What a moment! This is the kind of thing a Dad dreams of. My wonderful and talented daughter surrounded by a beautiful group of friends being proposed to by her long time boyfriend Kevin. These folks don’t do small, it had to be an event.
Much thanks to Kevin for inviting me to be there. It all happened Sunday June 15th at about 8PM in Little Italy New York City on the corner of Mulberry and Hester at Da Gennaro Italian Restaurant, the restaurant on the first floor of their building. Thanks to all of their friends who pulled this off!
It’s taken a while to process my 50th Birthday Extravaganza trip, but as my 51st birthday looms large and there isn’t an extravaganza planned. At least not yet.
The idea came to me a few years before the big day. After seeing several sisters and brothers-in-law reach their 50th, I decided to not wait for an inevitable “Surprise Party,” or worse yet to tip-toe around the weekend before my birthday walking into rooms ready to feign surprise for a party that never happens.
At first I thought, screw it, I’ll go to Negril and sidestep the entire issue. Then came, I’m sure The Kid will want to come, and then; Mom and Dad will probably come too. Pretty soon it was game on.
When booking my Christmas 2012 trip I inquired with the fine folks at The Blue Cave Castle if renting out the entire place was a thing, but the answer was somewhat non-committal. So once I picked the dates, which were 15 months in the future (March 8-16, 2014), I asked my friends at the castle to hold that week until May 1st, 2013. They were more than happy to oblige, because Petrona and Susan are way cool.
My dream was to book all fourteen available rooms and throw a huge party worshiping and honoring my favorite person. I made the announcement to my family at Christmas 2012, and then I made the Facebook Event the next weekend.
We did pretty well and booked 9 rooms by the date, and luckily another party booked 4 of the remaining rooms, so there wouldn’t be random people wandering around. By the time of the party we actually had several rooms booked at other hotels.
The group was the best of all worlds. My Daughter and her boyfriend, Mom and Dad and at least one sister. Two friends from high school and their brides, some work friends and their friends, and some Jamaica friends. I booked the Penthouse for me which was very exciting.
I planned a huge party at The Castle with great food, plenty of booze, a band and to have it all broadcast globally via webcast. As the day grew closer that idea mellowed into a smaller bash, but I continued to use the term “Extravaganza” anyway.
As things got closer one of my friends and his lovely bride had to cancel leaving a room open for my brother and his family. Well the room was too small for the whole family, but my sister and my parents had an extra bed each so we figured out the accommodations. So at six weeks out the cast was set, let the “Extravaganza” begin.
The day is drawing near. The official countdown widget has been created. The plane tickets have been purchased, and the hotel has been booked. All we need to do now is Pack & Go!
What am I talking about? Just the biggest most extra extravagant extravaganza in the history of Negril!
Vinny’s 50th Birthday Extravaganza at the beautiful and famous Blue Cave Castle in sunny Negril, Jamaica!! March 10th, 2014
The Blue Cave Castle Negril, Jamaica – Pic by Christine Joseph
Who’s all coming? Me. The Kid and Kevin. Mom & Dad. Betty Boop. My Brother Michael, his wife Amrita and the kiddos. The Lerches. Kaptain Kramer. The Eardley’s. A bunch of people from Chicago, and many others. The Castle is full, but there are sill rooms nearby.
I’m sad to report that just before noon today my dear friend Rosie “The Cat” passed away.
A few weeks ago I began to notice Rosie wasn’t eating much but still drinking water. She seemed lethargic, but I knew something was up when I opened a can of Fancy Feast and she took all day to eat it.
I took her to the vet a few days later and the Doc gave me the bad news that she was showing signs of kidney failure. He gave me some medication and in his thick Eastern European accent said, “Either she’ll come back or she won’t.” His face told me not to get my hopes up.
Over the next few days she was quiet and slept a lot, but the drugs didn’t look like they were helping. A few nights ago I couldn’t find her and when I did, I knew that she knew. I looked into euthanization and resolved to go that route if she seemed to be suffering.
In the interim I did my best to keep her comfortable, but last night she had labored breathing and I knew it was close. This morning she stayed close to me, curling up around my feet as I worked at my desk. Looking at her, she seemed peaceful, resigned.
Around eleven o’clock I carried her into the living room swaddled in a blanket where she passed away peacefully in my arms.
Ahh what a welcome sight that Guinness tap was as we finally got into Shannon Airport in County Claire Ireland, but we were still far from our destination.
No, I didn’t actually order a Pint of Guinness upon arrival. It being 5:45AM local time I felt it a wee bit early and opted for airport coffee, and then we went searching for our bus to Dublin.
Yes a BUS to Dublin! We arrived at JFK about 3:00PM for a 5:40PM flight and Aer Lingus would not let us check-in. 3:30, then 4 o’clock, and still we could not check in. The line began to grow longer and angrier as time wore on. Luckily, we were near the front of the line so we were among the first processed when the line started moving.
The check-in kid seemed stressed as I gave him my paperwork, and in almost a whisper he said, “Sir, I’m afraid your flight has been cancelled.” Yes, CANCELLED! But before I could get too pissed, he quickly offered us seats on a 6:20PM flight to Shannon with connecting bus service to Dublin.
