You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy™
Bonnie the Bonnet.
“Where’s my hat?,” girlfriend shrieks.
Her words slam my skull like the final scene in Thelma and Louise where the convertible plummets over the cliff into oblivion.
I look at her. Her eyes are wide, her face contorted into a stew of concern.
My eyes sweep up her lips, to her nose, past her eye brows, to her scalp.
Her long hair, stylistically blown out for the trip, is uncovered, free, sans hat.
Alarm bells fill my brain.
“We left it on the plane,” she says as the reality of our mistake sinks in.
I feel a heaviness in my chest. It was my job to pull her new wide rimmed hat with the decorative floral pattern out of the overhead bin upon arrival.
One job. Open hatch. Collect hat. I blew it.
“Oh Shit!,” I say out loud, as people with Tommy Bahama shirts and sandals stroll by me in the Nassau Bahamas Airport.
I gaze at the advertising posters illuminated by incandescent amplitude lining the wall before me. There are images of dolphins smiling in aqua green seas. There are pictures of Atlantis, a beachside Disney Land where families come by the plane load. There are palm trees waving at a smiling sun.
“My new hat,” She says despondently. “We left it on the plane.”
The sadness in her voice is inconsistent with the happieness that swirls around us. From overhead the sound of steel drums rains down upon us like a gentle auditory mist. Beyond the hallway, the sun shines through the windows, in a tropical sky full of invitation.
Before me is a poster of the famous swimming pigs of the Exumas. The creature is snout deep in water so clear, I can see the wild pork’s hoofs propelling it through the waves.
I will come to learn that this island chain, Big Major Cay, is uninhabited and the pigs were marooned by pirates that most assuredly intended to make them into bacon sandwiches. What happened to the swashbucklers is not known. But history will now document a colony of swimming pigs, wild, happy, without eye patches or fear of the skillet. They swim aimlessly in the surf, like pork porpoises. They are, if nothing else, a major tourist attraction.
The imagery in this airport hallway is full of tropical promise. Sadly, there is a storm brewing as Girlfriend’s face reminds me of her loss.
“I can’t believe we left it on the plane. I loved that hat,” she says with a frown, her shoulders slumped ever so slightly. “I went to 3 department stores to find it. It was the last one.”
As we stand there on the precipice of a tropical get-a-way, I feel a surge of indecision. Should we go back, against the tide of humanity spilling off the Delta Flight? Should we push against the current of immigration, like human salmon, hoping to force ourselves back onto the plane.
“Anyone find a flowered hat?” I could yell at the Bahamian plane cleaners.
The moment comes and goes.
“I’m so sorry,” I say picking up the handle of my roller bag. “It’s my fault. I didn’t see it. It must have fallen behind the other bags. I’m sure the resort has a hat store.”
My words are comforting to no one.
We trudge forward toward customs. This is not how I envisioned a birthday weekend in the tropics to begin.
HOW DO YOU MISS A BRIGHTLY COLORED FLORAL HAT IN AN OVERHEAD BIN?
The thought will consume my thoughts for the next few minutes.
The customs area is a contradiction of imagery. A steel band plays happy Calypso songs in the corner. The space is filled with advertisements for snorkeling with sharks, deep sea fishing, jumping marlins and pina colada drinks stuffed high with pineapples.
And then there is the serpentine line of mystery. Ominous signs that warn passengers not to take photographs of customs officials. Warnings of passport documentation and notifications not to try and bring mad cow disease into the country.
My immediate thought is the line has a chaotic rhythm that is at the very least, quite Un-American.
It’s been a while since I have been out of the USA. I am use to angry, uninterested TSA inspectors. But ahead? I am not sure.
My thoughts turn to my passport and trying to look like a tourist and not a terrorist.
We step forward. A Bahamian lady with a stern face stares at her screen without making eye contact.
We both smile and play the part of the insouciant American tourists ready to get our drink on.
“Passports,” she says with no emotion.
We hand her our documents and she hits some buttons.
“What is your purpose here?,” she says still staring at her screen.
“Vacation,” Girlfriend says with a smile that is one part theatrical and one part genuine enthusiasm.
The customs officials looks up from her screen and her cold impersonal face melts into a beautiful smile.
“Then you’ve come to the right place. Welcome to the Bahamas.”
“You’re my first,” I say with a grin.
She stares at me curiously.
I hand her my virgin passport. I have no stamps yet. “You are my first stamp.”
