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Inside the Life of a CEO

YAH MON or how I almost became a business magnate in Jamaica.

(02/01/2011) Alan "Rastamon" Spetner

YAH MON or how I almost became a business magnate in Jamaica.

Part 1

After a few weeks on the blog, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot write about my business  in sequential events- there are way too many side incidents that form one’s life, and mine is certainly not any different. So welcome to one of my business daydreams or how I almost  (not the first nor the last of many attempts) stepped off the edge of the world.

I will catch you up about our trips to da islands mon, but suffice it to say, we fell in love with the “cool runnins" of Jamaica. This was the mid 1980’s and the potent, homegrown ganja was the lure,but the vivid scenery of the mountains, the turquoise ocean, and the mellow people who brought us reggae was the bonus. The people were friendly, and the escapism was phenomenal.  After a few trips there and making friends with hustlers, guides, waiters, and  musicians, we got to know the scene pretty well. There was no violence yet in Jamaica, no cocaine yet, just a mellow bunch of stoned natives. It was a way of life, and they held fast to it.

On our very first trip to Jamaica, we found a beautiful little resort with about 25 units located next to James Bond Bay...so named as author Ian Fleming who wrote the Bond books had a villa one cove over from this resort and the Jamaicans named it, of course, James Bond Bay. Here I am relaxing at the Golden Seas resort

alan-goldenseas

 

 The resort was called the Golden Seas and I became best friends with the man who kept the pool clean and kept the beach combed and clean by removing all of the rocks. I named him Rock Mon and here is a picture of us together in 1983

RockMon and Alan by the pool

rockmon

 

One year we attended a “ganga growers” convention (also known as a cockfight), and spending time away from the tourists up in the mountains, Helene and I were totally swept away. Our guide “Tony House” befriended us on our first night in Jamaica. He led us through the jungle to the cleared field where the fights were to be held.  Although we could have easily disappeared and never been heard from again, we felt no fear as we hiked through the jungle for over an hour.  Below is a picture of Helene and Tony as we made our way to the  fights.

 Here is Helene strolling through the jungle on the way to the fights

helene-jungle

 

 

We were told that everyone bet on the cock fights, and I imagined it to be like parimutuel betting at a race track at home.  Not exactly!  Each of the growers had a stable of fighting cocks. Each rooster was named after the region where the grower’s farm was located, and the fights were held in a big open field that had a 25-foot square pen that was covered with chicken wire. Crude benches made from large bamboo logs served as the front row seats. Since we were the only white folks and were with some friends, Helene and I were given front row seats. I really never knew if it was out of respect or curiousity as they wondered “what the heck this dumb , stoned, white couple was doin’ at a cock fight amongst marijuana farmers in the Jamaican Mountains!?!”

Here is the Cock Fighting Ring and the crowd warching this event

cockfight ring

 

Each of the ganja plantation owners made their own camp setting under a tree in the large, cleared field up in the mountains. They all had cook fires going and we were treated to aki rice and fish, grilled chicken and samplings of all kinds of home-baked bread and pies.  It was a sight to behold. When it was time for the fights to begin, it became a madhouse.

The roosters (aka “The FIGHTING COCKS”) had sharp razor knives strapped to their legs and the owners stepped into the ring and held the birds inches from each other, getting them stirred up by jousting with them. While this was going on, all of the elder Rasta men, whose dreadlocks fell to the ground, stood up and passed around a spliff, which is a very large and potent joint, and after a few minutes they began to chant melodically.  I don’t believe that this ritual had anything to do with the actual fight, but I was told later that they smoked to help the soon dead losing cock to be reborn and morph to some other living thing as part of God’s continual creation.

Below is a picture of the fight underway

cockjumping

 The crowd began to yell, and despite the native “patois” tongue, I was able to understand that the methodology for betting was to hold your money up in the air and yell: “1 dollar on Port Antonio,or  Kingston) ! A wild-eyed crowd member would then come by, stare you straight in the eye and yell back… “Yah mon!”, which meant you had a bet with that man.  If you won, you had to find him to get your money, but if you lost, he would come looking for you for his dollar. It was total chaos, but we were seated next to one of the “elders” who kept track of the bets for me. Cock fighting is brutal. It is a fight to the death. Only one fighting cock leaves the pit alive.  Helene was not too sure that we would not suffer the same fate as the losing rooster.  I, of course, smoked the huge joint as it came around, and took it all in

Here is a picture of the crowd surrounding the Cock Arena

cock-arena

Here’s a picture I painted from a sketch I made after the fights ended. At the edge of the cock fight meadow, you could look out over the ocean from up in the hills and I had this wonderful image of an older Rastafarian man smoking a spliff and enjoying the gorgeous sunset. At the time, I always carried a charcoal stick and a piece of folded sketch paper. When we got back home about 6 days later, I went into my little studio in the basement and painted this picture.