Yeah its a pain in the ass, not to mention adding almost four hours to our trip, but at least we could leave that night. Many people in the long line did not get that option. Nice job Aer Lingus! (note: Irony)
We boarded and had a nice flight to Shannon, and the morning drive to Dublin Airport afforded us a pretty ride through the Irish countryside. From Dublin Airport it was a quick run to Dublin City Centre and to our hotel The Arlington O’Connell Bridge.
It was about 9:30AM by that time so we stored our bags at the hotel and staggered out into the Dublin morning to fine some food and some coffee, and to then get into what Dublin had to offer.
I woke up around 8AM, well that’s not really true, it was more like I stopped sleeping sometime around 8AM which for me is way late even on the foggiest of mornings. I’d slept so late that Kris was already showered and had gone down for coffee. I stumbled over to the fridge, groped for a bottle of water, and then over to my bag for a handful of Extra-Strength Excedrin. Even after the entire water bottle I was thirsty.
As if on cue Kristine bangs on the door, “Are you decent?” “Yeah sure,” I replied. “Good, I need some money, the Orange Juice Lady gave me this.” she said as she walked in holding an overproof rum bottle filled with Millie’s Orange Mango Juice, “It’s really friggin’ good.” she added between swigs. I have no idea what Millie actually charges, but I usually give her 500J and she seems happy with that.
It’s one of the joys of life at The Castle, I’ve mentioned before all the cool neighbors and neighboring restaurants, but it’s more than that. Millie seems to arrive at the perfect moment every time. I don’t think I ever had a “I wonder if Millie is gonna stop by today” thought that I can remember. She just appears when you can really use some fresh squeezed juice or just some fresh fruit. I’d chalk it up to coincidence, but it happens over and over again trip after trip. Let’s face it, she’s an OJ psychic.
It must have been a mixture of Millie’s juice, the cool shower and the Excedrin, but by the time I made my way out into the bright morning yard for the day’s first cuppa I felt totally revived and ready to conquer the day. Our little crew had commandeered about half of the big picnic table under a canopy of braided palm fronds that serves as the social center at The Castle.
This had been Meg and Jay’s fourth or fifth trip to Negril and the second that year. They had gone to The Grand Lido the previous January to attend “Rat Dog Daze,” several days of Deadhead fun in the sun with Bob Weir and friends. After someone has been to Negril several times, especially in a relatively short span of time, it seems that the decompression comes faster and the slide into Jamaica time happens much more quickly.
“We were thinking about Half-Moon Beach for today.” Meg offered. Half Moon Beach is about Meg’s favorite place in the world, and it seemed as good a day as any to venture up there. When The Kid came down to join us Meg filled her in on the wonderfulness that is Half Moon Beach and the collective decision was made. I added that a nice brunch at Selina’s would be the perfect preparatory detour landing us fat and happy on the little crescent beach spot right about noon. It was agreed and we went to our respective rooms to get our beach stuff.
Now I love Negril’s Seven Mile Beach, I have even gotten to know and love Bloody Bay Beach, but for a classic tropical beach experience in the general Negril area, for me it’s Half Moon Beach. About four years earlier I had been in Negril with a girlfriend who wanted to tan her boobies somewhere quiet and uncrowded. It happened to be Easter Sunday and we were having brunch at Selina’s, and it was Selina who suggested Half Moon Beach. That first trip was special. Being Easter Sunday there were several Jamaican families picnicking on the beach. The boob tanning idea went out the window, so she and I spent most of the day in the crystal clear water playing with the local kids. Later that year I was in Negril with Meg and Jay and shared with them my new find. On subsequent trips it’s a spot I rarely miss.
Selina’s is always great. I’ve been going there for years, and on Sundays brunch is tradition. I normally don’t do Big Roy’s Banana Pancakes but I was fearing the onslaught of a mighty hangover merely postponed by juice and analgesics, so I indulged. Jay had the same and I think both ladies ordered the American Breakfast. The food was great; fresh, hot and plentiful, and as always the Bloody Marys lived up to their “Best In Negril” reputation.
The Sunday Brunch Band had gone on break soon after our arrival and came back as we were finishing. Normally coffee and Bloody Marys lead to Red Stripes and an hour or so of lingering and mingling, but Half-Moon was waiting as was our driver. So we said our good-byes and headed north along the beach road.
The only time you ever see Half-Moon Beach crowded is during the twice-weekly Wild Thing anchorage, and I’m sure it gets busy during the season. This time there was a smattering of fellow travelers, and a few more arrived later in the afternoon, but twenty people does not a crowd make. We were lucky enough to take possession of the area near the big Seagrape tree at the water’s edge and proceeded in our revelry.
Sun, sand, ganja and Red Stripe, by mid-afternoon we had retreated to the bar for some snacky food, and another round of beers. Our driver was long gone, but a guy named Sonny had dropped off his fare and was lingering hoping not to deadhead it back to Negril so we cut a deal.
On the was back I talked everyone into a quick stop by Ossie’s Jerk Centre to sample the famous Jerk Pork. Unfortunately there were only two portions left, but really that was enough. We needed beer refills and the couple succulent chunks of porky yummy-ness did a nice job of holding us over till dinner.
Kristine negotiated a great deal for a Black River trip with Sonny our driver for Monday or Tuesday, so good a deal in fact that I expected not to see him again. He said he’s stop by in the morning to see what we wanted to do. Keeping plans loose was one of my goals for this trip, I didn’t want to feel as if we were working off a checklist all week.
