Bahamas Culture: En Route to a Cigar Factory

“Attention incoming passengers, if Patricia Hodapp is in the customs area will she please identify herself. Attention passengers, Patricia Hodapp, kindly come forward.”

My attention, hovering somewhere between outer space and the grinning Nassau customs official, snapped to. Gulp. Was that my name they called? I’m nobody important, so either I was in trouble or in trouble. “ATTENTION PASSENGERS, WILL PATRICIA HODAPP PLEASE COME FORWARD.”

Oh Jesus.

A man with a megaphone parted the customs crowd of vacationing families and honeymooning couples. He found me, blushing, hand raised.

“Hello, ma’am,” (pronounced it MAM). “How are ya doing today? Please come with me, your ride is waiting for ya.”

I slunk past a glaring woman wearing a white shirt that screamed JUST MARRIED, and 40 more frustrated people behind her rolling their eyes. A smiling Bahamian woman strode forward, hand outstretched, to clasp my passport. “I’m with the tourist board, welcome to the Bahamas ma’am. I’ll take care of this ma’am, sit ya self down there,” she drawls, pointing to a wicker chair.

“Sure, take your time,” I choke, still shocked.

“Ma’am, never tell a Bahamian to take their time,” she laughs over her shoulder. “We already be on island time in da first place and nothing would ever get done.”

Ten minutes later I clenched my stamped passport and a complementary shot of coconut rum. Unfortunately, the tourism lady jumped the same JUST MARRIED bride at the bar to get me the shot. I sheepishly downed it, striking out again with bridezilla.

***

The tourism lady walked me through the heat to the car and to Vincent. Vincent drove me to Graycliff Cigar Factory, where I stayed for the weekend. And Vincent had an opinion about everything. From cursing out a cocky tourist who crashed his rented motorbike on a hairpin turn in front of us, to eloquent prose on why the U.S. was wasting time in Iraq, Vincent entertained my questions for the entire thirty minute drive.

Nassau is the Bahamas’ capital, located on New Providence island, one of the 700+ islands and islets in the Bahamas. Only 29 are inhabited, “so if we love you, we’ll give you one” he says, winking in the review mirror. Vincent visited all 700 islands via his 18-year service in the Bahamas Coast Guard. He policed drugs and illegal immigrants and finally retired after getting shot twice. But, he is blessed, he says, because he drives for his father’s car company and spends life with his wife and two sons.

Vincent is all one-liners and wisdom. According to him, the Bahamas have three seasons. Last summer, this summer and next summer. There are also three types of people in the world: people who watch things happen, people who make things happen, and people who wonder what happened. To bring back cuban cigars just remove the label, “it’s called smuggling.” And, with regards to the 2008 US ecomonic crash, “if the US sneezes, the Bahamas catch a cold. But when the US caught a cold [in 2008] the Bahamas caught pneumonia.” As we pass the cemetery where celebrity Anna Nicole Smith was buried in 2007, he points out the window and says, “She lived fast and died young mon, what a shame…what a shame.” He sings some old song about being a child of the universe.

Vincent tells me he frequently drives cool cats like Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage. “And now, I have you today. It’s a good day,” he says as he pulls my bag out of the car.

Read more about the owner of Graycliff: Smoke, Drink, Eat: Meet Enrico Garzaroli, Bahamas Cigar Aficionado

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