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 5

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

The Tropical experience went off without any problems. The office and storage area is above Islandia Real Estate. Our stuff still hadn’t been unloaded, but the container was open and a couple of jokes and a fair tip got it unloaded when I got there with tailgate down.

We should have done this from the beginning, as many, many people told us.

I am quite sure that the Mail Center could not have handled Express Mail boxes these sizes…let alone my debit card.

September 13, 2006

First step in replacing a concrete counter: Put concrete on it. This makes the bull nosed edge go away, creating a flat surface for the granite tile. I figured 100 square feet of this tile would be plenty, but now I’m wondering. The front counter is 30 inches wide, not 24. The octagon counter is much bigger than I thought, and there will be lots of waste from trim cuts. Hmmm.

I put the furniture boxes to good use, as floor covering. I’d hate to get concrete on the floors…which, uh, are concrete. I should go back through all six pages of this blog and count how many times the word "concrete" was used.

That’s it. We’re changing the name of the house from Bongo Bongo to Concrete Concrete.

September 14, 2006

I can't believe somebody actually went through the blog and counted how many times the word "concrete" was used! He did, and by his calculations, Matthew D., who works at a fine institution of higher education in upstate New York and has WAY too much time on his hands, says the word "concrete" has been used 112 times, which equals $11,500 per use of the word. That's what we'll call it from now on. "The word." Like Lord Voldermort in the Harry Potter books. We don't say it aloud anymore.

Replacing a concrete (Oops!) counter, day 2: The tile is really nice! There was an issue with Tropical as to whether it was domestic or imported. Italian, by way of Virginia doesn’t count as domestic, so we could technically go all fancy and refer to our exquisite tile counter imported from Italy. Okay, maybe not.

The front pieces are mostly in place. I’m guessing this will be done by end of day Saturday.

Right now I’m enjoying listening to tunes on my exquisite iPod imported from the far reaches of the Orient.

September 17, 2006

Saturday was a big day at Bongo Bongo. WAPA hooked up the permanent power.

There are people who’ve submitted their Certificate of Occupancy and inspections and gotten permanent power within days. There is one house I know of that waited more than 3 months. It took us 7 ½ weeks. And that was with me, almost every day, calling or walking in to the WAPA office, making jokes and asking when. “Maybe tomorrow, but no guarantees” was usually the answer.

Friday, I just went straight to the WAPA dispatch garage and found the lineman who does the work. He looked at me and said “You the man who bought that lot I wanted.” I went pale.

I begged. I promised to buy him dinner. He ended up being very friendly and curious about the house, which I told him I’d be glad to show him. He and the truck were there first thing Saturday morning.

September 18, 2006

The permanent power means we can now comfortably run the hot tub. We’ve been running both air conditioners on temporary power up until now, and more would have been pushing our luck. Everything at this house is finally hooked up, connected, running or otherwise functioning as it is supposed to. And yes, we used it. My review later.

September 19, 2006

The counters weren’t finished by the time we left Sunday morning. Ruddette, a Sunnyrock crew member who we hired to do it after work and on the weekend, finished up Monday evening and Paco and Josephine both called to report it looks great.

There is Mary Beth’s coffee grinder, sitting on the old counter. A couple of days ago I got an email from somebody staying at BB in November who wanted to know if we had a waffle iron. No, but I’ll get one. And I’m now establishing a rule about this. I’ll get anything that is reasonable and that is something we might want. Waffle iron, yes. Curling iron, no. I can’t wait to see if somebody shows up on the usvi-on-line forum with a waffle iron avatar!

Did you know today was “International Talk Like a Pirate Day?” Here’s my pirate joke contribution: Did you see that new pirate movie? It’s rated ARRRRGH!

September 20, 2006

Most of the new furniture came from Pier 1 Imports, a company that lost $73 million last quarter and I can’t understand why. I love the stuff they have, and, given the prices, it’s good stuff. Maybe swapping Kirstie Alley for that Queer Eye guy was a bad move. Anyway, now the bedrooms have a place to sit and a place to stash stuff, and it was easy getting it there. (Note to Russ: That wall needs a mirror.)

