Our cabbie took off from the airport without asking us where to go. Nicky was slightly concerned, but I reassured her that everything was cool. He was obviously engrossed in the middle of an important phone call. I tried to put together what he was saying, but it was a combination of English and Bahamanian Creole.
After driving about five minutes the driver put his call on hold. He turned around and apologized to us, before he asked for our intended destination. I blurted out, "Atlantis. Coral Towers."
He nodded and repeated what I said before he quickly returned to his call. His conversation lasted for only a couple of more minutes.
"My bookie," he tried to explain, which he didn't have to.
I really didn't give two shits. I'm the last passenger on the island that would want to disrupt a transaction between a man and his bookie.
"I wanted Pick 4 tickets," he said as he passed a slow moving pickup. "Florida and New York."
Wow, a lottery degenerate. That's hardcore. I didn't ask if he wanted an actual ticket or if this was some sort of side action, like the mob running numbers back in the old neighborhood. Somethings in life I don't want to know about.
The cabbie pulled into Atlantis and I tipped him fairly decent, enough that he tried to sell me a bag of blow. I politely declined. Do you know the six words that aptly describes cocaine from the Caribbean? Clumps together, but only cut once.
* * * *
It's hard to be anything but a tourist in a place like Atlantis.
I pride myself on being a traveler, and not one of those gaudy tourists in floral print shirts clashing against their pinkish sunburned skin sipping tropical drinks while carrying around a mass market paperback. It is nearly impossible to blend in with the locals in the Bahamas. If anything, I feel like a parasite contributing to the downfall of modern society perpetuating neo-colonialism. The capitalist inside my head reminds me that hundreds if not thousands of Bahamanians would be without jobs if this monstrosity of a beach resort was not constructed on a small patch of coral and sand.
In many ways, the island's original name of Hog Island seems more appropriate than it's re-branded name of Paradise Island. Paradise seems elusive when you're paying $25 for a cheeseburger. I feel more like a hog rooting around in its own feces than someone in search of spiritual revitalization. I blame David Foster Wallace's remarkable essay about his experience on a cruise ship for ruining whatever fun I should be having. DFW made me question the stark fact that most vacation destinations are by definition gaudy and would be a hell of a lot better if tourists were not even there. I can't help but wonder what the island would look like without the resort -- I imagined only two shacks sprinkled along the beach, one that only sells conch and the other that had bottles of Kalik, the local brew, sitting in semi-lukewarm buckets of water.
When I took a long stroll on the beach with my girlfriend, I tried to imagine that we were all alone, just the two of us, feet sinking into the moist white sand with every step and dodging the run off of the waves. That illusion only lasted for a few fleeting moments before reality returned and I felt sorry for the lifeguard, who resembled a sherpa bundled up in a wool hat and several layers of clothing. He didn't look like someone ready to dart into the water and rescue a tourist from a shark attack. Then again, no one was actually swimming in the water because it was too cold and way to windy. The lifeguard's biggest challenge was avoiding frostbite.
* * * *
The flavor of the Bahamas ran up my nose when I unpacked my bag and caught a whiff of my dirty clothes. If you ever want a quick and last memory of a vacation spot, just quickly inhale your clothes as soon as you unpack them. They will smell like the last place you were when you wore or packed them. In this case, my clothes smelled like the Atlantis resort, moreover a combination of the beach and whatever air freshner the maids sprayed in the room. The Atlantis aroma is unique unto itself. It came back the moment I stepped into the sprawling monstrosity of a complex.
The last time I visited the Bahamas, I was in the middle of a work assignment and didn't really have time to enjoy fun in the sun, spending most of my time in a room watching poker players and spending my nights binge drinking Kaliks, the local beer, at the lobby bar with other members of the media, an eclectic hodgepodge of Canadians, Brits, Americans, Germans, and one giddy Frenchman.
On the current sojourn, my poison switched from Kalik to the Bahama Mama, a pink and fruity flavorful mixture of juices and rum. The secret of the concoction was that you couldn't taste any of the booze. The good barkeeps unleashed a heavy pour and you'd ingest at least three or four shots of rum with every cocktail. Some drinks with skimpy rum shots were heavily diluted with punch, but those were few and far between and sometimes welcomed because a weak fruity cocktail would slow down the booze intake. It was like easing off the breaks without actually easing off the breaks.
Pink and blue cocktails were the rage in the Bahamas. No one frowned upon you if you consumed seven or seventeen. In fact, considering the amount of booze in them, the drinks were the cheapest item at the Atlantis. Food cost an abysmal amount of money considering they also slapped you with a mandatory 15% service fee charge, which means they already got paid for the lackadaisical "island time" service that made European cafe waitresses look liked speed addicts. But for an overpriced resort, the drinks were fair market price. Cocktails at trendy lounges in LA, meat market clubs in Vegas, and hipster bars in NYC were priced much higher than those we consumed in the Bahamas. Booze was so freaking cheap in the islands that even at their inflated rates, we still got a bargain.
And that's why rum is evil.
Well, one of the many reasons. Delectable fruit-inspired cocktails with catchy names like Bahama Mama and Rum Runners go down so smooth because you can't taste the main ingredient...lots of rum. After the fourth cocktail everything went blurry and you spoke gibberish for three hours, then blacked out and woke up three hours later fully clothed with a pounding headache, cotton mouth, and a rum-induced sweat seeping through all of your clothes as your pores spewed every sip of rum that you consumed in the previous twelve hours.
Then you get up and do it all over again.
Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas.