When I was 17 years old I went to St Martin with dad and my stepmom, Debbie. Little did I know it at the time, but parts of that trip would define me for the rest of my life. We stayed in this incredible bungalow twenty feet off of the beach at this isolated resort called La Samanna on the French side of the island. We had rented this crappy little jeep that would take us up and down the deep and narrow mountain roads of St Martin. If you’ve ever met my father then you know he isn’t really a “tourist”, he’s a traveler. I think to some degree I’ve adopted this mentality. When he goes on a vacation he refuses to do touristy shit but instead chooses to enjoy what anyone from that place would enjoy. I think a trip to London and the English countryside at Christmas a year before to see Oxford, the Crown Jewels and many other sites might have been better titled, “Best Pubs of London”. When I was a little kid, he went alone on medical mission trips living on a sailboat in Honduras and hiked the Canadian Rockies by himself. But that is what I love about my father. He does what he loves and he doesn’t make excuses. He is truly unafraid. Unfortunately, for him, he had to compromise in St Martin for me and Debbie.
For some reason we landed in St Martin at night. I can still remember floating above the sparkly island as Debbie and I shared headphones and listened to Club Nouveau’s Jealousy and Billy Ocean’s Caribbean Queen. It was absolutely beautiful as we coasted to a stop and roosters and goats cleared the runway. This was back in the day before St Martin and many Caribbean islands became touristy. The night air was humid and thick and filled with mystery and intrigue. Coming off a week of preparation watching movies like The Deep and Romancing the Stone, I was sure we were in for an adventure.
That adventure began when our bags never arrived; they had never made it on the plane from Indianapolis. (This would later lead to a shopping extravaganza of the kind only found in the Vacation movies.) We checked in to our bungalow way past midnight, threw on the swimsuits we had stuffed into our backpacks and ran up to the pool situated by the main part of the hotel. For some reason I was allowed to drink on that trip, even though I was 17, and it was the first time I really drank “like an adult”, ordering drinks like beer and Sambuca. I’ll never forget all of us swimming that night, the stars overhead and feeling just a little bit buzzed. Later we all fell asleep on crisp, white linen sheets in our villa to the soft croon of the crash of waves literally feet from our door.
Our mornings were spent snorkeling and laying out. Lunches were tomato bisque soup overlooking the sea and afternoons were sunburned naps against those same sheets which now bit into our red skin. La Samanna was very quiet at night, perfect for my father but a little too quiet for the likes of me and Debbie who wanted to dance or find some trouble to get into.
One night my dad took us too a casino at a resort on the other side of town. I remember driving up to this golf coursed resort and feeling very bad for the people because they weren’t experiencing the “real” St Martin which included my stepmom getting stuck in a bathroom at a convenient store metal shanty, getting lost late at night on near jungle roads and chasing salamanders and wildlife into unknown places just so my dad could take another 100 pictures of his “little buddies”.
The casino was very dressy and even though we were dressed nice, we didn’t fit it. I remember a sign that said “Absolutely no thongs or flip flops”. Nonetheless, I felt like James Bond. We played roulette and I found out that I was pretty good. My parents knew I smoked by that age and Debbie and I stood at the table, ordering vodka tonics and smoking cigarettes. We didn’t feel cool…we knew we were cool! (Yes, I do realize at this point that this probably seems like the shittiest story to tell about parenting, but the reality is that my dad and stepmom were amazing parents. Whereas they didn’t censor about things like alcohol and sex and violence in movies, they strengthened in me a desire to live my life to the fullest, be kind to people, just have fun, contribute to the world and realize that you can live any life you really want to live. How freeing!)
Anyway, as Debbie and I stood there, my dad right behind me in the packed casino, he whispered in my ear, “Life’s short. Bet it all!” And so I did. And I won! What I didn’t realize was that he was pretty ready to go at this point. “Let it ride!” He yelled. And so I did. All on black.
As the ball rounded the wheel and in slow motion came to a stop…on red, I looked up and saw the coolest couple in the world come into the room. Now, have you ever met those people who are too much? I mean, when they walk in the room people literally clear their way. This couple had that. They were both deeply tanned and had wet hair, hers blonde and hanging inches past her breasts. His similar blonde hair waved naturally to the side. Her tight white dress clung to her body and hugged each inch perfectly while his button down white shirt hung confidently over his ripped blue jeans.
They both wore flip flops…
The couple casually sauntered over to the roulette table and the woman looked at me. “Cigarette?” She asked. I handed her a cigarette and the man lit it, only seconds before we walked away and this couple would only become vanishing shadows in my memory.
The next day we went on a catamaran trip to St Barts. To this day, if I could move to any one place and never come back it would be St Barts. Today it is a favorite travel spot for celebrities but back then it was little untouched. Little German hotels and bars dotted the small island. We had lunch at a place with three tables looking over a deep grotto and later snorkeled off of private beaches. On the boat ride home we sailed into the sun…literally. It sparkled off of the water and I sat at the helm, my feet hanging off of the end. My dad had recently bought the Paul Simon Graceland album(one of the greatest albums ever produced!) and I was listening to it on my Walkman. As I sat there, thinking about my mystery couple and wondering what they were doing, I listened to the song Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes over and over and over and over again. I imagined that the couple traveled the world on their sailboat, sleeping in the ports of different islands and chasing treasure from island to island. I imagined that whenever they entered a room that time stopped. I just knew they had exciting and adventurous lives. For me, the represented that life and to this day, whenever I hear that song, I still think about them and wonder where they are. Recently I got really sad when thinking that they were probably just on their honeymoon and they went back to Duluth where he was a bank manager and she sold insurance. Now their divorced and she spends her vacation in Minneapolis with her parents. Not exactly my dream life so I think I’ll stick with my original story. I like make believe anyway! This song, about one night when a poor boy falls in love with a rich girl who eventually falls in love with him, is a perfect example that anything, absolutely anything, is possible. It is the theme song for my life.
I had some amazing trips with my dad and my stepmom. I like to think those trips formed me into the person I am today! This one goes out to you two! Maybe just one more trip sometime!