Wide World of War…and Resort Living (Pt.2)

• Finally allowed to roam free on the island, we search for remains

• The mop-up operation has us mopping our brows and relaxing in the bay

• I make sure “Grenada: One Year Later” is put on the calendar

One Sunday morning in February of 1984, I opened the New York Times Magazine and saw a photograph of me. It accompanied an article by Drew Middleton titled, “Barring Reporters from the Battlefield.” It was a think-piece with the sub-head: “A tradition of open coverage going back to the Civil War was shattered in Grenada, with wide implications for informed opinion in America.”

In the photograph, I was in a parade of journalists exiting the cargo bay of a C-130 military transport at Grenada’s Point Salines airport on the first day the Pentagon began chauffeuring the news media back and forth from Barbados, after the shooting stopped. I had my gear bag slung over my shoulder; behind me were two NBC TV news producers carrying bags of video tape.

WWW-redone

I was wearing a T-shirt that the ABC contingent in Beirut had created. It played off the longtime network weekend program, “Wide World of Sports,” reading “ABC News Wide World of War, Beirut ’83.” The word “Press” in English and in Arabic was also on the front; on the back: “Don’t shoot” in Arabic. A Times photo editor, I think, made a pretty good choice in illustrating the article with that shot, but of course I’m biased. (The cap I’m wearing in the photo was emblematic of one of the small disappointments of my Lebanon visit. It was from the USS New Jersey, which had been brought out of mothballs and into action in the Mediterranean off Beirut. Our ABC TV news crew had been helicoptered out to the battleship to report on how the warship was hurling shells from its enormous guns some 20 miles deep into Lebanon, aimed at truce-breaking militia factions. There hadn’t been room for the radio guy, so all I got – thoughtfully brought back by a TV producer – was this lousy ballcap. But I still have that great T-shirt.)

ABC Villa
Lance Aux Epines Cottages

Once the commuting from Barbados ended, ABC rented several cottages on Prickly Bay on Grenada’s southernmost point, Lance Aux Epines. Thus began several weeks of often difficult reporting in sun-baked, sweltering conditions paired in stark contrast with idyllic booze-filled evenings.

Thirst 4
Hot times at Maurice Bishop International Airport

Each morning we’d set out in rented jeeps and vans, covering the post-invasion story of the day. Often it was a wild goose chase. At lunchtime, everyone, from Pentagon officials and State Department spokespeople to the small horde of international media, would head straight for the Nutmeg, a second-floor restaurant right on the Carenage, the inner harbor of St. George’s, the capital city. A life-saving breeze blew through the open windows as we ate and pumped the officials for more information. A British reporter introduced me to the best thirst-quenching drink I’d never known about, the shandy. Half beer, half lemonade.

St. George's 1
Old-school panorama, Carenage, St. George’s

Then in the afternoon, once again across the island we would race, usually following up on the latest rumor of where the bodies of Maurice Bishop and his cadre had been buried. This would often wind up with us standing crestfallen, flicking away mosquitoes and flies, sweating and swearing mightily, staring into an empty pit. To this day, it is not known where their final resting place is.

Back at the cottage, after I filed my stories by phone, the switch flipped instantly from frenetic news-chasing to luxury vacation. Floating on the cooling waters of Prickly Bay with a beer in hand, I would watch some of the most gorgeous sunsets I’d ever seen.

Prickly Bay 1

Then, showered and changed, it was off, on foot, up the road to the Red Crab. A remnant from Grenada’s British colonial past, it was a small one-story roadhouse with Tudor-styled exterior, patio seating, beers and ales on tap and, of course, a dart board. Nightly, the same lunch crowd of military and diplomatic people drank alongside reporters continuing to ply them for information. The special dish of the house, crab au gratin, was a treat I’ve since been unable to find satisfactorily elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Red Crab
The Red Crab, RIP

One night I drove up the point a bit to another ABC-occupied resort, Secret Harbor, where a Nightline producer I had gotten to know was working with a tape editor in a hotel room-turned editing suite, finishing a package for that night’s Ted Koppel-hosted show. He was “crashing” – working on a deadline. Some locally-procured ganja helped to ease the stress. Neither of us knew at the time that in the ‘90’s he would be a producer of CNN’s “Showbiz Today” and put me on the air and on my way to the full-time TV part of my career.

In the immediate aftermath of the three-day hostilities on the island, officials would warn reporters that even though the Cuban runway workers and militia troops had been sent packing back home, there were rumors that a few holdouts might have been hiding up in the densely-covered hills of the island and that snipers were, if not likely, at least a possible threat. One night after a lengthy stay at the Red Crab, I set out back down the gravel road to the cottages. It was a moonless night, with the starry canopy of the Milky Way at its awesome best and brightest overhead. Shuffling along, marveling at how lame New York City’s skies at night can be in comparison, I walked smack into someone or something large, warm and breathing. After a moment of alarm mixed with befuddlement, I made out the dark shape that proved considerably larger than a human. I had T-boned a cow parked crosswise in the middle of the road. She was not budging. I had to go around her, laughing all the way home.

Militia 3
Cuban prisoners waiting to be sent home. No cows in sight.

I so enjoyed the island and its people that, naturally, in September of 1984, I proposed a radio news special with the working title “Grenada: One Year Later.” I knew “calendar journalism” was a thing so I wasn’t too surprised when my editors bought the idea and sent me back there for a week to do the follow-up story. This time I stayed at the swankier Spice Island resort on Grand Anse Beach, closer to St. George’s. The resort’s bungalows, sitting in a row along the island’s best white sand beach, featured plunge pools outside the front door that were about 8 feet deep and just roomy enough for one or two people to pop in upright and wash off sand — or apply a large helping of cold water upon return from an evening of drinks.

One night when walking down the beach toward my bungalow, out of the corner of my eye I saw a figure dart out from behind one unit to behind the next. I was apparently being followed. Nothing happened; I believe the person saw that I had noticed the tailing. I would have preferred encountering another cow, frankly.

In 2001, after a 12-year stint as an entertainment correspondent on CNN, the show I was on was cancelled in the wake of the merger of CNN’s parent, Time-Warner, with AOL. My initial impulse was to get out of New York and decompress in the Caribbean. I went back to Grenada for the first time in 17 years. It had changed noticeably, mostly in good ways. I stayed in the same Lance Aux Epine cottage, Prickly Bay was still beautiful, but — the Red Crab was gone. I hope to get back to the Spice Island again soon.     

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