If I had I my way, I never would have met Romeo Farrington and that would have certainly been my loss. His daughter Esprit was the one who picked me up from the airport in Nassau, drove me to dinner and then back to my hotel for the night. She explained that her dad was tied up with a wedding but he'd be by to pick me up for my one-day tour of Nassau the following morning.
I had other plans. "Just you tell him you'll be my guide tomorrow, okay?" I asked.
The truth is I was enchanted by Esprit from the moment we met. I liked her big smile and bigger personality. She took me to the Anchorage Market, a local fried fish hangout in Arawak Cay and we hit it off so well, I didn't want to say good bye. But Sunday morning it was Romeo who arrived to pick me up at the Sheraton Nassau Beach Hotel where I was staying.
"My responsibility is to see that you have a good time," he told me as we headed off for a day of sightseeing, starting first with a visit to the 200-year-old Fort Charlotte and a chat with considerably younger basket makers who work outside the gate. "You will never meet a taxi driver whose service you will enjoy as much as me," he promised. And I'm here to tell you he was right.
Like Esprit, Romeo had a way with a story. Even ordinary events seemed special and Romeo had lived no ordinary life.
As a young man, Romeo was one of many cabbies trying to earning a living off the Bahamas' thriving tourism industry. To distinguish himself -- in the days before social media -- Romeo decided to build up a reputation by word of mouth. He'd never arrive late to a pickup and he would offer much more than a way from A to B.
"Make friends with the guests, see that they trust in you, steer them right," became his motivational mantra. In time, Romeo's Executive Limousine Service grew from one taxi to many, one limo to several. He added minivans and soon he was coordinating the transportation needs of large groups of visitors.
When his fellow cabbies asked him why he was so dressed up and how he could get so darned enthusiastic about a $7 fare, he'd tell them he was absolutely convinced that one day he would have a customer who would pay him $1 million, so "I see everybody as my million dollar man or woman."
Focused on making his fortune, it might never have crossed his mind that he might find fame instead. Celebrities were always coming into town, though. He has a hefty collection of photographs documenting these encounters.
Sometime in 1985, he picked up a movie producer at the airport. The man was in town to scout locations for a sequel to the movie, Jaws. The two got to talking and soon the driver and the producer had made a deal. In a case of life imitating art, Romeo was cast as the driver of the family that will soon be exposed to the characteristic dun dun dun dun dun of Hollywood's most famous shark.
He appears in other productions over the years. Always a bit player, but he rebelled if he didn't get the paycheck he thought his due. On one film, his job was to drive up in front of a hotel, get out of the car and open the door for his client. That's all. He was not to say anything because a speaking part would bump him up to a higher pay grade, something on the order of $300, I was told.
Each time Romeo opened the car door for the actor and boomed, "Welcome to the Bahamas!"
As Romeo tells it, the movie director finally asked him what he had to do to make Romeo play the part as directed. "Pay me the $300, and I'll keep quiet," he said.
To me, it's a waste for Romeo stay tight-lipped. In addition to his skills as a story teller, he has a beautiful singing voice. He befriended Perry Como when the singer came to the Bahamas to film his Christmas special in 1980 and Romeo says the two used to drive around the island singing at the top of their lungs.
Well I loved that story, and I told him so. On the morning of my departure, Romeo popped a custom made instrumental CD into his car stereo and made me feel like Juliet. He sang My Funny Valentine as palm trees and white caps flashed by the car windows in a blur.
Romeo's Executive Limousine Service is a big and thriving family operation these days. Still, Romeo has not yet picked up his million dollar fare. The closest he came was the New York construction magnate who frequently visited the island with his large family in tow. Invited to join all of them for a dinner at a high-priced restaurant in town, Romeo the teetotaler took just one tiny sip of the 10 thousand dollar bottle of wine the patriarch purchased for the occasion.
He was not Romeo's million-dollar man. I was not his million-dollar woman. For all his talk, I don't think the prospect of a big payday is what motivates Romeo. He's a singer and a story teller who knows how to romance his customers with those talents. When the ride is over, everyone in the car is richer.