I am a naturally cautious person and not typically enthusiastic about adventures, but one of the best days I ever had was one worthy of a reality TV show. It was winter at home, and while my sister watched our daughters, Neil and I went on our first cruise.
Although I would have been content soaking up the sun from the lido deck and watching the shows in the grand ballroom, Neil wanted to explore Nassau once we docked. The cruise ship offered several tours, and I pointed out the ones I thought would be fun. “No,” he said. “They’re for tourists. I want to see the real place, the real people.”
We piled out of the ship with everyone else, but while they headed off to ask about tour buses, Neil walked down the road to a giant Bahamian man who stood outside a long, white, limousine. “How much for a tour of the real island?” Neil asked him. “The real island? You sure, man?” They haggled over a price for a day that included a traditional show, food and a scenic drive, then shook hands, and Big Jim (yes, that was really his name) ushered us into the back of the limo.
“Isn’t this nice?” Neil asked as we turned on the air conditioning and settled in.
It was nice, for a while. Then we drove off a main road into a poor neighborhood where skinny dogs wandered around sniffing trash, and people watched us from their front porch rockers. When we stopped in front of a run-down, empty appearing grocery store, the limo looked incredibly out of place. Big Jim got out, and Neil rolled down his tinted window. “Where are you going?”
“I got something to do here,” he said. “How about I bring you back some Bahamian beer?” Excited by that idea, Neil rolled his window back up to patiently wait. After fifteen minutes, Big Jim still hadn’t come back. “Neil, doesn’t this seem just a little suspicious?” My mind conjured up all sorts of possible scenarios. “What if this is a stolen limo and the police are going to accuse us of stealing it? Or maybe this is a drug deal gone wrong and he’s not coming back. What if he got distracted and forgot all about us?” Neil was oblivious to my concerns and watched the neighborhood with curiosity. Finally, after 20 minutes, Big Jim came back.
“Sorry man, I had to talk to my cousin,” he said. “But I got some good beer – my treat since I made you wait so long.” He and Neil each popped open a cold one while I mentally noted our driver should not be having a beer. Listening to their friendly chatter, though, I gradually relaxed and started enjoying myself as Big Jim’s tour got under way. The grocery store was literally just the beginning.
When Jim found out Neil ran a restaurant, he took us to Atlantis on Paradise Island and “showed” us (as in, snuck us into) the kitchens of that fabulous resort. “It’s ok,” he said,” I know lots of people who work here.” And indeed, people said hello to him like dragging a few tourists through the resort kitchens was something he did every day. Back in the limo we drove past mansions on the beach that were more luxurious than anything I’d ever seen and were in stark contrast to the tiny houses we had seen earlier. Later, he introduced us to the ladies who sold their home-made goods outside Fort Charlotte and encouraged us to climb the Queens Steps.
Eventually, he took us to a Bahamian supper club, and even though it was only midafternoon, the place was crowded. We were the only tourists there.
“You won’t like the food,” Big Jim said, “so just have a drink. But you’re going to love the show.” The place had a forties vibe, and all the guests were in gowns and tuxedos despite the early hour. “This feels like a mafia club,” I murmured. The host seated us at a table up front, and the other guests watched us suspiciously while Big Jim stood like a statue by the door in the back. The show was fabulous and traditional all right, from amazing fire-eaters to topless Quadrille dancers in elaborate headdresses. “This is probably quite different from the show on the cruise ship,” Neil whispered.
After that we went to a tiny family owned bar where we had cracked conch (deep fried), Caribbean grits (just like those here at home!) and Bahamian souse with sheep’s tongue (the souse was good but the sheep tongue – not so much).
Finally, we went to a popular local nightclub. “Listen, keep together and don’t talk to anybody. This isn’t the place to make new friends,” Big Jim said. “I’ll meet you here in exactly ninety minutes. Do not be one minute late or we will have a problem,” he stressed as he handed us two tickets and dropped us off in front. “Oh, and they’re going to search you,” he called as he drove away. Even Neil’s eyebrows raised a bit at that, and sure enough, ‘The Warehouse’ had armed guards and a metal detector at the entrance. It took the first thirty minutes just to get though security.
“I really don’t think we should be here without Big Jim,” I moaned as Neil dragged me inside once safely past the guards. The nightclub was actually six different clubs, each on its own level of the six-story converted warehouse. There was a country bar, a classic rock bar, a Rake and Skate bar, and even one weird place where dancers in masks performed in cages suspended in the air. “Ok, we’re skipping this one,” Neil said after we peeked inside. “I think we should skip the whole place!” I whined. By the time our ninety minutes were up, Neil was ready to go, too. Afraid we’d miss our ride, we literally ran outside as we saw the limo coming. Our body guard was now in a tuxedo ready to entertain a late night local crowd as soon as he took us back to the ship.
We bid Big Jim farewell as he dropped us off at the ship’s gangplank. “Let’s do it again next time you’re here,” he bellowed as we climbed into the ship. Once safely inside we went straight to the lounge and plopped down at a table. “You don’t have to say a thing,” Neil pronounced as we both burst out laughing.
“Oh my gosh, what a day. We’re lucky we’re alive!”
“It wasn’t that bad,” Neil smiled as he took a long sip from his drink. “But I don’t think we’ll do it again.”
I can remember the details of that day like it was yesterday, not twenty-five years ago, and it was memorable because it was adventurous and exciting. I’m not sure I’d repeat it in today’s world, but I don’t want to be afraid either. Neil always encouraged me to try new things, and back then I believed that when I was with him, I was safe. Big Jim’s presence added to that illusion. The truth is we’re never safe in this world, because bad things happen to good people, no matter who is our travel guide or body guard. Despite that, we don’t have to be afraid. We have the perfect escort: our God, who is always with us.
That’s not to say bad things won’t happen, to be sure they will. But if I am afraid, I might miss the next great thing God has planned for me. What if I ignore the path He is nudging me along? I can’t be the person God calls me to be if I don’t travel the path that gets me there. No matter what fears or adventures or challenges I face, I am not alone.
We will all have struggles in this world, but God walks beside us though the best and the worst of days. So, I will not be afraid, but rather willing and eager to go where God calls me. No matter where my path leads, He is with me on it. He’s with you, too.
Dear God, help me be brave. Help me embrace change in my life with
expectant joy. Help me travel the path you set for me – even if it’s not
the safe, well-traveled one, and help me to remember that you are
always right there beside me.
Please share if you know someone who needs this reminder!