I called this painting..Rastamon at sunset

rasta-sunset

 

Of course, there was also the usual tourist things to do. One of the main attractions of the island was a large waterfall flowing from the mountains into a spot off the road near Ocho Rios, on the north side of the island. The road was very narrow, but there were few cars, and mostly mini-buses filled with sightseers who had left their resort for the day and were on their way to Dunn’s River Falls.

A typical crowd at Dunn's River Falls

dunnsriver

There were way too many “touristas” here for us.  Our Jamaican friends took us down the road about ¾ mile behind a restaurant to another waterfall where we were the only visitors. It was gorgeous and we learned that wherever the water rolled off a cliff, if you stood in the pool beneath and let the water fall over your head that was called a brainwash.  I washed my brains many times in Jamaica.  Helene and I took our last trip there in 1991 and haven’t been back since.  It’s not that we have no desire to go back, but there’s a lot more world to see.

I discovered long ago that I have the unique ability to smell out a business opportunity and develop a plan anywhere I am in the world.  One of my best plans is “The Jamaican Plan.”   This one was also a “no brainer” since Jamaica has its own rhythm and is filled with tourists.

This plan was created in 1986. Regrettably,  it may be an opportunity missed. It was developed for a time that is much different than today. No all-inclusive resorts back then.  Just lots of cool little motels and hotels on the beach.

The great business opportunity I saw was to have miniature golf courses around the island.  Not just any miniature golf course, but one made with real grass, and the abundant flora and fauna and running water in Jamaica.  Jamaica is truly a paradise and all of the plant life grows all 12 months of the yearhttp://www.bonitajamaica.com/?p=183

Jamaica has the perfect environment and labor force for this venture.  The first great advantage was the year-long super growing season.  Every living thing grows quickly in this tropical paradise. The terrain around the island and near the circumferential road (no highways back then) was perfect for 3 completely different kinds of courses, with elevations ranging from sea-level to mountains. The other most important ingredient was the labor force.  There was so much under- employment in Jamaica that the labor force was abundant – and they all knew how to garden!  It was one of the main labor skills indigenous to Jamaicans.

So, it would be easy to sculpt a professional-looking mini golf course.  The famous Jamaican landmarks would be used as themes for each hole, which would make each game a mini tour of Jamaica. It would all be natural grass, with streams and rocks and tons of flowers and palm trees.   For fun, I imagined a putting hole to be 50 to 100 feet long with lots of curves and ponds. The real experience would come from the use of young Jamaican lads and lasses who would serve as caddies for each group or hole. They would tell stories in their native accent and would point out flowers and tell about each famous landmark hole, keep score, and of course, make jokes and bring drinks. This way the golf course manager could control the pace through his guides, and it would be a couple of hours of great fun and an educational experience!

There would also be lots of lovely Jamaican women in their flowery native dresses serving cocktails for the adults and soft drinks for the kids. And, for the piece de resistance, I would build an outdoor American-Style BURGER BAR that played Jimmy Buffet music and reggae. We would grill thick sirloin burgers, French fries, and serve malted milks as well as every rum drink known to man. We would build everything from bamboo and thatch.  It would be great fun, and every tourist -  stoned or straight- would partake of the pleasures and leave $ 20 to $ 50 in our cash register.

To promote this venture, I would have 10,000 little umbrellas printed with our name and location: “SPETS Country Club & Grill - Negril, Jamaica.”  Our logo would be a parrot and crossed golf sticks, and of course, I would sell the coolest T-Shirts to be found on the island!

It was a great idea and I know it would have worked. All I needed to do was to pay the tour companies a commission to stop with their buses, and I would have a crowd all day, every day.

Alas, this great plan would not come to fruition.  We had commitments back home: our two children, our parents, our friends and family, and of course, our business.  So, I laid my dream to rest and  we returned home. 

This has been a glimpse of how my mind works. For many years now, no matter where we travel, I invent a business for that destination.  Maybe I’ll revisit this one…  Look for the Blog post: Jamaica Business part 2.

 

Note: Thanks to my friend, co-worker and fellow blogger Cedric Jones for editing and suggestions for this posting