do it. Christ, why don't we? I don't have a good answer for that. Views of the bay, after all. We ask again about the music as we wend our way along the picture-perfect coast. This time I write down: Shockademas and the Pliers. I am pretty sure I've got "the Pliers" spelled right.
"So, are you also thinking about taking a day trip while you are here?" he asks us.
And, yes, it was something that we discussed although in my characteristic U.N. curmudgeon-style I said that, "Although I have no interest in taking a day trip myself, I will not not go somewhere if that's what y'all want to do." B did have a co-worker tell he about a place called Mayfield Falls, that was a falls/river area, not nearly as tourist-annoying as Dunn's River Falls, that the co-worker recommended highly. But my crew also seemed very interested in going to Negril, home of the "Seven Mile Beach" and "Rick's Cafe" and supposedly great sunsets. I had very little interest in Negril. The falls I must admit twitched me just a bit. Bottom line: I wasn't going to block any consensus: I was theirs, and they were mine.
Carlson is a businessman, there's no shame in that. Unfortunately, that seems to be what I've become. Gasp, horror, sigh, disbelief. He says from the Great Platinum that it would be forty minutes to Mayfield Falls, one hour to Negril, and then forty minutes back to the hotel.
What he says he likes about a trip to Mayfield Falls is that, if we were to go there, we would get a chance to see the interior of the country. The interior, he says, is very different from the coast, and there's more to the country than just the coast, which is all a lot of people end up seeing. In Negril, the beach is of particular interest, the water there a turquoise blue. He also says something about cliff diving, and I imagine myself jumping...
We pass through Hopewell. I remember this town from the last time. It doesn't seem like there's anything I would really want to come here and do. It's a lower-class town, Carlson says, somehow not pejoratively. I think what he means by that is just what I was thinking: there's not a lot here that is going to draw a tourist, although the ubiquitous simple storefronts of knick-knacks are here as well. And in Jamaica, where so much of what moves money is tourist-dependent commerce, a place like Hopewell is just a town you pass through on the way to the hotel. I guess it could be more than that, but when Carlson asks us for a second time if we want to stop and get a cold Red Stripe somewhere, I'm not sure I even shrug. For the time being I'm content taking tiny pulls out of Pat's little Beam. Except that I look over and he's still got it in his hand, but it's empty. Oh well.
Carlson points out a very large estate set a little back from the coast, and somewhat higher up. Lennox Lewis owns it, he says. Next he points out a sports entertainment area but I look and I don't see any sports occurring. Next is a golf course, that looks pretty nice, but hot. And no one is playing. We keep moving. The road opens up and the water is never out of sight. Anne points out something that makes her laugh. I write down "COLD BEER GIANT". But it was really "COLD BEER JOINT". (I saw it more clearly on the way back.)
And maybe it's just coincidence that by this point in the drive Carlson was asking us a little bit more about ourselves, such as whether or not we like to party. Buzzword alert! I've been to Jamaica a couple of times now and pretty much if you acknowledge that you like to party you're suggesting that alcohol isn't the only vice you fancy. One thing leads to another and we are all telling Carlson that we are interested in that illicit herb that must grow somewhere en masse in this country's hillsides. We crack Carlson up all telling him that it is something we enjoy. One by one he goes through asking, "You too? You too!" And he laughs, excitedly. If he was just acting surprised he was one heck of an actor. Then he's pulling out a little baggie and, hey, this is all I've got on me, gratis, try it out. We pass it amongst ourselves all kind of looking at, sniffing it, like we were panel judges at the state fair looking at heifers or something. (That's for you, DFW. I've never even been to a state fair, not that I can remember).
We talk prices. We can call him, if we want more than just a sample. I'm shaking my head, because it's so natural for that to have occurred. We are at the hotel already. We hop out the left-hand side of the van. It's hot and sunny. Carlson sees I have my pen and paper out and he gives me his phone number. I'm already strongly considering hiring him to drive us around. But I don't want to get ahead of myself, there's so much trip left ahead of us. Just in case though, I say, "How does Tuesday look for you?" It was Sunday, recall. I figured we wouldn't want to turn right around and go somewhere on Monday. But personally, I'd also kind of like to "get it out of the way" so why not Tuesday?
