We're just a couple of guys from Washington, DC building a house on St. John. Sounds simple enough! Guess we'll see about that. So ... here's a running timeline of the progress on our Bongo Bongo St. John blog.

This page is continued from the Bongo Bongo Blog number 4

June 16, 2006

We went an entire day today without a call from the management company. We see that as a good sign (although, they may actually have taken pity on us and decided to spare us from the daily minutia.)

If you haven’t done a trip to Jost van Dyke, please put it on your list. If you have, you know why it’s a must. White Bay is the quintessential Caribbean beach, and where you’ll find the Soggy Dollar Bar and some other great lean-to bars. Foxy’s is an institution. Foxy is the Don Ho of the BVI, and I would guess, despite his persona, quite the businessman. I’ve never done Foxy’s at night. That is for the boat privileged…those who can stay late and don’t have to get their rental back or rush back to the charter. But I would guess that’s the most happenin’ time. Foxy makes regular lunchtime appearances for the rest of us, and he’s very entertaining.

See for yourself.

June 17, 2006

The gates were going up literally the weekend the first guests arrived. In fact, I think they could only use one side the first day they were there. The same guys that made the railings made the gates, and we couldn‘t be happier with their work. Although, the entry gates kind of have a Cell Block C look to them. The plan is to add some detail down the road, like a big, aluminum palm leaf or something on each gate. The gates also need a final polishing, but that'll have to wait for now. We also think we made a mistake. They asked us whether we wanted the gates to open in or open out...and we, being overwhelmed with more taxing and more complicated questions at that particular moment, said "uh, we donno, out." Should've said in. But, that can probably be changed too.

Look closely. That‘s Russ in the picture grabbing his bag and running like hell to get outta there the last day.

June 18, 2006

One recent afternoon when we were working at the house, we hear some people say “hi”, and look up and see four people. We say “hi”, and they say “this was supposed to be our week.” GULP. They were canceled guests staying someplace else. They were very kind and didn’t slug us or anything. We gave them a tour and they said they’d consider the house maybe next trip. It was good that they were nice, but it was WAY GOOD that we were on our hands and knees scrubbing a floor when they stopped up during their week and not floating in the pool with a beer in our hand laughing and carrying on. (Yes I staged this picture, but it is a re-enactment of real life events.

June 20, 2006

Well, we have our first review from our first guests, and we’re very relieved. I told Russ I was going to post an excerpt from it, and he told me that seemed kind of self-serving. To which I said, “Uh, HELLO? It’s our blog!” So here ya go:

Oh my goodness BONGO BONGO is the coolest place on the face of the earth. I'm not kidding. We had such an amazing trip and St. John was absolutely amazing, but BONGO BONGO was even better. It made our trip. Everything about the place is wonderful. We loved the view, the pool, the decorating, the A/C, the fountain, the tiki torches, EVERYTHING! It is in the perfect location, far enough from cruz bay, quiet and private but close enough at the same time.

Okay, posting that isn’t kind of self-serving. It’s pretty shamelessly self-serving. I'd post more, but I'm blushing. (ya, ya...we know there will be bad ones...but you gotta admit that's a heck of a start.)

Wanna go to White Bay for a few seconds?

Click here.

June 21, 2006

Today we finalized the conversion of our builders risk insurance policy to a homeowner’s policy…paperwork First Bank has been anxiously awaiting as part of converting the construction loan to a mortgage. Insurance is not cheap, and we’re getting off easy. We’re only required to insure the amount of the loan, but that’s still almost $1,100 a month. Being from DC (by way of Iowa) I especially enjoy the deductibles terms which states “all perils $1,000 each loss, except 5% total sum insured for the peril of Wind and Earthquake. The policy actually capitalizes Wind and Earthquake. Just in case you might not know about the risk of those perils.

June 22, 2006

Russ and I have BOOKED OUR OWN HOUSE for the 4th of July. There was a four day hole, and we snagged it. I snapped this really blurry picture a couple of months ago (didn’t seem blurry when I took it…hmmm) when there was a fireworks show at the Westin for I don’t know what. But it means that BB will be a great place to watch the 4th fireworks show, which is also staged in Great Cruz Bay. We’re maybe kind of excited about actually spending time in a finished house, but we know we’ll probably be working on the house, not enjoying it. I am also going down Sunday for a three day trip to deal with some things. There was a post on the usvi-on-line forum today from some guy who wanted to know how long of a vacation on St. John it took to reach the point where you didn’t mind coming home. I so wanted to post a reply that said “Build a house on St. John. You’ll reach the point you can’t WAIT to get out of there.” How sad is that? Right now we actually dread going to St. John. Pathetic. That feeling better pass. It will. Beach Bar, Beach Bar, Beach Bar…..

June 23, 2006

We knew the hot tub area wouldn’t pass inspection the way it is in this picture (3 weeks ago), without a railing around it. But we really didn’t want to screw up the view with a big railing. So, the railing guys made a 15 inch high railing that goes around the hot tub, which was sufficient, and you can still see over it when you’re in the hot tub (a place I have yet to be.) We’re anxious to see how it turned out. Guests check out Monday morning and new ones in Monday afternoon. I’ll get up there and snap a billion pictures between them.

We really want to get the veranda floors stained and will try to schedule it when we’re there over the 4th , although that would mean having to stay off the floor for two of the four days we’re there. It’s not like it’s an out of the way area. You get everywhere through the verandas. There is a gap between guests in August too, and we may put it off until then.

June 24, 2006

Hello blog readers. Remember us? Jeff and Russ? You were sharing our saga, and then one day it happened, like Jackie Paper, you came no more. Seriously. Readership has been almost cut in half in the last 3 days. I know I’m out of relevant pictures, and I haven’t edited any video for a couple of days…but do stay tuned. We have a whole shoebox full of stuff to reveal. Soon.