She opens the page and with precision, she stamps the Bahamian stamp onto my virgin page.
And with that welcoming, toothy grin, an adventure onto the friendliest place on Earth commences.
As we get into the taxi headed for the Hyatt BahaMar, Girlfriend sighs deeply. “Maybe we can call the airport and ask if they found anything.”
“Sure. We can do that,” I say, intently staring out the window.
The island was once a British Colony, that became an independent Commonwealth in 1973. The Island is predicated upon tourism dollars in a country fueled by beautiful beaches, and smiling people who speak a hypnotic language known as Bahamian Creole. It is one part Jamaican cool coupled with the King’s English of proper diction.
The island is as far from home as it can be. The taxi driver is seated on the right hand side of the van. He is driving on the left hand side of the road. This is very obvious as he merges wildly into a figure eight round-a-bout on the wrong side of the road. Apparently this is an island without stop signs.
As a misting of tropical raindrops splatter the windshield, I remember that Bonnie the Bonnet is gone.
How the hell did I forget it?, I ruminate. I watch intently as brightly colored taxis muscle for position in the round-a-bout, like a mechanized horse race driven by jockeys in fluorescent silks.
I imagine the cleaning crew on Delta each trying on the big flowered hat in front of the mirror in the women’s locker room.
In the thickest Bahamian Creole, the tarmac worker says; “Hey girl. Don’t that hat look beautiful?”
It’s Girlfriend’s birthday weekend and this trip is suppose to be special. And before it has even begun, I’ve lost her newest, favorite beach hat.
I let the thought of the lost bonnet disappear into the dark matter as the long driveway lined with palm trees fills my eyes.
The Hyatt property is a massive edifice of tropical sophistication. It is one part Vegas casino, one part tiki bar, one part pina colada hut intertwined with waterfalls and multiple 4 star dining experience.
BahaMar was recently featured on the REAL HOUSEWIVES OF BEVERLY HILLS.
I think it’s part of the reason that we, and perhaps other Americans, are here. I believe this globally televised adulteration of avarice is the reason we are at this tropical oasis and not a similar local in Aruba, the D.R. or Jamaica.
We enter the capatious lobby brightly adorned with modern lighting and ping pong table sized fish tanks behind the counter.
We are met by a smiling host. His face beams welcome. He is the poster child for vacation paradise.
“Welcome to BahaMar,” he says, his mouth full of teeth lighting the fuse to my enthusiasm for a good time.
“We are checking in,” Girlfriend says, the thought of her missing hat still lingering in her thoughts.
“Welcome,” the manager beams. “Good Afternoon.”
The check in is a breeze as we navigate to our room. The middle of the main lobby is a casino. If you didn’t know that a tropical zephyr awaited you outside this cavernous room, you’d swear you were at Caesars Palace in Vegas.
We get to the elevators that are bathed in a spectacular blue light. The mirror is a crinkled tin foil like illusion that makes you think you are traveling under a spectacularly illuminated ocean where sea turtles serve Mai Tai’s on their backs.
Our room is modern and sleek. The shower is all glass and large enough for a small Bahamian choir to serenade me while I wash behind my ears.
The view from the balcony is splendid. It is blue green water filled with jet skis and the occasional cruise ship meandering toward the horizon.
With bathing suits on, we head to the beach.
BahaMar is a tropical maze of palm trees and waterfalls and floral lined paths. The walkway is hardly a direct route as it undulates you in the general direction of your desires.
Every 20 feet or so, a Bahamian attendant stands at the ready to remind you that you are a guest in the happiest place on Earth.
“Good Afternoon,” a young Bahamian man says in a precisely British accent.
We didn’t ask for his help, but like West World Robots, these BahaMar employees sense when you are lost, when you need something, when you just need a friend.
“Hi,” I respond. “We’re looking for the beach.”
You would have thought I said, I want to give you free money. The young man’s face illuminates like a warm sunny day. His smile is golden brilliance as the setting sun reflects off the gold grill adorning his dentures. He looks like the front end of an 87 El Camino that has crashed into a gold bullion pile.
“You go straight, then hang a left at the palm tree, then a right at the waterfall.”
Only in the Bahamas do you hang a right at a waterfall. But in a world where Island Time is a real thing, hanging a right anywhere is a new adventure.
We will pass 5 more smiling BahaMar employees, each more happy than the previous attendant to make sure our every question is answered.
We make our way to the Daquiri Hut.
