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Jimmy Buffett and Margaritaville -
Fate, Friendship,
Jazz Fest, and Redemption

Written by Rick Archer
May 2018


Rick Archer's Note:  Ever since I first poked my nose into the story of Jimmy Buffett in 2013, I have felt a strong connection to the man.  As I have said before, I am a strong believer in Fate.  In my opinion, the career of Jimmy Buffett has 'Fate' written all over it.  Rest assured I will make my case later in the story.


My wife Marla and I joined our friends Jim and Cindy Hudson on a trip to the 2018 New Orleans Jazz Fest. 

Over the weekend of April 27-29, I enjoyed many interesting acts.  Among my favorites were Meschiya Lake, Samantha Fish, Luther Kent, Eddie Cotton, Sona Jobarteh of Gambia, Sonny Landreth, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Kenny Neal, and Mitch Woods. 

However, the whole time I was looking forward to my first chance to see Jimmy Buffett perform in person.  He was scheduled to go on stage as the last act on Sunday.

The four of us had a very pleasant weekend together.  The nice thing about Jim and Cindy is that they are reasonable people.  There were inevitable disagreements on which direction our hotel was, where to find the bus stop to take us to Jazz Fest, where to eat on Saturday night, and how much energy we had left to hit the French Quarter, etc.

However no matter how tired we were, no one ever lost their temper and demanded to get their way.  It was very sweet to share the weekend with such easy-going people. 

There is real power in operating as a team.  When one person goes to the restroom, three others save your seat.  When someone needs a bite to eat, one person can go fetch food for two.  If someone forgets something, another person notices the missing item. 

Best of all, it is great to listen to music with friends.   However, we were not always together.  Although we all had different tastes in music, this was never a problem. 

Me?  I'm a blues guy.  I preferred to spend my time in the Blues Tent while Marla liked to roam with Jim and Cindy and check out acts in other locations.  Not a problem.  As long as I knew Marla was safe, I didn't mind a bit. 

At any given time, there are a dozen or so acts playing at the thirteen different venues.  For example, on Saturday evening, the threesome went to see Rod Stewart and loved the show.  Meanwhile I stayed in the Blues Tent and danced myself silly to the Fabulous Thunderbirds.   

Marla and I went with Jim and Cindy to Jazz Fest last year, so 2018 was our second visit.  Last year I was too new to see the big picture, but this year I made some inroads.  There is an enormous demand for talent.  For example, at the Blues Tent, there are 12 different acts per day.  13 venues, 12 acts per day, 6 total days spread over two weekends equals 936.  In other words, somewhere around 900-1000 acts are displayed over the six days. 

That is not only amazing, it also keeps a lot of musicians employed.  I gather that these same musicians stay employed year-round at music venues located in or near the famous French Quarter of New Orleans.  For example, one musician after another announced where we could see them again during the week at this spot or that.  Through events such as Jazz Fest, New Orleans not only nurtures its local talent, but lures famous acts from around the country to drop by and jam with the local legends. 

My point is that New Orleans, the birthplace of Jazz, remains a unique tourist attraction due to its abundance of musical talent and fine cuisine.  Nashville may be the home of Country music, but New Orleans has the market cornered when it comes to round-the-clock nightlife and its vibrant live Jazz and Blues music scene. 



Debra and Cindy


Rick Archer's Note:  People ask me, "Rick, why should I take your dance cruise?"

There are several reasons why joining Marla's dance cruise trips is a good idea, but the one that stands foremost in my mind is 'Friendship'. 

While it is true that the wild and crazy antics of the 'Love Boat' Singles crowd make for the most interesting stories, a dance cruise can be a deeply satisfying experience for couples as well.  I know it is hard to for single people to believe, but there is Romance at sea for couples as well.  The time spent dancing together, the shared experiences on excursions, and the chance to reconnect all serve to enhance a relationship. 

I have noticed that couples really enjoy the chance to make friends.  In particular, a dance cruise allows singles and couples to hang together.  No one seems to mind if a single guy dances with a married lady and vice versa.  Or for that matter, no one seems to mind if a married guy dances with someone else's wife.  They call it 'Social Dancing' for a very good reason... Dancing remains the ultimate tried and true method for breaking the ice.  Asking a person to dance is a very simple way to share a brief moment together on a trip.  Once the ice is broken, a later conversation often ensues.  Over the years, I have seen many deep friendships develop on Marla's dance cruises.   

I speak from experience.  Over the years, Marla and I have grown very close to many couples based on shared adventures that started at sea and continued once we returned to Houston.  Two of the couples Marla and I have grown close to are Michael and Debra Hrncir and Jim and Cindy Hudson.

It was Debra and Michael whom I got to know first. Previously I had met them in a 2011 Western Cha-Cha class taught by Sharon Shaw over at SSQQ.   Debra was very outgoing, so I enjoyed chatting with her every time we danced together in class. 


In 2012 I got to know Michael and Debra better when they signed up for my Advanced East Coast Swing class.  I impressed by Michael.  I have never had a man work harder in my class to master the material.  To my surprise, I found out they were taking my class in preparation for the 2012 Black Magic dance cruise. 

At the same time, Jim and Cindy Hudson were taking a Ballroom class from Marla in another room.  One night before dance class, Cindy came and chatted with Debra.  After Cindy left to rejoin Jim, Debra turned to me and mentioned her friend Cindy was a bit 'unusual'.  Since Cindy wasn't in my class, I had no idea what Debra was talking about.  I was curious, but Debra stopped there.  Debra doesn't get to be friends with half of Houston by telling tales.  So I just shrugged and let it go.


The 2012 Black Magic Dance Cruise


It was not until the 2012 Black Magic Dance Cruise that I realized Debra and her friend Cindy were extremely talented women. 

My first clue came when the Hudsons and Hrncirs brought three other couples along with them for the ride.  Although the Black Magic Cruise was the 26th cruise organized by Marla, I had never seen a group this large join us for the first time. 

Good grief, Debra and Cindy brought their own gang!  Curious, I made an attempt to get to know Debra and Cindy, the ringleaders.  At first glance, the two ladies seemed normal enough.  I learned Debra and Cindy are best friends as are their husbands Jim and Michael.  This long-time friendship started when their daughters became friends in school out in Katy.  Their children's friendship is what led to the parents connecting as well. 

Now that their kids are grown and out on their own, the bond of the parents continues as firm as ever.  The foursome enjoy sharing adventures...  Renaissance Festival, Harley-Davidson bike trips, Vegas Rockabilly concerts, San Antonio trips, Czech Festivals, you name it.  To listen to them, they are always doing something.  And when they aren't doing something, they have dinner together on Sunday evenings complete with tales told over margaritas at a local Katy Mexican restaurant.

During the cruise, I started to realize what is special about Debra.  I think Debra might actually know more people in Houston than any woman I have ever met.  She seems to know the entire Houston Dance Community by heart.  It seems like whomever I named, Debra already knew them.  I think the woman keeps dossiers on everyone.  I cannot imagine how else she keeps all those people straight.

During the trip, I also noticed that large groups assemble wherever Debra goes.  This could not be an accident.  I cannot help but wonder how she inspires so much loyalty.  In the privacy of my own thoughts, I referred to Debra as 'Leader of the Pack'. 


All ten of these friends were on the Magic 2012 Trip together as a group.  Last names omitted to protect the innocent...
(assuming any of them are innocent)  Larry - Merrie,  Ted - Linda,  Michael - Debra,  Shannon - Wayne,  Jim - Cindy


When the Hudson-Hrncir foursome showed up on the ship, I had no idea they were going to bring an entire gang with them.  Nothing in their dance class demeanor foretold the force of nature that was to arrive on the Magic.

I asked Debra how she knew all these people.  Debra just sort of smiled and said they were all in the choir together.  No way.  I didn't believe her.  I got the feeling Debra was pulling my leg.  Hmm.  Do those guys look like choir boys?  I don't think so. 

For example, several times during the trip I noticed Michael was wearing a pirate-style do-rag.  You know, Michael's a pretty big guy. Plus the guy might just have a wild streak.

Michael was a great dancer and I liked him, but maybe I was wrong.  Choir boy?  Don't think so.  I couldn't help but think Michael looked very convincing as a tough guy. 