The drop-off may also be because we pulled our ads on News of St. John, usvi-on-line and VI Now because we’re redesigning the BB Website. (It’ll be VERY cool.) Our friend Frank, who runs NOSJ will be thrilled to hear all this. He’ll probably email us pie charts and graphs showing readership trends. (If you don’t subscribe, you should. It’s a pretty fun little aggregate of St. John news…especially when he gets on his soap box, which he does just often enough to be entertaining. www.newsofstjohn.com )

I’m off in the morning. Delta through Atlanta, ’cuz US Airways was way off the charts with the last-minute fare.

By the way, Peter, Paul and Mary: bad island music. Mammas and Pappas: good island music. (There’s actually a funny Mammas and Pappas Virgin Islands connection. Google it. But go deep. First few hits are pretty whitewashed.)

June 26, 2006

The builder’s trailer is finally gone…hauled away today. Too bad. I was thinking about painting it red and calling it a third bedroom. I’ve got a bathroom for it (still) sitting at the end of the driveway.

Speaking of which, confirmed word today that the driveway will be poured Wednesday. That’s right. We’ve had two weeks’ worth of guests with no driveway. No complaints. At least not on an attorney’s letterhead. Great that we’re finally getting the driveway, but uh-oh, the third guests checked in today. See the issue here? Guests, pouring driveway, guests, pouring driveway…

So…I go up and meet them at the house this afternoon, cold Veuve Cliquot in hand, and make them an offer. They take off Wednesday morning and come back Wednesday night. And park at the bottom of the driveway and walk up for the next two days. In exchange, two free nights and dinner on us at Lime Inn. They’re from Dallas and they’re blog readers, which buys us the sympathy card (the blog part, not the Dallas part) and they’re very happy to make the deal. They were actually super cool about it. (Thank you!)

Next installment…guest book anxiety.

June 27, 2006

I shot video this morning. And yesterday. And again tomorrow. I (we) do still at least love the work down here. As I was driving today I started adding up all the villas we’ve shot for owners, management companies and real estate companies and it’s well over 100. Mostly cream of the crop houses too. If we were smart, we’d turn all that video into something. Hmm…

I like the hot tub railings. We passed code. You can still see the view. Good compromise.

I also really like the deck furniture. Same stuff as Mahogany Run on St. Thomas just got as part of its re-do. We got 4 lounges with two side tables each, a dining table with four chairs, and two bistro tables with chairs for about $4K. That is really good. And it arrived timely. Silk Greenery, St. Thomas.

I’m up at the house Monday before the guests get there, and there lays the “guest book.” (I won’t show it because we got two of them as housewarming presents and I don’t want to slight anyone. But they’ll both get used.) So, I circle this thing, looking at it, and turning away…then looking again . And Anna, the woman who cleans BB finally said “Yeff! (Spanish accent.) Read it! So I did, and the first two guests were effusive! Well, in round about ways. One entry said something like: What a great house “and as it evolves, it will get even better.” Public relations 101.

June 28, 2006

Here's Paco's fountain. We gave the builder absolutely no direction on this, even after he asked what we wanted, so we got what we deserved, which was a white PVC pipe sticking up in the air. Clever Paco's short-term fix? Cut off the pipe, drill a few holes in it and cap it. Fountain! We found some fountain kits online (www.pondusa.com) and are sending them down.

This is supposed to be driveway day. An update tomorrow if it happens.

June 27, 2006

Ya know, if it can go wrong…it does on St. John. Matthew and his crew show up Wednesday as scheduled. Concrete truck shows up shortly after. Things look good. Then….mid-day, the island yet again runs out of concrete. I kid you not. I believe we got the last of it. We needed 40 cubic yards - four trucks - we got two trucks and change. They got the top parking pad and part of the upper slope done, and decide to use the rest to start from the bottom and work up. The driveway is, at least, now pretty effortlessly drivable.

The ever vigilant Chocolate Hole Road Committee may very well raise their driveway pour monitoring alert level to DefCon 5, but it will get done properly. Matthew says they’ll mix it by hand and finish next week if need be. Need be!

Boy are next week’s guests raise going to raise hell for being inconvenienced. Oh…WE are next week’s guests. Wonder if Carefree will buy US dinner at Lime Inn? Can’t hurt to ask….

July 1, 2006

A little more about Wednesday’s driveway job. The concrete trucks that come are two wheel drive, not four. Even if they wanted, they couldn’t get up the dirt drive. And Matthew says no thanks to the $75/hour pump trunk ("the big man have no money." True...) which means Matthew fills his backhoe’s bucket at the bottom with concrete from the truck, drives up the hill, dumps it and comes back down for more. After about an hour of this, he (and the truck driver) come up with this insane plan by which Matthew will use his backhoe to push the truck backwards up the hill. Not only does this not work, but Matthew blows a tire on the backhoe trying.

Random observation: West Indians communicate by YELLING AND SCREAMING AND WAVING ARMS AND MAKING THREATENING GESTURES. Me? I’m a little freaked out and decide it’s a good time to get everybody lunch. To which Matthew says “Here’s 20 bucks.” There are six of them. I’m driving to the market thinking you can’t feed six people lunch for 20 bucks. What would Martha do? I’ll cover the rest, so, I explain it to the guy at Starfish, who gets it, and says let’s put together some meals. Chicken, rice and beans, beets, corn, carrots. Just like I grew up…protein, produce, starch. Man, I’m thinking seven. (But I had just downed two Nutriments and a Snickers bar.. my pathetic quick lunch of choice lately.)

It was when I got back I found out about the running out of concrete thing. Half a truck left, and that Matthew opts to keep running his backhoe up and down the hill with that flat! I can only guess that there is no road hazard insurance that covers this.

