Love at 30,000 feet – The Brick House

It was at about 30,000 feet that I remembered how to love myself.  I had every intention of falling asleep – travel anxiety had kept me awake the night before and powered my frenzied preparation for the flight.  Settling into my delayed American Airlines flight, I reached for my iPhone, put her in flight mode, put my earphones in and willed myself to shut out the world and sleep.

What happened next was very different from sleep.

But now, as I’m telling the story, I realize that it began a few days before on a different flight to a different city.  Travel with me to Miami for a minute.

The Prophet?  Or not?

He was the craziest looking man in all of Miami International – a tall and slim black guy in his 50s pimp-dressed from head to toe.  The man I would name Mack Daddy (in my head) was in a black suit with white pin strips widely spaced.  The jacket fit his shoulders well and fell down below his knees and a black fedora sat over the smiling brown face.  He had just swept the tail of his coat aside to sit down with a magnificent gesture when our flight was called.

I looked at the man just as his curious eyes swept the line I was in and landed lightly on me before skipping forward.  Dear God please don’t make him sit by me!  Memories of a charlatan in a pentecostal church in the trouser part of this man’s suit had my shoulders tensed right up.

American Airlines boarded us all in their customary disorganized fashion and my neighbors were revealed to me one by one until there was only one seat left – the middle to my window seat.  Lo and behold who should next appear but Mack Daddy himself!  He politely spoke to the aisle-neighbor and she let him pass to his seat.  Sitting down he thanked her with a pleasant smile.

Ahhhhhhhhhh $h1+!

The flight takes off and now I’m curious.  Who on earth could think this outfit up?  As it turns out my neighbor to New York was open to share.  First he spoke to the aisle-lady again about the book she was reading.  At this stage I noticed not one but TWO worn bibles on his lap.  Yup – Prophet-man’s brother for sure.

I was glorying in my smug conclusion (Yup – I called it.  Uh huh I was right.) and thanking the hostess for my water when Mack Daddy turned to me.  By this time I had narrowed down his origin to one of two islands (later turned out I’d hit that one good too), figured he was a travelling charlatan, and was waiting for the preaching to begin.  Instead he one-upped me and pointed to my accent asking if I was a Trini.

“HELLLL NO!” came out before I could temper it.

And Mack Daddy laughed.  I caught myself in my own righteousness and laughed out loud too.  This flight was getting interesting.

Mr. J, I soon learned, was a DJ and entertainer by trade and an islander like myself.  He had found Jesus in his adult life after having spent years in the fascinating business of being a friend to famous people.  He was now using his talents to bring people to Christ.  He had managed and DJ’d at a few clubs in Miami, Puerto Rico and in England and had been quite a woman-tamer in his time.  The Jesus-man told me with a mix of wistfulness and shame the stories of his time before Christ took him on.  “I was not a good guy, Miss Bush.  Believe me.  There was one time I was rotating 18 women.  And I walked into the club with Joy and Sue wasn’t pleased and I had to say to Sue ‘Tonight I am with Joy.  Tomorrow will be your night.’  And she had to be fine with that.”  Turns out Bob Marley was much worse – he had 40 something kids.  But there was a guitarist in one of the other bands that was the worst of all.  Something like 80 women at a time.  INSANE.  If Mr. J hadn’t been talking like a spectator looking from the outside into his memories I admit I would have been a bit freaked out.  But the story was good and he continued to tell me of the fascinating club business in his heyday.

We then began to speak of islands, hurricanes, volcanoes, churches (only briefly) and family.  His heart was so open I walked right in and received the hug of his conversation.  20 minutes into the flight I loved the man and the rest of the passengers were about ready to throw us out midair   Our conversation was so animated and his laughter so unbridled that I’m sure the pilot could hear!

So Mr. J pulled out his phone to show me his gorgeous daughters.  My jaw dropped as he moved from family into photos of himself, his work and his friends.  He wasn’t kidding at all!  He showed me photos full of bell bottoms, guitars, Afros and marijuana smoke with the faces of Jesse Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Rick James (who was actually a pretty good looking kid!!) James Brown, Little Richard, and Bob Marley.  There were faces I recognized and others I didn’t and for those Mr. J would sing a line in a song that I would immediately know.  “Remember this one?  She’s a Brick….” (and I’d join in) “HOUSE!”  He told me of the Brick House competitions they used to have.  He was like “you think you would win a Brick House Competition Ms. Bush?”  FUNNY GUY.  I nigh split myself in half at that one.