"I could do Tuesday, Tuesday I don't have anything," he says. "I won't plan anything for Tuesday, but I would have to hear from you by tomorrow afternoon, or else I can't be sure I could do it."
"How long of a trip is it?" I ask.
"Full day," he says. "I would pick you up, here, at 9:30 and we wouldn't get back until 8 o'clock or so."
Boy, that sounds like a long day, but that's about why I expected. I tip him a tenner for the ride. That was about 10% of the round-trip airport transfer cost. On to the bellhop, the baggage, the front desk, checking in.
The Great Platinum, just east of Lucea, is a big, well-manicured resort hotel. It is all-inclusive. There are two "sides" to the resort, making it something like a bivalve. I don't know that you could split the resort down the middle and have it make mirror images of either side, but there are two "front desks", two lobbies, two main buffet restaurants. There is the Sir Madison side and then the Great Platinum side. What got us confused is that not only were we going to stay on a different side this time, but it also became apparent that the names of the two sides had changed from the last time we were there. Before we stayed on the Sir Madison side, and that's supposedly the "adult" side of the resort, where the adult pool is at, and where the adult beach is at. And we kind of talked ourselves into believing the notion that all the families with kids are relegated to the other side, which last time was the Sir Madison side, but now was the Great Platinum side.
Our rooms were going to be on the Great Platinum side, the side on which we did not stay last time, the non-adult side, the side that I'm not even sure was open the last time we were here. If it was open, I wouldn't have know because I never so much as walked around on it.
But I'm getting ahead of myself because it was only 2:00 p.m. when we got there on Sunday and check-in wasn't until 3:00 p.m. But that wasn't going to stop us from taking care of a little bit of business before we could flay our suitcases open and think about where we were going to start vegging out at.
The lobby is grand and open. From where we get out of the van we can see clear through out to the water. And the ceilings are high on top of it, such that I can't say I remember ever looking up at them. There's at least one chandelier, and it hangs over a wide, white staircase leading down to "the rest of the resort". The two lobbies are on either side of the resort's central building, which has two levels. The lobbies are on the second level. On the first level are some shops and a lot of miscellaneous, generally unused seating.
Right now the lobby for our side of the resort is buzzing. Suitcases, lined in several rows of a dozen each, stand at attention, and ours must be in there somewhere. We did wait in not too long of a line and at least let the staff know that we had arrived. They gave us some generic envelope with a photocopied map inside and some tour company advertisements. But we had no room key, didn't know what room we would even be in. It was kind of pointless except that it was at this time that they put the crappy pink bracelets on us, allowing us to be identified as G.P. denizens, therefore welcome to everything the resort had to offer.
I went and sat down on one of those yin and yang style couches that has two openings and two backs. I don't know where the ladies went. Maybe to the bathroom, maybe to stretch their legs. What was interesting was looking up and seeing Pat hop onto a golf cart with the bellhop.
"Where the hell is he going?" one could ask. I suppose the thought occurred to me, but even sooner did the realization dawn on me that I had a pretty good sense of where he was going—or at least what he was doing.
Last time we were here we talked to one of the gardeners, who held a machete, and we casually mentioned that we liked to "party, a little". He came back with a sack, and even though we agreed not to accept the initial offer, the sack was so laden, and the price was so right that the deal was very easily done.
Anne came over and asked where Pat was going. I just shrugged my shoulders. I wasn't in any hurry and it seemed like Pat had the ball rolling. Which is just a cliché until I tell you that the first offer Pat got concerned an eight ball, and I'm not talking about billiards. I don't have anything against the white stuff, but it's not something I seek out. And in this case the quantity and the price were not something I had budgeted for. I don't believe Pat was really interested himself, but he had an offer on the table and he figured he'd pass it along. Even though B had her card, we had budgeted the trip and brought cash equal to the budget. This would have blown the budget out of the water, and it wasn't worth it in my mind. Maybe if Bret were here, but he wasn't. So we were just going to have to keep looking. When Pat declined the white, and said it was the green that he'd be interested in, the conversation was still going but in abeyance for the moment.
I was still sipping the fruity concoction they offer you right when you get out of your bus or van and sashay into the breezy lobby for the first time. I remember this concept of the up-front fruity drink from last time. I considered the possibility that this drink didn't have any rum in it. I asked B if she thought it did and she thought so. That was good enough for me. I wanted to take time with mine, because it tasted good and because I figured we had some time to kill. I was fighting the urge to go over to my bag and start to root around in it, looking for my flip flops. Shorts would be good, too. But mainly it was the socks and sneakers I was in that were bothering me.
Pat went over to his bag, got into one pocket or another, got his Columbia water-ready sandals. And the bellboy came over to him, they talked just a bit. And then Pat and the bellboy got up and walked away together, eventually both going into the bathroom. All of this playing out and I'm still sitting on the yin-yang couch. After a few more minutes pass, Pat comes over to me and says, "That's done." Hah!
He would later explain that he was actually in the handicapped stall with the bellhop, talking price and quantity. We had gotten a quote on a quarter from Carlson, so we had that to gone. We also had the experience from last time, in which we got a bunch of green for not a lot of green. So Pat detailed the back and forth of the negotiation. The first suggestion from the bellhop was to buy a whole lot more than we needed for a lot more than we would have wanted to outlay. Eventually Pat accepted half of the proposed quantity for a third of the original price. And he said the bellhop was shaking his head as he handed the stuff over, saying something like, "You're killing me, man." What he got were two sticks of something first wrapped in a black plastic bag and then tightly wound with black electrical tape. They had a density to them. Seemed like a good amount, and the price was right.
"I hope I didn't take that experience away from you," Pat said.
"Going into the bathroom with the bellhop?" I said. "No, that's fine."
I'm pretty proud of my interaction with the gardener from last time—and I did later get some white from him—but it wasn't something I was eager to go through again. Pat seemed to have enjoyed the seeking out, and the negotiation. It was all him, and it was done, and I was content. We still had some time to kill, though. And it had been a while since we had eaten. The only question was whether or not it was still open. And the it I refer to would be the only resort lunch destination for us for the rest of the trip: that's right, I'm talking about the jerk shack.
I'd love if I could actually keep up the pace and detail of this travelogue to span the entire trip. But that's doubtful at this point, eight days on from returning from Jamay-may. But there is more in my little Moleskine from the trip that I want to "get out there". And so without further ado, I'm taking this thing to lighting round, at least for the time being.
"Jack Gets Cranky When He Doesn't Get His Coffee"
The service at the Infinity Buffett is infinitely slow, like we're on one of Einstein's spaceships, moving near light speed, and we're not aging but everyone else in the universe is aging. Paint would be drying if anyone were painting. Service is so slow it is almost non-existent, and unless the point is to get their customer's blood boiling first thing in the morning I'd have to take one of those "Hi My Name Is" stickers and write FAIL on it and stick on someone's forehead. Me—personally?—I'd rather not get my blood going just yet, I'd rather have the coffee laid at my feet, and not have to flag someone down, and then still have to wait, wait, wait.
The Great Platinum is a beautiful resort, and there are people here who know what customer service looks like and feels like. But on the whole this resort is an incredibly inefficient operation where a lot of people stand around at any given time doing a whole f-ing lot of nothing.
There do seem to be more kids here than last time, a definite negative. But the grounds, oh, the grounds: they are sufficiently and efficiently kept, they are the tour de force of this resort, the piece de resistance. The grass, the grasses in the grass—some shiny, some sharp, all green. The hedges, hedges comprised of a series of what grown in our own homes are struggling house plants. Here they flourish and need to be trimmed back. The landscape is marked further by an endless, interlocked series of stone channels that are dry right now but must bustle to take a sudden rain away. There are palm tree, flowering vines, flowers within flowers.
The buildings here, the buildings with the rooms are exceptional in that they were not just slapped together. This is not the paltry drywall-screwed-onto-a-flimsy-stud-frame construction plaguing the United States right now. When I take the palm of my hand and SLAP it on the wall of our room, there is not an echo between the walls because there is no "between the walls". I'm talking concrete here, folks. Solid.