July 2, 2006

One of the railing guys dropped some kind of dangerous and still running power tool on the hot tub cover and sliced its ever-so-fancy naugahyde cover. And the guy admits it to me before I can even finish the “What happened here?” sentence. Full confession, full apology. Full offer to replace the whole cover. Those covers are expensive, but these guys are A-list subs to us, and maybe we’ll just trade out a gate…or a guillotine or something, down the road. We both HATE hot tub covers anyway. Heavy and unruly and hard to deal with. We plan on getting a custom-made pool cover mat for the hot tub eventually anyway. Pull it out, fold it up, enjoy, replace.

Hey…look. One of the Eastern Market masks. I swear I am not making this up. The expressions on both masks changed from kind of menacing to really mellow shortly after we hung them. No, really. Good Jumbies at Bongo Bongo.

July 3, 2006

This just isn’t right. The Adirondack chairs we bought have been sitting in the back yard for all of three weeks. And they’ve aged this much.? Like the Portrait of Dorian Grey or something. There is seriously something wrong with that.

I’m going down in the morning. Russ and our friend Michael, who is also BTP’s graphic artist, are already there. We promised Michael a week in the Caribbean twice a year if he would sign on to BTP. He called tonight to tell me he was at the Beach Bar having his first Bushwhacker in 3 years. Hmmm…well, uh, time flies. www.thatmichael.com Click on the fourth icon from the left. An invitation design for a 4th of July party that was one of the best ever.

July 4, 2006

It’s not many times you can show up and find a housewarming present that’s a 23 pound prime rib. A friend with restaurant connections got the beef for a sort of housewarming dinner tomorrow night.

It turns out I was wrong about the 4th of July fireworks being shot off in Great Cruz Bay. They were shot off in Cruz Bay, but we still got the show.

It is REALLY crazy down here with all the holiday festivities.

Today I will once again try to put up the speakers and hook up the stereo. If I was a 10 year old, this would be easy. I’m not.

July 5, 2006

I got all of the inside and outside speakers hooked up (well, almost all...9 instead of 10 because one of the outside boxes appears to have been plastered over and I could not locate it.) Better yet, thanks to clever Michael's use of the Air Port to its full extent, Bongo Bongo is now a WiFi hot spot. Play tunes wirelessly from your laptop if you want. Or plug your iPod in. Or..play old fashioned CDs.

July 7, 2006

The iPod thing is pretty cool, but it’s also low-tech. A Monster cable plugged into the AUX jack. It works great. The Air Port thing is REALLY great. Open up your iTunes library on your laptop, select Bongo Bongo WiFi and play away. From anywhere.

The WiFi itself is good too. While I wouldn’t call the Ackley connection blazingly fast, it’s still pretty darned good. But our laptops all showed a couple of other signals from somewhere else in the ‘hood. Use at your own risk. Ours at least requires a password (bet you can’t guess it) and sends and receives with encryption.

The obvious problem with bringing your technology from home to St. John is that you end up using it. At one point, there were three laptops simultaneously working for their owners, when their owners should’ve had their pasty-white selves outside instead.

July 9, 2006

We are back in DC, and my own highly-prejudiced review is that BB is an absolutely fantastic villa. It is a FUN place. It was supposed to be a place with lots of outside space, and that’s what it is. It is very breezy all day long. The pool deck gets sun from mid-morning to sunset. The covered verandas stay breezy and cool. For a two bedroom house, there is a lot of room up there.

It was, sadly, hard to relax and enjoy any of it. There are lots of loose ends that need tying up, and the relentless stress of it all has finally caught up with both of us.

More pictures tomorrow…

July 10, 2006

We spent so very little time inside it was kind of funny. The living room was barely used for any extended period at all, except for the night we rented Pirates of the Caribbean and made popcorn. Back to the pool as soon as it was over. (Saw the sequel over the weekend. Johnny Depp really didn’t have many good lines this time, but that swagger was still a hoot.)

The kitchen is great, and we did spend a fair amount of time cooking. But we really aren’t happy with the concrete counters. They did not turn out well. They’re dark, and not at all like we expected. We’ll replace them as soon as we get the chance.

July 11, 2006

My dad, the pilot, taught me early on that, in everything you do, there is the point of no return. You have no choice but to try to reach your destination. There is no going back. We passed that point, financially, several months ago. There was simply no choice. You do what you have to do to finish. And, then you get there and you realize what a horrible mess you’ve made. Yikes. Details forthcoming.

(Editor to Jeff…happy thoughts right now, okay?)

Um, well, okay. Food is fun! We found it funny that, at a house for 2 to 4 people, we were constantly staying “Where should we eat?” There are too many choices. We comfortably served 9 people prime rib (an excellent prime rib perfected over years of experimentation by me) at the dining room table. Breakfast on the pool deck. Lunch overlooking the pool. Snacks in the kitchen. Coffee on the side patio. It was too funny. I only hope the city mission on 14th Street gives me as many choices as we line up for daily rations.

July 12, 2006

What a very pretty house. At least we can say this much, we ended up with a spectacular little villa. There are no doubt people who’ve gone broke AND ended up with a bad house.

We bought this gigantic, ceramic tree frog at Pink Papaya a couple of months ago, and finally hung it last weekend. The store has all kinds of these things…from little teeny tiny ones to huge ones like this, which is about three and a half feet long. When we bought it, the house wasn’t finished and the owner just told us to come and get it when it was. And then, when I called, her husband not only delivered it, but offered to help hang it. Talk about customer service. We hung it ourselves, because we weren’t sure where to put it. It is heavy and we were scared to death climbing around on ladders holding it here and there. It ended up outside the living room. On a concrete wall. Me and those big blue TapCon screws? Best of friends by now.

July 14, 2006

I have never been able to capture the “twinkling lights of St. Thomas at night” with a still camera. How MANY villas use that silly phrase in describing their views? (Um, well, add ours.) Got it on video, but not in a picture yet. The twinkling lights are there though. And, I still think these are the sexiest railings on the island.

