HARDBARNED! The Blog

Grouper, Goat Gristle and Bamboo Beach

Back in July, I spent a week in Florida scuba diving with my wife, and we were thrilled to see that most people were not from America. Hey, I like America as much as the next guy, but it’s nice to get a break from Americans sometimes. We had some free airline miles set to expire, so we figured we’d take a rare opportunity to vacate the premises.

Some days we did shore dives and explored the extensive reef systems, drifting along peacefully in the shallows with our floating dive buoy. On others we dove from a boat out at sea.

The highlight was coming face-to-face with a 500lb purple Goliath Grouper at the bow of a sunken research vessel at 110ft. That’s the last time we dive somewhere semi-exotic (compared to the cold, dark rock quarries we're accustomed to Down South, at least) without a decent underwater digital camera.

We met a cab driver from Haiti who hauled us and our gear to and from the marina multiple times so that we could dive a few wrecks and reefs that required a boat ride. We got along well, and he offered to give us a free ride wherever we wanted before we left town. We agreed, as long as he’d let us buy him dinner, so we asked him to take us to his favorite authentic Haitian restaurant.

Neither of us had ever experienced Haitian food, and we love to try international cuisine whenever possible. The fried chicken and stewed vegetables and salad were tasty, and though the goat stew was delicious, the meat had a lot of fat, bits of spinal column and gristle. We loved the black beans and fried plantains.

As the only white folks around, we were eyeballed by the regulars, but everyone was friendly and we enjoyed the meal, for the most part. Even our host wondered aloud why Haitian restaurants did not advertise; surely there were more non-Haitians who’d like to try the native cuisine. I’d try it again.

Another cabbie—this one a much less likeable person and native Floridian who drove us from the marina to our hotel—talked about how much he loved to watch television and lay around at the pool when he was on vacation.

Though we stayed a block from the beach, he couldn’t understand why we hadn’t used the pool instead of going to the ocean. He was flabbergasted at our revelation that we had not turned on our television once (though we did watch Man Vs. Food and Alien the night before we headed home).

This guy talked about how his wife was always trying to go to the beach and read books when he just wanted to watch TV and sit by the pool. Reading books on the beach with cold beverages was what took up most of our above-water time, as it turned out. This cabbie said, “I’m glad I’m not married to YOU two!” So were we.

We discovered an excellent Greek restaurant close to our motel and returned for their simple yet exquisite hummus. My wife considers herself a “hummus snob” because she makes it for us at home so often, and she was very impressed with the recipe at this place. Our friendly waiter brought me a couple of Mythos Greek lagers, which I enjoyed and found refreshing in the oppressive July heat.

Walking along the beach late one afternoon, we passed a drunken Russian fisherman named Andres who introduced himself and shared with us his whiskey from a plastic squeeze bottle. We made small talk, and I asked what he thought of the new Russian president Medvedev. In his thick Russian accent he proclaimed dismissively,

“IS PUPPET!”

At our parting, I shouted “Nostrovia!”

Andres gasped at me and said, “How you know this?”

“The Deer Hunter,” I said.

“Ah!” He nodded and smiled, miming a toast and taking another swig as we walked on.

Our motel room featured a full kitchen, and we walked to the grocery to avoid eating out for every meal. One day an older woman stopped us as we walked home, sweating in the heat with arms full of groceries, and insisted that we catch the free shuttle bus with her. Eager to help, she suggested we try a local bar known as the Bamboo Beach.

Bamboo Beach is a little Tiki Hut bar and restaurant right on the beach, the perfect spot for enjoying dinner and drinks at dusk, watching the ocean and watching the people, as it turned out. We liked it so much that we ate dinner there three nights in a row.

The first night, we had fried grouper with salads and French fries and were witness to the dramatic reunion of a large group of scantily clad lesbians, many of which were former lovers, all of which were loudly discussing the pros and cons of their past relationships with each other and reasons for their emotional breakups at volume levels well over the jukebox, which made our eavesdropping quite involuntary if not somewhat entertaining.

At a table near us sat two hulking bald men with Playboy-bunny, artificially enhanced girlfriends half their age. It was something like a bad reality television show, but without commercials.

The next night, we sat at the same table with excellent views of the ocean and the bar, and this time, instead of lesbians, seated in front of us at the bar, their backs to us, was a large group of obese southerners.

We were amazed again as one of the huge women sat on her husband’s busy hand, the two giants precariously spilling over their adjacent bar stools like the sloppy lounge lizards in Hunter Thompson’s take on Las Vegas, both engaged heavily in drunken conversation with patrons on the other side of the bar.

The outsized man was vigorously massaging his wife’s nether regions through her pink shorts from behind with one hand, calmly hoisting a Coors Light long-neck with his other as he appeared to be fully engaged with the ongoing bar chatter on the other side of the bar, apparently oblivious to the fact that we and everyone else seated at tables on his side of the bar were bearing witness to his quite public display of crotch fondling. She too belied no upper body language to reveal what was going on below the bar. Above board she was drinking and chatting with the rest of the crew.

The third night was truly special. We arrived at Bamboo Beach to a constant stream of Michael Jackson’s music, which neither of us minded much—we like many of his songs. It was certainly better than current top 40 or country, and we figured it was appropriate due to the recent and premature demise of the king of pop. We assumed our customary spots at our table, sipped our drinks and perused the menu, relaxed.

This time in the Lesbian Drama/Crotch Grabber bar stools sat a group of east-coast meatballs in their 30s with sleeveless shirts and flat-tops, accompanied by a tough guy in his 50s with his wife. They started arguing with the bartender in their tough-guy meatball east-coast accents. Another bartender got into the argument, and then various male servers headed over.

Soon the meatballs were chest bumping and f-bombing the entire male staff of the restaurant in what looked like a full-on brawl ready to happen. I kept hoping a Roadhouse-era Patrick Swayze character might appear with some jump kicks and uppercuts, but no such luck. The very small and very stylish manager arrived with big hair, gold bracelets, a hockey jersey, and several utterly enormous guys with backwards golf hats and gray goatees.

The glaring and the staring and the chest bumping and the threatening and the shouting got so close to our table that I had to move my chair in order to get out of the way of the rapidly expanding, surging ball of testosterone. Finally the meatballs gave up and were banished. Then we learned the genesis of the argument from our server.

Apparently distraught over the King of Pop's recent and untimely demise, these Jersey Boys had put $30 into the digital jukebox, loading it with several hours of nothing but Michael Jackson songs. They had proceeded to get wasted on a steady stream of draft beers.

Before we had arrived, many people had complained about the lack of musical variety and had actually left the restaurant, so the management had voided the musical selections on the hijacked jukebox and returned the stereo to a mix of musical styles. This had enraged the meatballs and started the conflict.

The drunken men had continually screamed about the “fuckin’ free-loaders” (patrons like us) who had been—from their perspectives—benefiting from the meatball contingent’s investment in the night’s soundtrack without being charged for it.

“He’s the greatest singuh whose evuh lived! Evuh!”

The older meatball leader continually pronounced aloud to nobody in particular.