Breakfast, being down and done, what now? Now is suncreen, and then—then is underwater adventure. We head down to the "Adult Beach" a.k.a. the snorkel beach. It's slightly more populated than it probably would have been at this time of the morning the last time we were here. There are a few Turks, and some older ladies—not too old, but older—one German couple.
The beach is somewhat rocky, you can't just run out into the water. And I didn't bring any water shoes so I've got to ginger my way out there. The snorkeling goes alright but the water seems churned up a bit too much, and it doesn't seem as clear down below as I was anticipating. There is a lot of coral, plentiful urchins and anemones. I see ten or do different kinds of fish, some quite colorful: blues, greens, yellows, one a blue-green but with three stripes up near the head, two stripes being black, one white. I swim through one multitudinous school of shad, there had to be 1,000 fish in the bunch at least. As I swim into the school, it becomes malleable to my presence, forming and reforming around me like a plasma—the fish being not afraid but wary.
I then head back to land, ditch the snorkel gear, and lay in the sun on a lounge chair that someone had already drug down to the waterline, its back to the water, its face to the sun. It is a mild, back-bay surf. I've clipped my Shuffle to the tie of my trunks.
I get whipped and paddled by the sun while falling in love with Houses of the Holy all over again—
"Has anybody seen the bridge?"
"Where's that confounded bridge?"
Ha ha. It never gets old!
Tool sharks in
yellow seems of cornbread:
These are the demolished records,
the migrated stumps—
the firewood that shouldn't have been moved, and wasn't!
They told us to call before we dug, and we did.
Not right now,
no raffles. I crave the wi-fi
of a planet somewhere out
in the star Etta—fast
There are capuchins
that bark like dogs,
but dress like...
I want to be with you
we do that? Can we
get married, on a stranger's
porch, laden with rusted bikes,
stray cats, and a copy of
Beginner's Pidgin Anything?
The x-ray of a word
formed but not spoken
broke up a no-hitter
The peanut gallery
complained louder than ever—
make a decision! They
pounded tables, they
the pizza man stood at the
door for hours, calculating
his record-breaking tip.
"Donkey" (2013, ink on paper)
It was Wednesday and it was the day we had hired Carlson to take us on a day trip, first to Mayfield Falls and then to Negril. He approached us in the lobby at 9:30 a.m., looking hip in jean and a nice pair of sneakers. And he said, "I have a little bit of a situation." And I'm thinking, "Oh man, now he's gonna renege on the day trip."
Instead he said, "The air conditioning in my van is not working."
We had some back and forth as to whether this really even mattered, and he gave us four a few minutes to chat amongst ourselves. I didn't care. No one cared. We rolled with it and soon enough we were on the road that would ultimately take us back to the airport, headed east until we take a right at a road marked by a sign with a hibiscus on it saying "Mosquito Cove."
I wish I could say I sat in the back of the van writing up a storm and taking all kinds of detailed notes about how delightful and picturesque it was as we chugged our way up the mountains toward the falls.
But as I attempted to write my first word, "donkey," the van hit one of hundreds, nay thousands, of bumps or ruts we would hit as we wended and switched and zagged our way upward. And my pen dug hard into my Moleskine and sheered its way write off of the page and it became very clear that I was not going to be able to write while the van was moving. This was a bit of a downer until I had the notion to make lemonade from the bumpy, lumpy lemons I had been dealt. I took my pen, held it to the page, didn't really look at it, and let whatever scratches and scribbles created by the jarring motion of the van take over the page.
The rest of the passengers were passing one but I held off. I was taking in all of the scenery even though I couldn't log it. What strikes me most about the drive is not the crummy condition of the narrow, windy road—but rather I could not and still cannot stop thinking about all of the wealth that lay up in those mountains despite the seeming lack of wealth of the hundreds of people we would see walking, standing, or sitting along the road.