July 18, 2006

At last! The driveway is complete (except for some kind of minor drainage tinkering at the very bottom). These photos show what our (mostly) accepting guests have put up with up until now.

Here’s a story. When we got shortchanged on concrete during the first pour, the concrete company refused to give Matthew a refund. Only a credit. Which meant he (we) continued to be at their mercy. I’m telling you…if you’re rich, don’t build a house. Buy the concrete company and RUN IT LIKE A BUSINESS, not a mob. You’ll make a fortune.

We can now apply for permanent power with WAPA. We’ll give Cindy and Paco power of attorney, because the owner, or bona fide representative, must apply in person. It may take 3 days. It may take 3 weeks.

We’ve decided to begin talking about what has been going on behind the scenes in recent weeks starting tomorrow. Call it the "you gotta be kidding" chapters.

July 19, 2006

That smile is because our refinancing was just (mercifully) approved, ending weeks of near suicidal depression. Seriously! Without a refinance, we couldn’t pay the last of the builder‘s bills, the cash flow in DC was starting to get strained, BB's account was looking lean from refunds, and we were staring at an unmanageable First Bank mortgage payment, all of which meant we’d simply have to sell the house. With a refinance, we’d be home free, even if it meant with a much bigger mortgage than we planned. It took forever. Partly, because of the size of loan we were seeking. Then also because First Bank erroneously reported our homeowners insurance as a consumer loan, and THEN erroneously reported late payments on it. That popped up three weeks ago, bringing the entire refinance to a screeching halt. We had to jump through all sorts of hoops to get that corrected and accurately reported, and then we had to start the whole process all over again. And then we had to wait some more. It has been a killer couple of months living day after day not knowing how or if any of this would work out.

Approved, and closed may prove to be two different things. Today we found out First Bank now has no record of our mortgage loan number! Which means we can’t refinance if there is nothing to refinance. Take the last six weeks and fill in all of the mind-numbingly unbelievable details and you can imagine what we’ve been going through.

July 20, 2006

Today we discovered that our Certificate of Occupancy was basically worthless. It listed the property as 42G Chocolate Hole, not 429. WAPA would not accept this. It was surprisingly easy to get it corrected. A few calls to DPNR and we had a copy of corrected C/O and corrected final electrical inspection by the end of the day with originals in the mail.

I hadn't been to usvi-on-line.com for awhile. Holy Cow! Several huge threads about a house with something that didn't work and the management company's response. Beings as we have just entered the hospitality business, we need to get good at it. And after reading all those postings, we also think we should set expectations really, really low. Like changing the description of BB to something like "Bongo Bongo is a wonderful house with a roof and several working doors. It is managed by a management company that has a phone number."

July 21, 2006

Another tidbit. During the last couple of weeks of June, once a day, almost every day including Saturdays, First Bank’s collection department in Puerto Rico called me, sometimes at home, sometimes at work, telling me I had failed to make a payment on my COMMERCIAL loan. Every single time, it was the same thing. First, I don’t have a commercial loan, I have a CONSTRUCTION loan. Second, all payments have been made. Which led to the same thing every time, which was that I was right, but the May payment I made was credited to April. Which, always led to the next thing, which was them agreeing that the April payment was also credited to April. Which led to me yanking my hair out and saying there was obviously a mistake. But, each time, even after agreeing two payments were credited to April, it led to their conclusion that no payment was made in May. During this period, we were already well into the refinancing process, so it was just a matter of hoping this disconnect didn’t make it to the credit reporting agencies. Which it didn’t. But man, it was just one more turn of the screw. The calls just suddenly stopped.

Also, First Bank Puerto Rico is the first place I’ve ever banked where “Para Ingles” was the second choice on the voice prompt.

July 24, 2006

If all goes well, our refinancing will be done as of this time tomorrow. We’ll be free of First Bank, we’ll pay off the obscene debts we piled up in the last couple of months, we’ll have money in the bank and we’ll deal with the builder. (If all does not go well, it will, of course, be par for the course.)

Guests check out Saturday morning. New guests Sunday afternoon. We just booked ourselves for yet another One-Day-Wonder trip to St. John. We’ll get there Saturday afternoon, and leave Sunday morning. My only intention is to drive up and down the driveway as many times as I can in 12 hours. Oh, and to scream YOU ARE MINE! at the top of my lungs a few times. (And to plug in that bedside lamp on the wall behind the bed. Tacky, tacky.)

July 25, 2006

The refinance is complete. Closed at 11:35 this morning. Hoo Hoo! First Bank is paid off and a check is on the way. The title attorney and the mortgage broker both sent emails telling us all is well and I owe them Red Stripes at the Beach Bar. I respond by saying beers are on them because I’m blowing the whole check on a Testarossa. No response from either of them. I don’t think you make jokes like that with bankers.

If anybody has a mortgage down there and is looking to move it stateside, I cannot say enough good things about how this all went (not counting the frustration caused by First Bank.) First Liberty Mortgage has offices in both Connecticut and St. Thomas. (Brice McLaughlin, brice@firstlib.com). We got a way better rate than anybody down there could quote, and we were treated very well. They don't do construction loans though, so if you're in that boat, tough it out until you're done building.

July 27, 2006

First Bank just never stops! I get a very courteous call today from First Bank Puerto Rico reminding me that my first mortgage payment is due August 1. I say the loan was paid in full two days ago. No record of it. Nothing. He’ll call me back next week. What, do they just make ledger entries with #2 lead pencils on little index cards and pass them around the bank?

I really hate beating up on First Bank like this because all of the PEOPLE we’ve had dealings with have been pretty great. But man, the machine itself seems like a mess.

48 hours from now I’ll be sitting on OUR pool deck. 72 hours from now I’ll be sitting right here again. How weird is that?