Waffle iron question. Classic waffles or Belgian waffles? Round or square? (Or heart shaped or circus animals…) Somebody pointed me to Williams-Sonoma (which made $59 million last quarter), and they have lots of waffle irons, but I need to narrow this down. For me…waffles come in two forms: The guy who makes them at Front Page for brunch, and the box of Eggos in my freezer.

September 21, 2006

Okay, the waffle iron is ordered. Based on responses (including those from Ruth’s generous post on the usvi-on-line forum), Belgian waffles won out by a narrow margin. Square waffles won by a landslide. I’ve ordered a VillaWare waffle iron from Williams-Sonoma with removable grates, mostly because it says it “chimes” when your waffles are done. (“Did you hear that?…Ya, what was it?…I donno, a chime, I think.…Oh shit! The waffles!”) This kind of stuff is the FUN stuff!

I had two emails this week from people asking when we would say HOW we paid for this. I did say I would, but hanging my dirty laundry out for everyone to see is kind of creepy. Still, we spent some time last week with a couple that’s a few months behind us, and they were so relieved to hear us tell them we did exactly what they’ve ended up doing. So, dirty laundry we will hang out.

September 22, 2006

Neither one of us has ever owned a hot tub before, and neither one of us can remember too many times we have actually used one. I think I questioned a few months ago why anyone would want one in St. John. I now retract that.

Maybe it is because the only ones I remember didn’t work very well. This one runs like a steam engine. There is one particular seat that is just tooth-jarring ecstasy.

I also don’t understand how to work it. There are all sorts of valves and settings and variables, but punching “on” and getting in was pretty good. I think Sundance is pretty high-end, which is good considering how much this stupid thing ended up costing, what with buying it, shipping it and figuring out how to install it. Paco and I actually did the final hook up. Much to the horror of Russ and Cindy. You don’t want to mess around with 220 volts, but we decided there were two obvious wires that weren’t jammed in to the circuit breaker. Clanking ice and guardian angels made sure we got it right.

Also, “hot” tub is a mistake. We enjoyed it the night we filled it, when the temperature had climbed into the low 90s. The next morning, when it was in the low 100s, it wasn’t as pleasant. Note to guests: It is a Luke Warm Tub! We can govern max temp, and save lots of money by doing that, and maybe we should.

I think we’ve pretty much made it clear we’re not penny pinchers, so believe me when I say warm is better than hot.

September 23, 2006

I bought some flower arrangements before Russ came down, because we shot more video for the BB DVD. I can’t remember the name of the florist, but it’s a cute little house with a green picket fence on the same stretch of road as Café Roma. Fairly expensive, but great flowers. We also took some new stills for the wretchedly painful new Website that just can’t come together. And to think, Steve Simonson was supposed to shoot the house 9 months ago. We’ll get him in soon.

The DVD is done if anybody wants a copy. It was weird producing our OWN house. There are also old shots of concrete counters, and old furniture, and the narration is a little corny, even for us. We’ll keep updating the DVD, but for now it is what it is. If you want a copy, I’m not shy. I'm trying to rent a house! Just ask. info@bluetangproductions.com

September 24, 2006

Just what exactly is the Cyril E. King Airport cheeseburger? Given the choice of the mystery pork dish plus starch, the shiny, metallic green turkey sandwich or the brown and wilted club salad, it always seems a familiar and safe choice. I keep falling for it.

I don’t know what this burger is, but it makes a Boca Burger taste like Angus beef. In fact, I’m not sure there is any animal protein at all in this thing.

Here is what I do know. The one way to make the Cyril E. King Airport cheeseburger (left) palatable is to have it with a Painkiller (right), because the Cyril E. King Painkiller is one of the best you’ll ever have. (Maybe because you know it’s the last one for a while.)

