Those of you who watch my Facebook page already know that my wife Meredith and I, my sister Grace, and Meredith’s sister Kathy, recently returned from a cruise to the Eastern Caribbean. The cruise was part of Meredith’s bucket list; she has a terminal disease. Despite her illness she is always ready for a party within the limits of our age. Therefore, we will continue traveling until she is unable to do so. The pictures I posted on Facebook show a typical cruise trip—lots of food and drink, plenty of sun, and beautiful ports of call. In a word, the cruise was fabulous. The one event the pictures don’t reflect, however, is the event that made the trip most memorable, and that was an unexpected layover on the island of Saint John.
We signed up for an off-ship excursion billed as a leisurely “cruise” from Saint Thomas to Saint John, where we expected to see incredible national park beaches. That isn’t what we got. The excursion left the cruise ship port late and began with a fast-paced walk/jog to a small twin-screw tour craft about half a mile away. It was hot and several of the older folks were left far behind. Our group was small. The other passengers on the Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas were probably “in the know”—we weren’t (there’s always 10%).
The three young people in charge of the small tour boat apparently had pressing engagements because the boat roared at full throttle from the moment we left the harbor no-wake zone. As the engines screamed, one of the young women tried to yell out what a great time we were about to have. At least I think that’s what she was saying because I didn’t hear much. The boat roared forward, splashing up spray from the bow wave and soaking passengers silly enough to sit on the port side.
When we reached Saint John, people holding green and red tickets were ushered off the boat. The crew shouted, “Enjoy your stay on Saint John’s,” and the boat raced away with those of us still holding blue tickets. Ah, I thought, Now we’ll see those beautiful national park beaches. I was wrong. The leisurely cruise turned out to be more of the same full-throttle rush. At full speed, the boat made a long circle while one of the young women shouted the history of each of the beaches that could only be seen as a white streak on the horizon about 500 yards landward. The engines screamed louder; the girl could not. I couldn’t hear a word. She could have been mocking us for being such suckers.
When the boat completed its circle and re-docked at Saint John, the crew again offered that we should all have a good time ashore. But what to do? None of us had ever been to that small island before. We decided we needed to scout out some baby back ribs for lunch and asked an individual on the dock where such a meal could be found. “At Joe’s,” the man said as he flagged his arm toward some shanty-looking structures down the road. I silently slipped my wallet into my front pocket and suggested the others take similar precautions.
Our walk to Joe’s was choked by exhaust fumes and clouds of dust from passing trucks. When we found the restaurant, we were not impressed. Charcoal-like chunks of meat were roasting on the grill—maybe chicken, maybe sausage. I couldn’t tell. Fortunately for us, the waitress (also the cook) told us she did not have baby back ribs. She pointed back toward the pier. “Go see David.” David, it turns out, owned a small restaurant beneath a large blue waterfront structure called “The Lumber Yard.”
We found David alone in his restaurant. Not a good sign. He looked like a hippy displaced in time and welcomed us warmly. Yes, he had baby back ribs—his specialty! My mouth both watered and quivered at the same time. The restaurant seemed clean, but I had no idea what health standards were required there. David was so friendly and accommodating we decided to stay. As he attempted to usher us toward a table, I asked, “What’s the deal with the $2 rum drinks at the Tiki Bar alongside the street? Is that part of your restaurant?” It was, but we’d have to eat at the Tiki bar to take advantage of the $2 rum drinks. That seemed like a good idea at the time.
What happened next turned out to be the most fun we had on our cruise vacation. We met a charming bartender named Kim. She could make a rum drink that would make you beg for another. As we began laughing together and partying down, people from the street were attracted by the noise and began to drop in. The jokes started flying as all the Tiki bar seats filled, and I was assigned my new Indian name, “Crawling Drunk.” Here are a few examples:
A young man is telling his friend about a girl he found tied to the railroad tracks. Horrified, he untied her and took her to his home. In time, the evening became intimate and they slept together. The friend was fascinated with the story and asked, “Was she pretty?”
“I don’t know,” the young man responded, “I never found her head.”
We all booed and hissed, and I told my new best friend that if he told another one like that I’d take him to the bathroom and beat the shit out of him.
Another new friend chimed in, “I can one-up that.” And he did.
A child interrupts his mother and father having sex and confronts his father. “Why do you put that thing in her?”
The father responds, “That’s where babies come from, son.”
The son’s brow furrowed and his frown deepened. “But yesterday I saw mother put that thing in her mouth.”
The mother flushed and cleared her throat before responding. “Well, dear, that’s where jewelry comes from.”
And so it went for four hours. I have not laughed so hard in years. I paid Kim for the baby back ribs (some of the best I’ve ever had) and the 18 rum drinks we consumed, tipped her well, and was guided back to the boat by Meredith, Kathy, and Grace. I’m not totally certain how long it took to get back to Saint Thomas because they served stout rum drinks on the boat. My sister told me the drinks were great.
There are two conclusions to this story. First, I am sorry Miss Havana was not present…or maybe she was and I just didn’t recognize her. Second, a good time can be found anywhere if one is open to it.
I hope you enjoyed this part of our cruise experience as much as we did.
James L. Hatch