Hey! I didn’t even know this existed. A posting on the usvi-on-line site linking to the Cruz Bay Web cam: http://www.gotostjohn.com/live/index.htm

July 30, 2006

I call this picture “The land of the 10 a.m. beer.” And, come on folks, that is why we all really like St. John.

It was a GREAT trip to the "weekend house", and some details forthcoming. But it is kinda eclipsed by the fact that I came home late tonight, fetched my mail, and found….A DELINQUENCY NOTICE FROM FIRST INSURANCE! This, after all the crap I went through to get this all fixed, and me telling the guy I am Express Mailing July’s payment and I want you to call me when you get it, which he did. This really is not funny anymore. This bank is going to ruin my credit. This means investing a couple of hours and a half dozen phone calls in this crap all over again.

Also in the mail, a notice from First Bank reminding me my first mortgage payment is due tomorrow. Wanna make bets on where this ends up going?

July 31, 2006

Ya, it was a good trip. It rained nonstop from the time we got off the plane to the time we got on the plane, but better to rain when owners are there and not renters. And we didn’t care. We even swam in the rain.

The driveway is done, but it was done in so many phases, it’s like carbon dating. Or, like cutting down a tree and seeing how old it is by the rings. The driveway is four different colors of concrete. This may, or may not, fade and blend. We kind of hope it doesn’t, memories and all. Matthew hit us up with his last bill. The $19K driveway went to $26K. That's what a 275 foot driveway cost us. When Matthew calls, we’re heading toward the barge. He says he’ll meet us on the airport road. Very strange, pulling over on the side of the road next to a black pickup after we flashed headlights at each other, and slipping him money on the way to catch an international flight. And all TSA did was make me take off my flip-flops. As a nation, we should feel completely safe.

August 1, 2006

Innovative got the cable hooked up yesterday, so we can cross that off the list. I also added a cable to the broadband router, so somebody whose laptop doesn’t have wireless capability can still plug in and use the Internet. Like me, until I got this sweet widescreen Sony Vaio last week. (So it’s not a Testarossa, but I had to buy something!)

Here’s how stupid we are. We saw tropical storm Chris this morning, and then checked on it a couple of times throughout the day. While we both knew it could affect St. John, we were acting like third-party observers. It never clicked. Until my cell phone rang this evening. It was Paco (Carefree) calling to tell me he moved all the furniture inside. We never once thought, “Gee, WE should make sure OUR house is safe.” Duh. Well, hey….we’re new at this, okay?

August 2, 2006

We stopped at Home Depot on the way over Saturday and loaded up on Tiki Torch fuel. I love the Tiki torches, and so apparently does everybody else, 'cuz what we figured big stash is already gone. They're just cheap torches, (but they do say Genuine Tiki Since 1957!) 12 gallons should last a couple of months.

The brand new dishwasher broke after its first use. A circuit board blew. Replacement? Backordered. It came and was installed Friday. We heard a story last week about a another villa where the dishwasher quit working. The renters were irate, and insisted the management company send someone up three times a day, every day during their stay, to wash the dishes. Which the management company actually did! I mean seriously, that is a little much. From an owner’s perspective, it would’ve been cheaper just to throw the dishes away every day.

August 3, 2006

The fountain is kind of okay now. It had a leak, which has been fixed. The lighting has been dimmed down. And Paco even painted his creation bronze so it actually looks like a proper fountain. We have low-voltage colored lights and some fancy fountain heads, and will probably eventually put them all in, but for now the fountain is at least not embarrassing.

Russ doesn’t know it yet, but we’re going to Vegas tomorrow night for a weekend change of pace. From pirates of the Caribbean…to pirates of the desert. The odds may actually be slightly more in our favor.

Oh...The "how much" question. We're ready to detail what this project has cost, Monday I think. Black Jack and shows first. Is that guy who got eaten by the tiger back yet?

August 4, 2006

The refinance did not go off completely glitch free. Funds were disbursed on the title attorney’s Scotia Bank checking account, not in the form of certified funds. That meant our bank ended up putting an 8 day hold on the check. Three times I tried wiring money to the builder, and was finally able to today. Talk about embarrassing. “Thank you for waiting 6 weeks to get paid, now I’m afraid you have to wait another week.”

This is funny. Ruth from St. John Spice, a blog reader, decided to stand in front of the Cruz Bay Web cam and wave at everybody on the usvi-on-line forum at exactly 10 o’clock this morning, and she held up a sign that said “CONGRATS BONGO BONGO.” (We had just exchanged “glad you guys got the house done” emails.) Thanks for the plug Ruth. Write BIGGER next time!

August 6, 2006

I call this picture “Jeff with his private executive security detail.”

Bongo Bongo diversion: What a fun weekend. We stayed at the Venetian. EXCELLENT. We saw David Copperfield and Phantom. And…we ate very well. Best choice: Nob Hill (at the MGM Grand.) I had Kobe beef for the first time ever - you know, the Japanese cows supposedly raised on classical music and beer (like my formative years, only I didn’t end up on a plate.) This restaurant was damn good.

And we actually won money. Russ won $100 playing slots. I won $400 at a Black Jack table. Gee. That makes up for the last 15 months. Not.

August 7, 2006

The most-asked emailed question from the beginning has been “How much?” Well, now we know. So take a deep breath. Here you go. (And keep in mind, we already owned the land.):

Jun 2004: What we wanted to spend....................$450,000.00

Aug 2004: What the architect estimated...............$550,000.00

Jan 2005: What the builder estimated.................$669,000.00

Jan 2006: Builder's revised estimate.................$815,000.00

Jan 2006: (Days later) Revised, revised estimate.....$857,000.00

Jun 2006: Payments to builder to date................$1,138,421.13

Add to that expenses paid directly by us:

Additional excavation...................................$10,000.00


Landscaping to date.....................................$22,000.00

Furnishings and accessories.............................$35,000.00

Miscellaneous (+/-).....................................$10,000.00

Interest Only on Construction Loan......................$34,000.00

Total cost to date................................$1,275,421.13

As you can see, WE WENT A LITTLE OVER! In fact, the house is DOUBLE the builder’s initial estimate, and nearly TRIPLE what we planned to spend when we first decided to build on our lot.

