Andrew McCarthy is an actor famous for his roles in Pretty in Pink and Less Than Zero as well as a travel writer well known for his peregrinations. His memoir, The Longest Way Home: One Man's Quest for the Courage to Settle Down, is published today by Free Press.
The small dock over the turquoise water was crammed full. There were local dignitaries, a few island elders and a dozen children in school uniform -- one of them was holding an official looking plaque. A pool of photographers was sequestered behind a rope. Everyone was poised and ready.
On shore, the open-air bar at Valentine's swelled to capacity. A sample of the island's famous pink sand had been trucked in and filled a makeshift box, ready to be admired for its rosy glow.
A banner was unfurled, welcoming the young Prince. It started to rain.
Everyone scrambled for shelter. The children began to shriek. An important and aged woman in a leopard skin dress was assisted under cover. Photographers shoved their long lenses up their shirts and looked put upon. Prince Harry was due to arrive for a brief State visit to Harbour Island in the Bahamas in exactly three minutes. Word over the walkie-talkie said that his boat had already left Eluethera, just a five-minute ride across the bay. And the well-orchestrated assemblage was thrown into chaos under a warm drizzle.
A blue speedboat could be seen racing over the placid water; people began to point and murmur.
"Here he comes," they said.
And the rain stopped. In an instant the sun was out. Everyone began to scurry back into position. As they did, I joined the disorganized rush and slipped onto the dock from my position near the sandbox. I lingered beside the photographers, across from the hastily reassembled elders. Suddenly a robust and blond young man leapt up on the dock from a blue boat that had just tied-off. A sweating handler in a tight suit escorted the Prince to stand in front of the school children, who sang him a song. From a few feet away I watched as a child presented him with the large plaque. Next came the audience with the seated elders. His Royal Highness handled it all graciously. And then there was a crush as the Prince made his way down the dock to a waiting golf cart that would take him on a brief tour of the island.
Bodyguards tried to keep the people at bay, but the narrow dock was too tight. Everyone began to push and shove. Photographers scurried backwards, in a fury of flashes. The crowd was a pulsing organism that moved as one, focused on the young man at its center. An arm shoved me out of the way and I fell in directly behind the Prince and kept moving -- I had no choice, the crowd pushed me on. I was blinded by camera pops as I followed, past the pink sand that the Prince could not see through the mass of swirling humanity, past the bar where drunken patrons shouted and waved.
The crowd slowed and bunched, then parted. The Prince was seated in a golf cart. The mob pressed in tighter and circled it. Utter and complete chaos was in its full throw. The driver of the cart was tooting its thin and ineffectual horn. I was shoved up against it -- beside the Prince. The expression on his face was guardedly bemused. Confronted with the young Royal like this, it felt suddenly as if we were strangely alone.
"Welcome, Harry," I said, and stuck out my hand.
He turned to look at me. There was surprise in his expression, but also relief, and kindness.
"Thanks," he said, and grabbed my hand in a firm shake.
Then the golf cart lurched forward, pushing the throng aside and the Prince waved as he went. People raced to follow.
The crowd left behind began to disperse. I lingered for no reason and, before things had a chance to return to normal, the Prince's golf cart came zipping back. It came to a halt just a few feet away -- in the same spot from which it had departed only minutes earlier. As the Prince climbed out of the cart, I caught his eye. He waved and smiled, I waved and smiled. And then he was gone, back on the blue boat, speeding away.
I walked back toward town; the streets were abuzz over the visit. Harry's orgastic frenzy on Harbour Island had lasted all of six minutes. Everyone was happy -- and everyone had kept their clothes on.