Back at The Castle, we joined the rest of the big picnic table crew and became acquainted with Jim Zeppa and his friend and ex-daughter-in-law Nancy. Jimmy was a character to say the least, an older gentleman from Canada who’s spent his life in the music business. An old-school raconteur who held court every afternoon during our stay. He and Kristine hit it off. His name-dropping of talent large and small alternated as entertainment and background patter, but however received he just kept on going, all the while adding a sweet sentimentality to our week in paradise.
There’s an ethereal quality to The Castle’s morning stillness. Whispering a subtle greeting, the day shifts gently into being. A familiar opening. I sat quietly watching as The West End stirred lazily. By 6AM the road was awake, and the distant whine of a fisherman’s outboard brought with it the faint smell of coffee wafting across the yard.
I walked to the ledge and saw no one. My eyes were no longer sharp enough to see if the urn light was green, so I made my way down the cool stone stairway, across the prickly tropical grass, and over to the coffee hut. Though in full percolating glory, the coffee wasn’t quite ready to go, so I padded back upstairs for my binoculars to spy on the fishermen who, by then, were dotting the horizon.
Well into my third cup I heard Kris stir back inside the room. By the time I went inside to ask if she wanted a coffee the stirring had stopped. A blessing and a curse, Kristine inherited the “sleep of the dead” from me. We can sleep though anything, I once fell asleep during a Van Halen concert. True story.
We had our breakfast at Teddy’s Hideaway, actually back in the restaurant, which was a lot nicer than last trip. Teddy’s has really found an audience in Negril. When Petrona and Susan first added a food at The Castle I thought, “Cool, this is so convenient.” and the first time I only had a few breakfasts. It was nice not needing to forage for every meal, but wow, the Lobster Thermidor is something special. On the previous trip with Mom and Dad our best meal was served by Teddy out in the yard at sunset. It was a great time.
Early afternoon brought Meg and Jay in from Montego Bay with Kenny. I’d known these two Deadheads for six or seven years by that time, and it was the first time they were meeting “The Kid.” I hadn’t realized how often I refer to my beloved daughter Kristine as “The Kid,” so much so that when I asked, “Do I really?” they all started laughing. Jay said, “Dude I knew you for like five years before Meg finally asked you her actual name.” It’s funny when a mirror is held up like that. I’d truly never gave it a second thought. When I returned from Jamaica I began asking friends about this and every one told me the same thing. Sorry Kid
The four of us walked over to Choices for pre-sunset dinner that night. Choices is always a good choice. A key feature to staying at The Castle is the number of excellent restaurants and bars within walking (or stumbling) distance. The food is always good at Choices, though for the life of me I can’t remember what I had.
Back at The Castle, we watched the final moments of sunset and relaxed in the yard with some fellow travelers. It was still fairly early though Kristine and Meg were showing signs of fatigue while Jay and I were raring to go. Saturday night is The One Love Reggae Show at The Seastar Inn! We were encouraged when I logged on to theRealNegril.com Webcast to find the party already swinging. I entered the chat room to say hi, and Rob offered to send the Seastar taxi to pick us up. How cool is that?
The girls encouraged us to go and have fun. They were both tired and decided to stay in and do their nails, or their hair, or whatever it is that girls do. We did make an attempt at changing their minds, but it soon proved to be without fruit.
The taxi they sent was huge and very well air conditioned. Within minutes Jay and I entered the brightly lit oasis that is Seastar. We sought out the Webcast Crew and made our introductions with the folks hanging in the general webcast area. It was great to see Rob & Lisa, but I was taken back when they asked, “Where’s The Kid?”
The Seastar Drummers were just taking the stage as we settled in. What a magical experience, I am always moved by the total way produce their music. I didn’t realize I was in a drum induced trance till someone yelled, “Vinny!” I may have been that I was a bit drunken too. Jay had started an unhealthy shot roller-coaster. He bought a huge round of shots for the group, so it became my responsibility to handle the next round, then another guy felt similarly obligated, and so on. I’m not sure how far it went. I have a convenient rule about the number of shots I will do in one night, I don’t count them.
I have a fuzzy recollection of leaving, and then piling out of a smaller taxi into yet another bar, or was it two other bars? I missed sunrise Sunday Morning.
Kristine was probably having seconds thoughts as the Negril breeze drew closer, and my Negril mania heightened. “Bug spray, you need really good bug spay!” “We need to be on the road by 4AM, I’ll get the taxi to pick me up first and we will come by your place. Don’t oversleep.”
Finally the morning came and I arrived at Kristine’s place at about 4:05AM. I was relieved to see the lights burning in her second floor apartment, and a wave through the gloaming as she heard her phone ring. In minutes we were whizzing down the Belt Parkway making JFK Terminal C in about half an hour. Checked in and drinking coffee at the gate a few minutes after 5AM, we were finally on our way.
True to form Kristine was getting to know all the people sitting near us on the plane. We managed to cheat a little realizing our seats were A and C, so when B came we just moved to two unoccupied seats behind us. I was half-expecting a hassle from the flight attendant, but this was Air Jamaica. No problem.