Coming soon…how we paid for it.

My blog, so my pictures. Russ, in “New York”. Me, gloating. Make that total $1,275,021.13! (I kinda look like a priest. Note to self: No more white Ts with black shirts.)

August 9, 2006

We have now reached an inevitable point at which we transition from fools building a house into people who own a rental villa, and it’s a very bizarre feeling. Little signs, like other peoples’ leftover goodies accumulating in what we had, up until now, just naturally thought of as our kitchen, our frig. It’s like a gym coach is saying “Okay, owners over here, renters over there…let’s go, let’s go.” And, we’re protesting…saying “But wait! We belong over there!”

And the stuff that’s accumulating is funny. Most notably, a HUGE collection of artificial sweetener. And pickles, and pop sickles, and various coffees, and pancake mix (which I used to make pancakes, thank you somebody) and somebody found disposable salt and pepper grinders. I need to know where they got those, because that’s good stuff. So far, none of the oh…I don’t know…15 or so…picnic salt shaker things has caked up yet. I wonder how long that takes to happen. Note to anybody renting this house in the near future: There is enough salt there to put you on Plavix before your trip is over.

August 10, 2006

Russ is going down Saturday, and I am following Monday. Got a few projects to trick up the place up our sleeves.

We put together a preliminary punch list for the builder. The gutters leak. The main water pump vibrates like crazy now and then. Other than that, it’s mostly just cosmetic stuff. The house is sound and well built.

If you’re staying at the house, and all of the sudden the house starts shaking and it sounds like Mount St. Helen is about to erupt, don’t worry. It’s just the pump. It’ll pass in a couple of seconds. Or, it's an earthquake which will also pass in a couple of seconds. I’m told, in either case, this is no big deal.

August 11, 2006

Josephine called today to tell me she has now planted up both sides of the driveway and planted a 10 foot tall royal palm at the bottom of the drive. There is apparently no “off” switch on this woman. Normally, we would be telling her to stop spending money, but she is so good and gets so excited that we just can’t.

I also asked her if she had any ideas for the so-called “garden showers” which are really just huge outside showers, and she said she had lots of ideas for things to plant in the showers. That will be great.

We have a pair of these very cool lamps, but we can’t find a good place where they work for us. We’re thinking about putting them on E-Bay as “genuine, original Bongo Bongo lamps.” Any bidders? Proceeds are for a good cause. Josephine.

August 13, 2006

Russ had some awful flight and was stuck in a plane on the ground in Philly for 3 hours with mechanical problems. Here he is this morning next to a new palm at the end of the driveway, and here are a bunch of palms up the driveway. Use your imagination. They’ll be big in no time.

I entertained myself this weekend by making this video. It is the very first time I drove up the driveway, and the most recent.

Buckle up and hold on.

August 15, 2006

We checked in at the WAPA office to get an update on our permanent power and were told a crew tried to hook it up, but got there and we didn’t have our names and address on the power box at the end of the driveway. I asked why and was told because they needed the address to find the property…to which I said but you found the property, otherwise you wouldn’t know there wasn’t an address. The conversation kind of went down hill from there.

We had to get specific letters and numbers from the hardware store, and label our box, and we spelled c-h-o-c-o-l-a-t-e wrong the first time and, and and…Oh well, if you get here and can’t find us, now you can.

August 17, 2006

Still no permanent power. I stopped in to WAPA this morning to show the woman a picture of the address and name just to make sure it was okay. She chuckled (as I doubt anyone has ever taken a picture of a power pole just to show her) and she said it was perfect.

Here is the now famous St. John Webcam, tucked under a rafter at the Dockside Building. We went into St. John Spice to buy a couple of dress shirts for dinner (which only means a shirt with a collar), and Ruth herself was in there. I think she got as big of a kick out of Webcam day as everybody else did.

August 18, 2006

The owners of Ristaba stopped by to say “Hi” and take a look around and invited us to do the same tomorrow, and I can’t wait to see their house because there are always rockin’ parties at Ristaba, but I’m not so sure the owners know that, so maybe I’ll just elude to the “popularity” of their home.

We installed amber-colored rope light under the railings today and it was a major all day project. I am fried by the sun, despite SPF50 applied liberally all day long.

Russ’ sister, Robin, flew down for a few days…I think expecting white sand beaches and turquoise waters. Instead, she has endured a 10 hour hiking video shoot, the intricacies of the hardware store and lumber yard and the exterminator, and a Romeo tradesman who hit on her (“Jeff didn’t lie! There IS a beautiful woman in this house. My first name is “single” and my last name is “available.” Give me a call. My number is 9-1-1!” (I’m not making this up, and the guy was actually very funny and charming.)

She did, at least, get a spa day. She highly recommends the stuff they did to her at the Journey’s Spa at Wyndham Sugar Bay on St. Thomas. (But she came back kind of stinking of algae wrap.)

August 19, 2006

We put the old Website back up, and just added a bunch of pictures. There is no sense in putting a brand new site up until we get a new batch of pictures, and we’re not going to do that until the veranda floors are stained and a couple of other visual things are finished. You can preview the new site here, and I would more than welcome any feedback. It’s just a multi-paged .PDF file and none of the video or flash components work.

We're taking a chance and making it media rich which will mean hoping viewers have good broadband. I think a site should have as much info as possible, but if this seems overkill, please let me know. I’d really appreciate the input, especially from seasoned villa renters! It's full of mistakes, and the maps are wrong (but beautiful thanks to Michael) and it is a work in progress. This seems big, but the idea is that it ends up being just one source page with multiple links.