It is an open bar, with a thatched roof, and a brightly colored wooden Idol named JoBu who protects anything made with rum.
Bartholomew is our bar tender. He is a dark complected Island man with several gold teeth. I do not know why so many of the people we encounter here have grills and gold teeth, but it is quite common.
I also will quickly come to learn that Bahamians do not shout. They are a whispering people. Their enunciation is precise, and the amplitude of their voice a quiet, polite smile of words. The Bahamians are exactly what New Yorkers are not: Quiet.
As Bartholomew wipes his counter, he says good afternoon and asks us what we want. His words are a silent array of syllables lost in a breeze moving through the palm leaves over head. His creole accent is strong and communication in the hut is initially complex due to the steel drum sounds that emanate from the beach.
Bartholomew, like many of his island brothers and sisters is polite, friendly, and soft spoken. His words float past his lips in a puff of air pushed by his breath and the fan over head.
I find myself saying, “excuse me” on this trip, more times than a stumbling drunk in a New York City subway car.
Bartholomew blends a Mango infused Daquiri with 4 tropical rums with the artistic passion of Picasso with both ears.
Though he will create literally hundreds of blended drinks a day, he treats this icy cup of heaven as if it will be his last act on Earth before meeting God.
DisneyLand bills itself as the happiest place on Earth. But it only takes me a few minutes on this shiny island to realize that compared to BahaMar, Disney land is where Satan goes to sharpen his claws.
“Did you meet the Real Housewives when they were here?,” I ask Bartholomew.
“Yes, mon.” He smiles sheepishly. I can tell he has a story to tell.
I am intrigued, my soul filling with questions and invisible laughter. “Were they nice, or were they stuck up witches?”
My question makes him laugh, his gold tooth sparkling in the waning sunlight beyond.
“They were stuck up witches,” he whispers, his words floating about the hut, pushed beyond my ears by the dueling fans on either side of the Daiquiri hut.
I burst out laughing. “Stuck up Witches!” I turn to girlfriend behind me. “You hear that?”
She is smiling. So is the couple behind us.
I turn back to the bartender. “But you know what, Bartholomew. That’s probably the reason we’re in this line right now ordering Mango Daquiri’s. So those witches were good for business.”
He smiles and nods as a woman in line chirps in. “I saw that show. That’s the reason we came.”
I turn to her man who has been silent up to this point.
“It’s the reason we’re here dude. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”
Everyone in the Daquiri Hut smiles as Island Happiness swirls around us.
As the sun sets on the beach without a wave, we walk the docks. We sit on the edge of the pier and stare at the turquoise water. From nowhere, 3 manta rays skim across the surface of the calm water, then launch themselves into the air.
I’ve never seen a manta ray sail out of the water before. Porpoise, yes. Flying fish, yes. A marlin, Yes. But manta rays?
It’s as if they wanted to touch the sun, to fill their gills with the happy, sun crested, steel drum vibe that drips across the invisible spectrum of this place.
I dive off the dock and let the cool water wash over me. It’s wet, but it is something more. It’s as if my pours are filled with color, massaged by a rainbow of relaxing liquid.
I pop up and wipe the salt from my eyes. The air is moist and wonderful. I look at girlfriend on the dock, 7 feet above me. She is smiling, happy, her hair dancing across her shoulders. All around her is a pink and blue hue of the Earth sailing into the evening sky.
“How is it?,” she queries.
The first thought that enters my brain? “It’s refreshing.”
We will celebrate her birthday in a restaurant called the Swimming Pig. The wait staff will sing happy birthday in a Bahamian Creole Dialect so thick, it is like hearing the song for the first time.
Girlfriend blows out the candles on her cake. She is happy, beaming a toothy smile without any gold grill.
We will eat, drink and be merry for the next 3 days.
We will bet on baseball games and watch the Wimbledon Finals. We win at blackjack and talk to every single BahaMar employee who says good morning, good afternoon or good night to us.
We smoke cigars at Justin Timberlake and Tiger Woods’ cigar bar. We watch the fire erupt through the pool in the court yard as couples scramble to the pool’s edge to take selfies before the fire subsides for another undetermined amount of time.
We will sit on lounge chairs, our feet practically in the surf and watch the moon float across a tropical night sky.
In the background, a beach wedding comes to a close, but not before the DJ plays Frank Sinatra’s New York New York.
How odd? How wonderful.
Everything on this island paradise is notable.
The bacon is saltier, the Bloody Mary’s bloodier, the Daquiri’s more flavorful.