That's when I was sure I had my answer. 

Could these ten people be a biker gang?? 


Hmm, on second glance, maybe not.  They clean up too well.  The gang was so clean cut and well dressed, a casual observer might even say the men of the biker gang appeared 'distinguished' and the biker gals 'ladylike'.   

Another thing I noticed was that the ladies have a gift for decoration.  Did you notice those amazingly beautiful dinner tables in the pictures above?  From what I gather, in conjunction with Merrie (the lady in the red dress), Debra and Cindy created those tableaus.  I was really impressed.   Not since the legendary "Fun Table" from Bahamas 2010 had I seen a table decorated so tastefully.  Bravo!

Truth be told, I didn't get to spend much time with any of the ten people during the 2012 Magic trip.  The Group of Ten were such a tight knit group that I never isolated any of them for more than a passing comment.  Plus all ten of them typically spent every evening chanting at the karaoke bar.  Debra said it was because they were in the choir and needed to keep their voices in training. 

Oh, good grief, now we are back to choir.  Like I believe that! 


At the height of my curiosity, Debra pulled me aside.  Before she spoke, Debra furtively looked over her shoulder to make sure no one overheard us.  Then with a concerned look, Debra began to whisper.

"Rick, do you remember how I told you that Cindy has a wild side?  You really need to keep an eye on Cindy.  Cindy is, well, different.  I can't really explain it, but there are times when the lady becomes a little crazy."  

The concern on Debra's face left me rattled.  This whispering campaign didn't help my nerves any.  I wasn't quite sure I knew why Debra was telling me this.  I didn't know who to be more worried about, Debra or Cindy. 

Debra's unsolicited warning felt very creepy. This moment was playing like an early chapter in a Stephen King novel to set the scene before Carrie breaks loose and goes postal on the world.

What was this woman's angle?  Was Debra setting me up for a practical joke on Cindy or was she sincerely trying to warn me about something?   If so, why did she refuse to be more specific?  I still had my suspicions about Debra, Leader of the Pack.  Who on earth has the ability to talk 10 people into going on a cruise?  What was the secret of her mysterious powers of persuasion?


I pointed out to Debra that Cindy had behaved perfectly well to date.  

Debra replied that was because Cindy had her husband Jim.  Debra said Jim had a wonderful way of keeping Cindy from going over the edge. 

"As long as Jim is around, we are safe.  But if Jim is missing, watch out!"

So now I was curious about Jim.  I have to be honest, at first glance I was not reassured.  He looked okay in his tux that night, but the next day he got on the bus wearing a bizarre 'Spudstock Zone' tee-shirt plus a blue shark hat.  I wasn't quite so sure about Jim anymore.  Maybe Cindy was 'different', but then Jim might be a little 'different' himself.  This guy was definitely not your typical choirboy.

When I asked Jim to explain the 'Spudstock Zone', he was vague and evasive.  I had a bad feeling about this.  So this is the guy who guards 'The Wall' at night to keep the ice monsters at bay while the rest of us sleep?   Hmm.  Are any of us safe? 

Well, there wasn't anything I could do about it.  Debra was probably just teasing me.  So I shrugged my shoulders again and let it go.  Fortunately nothing happened throughout the duration of the weeklong cruise.  But the memory of unanswered questions continued to bother me.  So when Marla said that Debra and Cindy had just signed up for the 2013 Mariner Trip, I was worried anew.  I had no idea who these strange people were.


Redemption on the 2013 Mariner Dance Cruise


Rick's Note:  Due to some extremely unfortunate events on the 2012 Black Magic Cruise, I approached Marla's 2013 Dance Cruise feeling friendless and beaten down.  To be honest, I did not even want to go on this trip. 

For our 2013 Mariner cruise, the Hudsons and Hrncirs were back.  However, the rest of the mysterious singing biker gang stayed home.  When asked, Debra refused to explain their absence.  She smiled pleasantly and said, "Sorry, but it's just us this time.  I like it this way.  Now we don't have to behave.  Cindy and I are going to Rock this Boat!"

What is that supposed to mean? 

That afternoon a shudder went down my spine when Marla announced we would be dining with these two couples.  The moment Marla said we would be together, I knew it was pure moth drawn to the flame.  I wasn't sure if it was Debra or Cindy, but somehow Marla was being sucked into their orbit. 

Marla had been very impressed with their energy on the previous 2012 trip.  As she put it, "I don't know what their secret is, but those two couples have all sorts of fun."

Back during the October 2012 trip, Marla had taken note of the flurry of activity surrounding the 'Biker Gang/Choir Boys'.  Furthermore, Marla couldn't help but notice that Debra and Cindy were always in the thick of it.  Debra and Cindy clearly knew how to stir the pot.


After the misfortunes of the previous trip, we were both feeling gun shy.  However Marla was not nearly as leery of these four people as I was, so she decided to seat us at the Hudson-Hrncir table for the trip.  Since they were unknown to us, this move was something of a gamble.  However, if we clicked, Marla and I agreed it might be nice to start over with someone new. 

When Debra and Cindy realized we would be sharing the same dinner table, they initially misinterpreted Marla's move.  Since Debra and Cindy did not know us very well, they were not sure what our reasons were for joining them.  As we later discovered, they were worried that Marla and I were deliberately sitting at their table to curb their enthusiasm.

After all, they had been pretty rowdy on the previous trip.  Were we there to calm them down a little?  They soon discovered nothing could be further from the truth.  The truth was just the opposite.  Marla had put us there in hopes that some of their enthusiasm would rub off on our wounded souls.

On our previous 2012 cruise back in October, Cindy and Debra had gone to considerable trouble to decorate their dinner table every night.  These ladies were very creative; their tasteful decorations had made their tables impressive.  In addition to their flair for design, it was obvious that their group of ten close friends had fun every night at dinner. 

However, neither Marla nor I knew that Debra and Cindy had decided to continue their tradition of decorating the tables for this trip as well.  Therefore on the first night of the trip I was very surprised to discover the two ladies had decorated our dinner table with Mardi Gras stuff. 

I liked how nice their table looked, but frowned when I discovered some weird red star with a feather on it.  I frowned even more when I learned I was supposed to wear this contraption on my head during the meal.  Truth be told, I was feeling far too tense to put this silly red hat on. 

I was not aware that Debra and Cindy had gone out of their way to show friendship to Marla and me.  Cindy and Debra had certainly done their part to make me feel welcome, but I am embarrassed to say it took me quite a while to get with the program.  Thank goodness they didn't give up on me when I refused to cooperate with my red star hat.

So what was wrong with me?  Ordinarily it doesn't take much for me to act silly.  In the past I have been able to let my hair down with the best of them.  However, I was still hurt by the negative blowback from the previous trip. 

The previous cruise had ended on a terrible note.  On the final night of the 2012 cruise, our ship coordinator had asked me for a favor.  She wanted me to end our final party at the stroke of midnight because tomorrow's 'turnaround' day would be very difficult for the staff.  By ending on time, the people who cleaned the room could get a good night's sleep. 

Shorty before midnight, a guy who had obviously been drinking came over and started yelling at me.  He was angry because I told his girlfriend I would not play 'The Wobble' at the end of the evening.  To do so would have forced the party to run into overtime, so I said no, adding that I had a promise to honor.  Why not go dance outside in the hallway and use the boom box his group had brought with them to play the music? 

That wasn't the right answer.  The thug decided I had deliberately disrespected his girlfriend, so without warning he shoved me so hard I staggered backwards and nearly fell.  I was furious.  That was uncalled for.  In thirty years of teaching, I had never been attacked.  Physically assaulted for the silliest reason imaginable, I got right back in the guy's face and told him in no uncertain terms that he was completely off base. 

Undaunted, the man threatened me with violence if I didn't step away.  The guy was big as an ox and he enjoyed pointing out how much stronger and younger he was.  He said he didn't want to hurt me, but he would do just that if I did not step away.

Tough.  I don't back down to bullies, so I held my ground.  For the record, not once did I raise a fist or push back.  But I definitely raised my voice.  We stood there jawing nose to nose for an entire minute.  It was a very ugly confrontation.  Finally some of the guy's friends came over and pulled him away.