We saw banana tree after banana tree, their wide, shaggy leaves and their unripe spouts of green bananas impossible to miss. We saw mango tree upon mango tree. We probably passed a thousand coffee plants before I realized what the plants with the bright red, cone-shaped hanging flowers actually were—dude, it's coffee and it's all over the place. We saw more and more goats, like we had along the coastal road but now they were often in the road and it's hard to believe we never ran one over. We saw chickens, roosters, cows. We saw their standard black plastic rain barrels and we saw the gutter systems leading into those barrels, sometimes with just a single rag serving as a filter as water went from the pipe into the barrel.
I was expecting
that yellow and green
received drip trays
of organ peach
goats and cows
The breeze, on the
Farmers with machetes:
This is the green island,
in dress uniforms,
Sunset, water, and
"It's been a long
long long long
long long long long
oh yes it has...."
The people are all out, as in
Carlson says, "A lot are unemployed"
The economy is sales, tours, and farming
I see cattle egrets waiting to pick a gnat
"These two towers, on the hill, king they be
what we see."
Potholes,yes, but ruts, whole parts
of roads carved down
by water, it is not reasonable to
go too fast, everyone agrees.
Her wet hair, drying,
alongside the window while
the turquoise smiles. Shines,
[We descend from the mountain, and travel on the road to Negril...]
Crude, cinder-block houses. Started,
not finished. Piles
of small stones—
Somehow the people in Negril
seem to have so much less than
the people in the mountains.
Negril. Much less pleasant.
It is dustier, blatant of black commerce,
nothing grows by the side of the road.
but I have missed them.
Why the beach in Negril sucked:
"I'm a farmer, yahh. I
grow it, yahh,
up on the hillside, yahhh."
He has a gold tooth, he
offers Pat pounds–
"Yah, mon—why you
come to Jah-
"and smoke a cigarette?
You shame me,
you shame me bad."
The third or fourth time a pound becomes a handshake, and Pat is still trying to be nice. So fine, OK, whatever, I'll shake the guy's hand and, Hello!, there's a joint in there. He's been carrying it the whole time, it's burned like a cinder in the fist offering pounds. And upon the handshake...it transsssferrrrsssss.
Pat looks at it, I am looking at it a few steps behind. Not surprisingly it looks like a pretty good roll. But
Pat says, "Why are you giving me this? No. I didn't ask for this. I'm dropping it."
"Where is it?"
"I dropped it."
The guy who kind of looks like Marshall Faulk still walks back toward where it was dropped, below dignity would be to jog or half-jog, but he is stiffer as he moves. He has been done in and done up! He grabs it, he walks quickly and prickly back to the dropper.
"Why did you do that?"
"Why did you do that?" he repeats.
"I didn't ask for that."
"You shame me—you got no respect."
And I have no respect, and no love, and no nothing for the supposedly majestic beach in Negril. If you want me to come back to that place, best you clean it UP.
Carlson was sleeping in the van. We got out of Negril. And the song played,
I know better
I know better.
There are two things you can't give back at the gift shop. Swimwear and memory cards.
I had another memorable wait there while a fellow resort patron paid for something forgettable with the simplicity, the ease (cue commercial) of MASTERCARD. Except it took literally ten minutes for the transaction to process.
Someone hits me for a light, an old Euro-type. He had a wrist brace that was not velcroed tight. He lit a Marb red. I thought of asking him for one.
I remember seeing signs on our drive to the falls for something like a credit card that was accepted in the mountains, something called "DIGICEL". "Accepted here" the signs would say. Credit in the gift shop, I don't think they took Digicel, though that might have been quicker.
Right, I'm fading. And fading fast, all too Randallian these days. But this story cannot, will not end here. I've not told you about how I hit the Wendy's in the Montego Bay airport or about how I then proceeded to knock over the Arby's in the Atlanta airport.
All I can say for now is that my mind is in the mountains, with the vistas, the produce, and the people. I can remember on that drive thinking—or being of a state of mind that was asking: how can I help them? How can WE help them? We must do something! They are so poor, so idle—
So abject in appearance and in itinerary—
But don't they get something from somewhere? Aren't they at least as alive as I am and maybe more?
A French thinker said, "The source of all wealth is land." Well, this be some land and a fur prettier piece than what I got.
I'm in a shitty tourist van, existing with them for a second, maybe high, but coming down before I can help it, way too soon.
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