Every attendant is a hello, a handshake, a smile just waiting to happen.
And before you know it, the vacation is over. That moment when you pull open every drawer, throw back the covers, check the bathroom for a toothbrush or nail file that you might have forgot to pack.
The ride back to the airport is another figure eight death ride on the wrong side of the road. Another cab driver, who is either part pirate or reformed convict regails us with stories from the other side of the island, the place tourists do not see.
I tell him how wonderfully polite his people are.
He tells me that children are raised to say good morning, good afternoon, good night. If they don’t he says, they are beaten.
It is an interesting dynamic he presents.
Be polite….Or else.
We enter the airport and pass through a series of customs checks.
We enter a zone where U.S. Customs officials talk to us.
They are polite but nobody is flashing a smile with a gold gleam.
We are 2 hours early for our flight.
We browse the shops and the T-shirt hut in the middle of the terminal.
We go to the gate and take our seats.
On my way back from the bathroom, I see girlfriend at the counter. She is talking to a dark skinned Bahamian man who pulls out his radio.
Girlfriend sits down with a sense of anticipation.
“What’s going on?,” I ask.
She nods as the Bahamian man clicks on his walkie-talkie.
“Yeah, Joe. It’s a Grey and White Flower hat!”
I feel a surge of enthusiasm.
“You really asked them if they found your hat?”
“We had time to kill and I figured, why not?” She is bubbly. Seated on the edge of her plastic seat.
I study the dark skinned knight in shining armor, holding the walkie-talkie, doing his good deed. Could this fine gentlemen with the single gold tooth, save the day?
“You found it?” the man says clicking on the radio. “OK, bring it up to gate 42 C,” he says, his voice thick with Bahamian optimism.
He looks to us and I hug him with my eyes.
“You sir have capped off an unbelievably wonderful birthday weekend.”
I turn to girlfriend. She is a tanned face of glistening white teeth smiling.
If she could buy a grill at the terminal gift shop and display her 14 karat happiness, I believe she would.
“Only in the Bahamas could you leave a hat on a Delta aircraft and 3 days later get it back from the airport lost and found.
You think that would happen in Los Angeles?
The cleaning crew would have hijacked Bonnie Bonnet and sold her for crack at 78th and Slauson.
You think the mutton chops at O’Hare would’ve taken the time to take a hat to lost and found? They’d have flushed Bonnie Bonnet down the commode forcing an emergency landing in Detroit.
Just then, an airport worker with a beaming smile approaches. She is clutching a stack of questionaires.
“Would you mind filling out a survey about your visit?”
Again, only in the Bahamas would you be approached by a friendly person asking you about your trip to a country in hopes that whatever fraction of bad you may have encountered could be rectified for the next visitor.
We begin answering questions. Some are normal like, Why are you here? Vacation? Business? Wedding?
But some questions are strictly Bahamian nice. Rate the beauty of the sunset on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being ethereal breathtaking.
I of course circled ten.
Were the beach salesmen too pushy? Was the rum to your liking? Can we paint the sunset a different shade of orange?
The questions are enjoyable to answer.
Just then, Joe the lost and found attendant returns to the gate with Bonnie Bonnet.
Girlfriend’s smile bursts through her face.
She places the hat, still in show room condition on her head and models it proudly for everyone in our row.
The hat is pristine. No salt. No sun exposure. No blender mishaps to wipe away. It’s as if she just purchased it from Macy’s.
I extended my hand to Joe. I place a $5 bill in his hand.
He doesn’t want to take it at first.
“Take it, dude. You capped a perfect weekend by finding that hat. Unbelievable, man. Simply unbelievable.”
He takes the $5 and smiles a gold flash of island wonderment.
In his head, he probably is wondering what all the fuss is about.
This is the Bahamas mon. Of course, we’re going to put a lost and found item in the lost and found. It’s all good, Brah. It’ll be here safe and sound when you return.
But to this cynical American, this is like the moment Dorothy opens her front door and the brilliance that is the Yellow Brick Road spills into the doorway transforming the film in the 2nd act into colorized bursts of grandeur.
Girlfriend’s smile is a golden sunset, accentuated by a free Daiquiri with an extra shot of Captain Morgan’s Rum.
Somewhere in the distance I hear the tinkle of a steel drum, the splash of a swimming pig, the gentle whisper of Bahamian laughter floating through the leaves of a forever swaying palm.
The Happiest Place on Earth!