September 25, 2006

Bongo Bongo’s three week hiatus came to an end today, with the first new guests checking in this afternoon. We made the best of the downtime for sure. This is how I think it goes. Guests back to back…a window of opportunity, during which you get out your checkbook and fix, repair, replace, or finish. Again, NOT why we built this! Openings were supposed to be respites for US to float, blend, grill and enjoy.

We’re wondering what the first new guests are doing. If they’re having fun or picking the place apart. The first few weeks were our off-Broadway run. Critics were kind. This is now the big time. I mentioned this analogy to Paco, but I think it was lost on him, because he just broke into George Benson, “THEY SAY THEY NEON LIGHTS ARE BRIGHT ON BROADWAY!”, (if you ever meet Paco, you’ll understand.)

Nightime is my favorite time at this house. It really glows. It is almost always really breezy. Tree frogs. Crank the stereo, star-gaze. Wow. Wish I was there.

September 27, 2006

We’re having the cabinet guy install closets and cabinets in the laundry room. Here’s some advise to anybody building. You really can’t have enough storage. Listen to the builder on that one. If for no other reason than all the stuff the cleaning people keep around. A case of soap bars. A hundred rolls of toilet paper and paper towels. Five gallon buckets of powdered detergent. We really screwed up on storage. Our main storage area is the big room under the house, and it is already piled high with stuff.

When will the cabinets actually get put in? Donno. How much will this cost? Believe me when I say that our standard answer to that all-to-familiar question is now...“Whatever.”

September 28, 2006

One of the cram projects last week was getting steps poured down to the pump room. We hired a couple of Sunnyrock guys to do it after work. The deal was I would buy the gravel and sand and the cement, and they would frame it up and pour it, for $800. They get done, and one of the guys gives me a bill for $2,000. I said dude! What’s with this? You said $800. He said it was more work than they thought it would be. I split the difference with him and I lectured him about how a handshake is a deal, and he actually profusely apologized…and then I got in the truck and just laughed. More work than he thought it would be. I’ve got to try that with MY boss!

September 30, 2006

We just replaced all of the glassware with new stuff from Crate & Barrel. When the boxes came to us here in DC, I just peeled off the UPS label and slapped on an Express Mail label. No extra packing or anything and to my surprise there was not one broken glass when they arrived.(This may sound like no big deal, but believe me, somewhere between here and St. John there is a huge USPS stomping machine that takes every box and smashes the life out of it.)

We replaced what was supposed to be top-of-the-line acrylic glassware that we got hoodwinked into buying. The stuff looked great…and it was advertised as “will never scratch, cloud or fade.” After the first month, the glasses that had been run through the dishwasher were already kind of cloudy and scratchy. Somebody wrote in the book that they loved the way the plastic glasses floated in the pool. (Field test by owners confirms this.)

Man! Did you read the thread on usvi-on-line started by an owner titled Tired of Rude Guests? A friend of ours down there has a theory about this. The bigger and more expensive the house, the more privileged the people staying there feel. The “rock star” syndrome she calls it. But it was amazing to see responses from people who said they actually leave gifts for the owners. Gifts for the owners, to whom you've just given gobs of money? This is something I've never even considered, but now fully embrace. I think I will start planting anonymous suggestions that this is SOP.

October 1, 2006

We sent out almost 70 DVDs last week. I fully expect every one of those DVDs to translate into a booking over the next year, which means some of you will be staying with each other.

Today I dealt with a bulging folder of miscellaneous receipts from the last year or so. Stuff we considered little things but knew our tax guy would praise us for saving, Home Depot, hardware store, frame shop, post office, (waffle iron, coffee grinder), etc, etc. After 3 hours, this added up to a frighteningly huge figure. A very healthy 5-figure number. Depending on how much is deductible, it might add up to enough to justify the Jeep we want to buy. With National Park license plates that say WAFFLES.

October 2, 2006

I like the fact that we can hear people driving up the driveway. I can race to the railing and see who it is, and then go ahead and start filling out the Pay To The Order Of part of the check before they even knock on the gate.