The next day, I was shocked to discover I was being blamed for the confrontation.  I was told I was wrong not to back down.

What?  I was incredulous!  Yes, I had lost my temper after being shoved and yes, I had given the guy a piece of my mind, but I did not need to apologize for that.  My assailant did not have his facts straight nor did he bother to discern the truth before hitting me.  Given his aggression, I had every right to stand up to him.  After all, he hit me first and without provocation.

Unfortunately, certain people I had once thought were my friends took his side.  Somehow in their confused minds they thought he was justified in striking me, threatening me, and spitting in my face for the crime of not playing the Wobble beyond midnight.  

Making matters worse, in the days that followed, this man went out of his way to destroy my wife's travel business.  Using his contacts in the Dance World, he missed no opportunity to bad-mouth our trips.  He even went to the trouble of seizing several of Marla's DBA and Facebook trademarks to add insult to injury.

Give the guy some credit, my assailant must have talked a good game.  So good in fact, one has to wonder if this man told these people the truth.  The results were immediate.  On Facebook, picture after picture appeared of events I wasn't invited to.  Banished from circles I had once been welcome in, I was given an object lesson in the fickle nature of fake friendship.  I felt abandoned by certain people I had considered longtime friends. 

Making matters worse, people shunned Marla too.  They refused to sign up for her next trip, preferring to sign up for a trip organized by Miss Wobble.  Now I felt guilty for sabotaging Marla's hard work.  I could not believe people could be so petty.  After spending my career trying to build a family of friends, due to this nasty argument, the group was split in two.  I was stunned a bizarre incident like this could do so much damage. 

You want to know something strange?  I decided it was Fate.  Under ordinary circumstances, this should have blown over.  To see people turn their backs over something that looked like a set-up said it all... I was being taught a lesson.  Unfortunately, I didn't handle my lesson well.  I was furious. 

So when the 2013 Mariner trip came around, I wasn't sure where I stood with a lot of people.  Ostracism has a way of eroding one's confidence.  Being on this 2013 cruise reminded me of what had gone wrong six months earlier.  I still felt the sting as if it were yesterday.  My regret made it difficult to loosen up. 

Consequently on the first night of the Mariner trip, this goofy red star hat with the silly feather only served to remind me of how bitter I still felt.  Since I wasn't in the mood to play, I resisted putting the silly feather hat on my head

On the second night of the trip, when I showed up for dinner, there was a shark hat sitting at my spot on our table.  Now what?  My immediate reaction was that I didn't want to wear that hat either. I refused to put the hat on because it was silly.

However, everyone else put their hats on, including Marla.  Debra and Cindy were wearing parrot head hats while Michael and Jim were wearing shark hats.  I had no clue what these hats were all about, but I was kind of curious.   Apparently these hats were important, but the meaning escaped me.

"So what's with the hats?" I asked.   It was not till Michael explained that the Hrncirs and Hudsons were card-carrying members of the Jimmy Buffett Fan Club that I began to catch on.

Prior to this trip, I knew only two things about Jimmy Buffett.  I knew Buffett was famous for the song Margaritaville and I knew he was best friends with Tony Tarracino, longtime mayor of Key West.  Taccacino was also the colorful owner of a bar where Ernest Hemingway once hung out.  Beyond that, I had never in my life paid a bit of attention to Jimmy Buffett. 

Consequently I had no idea that the parrot head and shark hats were Jimmy Buffett symbols.  Upon request, Cindy said that the shark hats were a take-off on a Jimmy Buffett song titled Fins.

"So what's the story on the parrots?"

Jim replied, "The parrot hats are based on the parrots in the Margaritaville logo.  To wear a parrot hat signifies membership in a group of people known as Parrot Heads.  " 

"Parrot head?  What exactly is a 'parrot head'?" 

Since I had never heard the phrase before, Jim patiently explained that a 'parrot head' is a take-off on a 'dead head'. 

"It's a lifestyle thing, Rick.  It means you wish sometimes you could chuck it all, get on a sailboat and drift around the Caribbean in search of the perfect beach, the perfect woman and the perfect margarita."

Huh?  Well, I'll be darned; I did not know that.  I was at least familiar with the term 'Deadhead'.  'Deadhead' was the nickname for people who were loyal followers of the famous rock band Grateful Dead.  Like Trekkies, the intense loyalty of the Deadheads was something to behold.  I did not know at the time that Jimmy Buffett commanded a similar loyalty. 

Considering how fanatic the Deadheads were, I asked Jim to explain more.  Jim said that at a 1985 rock concert in Ohio, Jimmy Buffett had told the crowd that he felt really touched by the overwhelming support of his enthusiastic audience. 

Buffett went on to comment about everyone wearing Hawaiian shirts and parrot hats and how they kept coming back again and again to see his shows, adding they were "just like Deadheads". 

The crowd took note of the odd compliment and applauded loudly.  That did it, the term 'Parrothead' caught on like wildfire.  The parrot had long been a Jimmy Buffett symbol.  Now that Buffett himself had mentioned Parrots and Deadheads in the same sentence, the phrase 'Parrothead' became the perfect way to refer to Jimmy Buffett's growing legion of fans. 

After Jim finished explaining, I felt a little sheepish.  I was kind of surprised that I had never heard any of this before.  Now I was curious to know more why the shark caps had significance. 

Jim said, "In 1979 Buffett released a song called Fins.  The title refers to 'land sharks', you know, guys who try to pick up women in bars.  A woman is in a bar and she feels like shark bait due to all the predators who swarm around her.  She feels like these guys are ready to devour her."

Jim quoted a lyric, "Just behind the reef are the big white teeth
of the sharks that can swim on the land.

Ah. I get it now.  Thank you, Jim.  And with that tidbit, another piece of Parrothead mythology fell into place.  But I still didn't want to wear the shark hat.  Despite the explanations, I had never been much of a Jimmy Buffett fan.  I had learned enough for one night, so I decided not to pursue the subject any further. 

However I did continue to think about the shark hat lying before me.  Since I was the only one of eight people not wearing the hat, a debate raged in my mind.  To wear the hat or not to wear the hat?  I was not in the mood to look foolish, but at the same time I appreciated Debra and Cindy's kindness.  It was really nice of the two women to go to so much trouble to decorate the table.  However, I still refused to wear the shark hat. 

At the end of the meal, Debra put me on the spot when she asked me to put the shark hat on so she could take a picture.  Still grouchy and uptight, I wasn't in the mood.  However, after giving it more thought, my instincts told me that Debra wasn't trying to hurt or embarrass me.  So I half-heartedly decided to cooperate.  At that point I teased Debra by taking the hat on and off.  Finally I gave in and let her have the picture.  

I sighed as a large chunk of my anger fell to the floor.  But I still wasn't all the way back yet.  Not by a long shot...

After the group picture, Debra asked me to bring the shark hat along with me the next morning when we went on Marla's catamaran excursion.  I frowned.  Sorry, but I was not emotionally ready to become a Parrothead at the moment.  It was still me against the world these days, so that's where I drew the line.  Last night it had taken me the entire meal to relax enough to put the hat on.  But enough is enough. I was determined I wasn't going to wear that stupid hat two days in a row.  I felt alienated enough as it was. 

The next morning as I prepared for the Catamaran trip, when I noticed the shark cap sitting there on the cabin table, I stared at it for a long time.  When Marla asked me why I was rolling my eyes, I explained my mixed feelings about the shark hat. 

Marla smiled.  "Oh, Rick, let it go.  Why not loosen up a little?" 

Of course she was right.  I definitely needed to loosen up.  But I was still finding it difficult to let my guard down.  Still grouchy, I left the shark hat in the room. 

When I got down to the pier, I saw that Jim, Michael and Imre were all wearing their shark hats.  Debra, Eileen, and Cindy were wearing their parrot head hats as well.  They saw us and asked us to join them for a group picture.  To my surprise, on the spot Marla whipped her parrot head hat out of the bag.  I was taken aback.  I had no idea Marla was bringing her hat.  She hadn't said a word about it that morning. 

When I realized Marla was part of the group, but I wasn't, a huge wave of regret swept over me.  Seeing those seven people wearing their goofy hats was all it took.  I felt terrible.  At that moment, I had the crystal blue realization that these ladies were going out of their way to cheer me up and look what a jerk I was being.  In that instant, I finally "got it". 

Here they were making a sincere attempt to help me feel like I was part of the group and all I had done was resist for two days.  Grasping how clueless I had been, I melted on the spot. 

I decided I definitely wanted to be included in that picture WITH MY SHARK HAT ON.  So I begged the group to take two pictures… one with Jim wearing the shark hat and one with me wearing the shark hat.  I explained that if we took two pictures, I could merge the two pictures to make one complete picture.

No one was quite sure what I was doing, but they could see it was important to me, so they cooperated.  Thank goodness! 

That moment was the breakthrough.  The walls came tumbling down.  From that point on, I was completely on board with every crazy stunt for the remainder of the trip.  I found myself in great debt to the Hudsons and Hrncirs.  They were the ones who brought me in from the cold.  

As Humphrey Bogart would say, "Louie, this feels like the start of a beautiful friendship."

An example of Debra and Cindy's elaborate table decorations

Marla got with the program much more quickly than I did.

So how does this "picture merging" stuff work?   Well, we had four men, but only three shark hats.   So in Picture One, Jim wore the shark hat.  Focus on Jim.

Then in Picture Two, Rick joined the shot and wore Jim's shark hat.  Rick told Jim to just stand there.  He didn't need to bother smiling because he didn't have his hat on.  As you can see, Jim took my "don't bother smiling" suggestion to heart.

Picture Three is actually Picture Two, but with one small difference.  I brought Jim's headshot complete with Shark Hat from Picture One and placed it on top off his face in Picture Two to create Picture Three.  Ta da!  This alteration is what they mean by 'photoshopping'.  Now you know why not to trust certain images.


Cindy Works Her Dance Magic


On the first morning of the trip, Marla had grabbed my hand as we walked to breakfast.  "Come here, Rick, I want you to see something!"

Marla took me to see the door to Cindy's cabin.  Marla said that Cindy had confided in her that her theme for the trip was "Let's Get the Party Started!"  

Cindy's doorway confirmed that message loud and clear.

I recalled that Debra had said, "Cindy and I are going to Rock this Boat!" 

Now I began to wonder exactly what Debra meant by that.  It didn't take long to find out.  On Marla's Catamaran trip, Cindy got everyone dancing hard.  On the boat, Marla danced her butt off right along with her new girlfriends.  Marla loved spending time with these two women, I could see that.  She was coming out her shell a lot faster than I was.  Marla really enjoyed hanging out with these ladies. 

However, I did not participate.  I was still not out of my shell yet.  As I watched everyone dance, I was curious what Debra had meant by 'Rocking the Boat'.  Did that mean what I thought it meant? 

Debra and Cindy had skipped our Late Night dancing on the first night, but on the second night, the two ladies showed up with determination.  We had about 20 people in the room and I was DJ for the night.  I was prepared to play a series of Country-Western songs, but Cindy had other ideas.  Shortly before I began to play the music to begin our Late Night Dancing at Midnight, Cindy came over.  

"Rick, you take requests, right?"

Immediately on guard, I reluctantly nodded yes.


Cindy smiled sweetly.

"Good!  Now here's what I want.  First I want you to play Get the Party Started by Pink.  Then I want Let's Get it Started by the Black Eyed Peas. After that I want to hear Old Time Rock and Roll by Bob Seger."

Cindy paused to see if she had forgotten anything.  "Yeah, that should do it."

I frowned.  The last thing I wanted to do was play Freestyle dance music.  Although I started my dance teacher career showing people how to Freestyle, those days were far in the past.  Sometime around the age of 50, I decided my Freestyle days were over. Letting my preference for partner dancing take over, my Freestyle had been in hibernation for the past ten years. 

And now Cindy expects me to shake my booty again?  I don't think so.  This will never work.  I'm not getting out there and no one is going to get out there with her either.   

Wrong.  Cindy went from woman to woman to insist they join her.  I was appalled when Marla was the first one to join Cindy.  That's when the dam broke.  If Marla was going to dance, then all the girls were going to join.  Immediately there were 8 women dancing.  Unbelievable.  I had forgotten how much girls like to Freestyle. 

However, as I expected, the men remained rooted to their seats.  I was really proud of them.  I never expected the men would join them in the first place.  I knew I wasn't getting out there, so I was glad they agreed with me. 


I went over to talk to the guys.  Their negative comments made it clear they did not intend to participate.

"Men don't let other men line dance."

"What do you call a guy who line dances on a cruise?  An ocean liner."

"I've heard that men who line dance also like to pee sitting down."

Feeling reassured, I went back to my computer to program some country dancing and change the music once this nonsense was over with.  At that moment, Cindy guessed what I was to, so she came over to intercede.  Cindy must have realized I was dead set against her next request because she cheated.  Cindy stopped and beckoned to someone to join her.  Guess who she brought along?

Marla.  No fair!  Sure enough, Marla had drunk the Cindy Kool Aid.  Whatever Cindy wanted to do was fine with her.  Oh great. 

Together they said, "We want you to play the Macarena!"

I scoffed.  "C'mon, girls, you gotta be kidding.  No way!  These people aren't going to do the Macarena.  No one likes the Macarena.  It was okay in the 90's, but that was twenty years ago.  Besides, these people are cold sober.  No one is wasted enough to try anything as stupid as the Macarena.  Give up.  You don't have a chance."

Cindy was undeterred.  Cindy said, "I'll make you a bet, Rick.  You play the song, those people will start dancing to it."

I wasn't going to budge.  I shook my head no, no, no, but then it happened.  Marla spoke up.  "Rick, quit arguing and play the song."

Once Marla put her foot down, I began searching for the song.  However, I made sure the girls knew I was very skeptical. 

"Okay, Cindy and Marla, you win.  But I predict you won't get 10 people out there."

When I gave in, Cindy grinned with delight.  She immediately went from table to table telling the girls to grab a man and refuse to take no for an answer.  The women obeyed without question.  Talk about willpower!  The woman was a force of nature. 

Now it was my turn to face the pressure.  Marla came over and told me to get up so the rest of the guys would get up.  She gave me a look that said refusal to cooperate would be a bad idea.  I thought about repeating some of the jokes, but then I thought better of it.  Reluctantly, I got up and joined the dancing.  I was incredulous that Cindy managed to get not just me, but the whole group of us out there dancing to this silly song.  Before I knew it, there were 20 people dancing the Macarena like they were a bunch of kids again.  How did she do that?  Now I began to regret making my bet.  Cindy had won this round.

I can't speak for the others, but I felt pretty clumsy out there.  I suddenly realized I had forgotten how to do it.  After all, it had been fifteen years since I last did the Macarena.  So I had a better idea.  Excusing myself, I went and got my camera. 


OMG, there they are dancing the Macarena!!  How Cindy got those people to participate, I will never know.  No, I take that back.  I do know.  There is something known as the 'Spell of Cindy'.  Look for yourself.  These people are hypnotized. 

I will tell you one thing.  Debra tried to warn me... and now it was too late. 

Oh, look at those poor victims out there.  I think those people out of their minds!  Don't they realize they resemble brain-dead dance zombies?!?  I could not help but shudder... Cindy had become the Sorceress of Dance.  She had them under her power.


After the Macarena, Circe Cindy finally relented and allowed me to play some Twosteps for awhile.  However the damage was done.  Once she had hypnotized everyone, things would never be the same.  Sure enough, Cindy was not done yet.  Two nights later when the ship announced 'Disco Night', she was back in her element.  Throughout the night, Cindy insisted we join her in 70s-style Disco Freestyle. 

Believe it or not, I gave in.  Using a couple stiff drinks for courage, I started to Freestyle again after all these years.  Was I any good?  Hell, no.  I was struggling.  I expected at least a few wiggle moves would still be hiding in there, but I was wrong.  I felt like a big dump truck stuck in reverse.  Or maybe a dancing hippo.  But you know what?  I stayed out there.  And all those ancient club moves finally began to emerge again.  I was in shock.  I was absolutely amazed by Cindy's hypnotic powers. 

