The bartender had been playing coy with the shots of Appleton Rum and I felt myself growing increasingly annoyed when I crash landed into a conversation with a couple Jamaican-British blokes about universal pan-African behavior and Idris Elba. After some mild whining about the cocktail strength, I convinced the bartender to make me something she’d personally drink—you know, when she wasn’t pregnant. What she came up with was a blue curacao Long Island that had a reputation among the locals and a special name that she refused to share. I saw giggling from her co-workers as I began to drink her concoction, but I couldn’t be bothered with their innuendo and inside-joking. The drink was too good! After a few sips, I realized that the Appleton had crept into my blood easy and smooth like summer mosquitoes. I was buzzed. Leaning into our conversation, I asked the two Brits what they thought of Idris Elba, partially because they were Black, but more because they spoke in the same Cockney accent.
For a while now, I had always seen Idris Elba as the epitome of cool in and out of his life as an actor and projected a certain je ne sais quoi on him that distinguished him as worldly, wise, and woke. His countrymen didn’t feel the same. “Fuck Idris” snarled Deon dismissively, an East London driver with the build and charming swagger of Baloo the Bear whose booming, raspy voice tended to fill every inch of the bar. His Idris vitriol caught me off guard because I expected him to view the star in much the same way I did. In chorus, Connor, an equally urbane East Londoner with creole features and the stout build of a wrestler, cursed Idris Elba and continued on with an explanation as to why.
At some point, Conner had actually come within dapping distance of Idris. Like most hoods, the people who escape them are held up in high, near-legendary regard. Idris Elba’s relationship to his native community of Hackney is reportedly no different (recall the casting flap when he invited the whole of Hackney to be extras in a film and had to turn people away because everybody came). Being from Hackney, Conner felt as sort of kinship with Idris Elba that went beyond class, beyond celebrity decorum. From Conner’s perspective, they were “Brev’ren”–London slang for close friends or acquaintances much like the word “fam” is used in America. “When I called to ‘em yeah, he looks at me like ‘who is this motherfucker’ and has his guard step to me”, said Conner, gulping down his drink. “I thought he was me brev’ren yeah. We’re from the ghetto. The same hood! Since then, I’ve been like ‘Fuck Idris’”. I laughed and told him I had a similar encounter with Levar Burton before a Star Trek panel back in ‘13 and that I understood his frustration. He didn’t know who Levar Burton was.
After our bout of European-style endless drinking, I needed to sober up but was out of good options. There were burgers but, who goes to Jamaica for that? Earlier that day when I arrived, I did my best to eat my life’s worth of missed meals in jerk chicken and wanted more. On the streets in Jamaica, unlike in New Orleans where it’s served with rice & peas and plantains, the jerk is simpler, more efficiently served: a jerk leg-quarter and “hardo bread”—a thickly sliced, mildly sweet, dense “hard dough” bread. In the end, I settled for water. The bartender who served me was smug-eyed after taking her tip, her lips turned wry as she dryly asked me if I had enough. Conceding, I told her that I might have had too much. She then told me that the locals’ name for the blue drink, rather appropriately, was a “Stupid Motherfucker” and walked off with a hand full of now crumpled cash. The pettiness and the drink were killing me.
Leaving the bar, I took note of my surroundings and walked towards the beach and the apparent abyss that lay beyond it. I removed my shoes and let myself feel the grit and presence of the crispy sand beneath my feet as I waddled over to and plopped down—these days I plop—onto a deck chair. I felt a smile sneak across my face as I let the realization of being in Jamaica and my buzz wash over me. The air was a salty soup—thick, hot, and familiar like New Orleans, where the humidity grips you and holds close like your body’s own flesh. Jamaica is the same. Resonating all throughout the compound was the distinct, harmonic and mechanic chirp-croak of the Jamaican tree frogs. Like cicadas, you tend to hear them in the evening, their songs metronomic and mesmeric. As I listened to them, I was forced inward, feeling hpthe stillness of the deep night swoop down on me. Hushed, I heard the waves. At the same time, my eyes adjusted to the darkness and I saw it: Stretched out before me shimmering under the light of the full moon was the entirety of the Atlantic Ocean, imposing, majestic, and absolute. It was the same ocean of my youth, of my ancestors; the same ocean that connected me to the Jamaicans and to the Brits alike. It would be there much longer than my buzz, my trip, indeed, us all. “This”, I thought. “This!”.
Throughout Jamaica at night, you can hear the chirp-croak of the Jamaican Tree Frog. Sounds kind of like a robotic bird.
After some time of taking in the ocean, I got wind from a young couple that there was a shuttle bus taking off to bring guests down to Margaritaville. I was chilled out enough to want to stay put where I was on the beach, but buzzed and amped up from the day’s adventure that I didn’t want it to end. I wasn’t too sure that I wanted to keep things going at Margaritaville either. All I could think about the scores of obscenely drunk people in the French Quarter drooling over how much they loved Margaritaville and “all of the color” and how I didn’t want to be that. But my feet were firmly on the bus by the time I had given it too much thought. Deon, Connor, and a few of my folks were already on the bus by the time I got on, so apparently, they had gotten the memo too. Everyone was pretty pumped, chatting lively amongst themselves. There was an electric quality to the air that you could grip with both hands. I sauntered past the first few rows, found my way to a seat near the center left side of the bus and burrowed into the seat. Once situated, I tried to get a sense of things, the people around me, my surroundings, escape routes and so on, like Jason Bourne, only if Bourne was shitty at being a spy and out of shape. We might be getting kidnapped I let my mind wander, but rationalized that these imaginary criminals would be going to unusual lengths and expending lots of resources to squeeze a group of budget-conscious travelers. We weren’t worth the trouble I concluded.