It was mid-day and Dave Grohl was slamming back his third or fourth miniature and the boat hadn’t even left the dock.
At least, he said he was Dave Grohl – from Park City, Utah – as he introduced himself and his wife to the newlyweds seated next to them. For the third time. He looked a hard 50, with thinning, shoulder-length hair draped over his vintage Pearl Jam t-shirt that, when juxtaposed with a scattering of sunbaked tattoos, that added to an overall lack of mystique. My guess was that they really did hail from Park City, and that his name may have even been Dave Grohl, though he was the only one who seemed convinced that he had once laid down the backbeat as one-third of Nirvana.
He was most certainly drinking Fireball, though, and too much, too fast; the expression on his wife’s face confirmed it, as her failing efforts to sequester Dave from the rest of the passengers and crew were matched only by her own interest in fading into the farthest nook possible.
“I used to own a bar,” said Dave. “That didn’t work out so well.” He said it without a hint of irony.
The charter’s captain fired up the engine, and after the obligatory briefing about lifejackets and the delicate mechanics of the marine head, the deckhands cast off the mooring lines and we slowly made our way out of the lagoon, past mangroves full of iguanas basking listlessly in the tropical sun.
We and perhaps two dozen others were bound for Stingray City, cited as a must-see attraction by virtually every Top-10-Things-to-Do-on-Grand-Cayman list we had read. And for good reason. On any given day, scores of southern stingrays converge on the warm, impossibly blue shallows of this series of sandbars near the mouth of the island’s North Sound. At one time, they were drawn to the spot by fishermen who cast the unwanted scraps from their catches overboard. Today, the rays still gather on the bank to feed, but now at the hands of the dozens of charter boats – including Captain Marvin’s, one of Grand Cayman’s oldest and most reputable snorkel charters, which operates several boats daily, including the one we now found ourselves aboard.
Once moored, the boat’s crew ushered us into the water, where we were free to swim with the rays. They are magnificent, utterly singular creatures that appear almost alien as they “fly” past you. There were plenty of photo ops, and even the chance to kiss a stingray “for good luck” before we weighed anchor and headed for the nearby “Coral Gardens” for a bit of snorkeling amidst the fire corals, sea fans, and fish. There, for the second time in our roughly 15 years of snorkeling together, we witnessed a moray eel, who with silent precision wriggled all six feet of his bright green body into a well-suited nook at the base of a coral head. The coral on Grand Cayman was the healthiest of any we had seen in years, vibrant and teeming with life. No wonder many of the locals we spoke with voiced concerned dismay over the environmental impact of a proposed cruise ship terminal.
Snorkeling is a revelatory experience, providing the terrestrial biped a “bird’s eye view” of a strange and silent world to which the very best aquarium cannot remotely compare. Never forsake an opportunity to behold wildlife in its natural setting, whether on land or at sea – even aboard a hotel shuttle bus.
Truth was, we had such a great experience with Captain Marvin’s that I had totally forgotten about Dave Grohl from Park City – at least until we returned to port, where we found ourselves two seats removed from Mr. Fireball aboard the hotel shuttle bus. We watched as polite passengers tried to disengage him in mute horror. From the other side of the bus his wife made half-hearted attempts to discourage his efforts to engage the lone middle-aged woman seated between us in conversation. The woman’s accent, poise, and improbable tolerance for drunken Americans suggested that she was European and a professional, perhaps associated with George Town’s renowned banking industry.
“Where are you from? We’re from Park City, Utah.”
“St. Helena,” she replied. “I’m the attorney general.”
“Oh!” said Mrs. Grohl. “My husband is a recovering lawyer.”
“I’m not a recovering anything,” slurred Dave. “Saint what?”
“St. Helena,” the woman said. “It’s a little island in the middle of the South Atlantic, where Napoleon Bonaparte died in exile.”
“We’re from Park City,” he said, again.
“Utah,” noted Mrs. Grohl. The bus pulled up to its first stop, freeing several from the group before resuming its route.
“And where is your husband?” asked Dave.
Without flinching, the woman politely replied, “He’s dead.”
Mrs. Grohl closed her eyes and sank back into her seat as even Dave himself seemed to realize he’d overplayed his hand, if not exactly how.
“I’m so sorry,” said Mrs. Grohl.
The woman smiled. “It’s alright, thank you.”
“We’re going to Rackam’s for dinner and drinks,” said Dave. “You should join us.”
“I would love to, but I simply cahnt,” replied the woman, mother Britain manifest in her speech.
Dave perked up. “Cahnts? I just love cahnts!” Mrs. Grohl sank ever further into her seat.
“Next stop, Comfort Suites,” the driver announced.
“Keith Richards,” blurted Dave.
Both women looked at him incredulously. “What?”
“Keith Richards,” he reiterated. “You ever want a husband who won’t die on you, you should marry Keith Richards. He’s gonna live forever.”
The bus pulled to a stop. “Comfort Suites,” announced the driver.
“Who the hell stays at Comfort Suites?” Dave wondered aloud, just as St. Helena rose from her seat, gathered her things, and headed for the bus door.
Now, it was Dave who was incredulous. “Wait – you’re staying at Comfort Suites?” But she was already gone.
Mrs. Grohl sighed with relief, but then Dave closed the gap by sliding into the now-vacant seat next to me. We had done our best to remain expressionless throughout the bus ride, intent on bearing witness without actively participating, unable to look at one another for fear of releasing the pent up laughter. Mrs. Grohl, too, had preferred it that way, seeming to fear what we, above all others, might do if Dave attempted to interact, which was just fine by us.
“Jesus Christ, you’ve got some hairy legs,” Dave said, stroking my calf. “Like a damned yeti.”