From the Museum to the Embassy it was a short and thankfully air-conditioned ride. Here we donned specially created laminated guest ID tags required by Homeland Security (weeks prior, we had been asked for names of all attendees and had been prescreened for security clearance) and were whisked inside “leave your cameras in the bus, please”.
We were met by Brenda and her staff who gave us a quick tour behind the scenes many desks and busy executive types hustling to and fro. We learned that Jamaica is the fourth busiest US embassy in the world in terms of numbers of visa applicants hoping to get cleared to visit or emigrate.
During her tenure in Jamaica among her many innovations, Brenda sponsors a monthly musical concert in the towering rotunda of the main part of the complex. Three fine musicians entertained us from the main staircase with snappy and beautiful Jamaican music. I thought it was really good. After looking over at our Famous Forest Hillian Composer, Bill Ryden, beaming contentedly his head bobbing in rhythm I knew it was.
A light lunch followed during which we got to rub elbows with embassy personnel and other visitors from the international diplomatic community. We were officially photographed as a group on the staircase which is the only photo you will see of our embassy visit. Brenda and Howard are in the foreground, a stand- mounted 3x5 American flag nearby, a Jamaican flag on the first landing and 44 smiling and happy Forest Hillians on the steps.
Minutes later, leaving the main entrance to cross the to the perimeter gate, Bill Ryden was swept back inside by security personnel (armed) who appeared, suddenly, amid shouts of “Secure the area!”, “We’re in lockdown!”.
I heard someone say, “Shots fired!!” I hopefully offered, “Maybe it was a car backfiring” mindful of all the jalopies we had been seeing. Looking hopefully to my oldest pal Bill Ryden for reassurance he said, “Jeff, that was gunfire, I know gunfire”. I know he knows gunfire, as Composer Bill is also ex-GI Henry W. Ryden who spent the worst winter of his life on Korea’s 38th Parallel helping hold back the North Korean Army.
That was enough confirmation for me. I didn’t resist one little bit when a security agent curtly suggested I step away from the window!
It turned out that there indeed had been shots fired in front of the Embassy. It was a street crime, probably a drive by shooting, and by the time we were cleared to go to our bus a crowd could be seen around the corpse watching local police deal with the event.
Reboarding the Comet a voice was heard commenting, “Wow, a murder right there in the street in front of us. How exciting!”
A female voice opined admiringly, “That Brenda……..she thinks of everything!”
She did. Later in the afternoon she “texted “ a message to her communications -hip nephew, Dave , aboard the Comet who read aloud to us, “Just a special welcome to Kingston the murder capitol of the world! XXXBrenda”.
In the planning stages, it was straightforward enough. After the embassy tour, we would go by bus from Kingston to Montego Bay; a bunch of kilometers that we figured was about 120 miles. A “scenic” ride, someone said, from roughly the southeast corner of the football shaped island to the northwest coast where the Caribbean gently lapped the sugar sand beaches of Mobay. The mountain range in between will slow us down, they said, so we should figure on about 4 to 4 1/2 hours to get there.
Mindful that there would be over 20 guys with 60+ year old prostates and a similar number of ladies with equivalent situations (you get my drift here) that it was important to schedule restroom breaks. Accordingly, Webb hammered out an unprecedented extra-special deal for us which was a scheduled 15 minute restroom stop at the also luxurious Sandal’s Ocho Rios resort on the north coast “just” over the mountains and down at sea level. The only “safe place” for us to stop en route, it was said. We were advised to figure about 2 1/2 hours from Kingston to Ocho Rios and then 1 1/2 hours to Mobay and our Sandal’s Royal Caribbean final destination.
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