The flight into Kingston was uneventful, the Kid slept most of the way. My browbeating not to oversleep was handled as only one in their early twenties can. She stayed up. I relaxed and read my book. I tried to watch the “Irie Vibes” or whatever they call the in flight programming, but that didn’t last too long. I may be a ball of anxiety pre-trip, but once on the way all that stress really slips away.
My expectation of flying into Kingston was that all the Port of Entry passport crap would happen there during the layover, so once in Montego Bay just grab the bags, hop into Kenny’s Taxi, Red Stripe, spliff, and the road to Negril. But as often happens with expectations, they were dashed as we sat starving in the terminal area where the only open food outlet was Burger King.
Now I’ve spent a dozen vacations in Negril without having it my way, but we were tired and got, well, I don’t remember what we got. I do remember it hitting the spot, and about fifteen minutes before we boarded our Mobay flight Kristine wheedled a few cocktails out of the lady setting up the terminal bar. It was after all, a little past 9AM, and it was Kristine’s Birthday.
The flight to Montego Bay was breathtaking on several levels. The vast Jamaican mountains with their smoky blues and exuberant greens brought on oohs and ahhs from we on the starboard side, while the crisp Caribbean Sea captivated those on port. Punctuating the splendor, the morning sunshine heating the moist mountain air formed dramatic updrafts which offered us a staccato rhythm that bounced that huge Airbus A-320 all the way to Mobay much like the rocky Jamaican roads would do in decades past.
Upon safe arrival in Mobay (there was applause), we walked briskly to immigration and cruised right through. The same thing with customs. Nice. Right outside the door a some kid had a sign saying “Vinny” and when we walked over he handed me a cellphone. It was Kenny! “I’m stuck in a little traffic my brother, run a tab the beers are on me!” Even nicer. It was definitely time for an icy cold Red Stripe, so we made out way to the bar and ordered up four beers. Four? Yeah, we knew the first two would be empty by the time the transaction was completed. Judge as you might.
I love to people watch at the airport bar in Mobay. The hustlers sizing up their prey, people from Iowa attempting to sort through some local drama, I just take it all in. Kristine is beginning to decompress too. I just smile as she takes a long pull from the brown squat bottle. There is something magical about how those first beads of outdoor Jamaican sweat are quenched by that first Red Stripe on the back of your throat. It sneaks up on me every time.
An older guy offers us a ride but we decline. We buy him a beer, and he tells us about the depressed business climate on the North Shore. “Hey man, all the cool kids go to Negril.” I say as Kenny’s bounds into the area, “VINNNNNYYYYY!!!” I introduce him to Kris, and at once we are in his warm embrace both literally and figuratively.
We learn that Megan and Jason had booked Kenny for their ride in the following afternoon. I love to drum up business for Kenny, he has never screwed me. Ever! He’s on time, he gives a fair price, he tells a good story and, most of all, my Mom really likes him.
Kris and I feel a second wind come on as we cruise though Montego Bay proper, and on along the coast. The party had just begun!
Normally I post lots of photos with my stories in order to break the monotony of the telling, This next series of posts will be mostly sans photo since my daughter Kristine has forced me into a no pic post pledge.
This last Negril trip was one I’d been hoping to do for years. Taking the Kid to The Castle. She is always so busy getting her adult life off the ground, but on Christmas 2009 I suggested a birthday trip the following May. She was in.
The original plan was for her to bring her roommate along, I’d pay for the room and Kristine’s airfare, and all her roomy would have to handle was her flight. I spoke to Petrona at The Blue Cave Castle and tentatively booked two rooms that shared a patio. The lower tower for me and Deluxe 3 for Kris and her friend.
So many times I’d traveled to Negril alone. Everyone thought I was weird, but you’re never really alone in Negril unless you want to be. My family being amazing, loving and always willing to look past my weirdnesses, encouraged my frequent trips, and finally in 2007 I talked Dad into spending a few days in sunny Negril. I am proud to say that Dad “got it,” and through his story-telling the family maybe “got it” a little too.
For several months upon returning, Dad’s affirmative response to any question was “Ya Mon,” yeah, the apple doesn’t fall to far from the tree. But all those Ya Mon’s must have made an impression because when Dad and I began discussing a return trip in we were able to talk Mom into coming too.
I’d been to Negril many times. I’ve gone solo five times, with friends or girlfriends five times, twice with my parents, and now finally a trip with Kristine. This would be her second Negril trip. I’d sent her and a boyfriend (grrr) back in ’05 for her nineteenth birthday. Some people were a bit scandalized at the time, but I knew Negril was a friendly safe place as long as your not an asshole.
When there is a Negril trip in the offing I check airfares almost daily, I read airfare and airline related news, and I keep an eye on the Negril.com Message Board all to predict the airfare climate on or about my planned trip date. I love to get an amazing deal on airfare, though lately it hasn’t been so easy.
This trip I wanted to book in early March, but couldn’t get a solid commitment from the Kid’s roommate, so I held off. It was killing me. It was a great rate, like $289 R/T from JFK (Yeah, I know! Killing me!). A few weeks later the Kid told me her roommate had lost her job and couldn’t do the trip. I feigned disappointment and booked the next day at a decent rate of $315 each. I was glad to have Kris all to myself for the week. It would be the longest time we had ever spent together since she was a very little kid (insert ominous minor-key organ chord here).