How on earth did she get so many people out on the dance floor?  Surely I wasn't the only one who was floundering around like a duck out of water.  I bet the whole group felt spastic.  So why were we out here dancing to Disco music like we were kids again?  Didn't Cindy know we all gave up Freestyle dancing ages ago?? 

No matter.  When it came to raising the dead, Cindy was a Dancing Pied Piper.  Cindy said 'Jump' and 'Jump' we did.

Here we have a pack of people who have lost their minds.  My lovely wife Marla is the perfect example.  Marla is grinning like she is under mind-control.  Meanwhile Cindy is gloating like the Witchy Woman because she has poor Marla under her spell.  Debra tried to warn me.  Now I understand. 


I Make a Friend


One afternoon I was wandering around the Mariner when I spotted Jim Hudson in the middle of a large crowd.  Curious, I went over to ask what was going on. 

Jim smiled and invited me to sit down.  "This is the ship's Trivia Contest.  They have one every afternoon.  So far I have won three days in a row."

Really?  I was so impressed, I decided to stick around.  To my chagrin, Jim narrowly lost.  Still, I liked what we were doing.  In fact, I felt kind of sheepish.  This particular trip was the 27th cruise trip organized by Marla and not once had I participated in a Trivia Contest.  I immediately felt myself respond to the challenge.  I asked Jim if I could join him again tomorrow. 

Jim said sure, he was tired of playing by himself all the time.

So I showed up the next day and we talked more about Jimmy Buffet.  As Jim carefully explained the meaning of his 'Creature from the Spudstock Zone' tee-shirt, I made an interesting discovery.  Not only was Jim ridiculously smart, he was also a little weird.  Even better, Jim was incredibly modest about his intelligence.  That quality endeared me to him. 

I made a point to join Jim for his final three Trivial Pursuit matches.  Unfortunately, I must have jinxed him.  Jim never won again.  How do you suppose that made me feel?  However, it told me something about Jim.  The guy had been undefeated until I came along, but he never once blamed me for his sudden misfortune.  Considering my damaged psyche, I was beyond grateful for Jim's patience. 

In the process, I learned what a nice guy he is, eccentricities and all.  We got along just fine.  After all, it isn't like I am normal either.  Lo and behold, to my surprise, I made a friend. 

Thank goodness Marla trusted her instincts and sought out the Hudsons and Hrncirs.  Marla was right. These four Parrotheads may have turned out to be confirmed characters, but gosh it sure was fun to make such interesting new friends.  

This trip was truly the start of something special.  In the years to follow, the friendship Marla and I formed with Debra, Michael, Jim and Cindy on the Mariner would continue to deepen.  As I got to know them better, I thanked them for cheering me up immensely.  I will always be grateful for their kindness. 

Earlier I explained how cruise trips are an ideal place to make friends.   Over the years, I have discovered how easy it is to get to know people because you have a chance to spend a lot of time together.  This story has been the perfect example.

I have thoroughly enjoyed spending this chapter of my life visiting strange lands with my new friends. 


Jimmy Buffett and Margaritaville


Towards the end of the magical 2013 Mariner trip, things came full circle for me in Cozumel. 

Marla and I have a well-established tradition of taking at least one long walk on every trip.  I had never visited downtown Cozumel, so this seemed like a good place to extend our tradition.  After an hour walk or so, guess what we found? 

Margaritaville, Cozumel.  How could we resist? 

When Margaritaville appeared out of nowhere at the perfect time, I took that as a good omen.  I had definitely undergone a 'Changes in Latitude, Changes in Attitude' transformation on this trip.  Noting the loyalty of my friends towards Jimmy Buffet, I considered it an honor to visit this place and show solidarity. 

The moment we walked into Cozumel's Margaritaville, I felt at home.  Considering I had never been inside a 'Margaritaville' before, it was odd to feel such an immediate kinship to the place.  Obviously my talks with Jim had made me receptive.  

Once I was inside, I noticed videos of Jimmy Buffett concerts playing above the various bars.  I picked a spot at the bar directly under one of the monitors and began watching.  As I studied the videos, I found myself intrigued with the "Jimmy Buffett Mystique".  The first thing I noticed was the immense size of the crowds at Buffett's concerts.  These crowds formed a giant ocean of humanity.  There were people stretched from sea to shining sea.  Good grief!!  Some guy sitting next to me at the bar said the man has played to regular crowds of 40,000. 

I didn't understand the size of those crowds at all.  To my knowledge, this guy has recorded one hit record in his entire life.  So how on earth did this guy parlay one hit record into gigantic crowds the Beatles or the Stones would be proud of?  Or for that matter the legendary Grateful Dead? 

I took my eyes off the screen and looked around the bar.  The place was jam-packed both inside and outside.  I didn't see a single empty table.  Here is what's funny about that... during our walk, Marla and I had passed a dozen Mexican bars.  Every one of them had been completely empty.  Now I knew why... it looked like every tourist in Cozumel was here instead. 

This situation was clear evidence that Life is cruel.  Every other place in town was empty; this place was hopping.  What those bars wouldn't do for just a few of these patrons to come to their joint.  It all boils down to reputation.  A crowd creates a crowd; an empty bar stays empty.

As I studied the various people in the bar, my first impression was they were all aging hippies.  Most of them had long hair and wore Hawaiian shirts with shorts and flip-flops.  They all had dark tans from too many days in the sun.  Let me add they all looked deliriously stoned, more likely on margaritas than marijuana.  Wasted away in Margaritaville. 

Born in 1946, Buffett is 72.  He's a little round in the middle and a little thin on top and really short.  Not an impressive guy to look at, definitely an unlikely music star.  From what I gather, Buffett is so non-descript he likes to wander around before a concert to take the pulse of the crowd.  He remains totally anonymous in baseball cap, sunglasses, T-shirt and shorts.  Unless he makes the mistake of chatting with someone, no one ever notices King Parrothead is among them.  Too funny.

But watch him perform his signature song, "Margaritaville," before a crowd of 20,000-40,00 and you could mistake Buffett for the leader of some strange tropical cult. They call themselves Parrotheads and dress in bizarre ceremonial garb. They know all the hymns by heart and sing right along with their hero.  Buffett is the walking talking Pied Piper of Parrot Paradise.

As Marla and sat in Margaritaville Cozumel sipping margaritas of our very own, it crossed my mind I had seen other Margaritaville Clubs during my travels across the Caribbean.  I had definitely seen one in Key West.  I had definitely seen one in Jamaica.  There was a new one in Cayman and I had seen a Margaritaville in Puerto Rico too.  And now here.  The more I thought about it, other locations came to mind.... St Thomas, maybe St Maarten.

Good grief, these clubs are everywhere!  The Caribbean is infested with them!  The strange thing is here in Cozumel was the first time I had ever actually taken notice.  That is when it struck me.  This Buffett guy must be one heck of a smart dude.

Then I saw a the goofy picture of Buffett from his early days hanging on the wall of the bar and did a double take.  There was a serious disconnect in my mind between the stoner on the wall and the director of a massive corporate empire.  How on earth did Buffett put this giant empire together??

On the spot I decided to learn more about Jimmy Buffett, so when I got home I began to research.  The first two things that caught my eye were that he is a college graduate (University of Southern Mississippi) and that his concerts make way more money than his albums.  Now how is that possible?  Buffett has one major hit to his name, he doesn't dance, he doesn't play a fancy guitar, he doesn't blow anything up, his lyrics are hardly inflammatory, and he is by far the least imposing figure on the stage.  When it comes to gimmicks, the best Buffett can do is throw a few beach balls into the crowd.  Oh wow!  But no one can deny his success, can they?

From what I saw on those videos, the man is clearly a marvelous crowd pleaser.  Everyone knows that if they go to one of his concerts, they are going to end up having lots of laughs, way too much fun, and leave with a huge smile on their face.

But none of this explains the vast empire.  How did he do it?  I mean, yes, the man has a nice voice, but let's face it, "Margaritaville", his most famous song, is rated no higher than 234th on the Recording Industry Association of America's list of Songs of the Century.  Even more ridiculous, I could not even name another one of his songs until I researched this story.  Let's see if you are smarter than me.  Try naming the other song Buffett is most famous for.  I will answer shortly.

