In search of the sweetest of Jamaican lobsters, we ran into Osbourne ("just call me Bill") Foster.
It was on Gloucester Road in Montego Bay, along the strip of hotels, restaurants and beaches that leads into downtown. My husband and I had just heard that the Casa Blanca--home of a sumptuous lobster I'd had four years ago--had closed.
We strolled on in grave disappointment until we reached a white facade that somewhat resembled the old Casa Blanca restaurant adjacent to the Casa Blanca hotel. A big sign read, "Marguerite's." A small sign said, "formerly Casa Blanca." With renewed gastronomic expectations, we went inside, checked the menu (lobster, indeed!) and made a reservation for three hours later.
That's when Bill Foster appeared. He greeted us outside the restaurant door and informed us: "This used to be the Casa Blanca." We told him we were aware of that and continued on our way.
Ambled Along Beside Us
The tall, smooth-shaven man in his early 30s ambled along beside us. "You know, Jamaicans are very friendly to tourists," he said. "Where are you from?"
"Los Angeles," we replied, then tried to ignore him.
"Tourism is our No. 2 industry behind bauxite. You know bauxite?"
Yes, we said, grudgingly.
"A lot of Americans aren't very friendly. They like to be left alone."
"We prefer that too," I said.
If he heard me, he didn't care.
"How long have you been in Jamaica?" he asked. We answered.
My husband and I glanced at each other--we've got to get rid of this guy, and it won't be easy.
"Do you have children?" he asked with a toothy smile.
"Yes, one, a boy."
"I have a little girl. She's 3."
"Are you married?" I asked, somehow already knowing the answer.
"No," he said. "Too expensive. First you have to buy a suit, and a frock for her and a ring. And then there's the feast.
"Where do I work? Oh, I drive a taxi but it's broken right now.
"Over there is the Pelican Inn. It's very good, not too expensive," he went on. "Just down the hill is car rental in case you want to go sightseeing. . . .
"Over here," he said, pointing to an expanse of green, "this is all landfill. The ocean used to come up right here ." He pointed at the sidewalk.
A Most Popular Park
"This park is very popular in Montego Bay. People from the hills come here.
"Now, see over there. That's where the cruise ships come in.
"You know," he interrupted his travelogue, "a lot of people here, they bother the tourists. When you with me, they don't bother you so much."
It was clear that we had a tour guide we hadn't bargained for. I was annoyed, but Jamaica is a free country, and Foster probably had more right to walk down the street than we did.
So we asked questions and he was at no loss for answers. We went to the straw market and made a few purchases, getting at least one outstanding bargain. We strode through the teeming center of town. Bill pointed out the marketplace, shops, the fire station, the ruins of the old jail, even bus stops.
He told us about the route to Kingston, by rail or by car, giving traveling time and distance, but cautioned, "Don't go there. We are friendly in Montego Bay. Kingston isn't so friendly to tourists."
He instead recommended visiting Negril ("Hedonism, nude beaches") and Ocho Rios ("You must go to Dunn's River Falls"), and a restaurant near Falmouth ("You tell them I sent you and I get $4 U.S."). Which led him to a discussion of currency and relative values of items in Jamaica and America.
"I have friends in Los Angeles," he said. "It's expensive, but I go there someday."
When we stopped to rest, so did he. While we set up camera shots, he paused in almost reverence.
As twilight hovered over the bay, we worked our way back up Gloucester Road toward Marguerite's. I was beginning to wonder if we'd ever shake Bill Foster.
"You know," he said as the restaurant came into view, "when I talk to tourists, sometimes they pay me, sometimes not." The pitch had to come, but he put it so politely.
We both gave him some bills, about U.S.$8 total. He bade us goodby and reminded us that we could probably find him in the same place if we needed him.
Later, on Marguerite's ocean terrace, over baked lobster with garlic butter and a surprisingly good Jamaican white wine, we mused about our travels with Bill Foster.
"We were had," I said, "but he was entertaining."
"It was a good show," my husband agreed.
Hope to see you in Los Angeles someday, Bill Foster. But I won't give you a tour.