It was more than 25 years ago, but I clearly remember my first impression of Jimmy Buffett when we met him on Grand Cayman. It was Christmas Day 1996. James and I were at the beach with the girls for sunset, a Christmas tradition, when one of the Hyatt managers told us Jimmy, who was booked at the resort for the night, was about to land at the airport.
We wanted to watch his plane, the Hemisphere Dancer, land so we packed the girls in the car, along with our friend Hal Phillips, and hurried to the airport. We arrived just in time to see the seaplane land and taxi to customs. It was impressive.
Before we knew it, Jimmy walked out of the building carrying a backpack, a diaper bag, and he had a toddler in tow. It was his 2-year-old son Cameron Marley. I expected someone else to emerge from the building, but no, it was just the two of them.
"Here's a confident and happy Dad on a boys-only adventure with his little boy," I thought with respect.
Jimmy spotted us, walked over, and with a big smile asked "Are you with the car rental company?" We laughed and introduced ourselves.
While we chatted, and waited for his rental car, the kids started playing together, as kids do - chasing each other around. An excited Jimmy started taking photos of them.
"I'm writing a book," he explained. "Look at this - we've just arrived and Cameron has already found two island girls!" The new book, he said, would document his journey through the Southern Hemisphere to celebrate his 50th birthday. It was that very day - Dec 25 is his birthday! Something I didn't know at the time. Cayman was a fueling stop on their way to Costa Rica.
When the rental car still didn't arrive, we offered to give Jimmy a lift to the Hyatt, it was on our way home. He quickly took us up on it, and said his pilots could wait for the rental car. (We never saw them, but i understand there were four of them along for the journey).
We were driving my little Toyota, so it was a tight squeeze. James drove (right hand drive), Jimmy sat on the left passenger side with Cameron on his lap. The girls and I rode in the back. I know it was a nerve-racking drive for James, but it was a nice chance to visit with Jimmy. He explained that his wife and their girls were meeting them in Costa Rica the next day, but for now it was just him and Cameron.
I found Jimmy to be very relaxed and engaging. He had a ready smile, a twinkle in his eye, and I could tell he was enjoying this trip with his son immensely. The world-famous entertainer and entrepreneur was kind, friendly and polite, a credit to his parents, I thought. (These are the observations of the journalist in me)
Jimmy laughingly told us that the Caymanian air traffic controllers promised not to shoot at his plane when he radioed in his approach. Not being a parrot head, I didn't know what he was talking about, so he explained the Jamaica Mistaka incident. He said he, Chris Blackwell and Bono decided to fly to Jamaica for jerk chicken when this happened!
Before we got to the hotel, Jimmy said the pilots were going to have to draw straws to see who would babysit Cameron while they went to dinner. I offered to do it and he was genuinely surprised when I did.
"I might have to take you up on it," he smiled.
"With two kids of our own, what's one more?" I answered.
So we agreed, but I had one condition - to bring my camera and take photos. I didn't think anyone would believe that we met Jimmy Buffett without proof.
Sure! he said.
James and I went home to get my camera and pick up some toys and videos for the kids. We arrived at the Hyatt villa to see Jimmy changing Cameron's clothes. He opened the door with a smile. He had ordered pizza and french fries for the kids and beer was in the fridge for James.
Everyone posed for pictures and off Jimmy went to dinner.
Cameron, a handsome little fella with red hair and bright green eyes, had some adorable children's books with him and a baseball. James played ball with him and the girls watched a movie. I marveled at Jimmy's trust in us, but I guess we had honest faces!
When Jimmy returned from dinner we visited a bit more. As we got ready to leave, he asked if they'd see us again. I reminded him that they were leaving in the morning. Oh yeah, he said.
As it turns out, we did see Jimmy Buffett again - several times. But that is another story.
Jimmy wrote his book - A Pirate Looks at 50 - and he included a chapter called "The Island Girls." Those island girls are our daughters Hallie & Katie, who were 3 years old at the time. Months later, we received a surprise package in the mail - an autographed copy of A Pirate Looks at 50. It was inscribed with this note:
"You never know who you're going to run into at an airport!" Jimmy Buffett