Wheaton’s Way

Man, have we had a lot of wet weather recently. Anyone would think it’s hurricane season.

I make a habit of keeping a golf umbrella in my car at all times, but why I haven’t yet switched to one of those newfangled designs that keeps drips to a minimum, I’ll never understand. Do you know the ones I’m talking about? The umbrellas ‘As-seen-on-TV’ that invert when you close them, so all the water that landed on them gets caught and held, rather than spilling over your clothes or into your vehicle.

There I was, half-in/half-out of the driver’s door, rain pouring down, trying to get my arthritic thumb to cooperate and push the button on the shaft of my brolly so it would open. It must have taken at least a minute before the mechanism finally clicked, and in the meantime, my jeans were soaked from the knees down. Walking into the supermarket, I looked like I’d been fly fishing sans waders.

Wrestling with the umbrella and driving in the pouring rain triggered a memory for me of an incident from many years ago, when I was singing with a group called ‘No Significant Features’, which was booked to open for the Jeff Healey Band.

Those who were living on the island back then may remember the Canada Day concert, set up in the parking lot of The Islander Complex. Healey and his band were very well known, particularly for the part they played (literally and otherwise) in the 1989 film ‘Road House’, starring Patrick Swayze. It was a big deal for us to be on the stage before them, and we wanted to make the best impression we could.

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A sound check was scheduled for a few hours before the show, and the weather was really looking uncooperative. To add to the complications for me personally, I had been booked to perform a singing telegram at Butterfield Bank’s downtown branch (when it used to be opposite the George Town Post Office), near the end of the working day. It meant I had to dress up in a tuxedo-type outfit, get there, sing to the surprised manager in front of all the staff, run to my car, race home, change outfits, and quickly make my way to The Islander Complex.

The first part of the plan went very well. I showed up at the bank, I put on a show – practically dancing through the customer service area while blasting out the customised birthday song – and left to laughter and applause, my two favourite sounds.

I sprinted to my car as a bit of sprinkling rain began, mentally ticked the first task on my list, and started driving along North Church Street towards West Bay Road. That was when I hit the first snag.

Just as in modern times, traffic instantly slowed to a crawl in what was now pouring rain. It was bumper-to-bumper, and I was checking my watch every minute as though something would change if I looked often enough. I figured sound check would be delayed, but I still didn’t want to be late.

As I crept forward to bring me parallel with Casanova restaurant, I saw an older lady standing in a semi-sheltered area, holding a purse over her head. She was clearly waiting for someone, but I didn’t want to leave her that exposed to the elements. I reached into the back seat of my car, and grabbed my umbrella. Opening the driver’s window, I yelled out over the rain, “Excuse me! Would you like my umbrella?”

She smiled and walked towards me, stretching out her hand to… open the passenger door behind me, completely ignoring my proffered gift.

“Ohhhh… thank you, my dear! I never thought I was gonna get a ride!”

Ah.

Well, what could I possibly do? I could hardly tell her she was mistaken and push her back out into the rain. Imagine the headlines. “Cruel, two-bit singing telegram performer callously leaves grandmother drenched by side of road.” I was in it now.

“Where to?” I asked, hoping it was just around the corner.

“West Bay, please,” she said.

Yikes.

So, we continued the journey together. I crawled past Lobster Pot; inched past Delworth’s Esso; and lollygagged around Bay Town Plaza. At least the woman was interesting company. She told fascinating stories about Cayman in the old days, and we found we knew people in common. She also seemed to really enjoy being driven by what appeared to be a chauffeur, as this was when I owned a Lincoln Town Car, coupled with the happy coincidence that I was dressed like a penguin that day.

Finally, around West Shore Center, the traffic started to move a little faster. It had taken us about 30 minutes to get there from town, and I was getting dangerously close to sound check time.

As we approached the four-way stop in West Bay, she piped up from the back seat behind me.

“You could just drop me off here if you like,” she said (YAY!). “Of course, I don’t know how I’d get home from here… ” (cue the Puss in Boots eyes). Well, that was that.

In fairness, it was still slightly drizzling outside, and we’d come this far. Besides… second headline: “Chauffeur kicks passenger out of car before reaching destination; bystanders look on in horror.”

Of course, I had forgotten what a maze West Bay can be for the uninitiated. Four tributary roads later, I was scanning the horizon for the Minotaur.

“Just left here, then right at the pink house, and carry on until you see the tree with the blue car parked by it,” she instructed.

Eventually, we pulled up outside her residence. Her daughter came out to greet us, so I knew we had the right place. With a very quick ‘goodbye’ and ‘all the best’, I reversed out and then attempted to retrace my steps to get me back to something resembling a main road. I think mapping a route out of West Bay should be on the Permanent Residency test. Knowing that there is an animatronic doll in the Cayman Islands National Museum is interesting trivia, but being able to navigate the many intricate lanes of West Bay is really useful and practical knowledge.

After a couple of wrong turns, I made it out, but at this point there was no way I would have time to go home and change. I had to head straight to the venue.

I pulled up near the stage, jumped out of the car, and legged it to where everyone was setting up. Luckily, the weather had indeed delayed things a bit, so I hadn’t been holding up the proceedings with my tardiness. My ensemble immediately got some double-takes from the visiting crew, which came as no surprise. Unlike the singing telegram audience, this one laughed but no applause.

“Boy, they dress fancy for sound check in the Cayman Islands!”

“Yes, waiter, I’d like a glass of wine and the tuna starter.”

“Hey, Sinatra! You’re late!”

I couldn’t help but smile. I looked ridiculously overdressed for even the gig itself, let alone a soundcheck, but I carried on (trouper that I am) and we got sorted for the night ahead.
In the end, Ma Nature actually got the last laugh. Our opening act went really well, but only four songs into Healey’s set, the heavens opened. Forget ruined hairstyles – this was downright dangerous.

Healey’s drummer, Tom Stephen, actually referenced the Cayman concert being rained out in his book ‘Best Seat in The House: My Life in the Jeff Healey Band’: “‘Talk about a gig that goes sideways,’ says our guitar tech, Keith Rudyk. ‘Things were floating across the stage, pedal boards and s**t.’

“When a flash of lightning appeared over the ocean, the organizers, scared that Jeff was going to be electrocuted, called off the concert.”

Hey, at least we got to play to a big audience, we spent the evening with Healey and his band, there was an after-party, and, mercifully, my outfit was never mentioned in that book.

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