November 2006Bill Chittick
Yet another civilized business trip began at the inauspicious hour of 3:30 A.M. as the ultra stretch limo rolled up historic Church Street in Bristol, R.I. With bags already packed – especially under the eyes - I joined my Wimco colleagues, Doug & Steve, as we were whisked away on our trip to America’s Paradise – Logan Airport.
It was all so dreamlike.
The limo featured pulsating Kool-Aid-colored disco lights & mirrors, and near-real Corinthian leatheresque vinylette seating, so I, for one, felt right at home. Nay, we all did. The only peep from the burly driver was the softly feminine, automatronic voice cooing “Turn… right… one-half… mile… exit... 12… north” – painful homage to the GPS that unfortunately comes standard-option nowadays, at least with Fall Riviera Limo. I only wish I were kidding…
But thanks to Doug & Steve’s masterful ability to comprehend 21st-century airport procedures, we were able to do curbside luggage check-in and go right to the gate with a minimum of effort. I swear I must have missed class the day the Universal World Order announced sweeping airport procedural changes, because nothing about the entire check-in process looked familiar (and I’m almost 99% sure there was nothing in the paper that day, either). Despite the ease of ticketless itineraries etc., it was still mostly “hurry up and wait” thanks to the crack squad of gents & ladies from the TSA. But kudos again to my travel partners, Doug & Steve, for keeping a cool head… and yes, I did feel like an historical anachronism.
Some 3½ hours later, we landed in San Juan; and in the blink of an eye - 25 minutes & 2 islands to be precise – we set foot on St Thomas amid 90 degree warmth, and bright, breezy sunshine! Life is good. The St Thomas airport is modern and clean, but more importantly, is noted for the ease with which travelers can get in and out (this, plus the free rum punches they hand you upon entering the Arrivals hall). I gave mine to the pilot.
Mr Constantine, owner of Amalie Car Rentals, met us outside the terminal with our Jeep Liberty. We then played follow-the-leader with Judy Wheatley, owner of Wheatley’s Taxi, to meet our hosts, McLaughlin Anderson Villas (MA). For me, it was like Old Home Week as I got reacquainted with Joan, Linda, Edythe, Angela, Anita & Frank. The only MA personnel whom I’d never met were Darrin & Betsy (although I speak with Betsy in Guest Services nearly every day). This was Doug & Steve’s first visit with them.
Diane Aamodt, holding down McLaughlin’s Alaska office (seriously!) joined us the next day for the duration of the trip. Agency owner Nancy Anderson, as always witty, ebullient, articulate & affable, also met up with us the next evening.
After the obligatory exchange of pleasantries, we continued up and over Mafolie Hill to Skyline Drive and on to our villa, Great View, located on St Thomas’s East End. I’ll point out here that the steep road out of Charlotte Amalie town is nothing short of spectacular, reminiscent of some of the corniche roads in the south of France – the vistas of the old town at your feet as you inexorably climb one switchback after another, the dizzying panorama of faraway ocean that melts into the horizon, tropical foliage spilling out next to and over the roadside – this is all part of the topographical magic that bedazzles the senses on St Thomas. It was my first introduction to the island a dozen years ago and the feeling is no less piquant today.
Upon arrival at Great View, Judy did more than yeoman’s work in explaining the intricacies of a typical guest’s arrival in a villa – and we were truly guests. Judy is a straightshooter, a comedienne, an ambassador, a mentor, a philosopher, an instructor, a friend, a storyteller, and above all, consummate host – all rolled into one. Amid howls of laughter, we learned much about the island, its customs and idiosyncrasies, history, and what makes it tick. This is important when 2 cultures collide – and an island as large as St Thomas can be daunting to the uninitiated. We also learned that Judy has been an associate of MA for nearly 15 years.
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