The landscaping continues to grow like crazy. Josephine claims this entire hillside will be covered in a few more months. We also determined that the 3 zone irrigation system is using 75 gallons of water every other day. About 1,100 gallons a month. Right now that is coming out of the cisterns and is not a big number. (The cisterns hold 28,000 gallons.) We also have a 700 gallon holding tank that is supposed to catch water from the pool deck that will eventually feed the irrigation lines. (Sunnyrock punch list item.) Water is the one thing that is free on St. John.. As long as it rains enough. Otherwise it’s about 10 cents a gallon by truck.

To the best of our knowledge Josephine hasn’t planted anything else in the last two weeks. It must be killing her. Running landscaping total: $33,700. Maybe we’re just completely out of touch by now, but, considering what we’ve got, we don’t think that’s so bad. Yes. We are completely out of touch.

October 4, 2006

It’s official. We’re over-exposed. To be honest, we’ve been kind of sweating bullets over these guests for a few weeks, knowing the usvi-on-line community would be watching.

Funny thing, Mary Beth has posted pictures that include one that shows one of the outdoor rugs we bought that weren’t delivered until after we left. Based on the picture, we HATE it. Wrong colors. Looks all wrong. Ugly, ugly. Great. Getting a 9 foot round rug down there ain’t easy. Try again on that one.

Also, Mary Beth is the one who wanted a coffee grinder. The waffle iron guest isn’t until November, and the waffle iron is here, waiting to go down with me next week. And there are queries on the forum about whether she’s made waffles yet. Double great. Hopefully, she hates waffles.

October 5, 2006

This was a picture worth posting. It was sent to me by a blog reader from New York who says they ski in Killington, Vermont every year, and he says this mountaintop place serves the best waffles. From the looks of it, the place at least looks like one of the best places to have waffles. And I bet there's REAL maple syrup on the table too.

I hear Kenny is on island. Just look for a short, muscular little guy with a ballcap on backwards glued to a cell phone. No, not that one. That’s Russ. Shorter.

October 7, 2006

Wow! What could we possibly say about this? It was as much rewarding as it was a relief. Maybe we actually DID get it right. My favorite was calling the house "sexy". That is a perfect description. All of it was WAY more than she needed to say and we thank her for her compliments.

Old yellow chairs. New yellow chairs. I just asked a Sunnyrock guy about my old flesh-colored chair and he said “We mash it.” That basically means it’s history. It’s a great West Indian use of the word. Perfectly correct I guess, but it’s just unusual. You hear it all the time. What happened to the tree? “The backhoe guy mash it.” There’s still a lot of rock back there. What will you do? “We mash it.” And it's not even “mash it up” or “mash it down.” It's just “Mash it.”

October 8, 2006

I’m taking this down with me this week to hang in the kitchen. No house is complete until there’s a Bon Appetit sign somewhere. Sums up life, doesn’t it?

I’ll hang this, and we’ll consider this house (mostly) done.

That brings up a kind of sad point for me. It’s obvious that this story is no longer so much about us ‘cuz our tale is pretty much done. I’ll try to keep this going for a few more weeks, and I do have a couple of stories left to tell. But we decided today the last “Watch Us Build a Villa” blog entry will be from Bongo Bongo on New Year’s Eve, Dec. 31, 2006. And, barring unexpected but certainly not unlikely huge setbacks, that will be stretching it. I have so much enjoyed doing this and I never had any idea anybody would care enough to read it. Thanks. But don’t go away just yet. (Besides, I’m kind of bored now. Time for another project.)

October 9, 2006

Hey look at that! That is the first look at the finished new counters we’ve had, since they weren’t done when we left a couple of weeks ago. It’s Mary Beth’s picture. You don’t think we haven’t been reading that forum with our hands over our eyes just peaking through two fingers lately? There has been a lot of “Whew!” and a lot of “That was good!” muttered lately. This is a highly unusual situation!