Around this time, my friends Megan and Jay said they were planning a get away too. It all happened pretty fast, but after a few emails plans were aligned. Book, Pack and GO! The stage was set!
Hello to all my fellow Negrilaholics! I apologize for not getting to this sooner, but I need a month or so to digest my trips before spilling my guts here. So here we go…
I planned this trip back around last Christmas. Sitting before my laptop and Google Calendar blocking out the major events of the year. At first it was a spring trip, but finally it had to be pushed to September. I like hurricane season in Negril, maybe I secretly want to be stranded for an extra week some day. OK, so that’s not a secret to anyone, except maybe my boss.
It was July 4th weekend 2009. I was eating my outdoor grilled bratwurst at my parents place in Jersey when the subject of my next Negril trip came up. “I have the second week of September penciled in, you guys should come…” I offered spontaneously. They’re retired, financially stable, so what the hell? Of course it was my Dad who responded about a nano-second after the words were out of my mouth, “OK.”
Now my Mom was a tougher nut to crack. She hemmed and hawed as she rolled their Fall 2009 social calendar around in her head, “We can’t go to Jamaica so soon, maybe next spring.” But it only took a few minutes of me and Dad’s cajoling before she was in. The last piece of the puzzle was seeing if my daughter Kris could make it.
Things moved pretty quickly from there. I went online to find Air Jamaica was running a $289.00 round trip special from JFK to MoBay if we purchased the tickets right away, so we jumped on it. Booked three tickets that weekend, and then sent an email to Petrona and Susan at The Blue Cave Castle to book two rooms. We got one of the fancy rooms “Superior Ten” for Mom & Dad, and my favorite room “Deluxe One” for me, and if Kris was able to break off a week to come along she could room with her old man.
Almost immediately Dad was back to “Ya Mon” as the affirmative answer to almost any question, and Mom was excited too, and was soon very concerned with what to pack. My answer of, “Just bring a bunch of t-shirts” wasn’t too helpful.
There was a lot of joking about the sagacity of flying on 9/11 amongst our family, not to mention some stern warnings from my sisters, “You better bring them back in one piece!” The sisters are planning the big 50th anniversary shindig next spring, so I had to promise not to let Mom do any cliff-diving.
About a week out I emailed Petrona at The Castle to confirm and to let her know about when we would arrive which I estimated at “just before sunset,” to which Petrona replied, “Fuzzy and I will hold the sunset until you get here.” I just loved the visual that put in my head.
Getting to JFK for me is a pretty easy run. I can do a taxi, bus, train or subway, but Mom and Dad had to get there from Jersey. Luckily my brother offered to take them, but since traffic is so unpredictable they left really early. With the “Luck of the Irish”, of course they hit zero traffic and we checked in, through security, and at the gate by 9AM for a 12:45 flight. I left early for me, and met up with them at the gate around 10:30.
Time flew by and although it was a bit rainy we took off on time, hit no delays, and had a nice uneventful flight. We arrived at Sangster a little early, about 3:15 Jamaica time, and sailed through immigration, baggage and customs in record time. We were just outside the sliding doors into the driver’s area after successfully side-stepping the deal makers and Red Cap guys, to see a guy holding up a sign with Vinny on it.
The driver looked familiar, but it wasn’t Kenny who I’d contracted for the drive into Negril. He introduced himself as Rocky and apologized that he wasn’t Kenny, which I thought was funny. Hey Man, we can’t all be Kenny.” He explained he works with Kenny who was double-booked that day. We didn’t really care, his van was in good condition and the AC was working, though I must admit to missing the ice cold Red Stripes Kenny would have had ready to go, a situation we remedied at the first beer shack we ran across on the other side of Montego Bay. There’s just something wonderful about that first Red Stripe.
I told Rocky we were hoping to get to Negril before sunset, and I thought it shouldn’t be a problem, but we hit a whole lot of Friday afternoon traffic. Making the turn just past Lucea we were able to fly down the western coast all the way into Negril. Mom was so impressed with all of the school children in their uniforms. I was intrigued how Mom, who grew up in Ireland, felt at home almost immediately. She kept relating names, places and word usages to the old sod. For me it was really cool, I’d been worried if she’d like Jamaica, thinking she’d get used to it in a few days, but she seemed to get it immediately.
Soon we were among the myriad “Welcome to Negril” signs, rolling past the all-inclusive joints, through town and up into the cliffs. I love the feeling when those big white gates open and we pull through to see Santa’s big smile and warm smile. “Greeting mi friend!” he says as I introduce him to Mom, he remembered Dad.
We settled in our rooms for a while. I think this is my fourth time staying in “Deluxe One,” it was like seeing an old friend, though the furniture had been moved around some.
The sun was getting low, but we still had about half an hour till sunset so I went to get the Parents and to give Mom a tour of The Castle property, and then we went across the street to L&M Grocery to stock our respective refrigerators. The neighborhood was coming to life as we walked back, but the various sellers and deal makers kept their distance out of what I would like to think was respect for two older tourists making their way back to The Castle.
Sunset was nice, The Castle’s view is as good or better than anywhere else in Negril, and it was fun to watch Mom and Dad take it all in. Mom kept saying how she understood why I keep coming back.
The countdown is on! I love the pre-trip angst, the packing list, the scampering around looking for that one thing you can’t find anywhere.