And that is when it hit me.  I was completely awestruck to realize that Buffett had somehow parlayed one really good song - Margaritaville - into this amazing string of clubs spanning the Caribbean.  This guy is serious big business.  A cursory list of the locations for his clubs tells the story. 

Key West, Florida (opened 1985)
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Negril, Jamaica (both opened 1996)
Orlando, Florida (1999)
Cancún, Mexico (2002)
Ocho Rios, Jamaica (2002)
Las Vegas at the Flamingo Hotel (2003)
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (2004)
Turks and Caicos Islands (2006)
Cayman Islands (2006)
Cozumel, Mexico (2007)
Panama City Beach, Florida (2006)
Uncasville, Connecticut at Mohegan Sun casino (2008)
Honolulu, Hawaii (2009)
Niagara Falls Ontario, Canada (2011)
Pensacola Beach, Florida (2011)
Nashville, Tennessee (2010)
Chicago, Illinois (2011)
Biloxi, Mississippi (2012)
Sydney, Australia (2012)
Cincinnati, Ohio (2013)
Falmouth, Jamaica (2013)
Atlantic City, New Jersey (2013)
Destin, Florida (2014)
Syracuse, New York (2015)
Nassau, Bahamas (2015)
Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (2015)
Bloomington, Minnesota (2016)
San Antonio, Texas (2016)
Universal City, California (2017)
Cleveland, Ohio (2017)

The list is 30, most of them in the last ten years.  Wherever I go - Key West, Jamaica, Cayman, Cozumel - there will be a friendly Margaritaville inviting me in.  In addition, there are hotels, retail outlets for his merchandise, resorts and casinos. 

I read an article that Buffett is worth somewhere around $600,000, more than Elton John, Kanye West, and Taylor Swift combined.  That's a lot of money for a guy who cannot even afford to wear a pair of shoes at his concerts. 

You have to wonder if Jimmy could give his namesake Warren Buffett a run for his money.  Incidentally, these guys are buddies.  Jimmy calls him “Uncle Warren” and Warren calls him “Cousin Jimmy”.  Warren has been both a friend and business mentor to Jimmy.My next thought was even more profound.  It dawned on me that Jimmy Buffett might actually be the best businessman of any singer in history.

From what I gather, only Paul McCartney is worth more than Buffet.  However, Paul cheated... he had more hit songs.  I am starting to believe that of all the successful musicians in history, Jimmy Buffett is the best businessman of them all.  In fact, I doubt anyone else comes even close.  And yet how many people know this?? 

I begin to think of Jimmy Buffett in the same way I thought of the Grateful Dead. The Grateful Dead had the Dead Heads who formed the most amazing fan base in history.  And yet name me one song they are famous for.  Unless you are a rock 'n roll expert, good luck.  When it comes to the Grateful Dead, I bet you come up empty on name that tune.

Although Buffett's music isn't that well known outside of his loyal fans, he is famous nonetheless.  Now that the Grateful Dead Era born in the Sixties has passed, Buffett's Parrot Heads have replaced the Dead Heads as a cult phenomenon.  

No one is quite sure where to find the road to success, but Jimmy Buffett obviously dug up the treasure map on one of those beaches he hangs out at.   

Here is a good example.  Buffett seems to have the ability to be in the right place at the right time.  Did you know that Buffett was 'Pirate of the Caribbean' before Pirates became cool?

Back in 1974, long before anyone even knew who he was, Buffet released a song called "A Pirate Looks at 40".  Considering Buffett was only 27 at the time, it is a very odd song. 

Yes, I am a pirate two hundred years too late
Cannons don't thunder
there's nothin' to plunder
I'm an over forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late

But I've done a bit of smugglin'
I've run my share of grass
Made enough money to buy Miami
But I pissed it away so fast
Never meant it to last

As Buffett's career began to pick up, this song was always one of Buffett's more popular issues.  Then the song became positively radioactive when the movie Pirates of the Caribbean became a huge phenomenon.  Always quick to see an opportunity, Buffett had the sense to integrate the pirate angle into his beach daze schtick

Today his Pirate song is part of Buffett's "Big 8", a list of songs that he plays at almost all his concerts, and always during the important second set.  Buffett seems to know exactly what he is doing and when to do it.  Another big favorite of his is 'Brown Eyed Girl' by Van Morrison.  Considering all the hits he has, I have to wonder if that song has a personal meaning to Buffett. 

I was always curious how one would categorize Buffett's music. A quick peek at Wikipedia gave me the answer.  Buffett claims says he is sort of Country Western, but to be specific, his music is classified as "Gulf and Western".  I had to smile.  Perfect!

Have you guessed his second biggest song yet?  If you are stuck, here's a hint.  Jimmy Buffett was considered an industry lightweight for much of his career.  However, in 2003, Buffett finally broke through.  After 30 years in the business, he won his first award. It was a Country-Music Award for a duet with Alan Jackson.  Did that shake the name loose?

Margaritaville may just be a state of mind, but Buffett has transformed the song into a worldwide industry.  He has branched off from the Caribbean to own places in Vegas, Memphis, Florida, Canada, Australia and on the moon.

Beneath the shorts and the T-shirts and flip-flops beats the heart of anything but a beach bum.  Buffett has the uncanny ability to merchandise virtually ANYTHING... apparel, Shark Beer, Margarita mix, Shaker of Salt Margarita mugs, hanging parrots, neon Margaritaville wall clocks, surfboards, sailboats, neon Margaritaville bar signs, Margaritaville kiddie swimming pools, Margaritaville mousepads, a Jimmy Buffet photograph album.  The list is endless.  He even has his own Broadway play now, an acclaimed new musical, "Escape to Margaritaville."

And get this... Buffett is planning a billion dollar retirement community in Daytona Beach.  My guess is we should book our spot now because I predict it will sell out.

By the way, have you guessed the prize-winning song yet? "Cheeseburger in Paradise".

Nah, that's not it.  Nice try though.  Keep trying.

So how did Buffett do it?  Seriously, HOW????  We will get to that in a minute, but for now let's answer the trivia question.

"Five O'Clock Somewhere" is the song that took the prize.

2003 was Jimmy Buffett's breakthrough year.  It all started innocently enough when Alan Jackson, the country music superstar, asked Buffett for help recording a new song called "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere".

Ironically, Buffett barely lifted a finger on the way to winning his first and only major music award.  As Buffett recalls, "I didn't write a single lyric.  All I did was walk in the studio. I sang for a total of 24 seconds on the record.  I was there literally for about 20 minutes max.  And then the song became this huge hit.  I had one person after another slapping me on the back, but I didn't do flip past humming a little."

Oddly enough,It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere has a lot in common with Margaritaville.  Both songs make us laugh because we've all been to both places in our minds.  But after we stop laughing, we realize both songs are about heartbreak.  Take away the humor in Margaritaville and we find a guy drinking himself to oblivion over a failed love affair. 

Take away the catchy island beat from the 5 O'Clock song and we uncover a story about a man who is so miserable that he can’t bring himself to return to work from his lunch break.  

I’m getting paid by the hour, and older by the minute,” the song goes. “My boss just pushed me over the limit. 

All this guy does is work, work, work.  The guy hasn’t taken a vacation day in a year.  He knows that there will be consequences tomorrow, but he doesn’t care anymore.  What's the point?  The guy can’t face it for another afternoon.  Just keep pouring down those Hurricanes.

The similarity of the theme behind these two hit songs might explain why Alan Jackson called up his buddy Jim and asked him to participate.  5 O'Clock spent weeks at the top of the country music charts.  It was so successful it received the Country Music Association award for Vocal Event of the Year.  Buffett accepted a CMA award, his first honor in a 37-year career

Buffett was almost at a loss to know what to think.

"I didn't know how to act, because I'd never been to anything like that ceremony before.  I've never won anything for anything. I've never won a talent contest. I didn't know what I was gonna say, other than I was gonna thank my wife first.  As I walked up to the stage, I prayed I wasn't gonna get nervous and forget her name."