The neighboring passengers would pretend not to be annoyed and turn their earphone volume up.  I was totally delighted!  His ex wife, his daughters, his most recent gospel concert, flashed past until we got to a photo in Puerto Rico with a young Mr. J in a white suit shaped just like the one he was wearing but with more bell in the leg.  He called it looking like a Mack.  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud – I had been calling Mack Daddy from the time I laid eyes on the man!

It was only a matter of time before the music changed.  We were soon singing old Jamaican 70s songs and trying to figure out by combining our memories the words to the Pluto Shervington song Dat.  I could just feel the tolerant Americans around us bristling inside about those effing Jamaicans (Let JA take the blame!  We’re Small-Island people, thank you.  And not Trinidadians either.)  My new friend and I didn’t care.

When I said goodbye to Mr. J in New York I was genuinely sad to part with him.  The professional Mack that he was, he seemed to take it more like a normal thing as he cordially wished me safe travels.

In a few minutes all that was left of him was the song in my head.

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Journey to St. Elizabeth

For once I took pictures on my way to St. Elizabeth, home of one of my grandparents and where one of my roots is planted deep in rich red earth. We travelled by car out of Kingston and St. Andrew, through St. Catherine, Clarendon, Porus, Royal Flat and Mandeville as I clicked and clicked out the window indiscriminately hoping for some good shots… and boy oh boy was I rewarded!

Moving out of the lowlands to the mountains

You can see the mountains in the distance and the air gets cooler and cleaner the longer you drive.  In Jamaica one misses out on the experience by driving with the windows up – our windows are always down and we never miss the smell of a bush fire, a scallion truck, the chicken farms or the ganja burning as we ride hard through the towns and villages.

The mountains of Manchester loom ahead as we pass through Clarendon

We have been gradually climbing for some time but the mountains of Manchester loom high and dark.  Every day in this season and in the summer rain falls in Mandeville, the main town in Manchester.  This parish and St. Ann compete for the reputation of being the coolest parish in the country.

Rastaman and his goat

I almost didn’t catch him! Driver was flying at this point.

Riding behind a fast-moving truck packed tight with sugar cane headed to the rum factory

This brought back memories of me as a child riding with my daddy and my uncle to visit my grandfather.  They used to call it the Rasta Truck because the cane looked so much like dreadlocks coming off the truck.   My grandfather is on my mind every time I travel this way.  I miss being his girl.

A Jamaican Sports Bar!

Not sure how many flat screens they claim to have but I’m sure West Indies Cricket is NEVER MISSED in this particular watering hole.

Typical roadside shop/bar

Rastaman not supposed to be drinking fire water or eating pork!  What’s THIS?!

A place called Pon Di River - I kid you not

I had to take a stop and get this little Oasis.  At this point we are very near Porus and Royal Flat.

P.O.N. D.I. R.I.V.E.R. See?

Fruit Stand - one of many on this route

I was to find out that the season for certain fruits has come early this year.  Mango trees have ripe fruit, oranges and star apples (the purple round ones) are everywhere, and bananas are on sale.

Road Food

The Jamaican Patty is known worldwide for it’s flaky crust and juicy meat in the middle.  I used to find this particular piece of home in England, take it to my flat and stick it in the oven for a warm and familiar meal.  Here in the heart of JA the patty is enjoyed sandwiched inside a Cocoa-bread.  Hours into our trip to St. Bess we had to make a pit stop.

Spur Tree Hill

This is my favourite hill in the WORLD!  It’s actually not a hill but a mountain and marks the border between the parishes of St. Elizabeth and Manchester.  It has at least three miles of road zigzagging down across the mountain face to the bottom.  It is one of the most dangerous driving roads especially when wet.  In his youth, my dad would fly down this bad boy on a bicycle!

Sunset over the mountains of South St. Elizabeth

Breathing fresh relief and thanking God for travelling mercies as I look over the bauxite-rich valley to the proud mountains of South Saint Elizabeth.  Almost at my place of rest.

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