I haven’t really gotten started. I’m usually 90% packed by now, shirts starched and boxed, new travel sized toiletries stacked up. I did buy a new big bag. Since 9/11 I don’t bother with a carry-on. Actually it wasn’t 9/11, it was the liquids ban, which was just silly. The liquid bombers are in prison, but that doesn’t stop the geniuses at the TSA for keeping the barn door closed. And I’m eying a good sturdy pair of Birkenstock’s for all that walking I plan to do.
Mom and Dad are coming along this time, which should be a lot of fun. I was hoping the Kid would come too, but she couldn’t carve a week out of her busy schedule. We got a great rate from Air Jamaica and we got the parents a fancy room at The Castle. This is Dad’s second Negril trip, but it’s been a long time since Mom has taken the rustic route. It’s always so much fun taking a newbie to Negril. I get to do all the touristy things that I love to do but don’t bother doing when in town with more seasoned Negrillers.
Normally I have a very loose schedule, but on the Mom & Dad trip I’ll have to at least sketch out a thumbnail. I’m sure Mom will love Rick’s Cafe, and likewise a nice shady beach day at Half Moon, though we may have to tone down the Black River Safari trip a little. Maybe I’ll send Mom and Dad out alone for a romantic sunset cruise with Famous Vincent.
Well I’m going to Target to start checking off my list. I’ll be posting the packing list about ten days out…
The next day started early for me. Well before dawn I walked cool damp Castle grounds. I love his place! I love the gentle slosh of the Sea emanating from the Blue Cave, the cool salty breeze in my hair, the sun lightening the edges of the eastern sky, and of course, the steaming mug of Jamaican coffee in my hand. Did I say I love this place?
Since retirement, Dad has gotten used to sleeping in, and for me in Negril, sleeping in is about six-thirty in the morning. I’m not sure when he actually rose since clocks are not on my vacation agenda, but by mid-morning we were hungry, and I had Dad all jazzed up for an authentic Jamaican Breakfast.
I always enjoy Selina’s so I figured we’d head down to her place for breakfast. We hitÂ a road in a route taxi, andÂ my Dad was great, he just rolled with the punches all week long, open to everything. We got to talking to our fellow travelers about Jamaican Breakfast, and one of the guys named Lionel told us he had a cousin with a real authentic Rastafarian Breakfast Joint directly on the beach.
“I’m a tour guide!” exclaimed Lionel, but when the other guys in the car laughed when he said it, he knew the jig was up.
Of course the afore-mentioned restaurant seemed too good to be true, but what the hell, these guys had a good positive vibe and I said, “Sounds great! Take us there!” Dad seemed a bit trepidatious.
We passed Travellers and Shields and pulled into a small overgrown drive just before Bar-B-Barn. From where we parked, we couldn’t see the beach, or the road, and Dad was expecting us to be robbed at any minute, but I could hear the surf close by. We followed our new friends up a grass covered path and in seconds Seven Mile Beach appeared before us. I looked over to Dad as he stood wide-eyed at the impossibly beautiful sea of blueness. We were so taken by the scene that we didn’t notice the big Rastaman setting up a table for us.
Lionel, who stood beaming as if he was a bit surprised by his new-found success as a tour guide, decided to talk, and talk, and then talked some more. He was entertaining at first, an amiable bloke to be sure, and he was even up front about having to hustle tourists to make a living.
I don’t know If the big Rastaman was actually his cousin Lionel, but Lionel seemed pretty nervous when he came by to give us fresh squeezed juices, or to update us on the progress of our meals.
The Jamaica Breakfasts arrived and I was impressed! They were bountiful and beautifully plated. The big Rasta-Chef explained everything and my Dad was rapt with attention. “Don’t eat too fast.” He admonished us. “We don’t use salt. We let the natural flavors come though the food. Please enjoy!”
This guy had a great touch, and the food was excellent. The Ackee was tender, and there were few bones in the Saltfish. The yam, the plantain and johnny cakes were as advertized, bland at first but the subtle flavors built as you enjoyed them.
I was so happy with the meal that I grossly over-tipped Lionel, which had the added pleasure of making him go away. I loved the guy, but we really wanted to eat in peace.
I guess I’d made up for the previous night’s hooker debacle. I really felt like the island-savvy son, and Dad really seemed to be enjoying himself.
We checked out the beach a while but there wasn’t much going on, and we were back at The Castle before noon. I walked over to the bodega for beer, water, ting and other assorted necessities to stock the fridge for the week, while Dad went to work on his Vince Flynn novel.
On my way back from the bodega I ran into sweet beautiful Petrona, who offered to move us from Deluxe 2 into Superior 12 which had a TV and A/C. Dad was happy with the move, and with the panoramic ocean view from the porch. You really can’t beat this place, you’re treated like family, the location is paramount, and the prices are so low you can’t understand how they stay in business.
Dad and I relaxed reading, taking short dips in the sea, and drinking Red Stripes. The place wasn’t crowded, but we did meet Angela from Nova Scotia that day. Orchid as she is known on the Negril.com Message Board. Dad had been to Nova Scotia with my Mom a few years back, and they seemed to hit it off pretty well. Angela was living large in the penthouse and was on an extendned and extending vacation, she may be still there.