Humble, modest, down to earth funny, that's Jimmy Buffett.  But at the same time, Buffett knows how to take an opportunity and run with it.  On the heels of the CMA award, Buffett recruited some of the biggest names in country music to help out on his latest record, "License to Chill". When you're hot, you're hot.  The success of this album took everyone by surprise when it debuted on the charts at #1.  License to Chill would become Buffett's one and only Number One album of his career.

"At 57, to have a #1 album, wow, I wasn't expecting it.  What a relief to escape my demon.  Maybe I have some talent after all."

So what exactly motivates Jimmy Buffett?   What does he mean by "escaping his demon"?  Here's what you need to know.  Buffett was... dare I say it?... something of a loser back when he was in his twenties. 

"Lots of people ask what keeps me going.  I can only say the first thing that pops into my mind is an experience from years agoI remember stopping at some random Holiday Inn for a quick beer and sandwich while I was driving somewhere. 

I remember seeing this poor, has-been country singer working in the bar.  No one was clapping, no one was even listening.  The expressions on the guy's face scared me to death.  It was obvious that this guy had been somebody that'd been there and come back down.

This guy's fate shook me up. I didn't want to sit there in the dark some night and say to myself, 'Hey Jimmy, remember back in 1977?  I had this one really big hit, "Margaritaville." I was really special back then.

I told myself I wanted to keep my foot on the pedal.  I did not want to be one of those people in free fall.  I never wanted to take that run back down the hill."

Rick's Note:  You know, the more I read about Jimmy Buffett, the more I like him.  Jimmy Buffett is pure rags to riches.  His rise to fame and fortune is a very interesting story.

He was born in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  Back in the Sixties, Buffett was something of a wanderer.  He attended three different colleges on his way to a degree in journalism.  He was married just out of college in 1969 and divorced soon after.  His life was going nowhere fast.  Buffett was a nobody folk singer whose songs interested no one.  He was at best a wannabe performer. 

Forced to make money, Buffett took a job writing rock schlock for Billboard Magazine in Nashville.  His big claim to fame was breaking the news of Flatt and Scruggs separating.  Apparently that was big news back then, especially for fans of the Beverly Hillbillies theme song.

"Now listen to the story about a man named Jed, poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed."

Buffett's writing gig barely covered the bills.  Working on the fringes of the music scene in Nashville and New Orleans, Buffett was so broke that he often played guitar on New Orleans sidewalks for tips.  There were times he didn't eat until someone took pity on him and put some money in his jar. 

His time as a dirt poor musician helps explain why New Orleans holds such a grip on his imagination.  Buffett has played Jazz Fest a dozen times and made unannounced guest appearances as well.  New Orleans is Buffett's unofficial home town.  He loves to wander the streets and remember back when he had so little going for him.  As a mega millionaire, Buffett tries everything in his power not to lose touch with his improbable rise from dead broke to Fortune 500.

I am not sure if you would call it a 'break', but the major turning point in his life came in 1971.  That's when a buddy of his, Jerry Jeff Walker ("Up Against the Wall Red-Necked Mutha") invited him to come along for a trip to Key West, Florida.

To understand Key West, it is a small town on an island at the southernmost point of the USA.  It is very close to being the end of the world.  Maybe that's why Buffett loved the place.  He was 25 and short on cash.  Buffett discovered he made more money playing sidewalk tunes here than any place he had ever been.  When Jerry Jeff Walker left, Buffett decided to stick around.  For a couple years he mixed with drifters, marijuana smugglers, down and out writers and a weird assortment of cultural pirates.

It was in Key West that Buffett developed the easy-going beach bum persona for which he is known.  Although he actually wrote "Wasting Away in Margaritaville" in Austin, Texas, of all places, Buffett's anthem is a semi-autobiographical song inspired by his early days in Key West.  

"Margaritaville" has come to symbolize a carefree Caribbean lifestyle.  For many people, the only time they experience this way of living is on vacations or Jimmy Buffet concerts, but they dream about it every single day at work.  Buffett has a lot of fans who work very hard, make a lot of money, and use his music to fuel their dreams of escape. 

Regarding the success of this song, Buffett has said: "I was lucky enough to get my thumb on the pulse beat of what people perceived the tropics to be, a place to chill."

After studying Buffett's career, it strikes me that one of Buffett's gifts is his ability to observe people and sing about them in clever and quite ironic ways.  This
little known verse from the Margaritaville song is a good example. It was left off his original recording to make the song more "air-friendly".

Old men in tank tops,
Cruisin' the gift shops,
Checkin' out chiquitas,
down by the shore

They dream about weight loss,
Wish they could be their own boss
Those three-day vacations can be such a bore.

I cannot help but smile.  Buffett nailed it.  Those acid lyrics are so right on!  You really have to visit Key West to realize how perfectly this single verse captures the place.

When Marla and I visited Key West for the first time on our 2004 Honeymoon Cruise, I saw countless street bums dressed in tank tops.  They wandered around the place lost in an aimless daze.

Therefore it makes sense that anyone playing street music in this place would have an understanding audience.  The bums just stand around anyway, so why not go check out the music and stand there instead?  Now you know the secret of Buffett's Key West success... he sang songs about oblivion to people who were oblivious.  

When I returned home, I wrote a highly satirical story about the Zombies of Key West.  You will be intrigued to know my story also talks about Ernest Hemingway.  Did you know that two Key West bars were once locked in a costly legal duel to the death over which bar had the right to claim Hemingway as their most famous drunk?  Buffett's best friend Captain Tony Tarracino figured prominently in the story.  No surprise there.  

It must be deeply ironic that the first real success Buffett ever experienced in his career was a song about his days as a loser.

Well, today Jimmy Buffett is hardly a loser. Sometimes a man just needs to catch a break.  Ask me, I know.  I remember full well calling myself the 'Creepy Loser Kid' at one point in my life.  My 33 year career with SSQQ started when I finally emerged from a wretched pool of sorrow and self-pity.  After being thrown out of graduate school, it took a very strange dance class and a very strange friend to pull me out of my perilous downward spiral. 

So I know what the bottom feels like.  This explains why I relate to Buffett's personal story so keenly.  No doubt my sad tale would make a great Buffett song.  Too bad I can't write lyrics.

Buffett never imagined creating an Empire.  But that's what happened.  Buffett learned about the music business after college when he wrote for Billboard magazine.  There he saw how poorly the music industry took care of its artists.

“It was indentured servitude, and it still is,” Buffett said.

He tried to stand up to the record companies, but it was impossible.  Buffett signed with MCA Records (now Universal). He wanted to keep his publishing rights, but the label would not give him a record deal unless it owned everything. 

“If you apply supply and demand, there’s always a supply of talent who’s willing to do anything if you aren’t.  If you don't sign on the dotted line, someone else will.”

So what choice did Buffett have?

Then one day Buffett realized that even if you were the supply, you could also be the supply chain.

“It’s up to you to figure out how to take advantage or to manage whatever you’re going to do,” Buffett said. “Margaritaville” was a hit in 1977. So maybe I don't have complete control over my music.  But more important, I realized I could build on my song in a different way.  On that day, Margaritaville® was born."

Buffett figured out a way to sell merchandise based on the song's popularity.  His Margaritaville Empire started in 1985.  That is when Buffett opened a Margaritaville retail store in Key West.  The store did so well that Buffett was encouraged to try another venture.  Two years later in 1987, he opened Margaritaville Cafe in Key West. 

From that point, one good thing led to another.  In 2013 there were over 20 locations.  In 2018 there are 30 locations.  Jimmy Buffet's empire continues to grow at an amazing clip.

Stop and think about it. I cannot think of a similar situation where someone parlayed a hit song into a vast empire.  There have been a lot of one-hit wonders in the music industry, but there's never been anyone like Jimmy Buffett before.

One of the things that makes Buffett so interesting is his versatility.  Buffett is not just a performer, businessman and songwriter, he is an accomplished book writer as well. 

His book "A Pirate Looks At Fifty" went straight to No. 1 on the New York Times Bestseller non-fiction list

That accomplishment put him in company with another Key West notable, none other than Ernest Hemingway himself.  Buffett is one of seven authors in history to have reached No. 1 on both the fiction and non-fiction lists.  The other six authors who have accomplished this are Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, William Styron, Irving Wallace, Dr. Seuss and Mitch Albom. 

