The room was trying to spin I noticed. Somewhere I had heard that if I focused my eyes on one point while spinning, I wouldn’t become dizzy. In all of my years of battling a spinning room, the only thing that has beat it is water, time, and Rally’s–or some combination thereof. The night was certainly beautiful though. You could make out the faintest shadows of the homes I had passed on the way into the hotel, some creatively lit with what seemed to be improvised lighting or straight up barrel fires. I had always been reared to be resourceful, but in the face of the Jamaican population who were forming a reputation with me as hustlers and gamers, my attempts to figure out “making it” seemed feeble. I sparked up a conversation with a couple ladies behind me who were cousins and frequent travelers by the sounds of it. They were black and had attractive and complementary features, dreads, and overall happy demeanors. They had come to Jamaica many times they told me and that this particular Margaritaville wasn’t like cookie-cutter party experiences I was brooding over. It was a more of a club that both visitors to Jamaica and locals frequented because it was good, independent of the brand. I contended that I’d have to see it to believe it.
When we got out of the bus, our driver pointed us in the direction of the Margaritaville and we were on our way. The line snaked out of the club midway down the block, full of people in various shades of “Aloha” tourist apparel and thot-couture. Outside of Margaritaville, there was a number of street vendors that formed a sort of bazaar market featuring a range of goods from jewelry, paintings, and the like. The air was a smoky, savory, and salty swirl of jerk chicken on the many grills of the various street vendors and the nearby ocean. This all seemed to be a common, yet welcomed experience, not all too different from a place like Frenchmen Street back in New Orleans.
My base perception of Margaritaville was that it was a sordid fusion of Applebee’s and a Daiquiri Shop, featuring none of the strength of either establishment. It’s where your aunt goes to feel sassy over marginally spiked drinks, randomly grinding on things while your uncle buries his head into his cobb salad. Once inside, I quickly realized that this Margaritaville wasn’t like any of the others that I had visited. The music was blasting Pitbull or something, incomprehensible yet catchy, neats vibrating through my shoulders. I felt myself walking in slowly, like a 90s BadBoy video, the lasers and lights, smoke and…smoke. There was a stage where a DJ was spinning and hyping the club up, deftly switching between various tunes and what I later found out was some tracks from up-and-coming locals as well. It was like the dance scene in The Matrix Reloaded. Just a mass of bodies looking like rhythmic, sweaty clay-doh. I eventually made my way over to the bar on the far end of the 1st level to grab a Red Stripe. Beer in hand, the night could begin…er…continue. The Margaritaville Montego Bay experience was every single club experience I’ve ever had: grab drinks, dance (badly) with strangers, get annoyed that the DJ has no sense of flow, gain a number, lose a number, lose friends, find friends, become very ready to go, marginally escape fighting, and then somehow wake up in my bed hungover the next morning. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Somewhere between finding my group and becoming hungover, I tried to avoid the latter by grabbing some food. 12 am became 3 am before I could blink. The complimentary bus back to the resort would be returning for its final pickup at 3:15 am and I wanted to make sure I was on it and had some grub. Once my family and new friends were accounted for, I bee-lined towards the nearest jerk grill. Just as I was starting to chat with the grillmaster I initially spotted, I was intercepted by what I’m starting to gather is an integral part of the Jamaican grey economy: “the scout”. In this case, the scout didn’t cook the jerk but he did work with a particular street cook to net marks like myself. He shook my hand without introducing himself, made eye contact and asked me if I wanted the “true, real Jamaican jerk chicken” and moved to pull me away. I had a moment of confusion and a failing inhibition to prevent me from going with strangers, but the prospect of “true, real Jamaican jerk chicken” sounded better than plain ole “real jerk chicken in Jamaica”. PotaTOES are sometimes different from poTAtoes–especially if you’ve been drinking. The grillmaster with whom I’d began negotiations didn’t seem pleased about the actions of the scout and after a brief exchange of verbal gibberish that I’m going to translate as “get away, you’re stealing my business”, they got into a brief physical row and without warning settled things just as quickly as they had began.
I got my plate and examined the contents quickly: two piping hot grilled leg quarters, jerk sauce generously applied, and a large slice of hardo bread. I gave the grillmaster a 5 spot and had a couple bucks left over. The scout, who now stuck to me closely, began to ask for compensation for holding me up and walking with me 20 feet from Margaritaville. “Why don’t you take care of me”, he asked me slyly as we walked back to the bus. People were starting to pile in and I didn’t want to get left behind. “You didn’t do anything but walk with me up the hill”, I countered. “I protect ya”, he protested. “I get ya the real, true jerk chicken!” Not being one for the games (and I intended to tip him anyway), I gave him a few loose dollars I had and jumped on the bus. He said, “respect” before we pulled off, pocketed the money, and latched onto another loose visitor.