Later in the afternoon Susan, the owner of The Castle, returned from her vacation. So where does someone who lives in Negril go for vacation? Brooklyn of course! Susan graciously invited Dad and I out for a lobster dinner at Erica’s Cafe.
Susan drove us in her little red car, Petrona joined us, and there was also a Canadian couple, who were long time Negril residents, and friends of Susan’s. We had a nice time, the food was excellent, and so was the conversation. We each had half a grilled lobster, and a nice portion of curried lobster with all the accoutrements. Dad and I peppered Susan with questions about the building and history of The Castle. There’s definitely a book in that story, maybe even a mini-series.
Being Saturday night we said our good-byes to our hostess and we hopped a taxi over to The Seastar In for some twisting by the pool. The road into Seastar seemed darker than usual on this moonless night, but everything brightened up as we turned into the driveway. The party was in full swing when we arrived, Rob, Lisa and Captain Rob were working the webcast, and I introduced my Dad to all the boardies logged in that night. The place was crowded, there seemed to be so few people in Negril, they must have all been at Seastar.
As we settled in with ice cold Red Stripes, there was some commotion in the pool area, some girl had gotten naked and jumped in. Henceforth she will be referred to as Nakid Girl, though her nakedness was relatively short lived. She spent most of her night stumbledancing to the reggae stylings of Rasta Ralphie, other than the few minutes we chatted about things metaphysical. She was very wasted but she was no dummy, and she seemed a bit over her head in whatever she was involved with, but for that night she had a grand time.
Dad was very impressed with Rasta Ralphie. The two of them were in the same basic age range, but old Ralphie had the physique of a much younger man. I’m sure is had something to do with his hyperactive stage persona. I tell you that man can rev up a crowd.
I had a nice time visiting with Rob, Crob and Lisa. Lisa was only a few days away from heading back to the frozen tundra of Winepeg Canada after six plus months in sunny Negril. She must not have stayed too long because it seems like she was back in a few weeks, but I’m sure for Rob it was an interminable absence.
We’d had a long day and I doubt we lasted much later than ten or eleven o’clock. Chris, the Seastar’s owner, had his driver take us back to The Castle with the added fun of sharing the ride with Nakid Girl.
Upon hearing about Hands-On New York Day, a friend of mine said, “Ya know, that’s one of those things that when you hear about it you and think, ‘Hey I’d like to do something like that someday’, but you never actually do it.” And for a long time that was my position too. I’m not averse to doing this sort of thing, it’s just that such opportunities rarely cross my path at an opportune time, but in this case the stars aligned.
My roommate Chris was the Site Captain meaning he set-up and helped run the event. The hard work was done, so all I had to do was show up. Once I committed I got pretty excited, so I wrangled up some family, friends, and co-workers to help out. The Saturday before the event I had six definites with a few possibles waiting in the wings, but of course when the day came only two were able to make it. I didn’t care as they were the two I really wanted to spend the day with anyway.
And wow, what a special day it was! I had been so focused on the outcome that I hadn’t put a moments thought into the process, the actual doing of the thing. I expected a freshly painted fence, and a lunchroom with brightly painted murals. I didn’t plan on the camaraderie and sense of purpose seventy or so eager volunteers would engender. Very un-Zen of me I know.
The day was all about the process, the experience. The care and goodwill this disparate group of strangers put into beautifying this little elementary school in Brooklyn warmed the cockles of my heart. It was so much of a Coming Together my inner cynic was forced to do a double-take. Could it be there really are this many good people in the world? And this was only one of a hundred plus events that day; seventy-five hundred people fanned out across the city planting trees, fixing up schools, cleaning playgrounds, and generally doing good.
Did I mention it was really fun too? I’m no painter, but I painted for hours. Kristine and I did a lot of sky work, while Diana painted a super-hero elephant. The sky is important in mural painting, theres a lot of it, and the chances of screwing up are slight. Kristine and I also did about an hour of fence scraping, less glamorous than mural painting, but it had to be done. I was impressed how the crayola blue fence brightened up the whole school.
Im proud to have been a part of Hands-on New York Day. So proud in fact that this Thursday evening Im going to Borough Hall in Brooklyn for orientation on becoming a full-fledged member on NYCares, the umbrella organization which Hands-On New York Day is a part. My little crew is excited to do more volunteering, and as members there is literally something going on every day, so finding a monthly project to work on shouldn’t be tough.
I’d like to thank everyone who made this day possible; Christian for all his hard work, Kristine and Diana for making the day even more special, and every other person who worked at Public School 94 on April 12, 2008.
Here we go again! I just booked another Negril trip! Woo Hoo! I did the cha-ching thing with the nice Air Jamaica gentleman last night around 9PM. I was going to wait till next week to book, but the fares plummeted in the last few days. EWR (Newark NJ) to MBJ (Sangster Montego Bay) round trip $276.00, you can’t beat that! It beats my best rate $306.00 back in ’04 by thirty bucks!
This trip is going to be a blast, (aren’t they all in thier own way?), my Dad, Vinny from Jersey, will be coming along for all the fun and frivolity this time. It’s his first time to Jamaica, but he’s been to the Caribbean many times. Over the years I’ve brought back souveniers, so he does have some proper attire, at least one Red Stripe shirt, and a tye-dye.
Plans? Plans? Of course I have plans. I used to plan each trip for hours at a sitting, but recently I realized, “I keep going back over and over, so why not continually plan, but in smaller chunks. Then just plug them is as needed.”