Nice company.  I like the Dr. Seuss comparison.  It fits.  Horton Hears a Who and Eats a Cheeseburger in Paradise.

Between his restaurants, album sales, books, and tours, Buffett is among the richest singers in the world with a net worth of $550-$600 million and growing by the day.  Even at 72, Buffett tours the country relentlessly to the joy of his many fans.

Buffett has homes all over the United States, including Sag Harbor, NY, Palm Beach, Florida, and St. Barts in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean.  He has his own yacht and he has his own airplane.  Definitely not in any danger of going downhill, Buffett's recurring nightmare.

Rick's Note:  I would like to conclude my story of Jimmy Buffett with some personal observations. 

When Marla and I visited New Orleans Jazz Fest in 2018, we were able to catch a 90 minute Jimmy Buffett performance along with our friends Jim and Cindy.

The show was vintage Buffett.  Beach balls flew through the air,  Hawaiian shirts stretched as far as the eye could see while Parrothead hats bobbed to the beat of the island sound.  Jimmy Buffett was so relaxed on stage, you could see he's a seasoned performer.  Buffett radiates warmth.  The crowd can feel it and so can his fellow performers.  They appear to love the guy. 

For his 12th time at Jazz Fest (not counting his many guest appearances over the years), Buffett performed with the Acoustic Airmen, an all-star group of players that included Country Music Association Musician of the Year Mac McAnally along with Louisiana's legendary Sonny Landreth on slide guitar. 

It was interesting to note how willing Buffett is to give credit to the talented artists around him.  Case in point, guest player Jake Shimabukuro from Hawaii was allowed to steal the show with his ukulele solo.  At one point, Buffett put down his guitar and walked aside, abdicating the stage to Shimabukuro and drummer Robert Greenidge as they performed "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on ukulele and steel drums.  The crowd ate it up.  Another time, Buffett and everyone else but McAnally left the stage to take a break backstage.  Buffett has no need to be the constant center of attention. 

Much has been written recently about Buffett not properly living the "Jimmy Buffett Lifestyle".  How dare Buffett be so rich while continuing to embrace the joy of dropping out to pursue the joys of Tiki Poverty.  It doesn't seem right that the world's most famous beach bum runs a multi-media empire while simultaneously preaching his sand-in-the-toes lifestyle.

None of that seemed to matter to the vast legions of Jazz Fest Parrotheads.  Seriously, the Jazz Fest crowd was pretty darn wealthy in its own right... these tickets were not cheap. 

No one seemed to mind that this unusual barefoot guy on stage might be wealthier than Donald Trump himself.  All they cared about was hearing the hits from a guy who began his career as a nobody hustling for tips on the French Quarter streets more than 40 years ago.  They truly love Jimmy Buffett in New Orleans. 

For his part, Buffett embraced his roots.  He made sure to make frequent references to his days as the local drifter who made it good.  When Buffett told the tale of his first visit to Jazz Fest, "I ran into a chum with a bottle of rum and wound up at Jazz Fest", the crowd went wild.  Surely every starving musician in the crowd had a blinding vision of getting their own break some day.  Let's acknowledge the obvious... Jimmy Buffett is a hero to every musician who has ever heard his rags to riches story. 

From my own vantage point, I see the story of Jimmy Buffett as proof that Fate may very well play an important role in our lives.

This is the man who with virtually no help made it up through the ranks in the School of Hard Knocks to find a music niche no one ever dreamed existed.  I doubt even Jimmy Buffett himself knew there was a market for island escapism. 

But what the guy did know is that he had been handed the break of a lifetime.  Given this small window of opportunity, Buffett had the sense and the talent to parlay his lucky break into a commercial empire.  I for one wish to tip my hat to the man.

However, there is one thing about Buffett that most people don't get... has any famous person in history been more anonymous?  This is the same guy who can walk right past his own fans and they don't even recognize him.  Jimmy Buffet is the Rodney Dangerfield of the music industry.  This is truly a man who gets NO RESPECT.  Here is a story that bears out my point nicely.

On February 4, 2001, Buffett was ejected from a professional basketball game in Miami for cursing a bad call.

After the game, NBA referee Joe Forte said he ordered some old guy to be removed because "there was a little boy sitting next to the guy and a lady sitting by him.  He used some words he knows he shouldn't have used."

Joe Forte had no idea who Buffett was.  In fact, Forte lost his temper again after the game when Miami Heat basketball coach Pat Riley tried to explain who Buffett was.  When Riley asked the referee if he knew what a "Parrothead" was, Forte got angry because he thought Riley was trying to insult him. 

Part of this is Buffett's own fault.  Jimmy Buffett is so humble it is painful.  This is a guy who absolutely refuses to toot his own horn.  He maintains such a low profile that most people have no idea the extent of his accomplishments.  They write him off as a modestly talented one hit wonder and leave it at that.

Although it is probably correct to label Jimmy Buffett as a one-hit wonder, I would like to add that he is also the undisputed, most successful one hit wonder of all time.  I am fairly positive this is one achievement that will never be challenged.

As it stands in 2018, Jimmy Buffett is not in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.  Why not?  Non-fans question the talent of a man whose mellow pop ballads fail to elicit real passion.  Some believe that unless a song makes young girls scream, who cares? There is little value in honoring curious lyrics about a lifestyle most people would dismiss as 'escapism'.

I disagree.  Jimmy Buffett is special because he is an example of what is good about the music industry.  He makes people happy!

As anyone who has ever been to a Jimmy Buffett concert will testify, this is a man who makes us all feel part of something bigger and better than ourselves.  He an avatar of goodwill, a man who preaches the message that it is okay to kick back and enjoy life once in a while, especially if it involves family and friendship.  A person cannot leave a Buffett concert and not come away feeling so much more light-hearted for the visit.

I contend Jimmy Buffett has brought more happiness to people than any other rock star in history.  That should count for something.  I am proud to be a Parrothead.

So I leave you with two small regrets.  One belongs to Jim Hudson and the other one is mine.

Jim was very sad not to hear 'Cheeseburgers in Paradise'.  I tried to console him, but Jim was forlorn not to hear his beloved Jimmy-Boy sing his personal favorite song.

As for me, I am still dying to learn the inside story about the failed romance that inspired 'Margaritaville'.  As the three choruses reveal, while the narrator is drowning in sorrow over his failed romance, his friends are telling him his former girlfriend is the one who is at fault.  However, the narrator isn't so sure. 

The last line of each chorus shows his shifting attitude toward the situation:

first: "it's nobody's fault."
then: "hell, it could be my fault."
finally: "it's my own damn fault."

That's my favorite part of the song!  Who is she?  If anyone knows the story, I am ready to be enlightened.

In parting, I would like to share Jimmy Buffett's own words about his unusual career from a 60 Minutes interview.

Jimmy Buffett says he's a workaholic.

"I know so many people who hate their jobs," says Buffett.  "And I love my job.  I really do. It gets more exciting every day.

People in high-pressure situations and high-pressure jobs use my fantasy world as an escape from the rigors of life.  I think escapism is something that, you know, if you asked me, 'What's my job in a nutshell?', I would say I sell escapism.

I understand that I have been anointed the king of the kicked-back lifestyle.  And it's been wonderful for me.  I feel so privileged to have fans that are so loyal.

But on some days, I want to go up to some of those people and say, 'Hey, man, get a life!'

You know?  This world I created, it's just made up, you know?  It's all make believe.  It's one thing to be a kid without a direction, but at some point you get a job and you work to make something of yourself. 

Hey, if life knocks you down, you get back up and start swinging.  You can't spend the rest of your life wasting away in Margaritaville."

Amen to that.

Rick Archer
May 2018


VIP for this guy means "Very Important Parrothead"

Captain Tony Tarracino, Mayor of Key West, and his friend Jimmy Buffett

Notice the claim that Ernest Hemingway used to drink here... you really
should read the weird story about the expensive Key West law suit.
Attack of the Key West Zombies

Rick and Marla in Key West with Gary and Betty Richardson, Magic 2012



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