One last ribeye to grill. Man are WE leaving good stuff in the frig.Click here..

August 20, 2006

The rope light looks pretty good. The electrician came up in the morning and put a junction box in under the deck, and the line already had an existing switch in the veranda. This was in the plans from the beginning and ended up slipping through the cracks. As Russ only halfway joked, we probably saved ourselves $50,000 by installing $72 worth of rope lights ourselves.

Russ dropped off his sister at the ferry dock yesterday, and Ruth at St. John Spice leaned over the railing and yelled down “Do you guys have a coffee grinder? Somebody sent me email asking.” The method of delivering the message aside, this is so funny, because it is the third time in the last two weeks somebody has asked if we have a coffee grinder. Okay, okay…we’ll get a coffee grinder already!

August 21, 2006

Here’s another picture of the rope lights, and one of Russ on our roof deck tonight. I post these, because I am amazed with this little camera we just bought. A guy who goes by the name JSSS on the usvi-on-line forum sent me a couple of pictures and some video he took with the WATERPROOF Pentax he bought. I was impressed with the pictures, and the video was perfectly fine for Web sharing and such, but mostly I was intrigued by the WATERPROOF part. (One of his videos was a granddaughter diving into his pool and swimming to him). I went store hunting, not online hunting, for the camera, but it was sold out wherever I went. So I instead bought this camera…a waterproof Olympus Stylus 720 SW…but actually I am yet to throw it in the water. (We have pain-in-the-neck waterproof housings for a couple of cameras, and this just sounds too good to be true.)

Anyway, in playing with this camera, I am wowzer-impressed with what it does! Night shots are impossible, but look at these photos. One of the multiple auto settings figures it all out, and to be able to actually put a subject in a night shot without a whole lot of tripod action and manual settings is pretty amazing. Can't wait to try it under water.

If you haven’t bought a digital camera in a couple of years (me), check out what’s out there. If you have, don’t take for granted what you’ve got!

August 22, 2006

Okay, the coffee grinder saga is solved. This wasn’t easy! I get my coffee from a surly kid with a lip ring in Dupont Circle, and I know nothing about this. There is a whole coffee grinder world out there. Blade or burr. Steel or ceramic. Grind settings, hoppers….Geez. Just buy a can of Santo Domingo at Pine Peace Market!

Thanks to online reviews, and with the blessing of the honeymooner coming in October who started all this, it will be a Cuisinart Supreme Grind Automatic Burr Mill. This one had good reviews.(And who are these people who post online reviews anyway? Of a coffee grinder! God bless them. Oh, to have that kind of idle time.)

Mary Beth (the honeymooner) has promised to autograph the bottom of the coffee grinder.

August 23, 2006

We moved all of the furniture out of the dining room and off of the verandas. These floors are getting polished, power washed and stained this week. It is one of the last great undones at the house, and it better turn out good.

Sunnyrock has also started working on the punch list items. I’m impressed. There were guys up today sealing all of the concrete gutters. A couple of guys that I hired were also up there pouring concrete (Ack! There are those two words again, dammit!), p-p-pouring c-c-c-c-concrete steps from the driveway down to the pump room under the house, so nobody breaks their neck going down the hill to get there.

August 24, 2006

The Adirondack chairs are back. Stripped, primed and repainted. We pretty much figured out what happened. They were definitely never primed with anything, and they were painted with really cheap paint. These damn chairs have cost way more than the bang for the buck they provide, but at least they’ll last a while now. Paco did the work. Another reason we like Carefree.

We‘re waiting for an update on the stained veranda floors. This is SO important that they turn out well.

By the way, we DO read the usvi-on-line forum, and Jorge, nice try. But we’ve already got you covered on the blender. A classic Waring blender with both glass AND stainless pitchers. I’ve used it. I like it. It’s yours. Well, I mean it’s yours during your stay, not to take home. Also, I discovered last week that the frig dispenses, at your choice, regular ice or CRUSHED ICE. The problem with that is it is WAY to easy to make lazy person blended drinks. One right after another.

August 26, 2006

The dining room and veranda floors are stained and sealed. Gretchen went up to take pictures for us, since we were very anxious to see how they turned out. The place was locked, so she shot a couple of pictures through the front gates, but we see enough to get the idea, and we’re both happy. A couple of rugs, move the furniture back, all will look great.

It started raining heavily again down there today, and is expected to for the next couple of days, which puts the kibosh on a couple of other projects for now.

August 27, 2006

We’re going to try to get back down there for Labor Day weekend, so we can put the furniture back. We are also again trying the “less than container” thing, sending a couple of dressers, a desk, two chairs and new end and coffee tables to Tropical in Miami. Russ did all of the arranging this time, and it apparently went well, but we’ll see.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you want a very fun day on the water, rent a dinghy. You'll need to rent a power boat if you want to go to the BVIs or anywhere too far offshore. (My recommendation: Ocean Runner in Cruz Bay.) That can also be a $600 day by the time you buy fuel. For a cheaper day of beach hopping and snorkeling, this is a blast.

If you already have rented one, here’s an excerpt from something you’ve already seen. The orientation video that we produced for Noah’s Little Arks. If you haven’t rented a dinghy, here‘s a little tease!

August 29, 2006

Someone just e-mailed about how they won’t build their house after reading the blog, (As one Realtor scorned us, “Thanks for killing land sales this year”.)

To the emailer, I replied, joking “Oh come-on. Build your house. Tilt your neck a little to the left and let me have a nibble. It won’t hurt.” Then it hit me. That is really what it is. That is why you’re reading.

I am Lestat, and despite this year long interview with a vampire, some of you STILL want to be one. The analogies are endless! Don’t do it! (Or, at least be Brad Pitt and go on to have respectable career and not freak out like Tom Cruise.)