So on this trip the only real planning will be for my Big Blue Cave Castle Bashment. The Sunday after we arrive we’re having sunset cookout at the Castle. I’m thinking, BBQ, beer, rum, music and maybe a webcast if I can set-it up with Rob @ RealNegril.com. I’m not sure who will be in town, but we should be able to round up a crowd.
By the way, you’re all invited.
We’ll do a few day trips of course. My Dad will love a Black River Safari with Rasta George, and then on to Appleton Estates for the rum tour. It’s corny, but I like it. A detour to The Pelican Bar is possible too. I’ve heard a lot about the place, but I’ve only seen it in pictures. Then there’s snorkeling, bar hopping and possibly a fishing trip with Captain Rob.
My Dad is with me for the first week and then I’m solo for the remainder. There’s nothing like it, two weeks at the Blue Cave Castle overlooking the hopefully placid Caribbean Sea.
I can’t wait, its just on the other side of September…
Last Sunday morning I found myself alone at a railroad siding waiting to hop the train into Philly. I was a good ten minutes early, so I sat near the tracks, leaned back and closed my eyes.
When I was a kid Peter O’Malley and I would make day long explorations to the frontier of our world. We would ride our bikes back behind the Tingley Rubber factory, the hilarity of the name lost on our twelve year old experience, for us this was the height of reckless adventure, though actually, we were only a few miles from home.
Cutting a swath a few hundred feet wide through the woods were high tension wires that seemed to go on forever, maybe even as far as Route 1, I don’t think we ever went far enough to find out, we usually stopped near some train tracks.
We’d sit at the road-less crossroads looking up and down the tracks and weâ€™d argue as to where the tracks led. Peter, always a bit more grounded in reality than I, would say, “Up there (North) is Iselin and down there (South) is Trenton.â€ Me, on the other hand, would conjure up names like Tuxedo, New York or Bel-Aire, Maryland, claiming I knew better since my Grandfather worked these rails â€œbefore the War.â€ I probably didnâ€™t know what â€œbefore the Warâ€ really meant, and maybe not evenÂ sure what war I was even referring to.
It might have beenÂ my enduring fascination withÂ maps. As a kid Iâ€™d lay out a map on the living room floor and look for distant magical destinations, like Nashua, New Hampshire, or Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (I only had a Northeast US map). Then Iâ€™d figure a route, calculate mileage, and read aboutÂ the places of interest on the back of the map, or Iâ€™d look them up in theÂ Funk & WagnallsÂ kept in the hallwayÂ bookcase.
Sometimes weâ€™d put pennies on the track, urban legend had it that the train would stretch and flatten them into oval copper discs. Try as we might, the train never showed up, or if it did,Â it was so long we lacked the patience to wait for the caboose, so we never found out if the stories were true.
Shaken back to the present by a distant ambulance siren, I reached into my pocket to search for pennies; I had six.
Looking all around like an unpracticed criminal, I carefully placed the six pennies end to end in the center of theÂ rail, making sure to alternate between heads and tails.Â Moments later the train came into view, and for some reason I stepped away from the pennies as if to disassociate myself with them.
Late that afternoon I made my way back from Philly, and Iâ€™d forgotten all about the pennies until the conductor shouted, â€œCrestmont Next Stop!â€
I stepped from the train and nonchalantly walked away from theÂ platform, just in case the railroad police put out an All Points Bulletin: Be on the lookout for a stealthy criminal penny layer, chances likely perpetrator will return to the crime scene.
I waited tillÂ the train was out of sight, and when the coast was clearÂ I turned around to search for my pennies in the rail bed. They werenâ€™t where I left them, but about eight to ten feet away I saw something shiny, and one by one I found all six flattened copper oval discs, almost featureless with faint penny markings.
I felt like a little kid again, and all the way home I turned the coins every which way with an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment.
All this week Iâ€™ve carried the former coins in my pocket and I discovered I wasnâ€™t the only one who thought they were cool. Every guy I showed them to was impressed; it wasÂ a universal male reaction. Older guys, younger guys, black guys, white guys, Spanish guys, skinny guys, fat guys, even Phil, a drunk guy; everyone got it! They would ask to hold one and look at it in wonder as I told my story.Â
I also showed them to several women, they didn’t get it. They justÂ looked at me with a blank expressions and asked,Â â€œWhy the hell would you do that?â€
My daughter Kristine was born twenty years ago today! WOW!
I remember like it was yesterday! Meeting Kris for the first time, I knew right away she was cool! Her mom was there too, making a lot of noise if I remember correctly, but I did most of the work. It’s stressful in them delivery rooms!
I have to admit to getting a bit misty looking through her photos, I think I feel an ode coming on!
Kristine’s Twentieth Birthday Ode
O’ Kristine, O’ Kristine
O’ How I love thee
You looked like this when you were about three
Once such a cutie
You’ve grown into a beauty!
You play, You sing, You dance
OK, and occasionally you prance
Your look has changed year by year
But there were no facial piercings for Dad to fear
You work so hard, and you play the same
It amazes me how you win your game! Although below you’re looking a tad bit lame, but I don’t mean to flame
So take today and try to chill,
I send you my love, my heart it does fill
Just think, in six months we’ll be back in Negril!!