I have to crawl into my coffin (MORTGAGE) at sunrise. You can stay up and party. I have to count on unsuspecting prey (RENTERS) to nourish me. You can…oh…well, thanks.

August 30, 2006

We found granite tile in Virginia that we really liked and have shipped it to Tropical in Miami, to be sent down as part of our less-than-container which is rapidly becoming almost-a-container. Replacing the concrete counters in the kitchen is a top priority, and this is the most efficient way to do it. This granite tile is 12x12 by 3/8” thick, and we can have it installed directly on top of the concrete, like we did with the stone tile in the bathrooms. That will save the time, headache and expense of ripping the concrete counter out. The color of this granite (“New Venetian Gold”) should really lighten up the great room too. Those dark counters are just too much. Don’t even ask how much all of these counters, in their various incarnations, have ended up costing.

September 1, 2006

All furniture has arrived at Tropical in Miami. The granite arrived there as well. The guy Russ has been talking to, Roberto of the Virgin Islands “team,” promises to make sure it’s on Wednesday’s boat, then in St. Thomas Sunday, and on St. John the following Tuesday. We shouldn’t have been intimidated so much the first time we tried to do this ourselves. That’s assuming it goes well. One person told us she has sworn off Tropical after bad experiences and now uses CaribTrans. On the other hand, another person told us of her horrible experience with CaribTrans and loves using Tropical. Both are credible folks who ship a lot down. Anxious to see how our experience goes. One way or another, me and my Ranger will be sitting there a week from Tuesday hoping to fill up.

September 4, 2006

We expanded the Blue Tang Productions empire this weekend to big bucks real estate in rural Pennsylvania. From our most recent island job, to our newest client stateside, the landscape couldn’t be more different, but equally as beautiful. With one caveat. See Russ, kneeled down in a bucolic field of wild flowers, reacting to the unnerving sound of not so distant GUNFIRE! If we are to continue with this developer, we’re getting bright orange vests.

Stunning manse on 3+ acres in a gorgeous setting outside of Harrisburg. Building lots available. Hmmm. Well, it would sure be a lot easier to get a Viking range there.

September 5, 2006

Part of me thinks this blog is getting long in the tooth, but part of me KNOWS this whole villa thing is just an ongoing saga. Yes, another picture of yet more boxes going down. I have a feeling that this will be a never ending cycle. (Somewhere in those boxes is Mary Beth’s coffee grinder.)

It turns out we have traded in indiscernible monthly builder requisitions for indiscernible monthly management company statements. We just got our first one, and now I’m wading through bills for cleaning supplies and exterminators and bromide and chlorine, and trying to figure out what the VI hotel gross receipts tax thing means to me.

And somebody took our pool floaties to the beach because they were covered with sand. Sure, I’ve done it…but not with MY floaties!

September 6, 2006

We had to cut Josephine off. The landscaping is absolutely beautiful, and six months from now we are going to have a tropical paradise up there, but…as is par for the course… we have now spent exactly twice as much as we intended on landscaping. This is money well-spent, but still. That’s enough for now.

One thing we did learn from her is to spend our money on small plants. The ones I called “plant-lets” a couple of months ago are now big and filled in. We’ve also talked to her about the next phase, which is a bunch of things in pots; on the decks, in the showers, on the verandas. The downside is things in pots need to be watered. A lot I think. The stuff in the ground gets plenty from the irrigation systems. I’ll put signs in the pots that say “Stumbling off to bed? Dump leftover rum drink here!” < /p>

September 9, 2006

My first ride on the brand new “Mr. B.” car barge this afternoon. I counted about 35 cars. A regular Costco lot. Red Hook to St. John in 18 minutes by my watch. The ticket taker said it can go even faster. (So why didn’t we?) It was also $25 one way. A buck cheaper!

I was behind a jeep with two couples in it and it was so funny. They had SO MANY BIG bags, they were stuffed between them and on the console and on their laps. I’m not dissing anybody’s bag count, but I think the more you come down here the less you realize you need. These folks didn’t seem to mind the cramped jeep anyway, but I bet they learned two lessons. Two couples shouldn’t share a jeep, and next time, no need for the ball gowns and tuxedos.

House looks great. Some pictures tomorrow. Somebody also suggested a Blog 6. I’ll do it.

September 10, 2006

The stained verandas look fine. They need rugs and plants to break it up a bit. I’ll talk plants with Josephine tomorrow. She is bringing two big pots in the morning for the pool deck anyway. The rugs for the veranda missed the boat, so to speak. Delivered in Miami Friday, two days after the boat left. I don’t know when the next one is or when it gets here. Dressers and all allegedly made it to St. Thomas.

This is the most quiet I’ve ever seen this island. You can park anywhere. I went to Trunk Bay this afternoon, and it was almost empty. The weather is also perfect and the water is like a bath. Funny that the lowest of low season is when it’s so perfect down here. A sign at a store in Mongoose Junction said “Fall hours: Saturdays, sometimes.”

September 11, 2006

Holy cow! When she said big pots, she wasn’t kidding. We had to take one of the gates off to get them in, and they took four people to carry them. (I pay, I don’t carry. And,didn't we say we were cutting her off?) They weigh 400 pounds each. They have palms and some plants called purple heart in them. Hope Russ likes where we put them because, full of dirt now, they aren’t moving ever again.

Today is my birthday. The second birthday in a row I have spent down here all by myself. (Okay, life could be worse.) These are the pictures that were posted with the September 11, 2005 blog update. This is a much better birthday!

September 12, 2006

If you still want to read, I'm still writing. It has been crisis-free lately, but I'm not holding my breath. Way back when I said "I can't believe I'm starting another page on this blog", I had no idea how long this would go on.

Go here, or bookmark www.bongobongostjohn.com/blog6.

(Thank you for the birthday greetings.)

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