When I said the blog was coming to an end, I didn’t mean that I was going to quit writing. I just won’t be writing about the building a villa thing anymore. It’s a big island …well, actually not…but there are stories to be told, characters to meet and things to discover!

As I told somebody today, I should be so sick of that island by now, but the truth is I love it more now than ever. See all you people writing me about your building woes? There is hope! You dove in, and you WILL pop up on the other side…just like Shelley Winters did in that scene in the Poseidon Adventure. Except then she got out of the water and had a heart attack and croaked, so that’s a bad analogy.

October 11, 2006

The new Red Hook thing looks like it is shaping up. I don’t know when it’s supposed to be done. It looks close.

My iPod died before I got here and I don’t have the charging cable and there’s no music on my laptop for some reason. Listening to music is part of the fun at this house. That means radio stations. Take note. 91.3 FM is the WGMS of Puerto Rico. Nice blend of classical music, but there’s also interviews. In Spanish. No idea what they’re saying, but they’re saying it in a classical station sort of way…you know…with the pinky extended and eyebrows raised. Only in Spanish. There’s also 98.5 FM PIRATE Radio. And there’s 99.5, Sunny FM. Or something like that. That’s the station where Roger W. Morgan is. A good Roger W. Morgan story. This guy was a rock star among disc jockeys in the 1970s. Then he disappeared. Then he showed up on this station…it’s on St. Croix…and he is a BIG St. Croix cheerleader. Which is kind of funny, because St. Croix was really popular in the 1970s, and then it fell off the map. Maybe both are making their big comeback together.

October 13, 2006

I ran into St. John Spice Ruth as I was coming out of the Mail Center this afternoon. She was shocked that I was carrying boxes. Ha, ha Ruth. She made it a point to tell me how sweet Mary Beth and her new husband were. Josephine said the same thing about them, and if Josephine doesn’t like somebody she has no problem telling you so.

So….that was a fun and uncomfortable and enjoyable and a kick-in-the-pants experience. That’s gotta be an unprecedented renter-owner-travel forum episode. Certainly cannot complain about all the PR, but I think more anonymous transactions with people who stay here would be a good idea from now on!

October 14, 2006

Yes I admit it. I spent more money with Josephine. This time a couple of planters on the verandas.

We just got a look at the latest electric bill. It was $750 for one month. And that was with Russ and I staying there one week and the house completely shut down one week. So technically that was only two weeks of renters, plus one week of conservative us. And both renter weeks were only single couples so presumably only one air conditioner was running. That is really crazy. I can’t imagine what the bills must be for those gigantic Peter Bay houses with a half dozen air conditioners whirring all day long.

October 15, 2006

We got an email today from a guy who recently finished a very nice 5 bedroom house above Rendezvous and Ditleff who says his July electric bill was $3,200. Yikes.

It is obvious, based on BB’s refrigerator contents, that people who rent villas eat a lot of steaks and a lot of salads. Which is pretty much what we’ve always eaten. The salads are a way of asking for forgiveness for being a foaming-at-the-mouth carnivore for a week. I swear I did not stage this picture. Which brings up a really good point for first-timers. If you’re renting a villa, go to the villa BEFORE you go to the grocery store. There are at least six bottles of various salad dressings in our frig right now, and that’s about 20 dollars worth of A-1 sauce. Whoever bought the Worcestershire sauce…you’re my kind of steak eater. Throw in some horseradish, and now we’re talkin’ steak. (Read about the history of horseradish. You’ll eat more!)

October 16, 2006

We’ve been after this poster for a long, long time. It’s a long story, but a St. John native named Eleanor Gibney (Gibney Beach), who runs an occasional shop at Mongoose Junction full of old postcards and magazines and books, finally found it for me several months ago. It’s a poster from a 1958 movie with Sidney Poitier called Virgin Island. The poster has a big bed on a beach and says “Love and Laughter on a Virgin Island.” She was looking for a 2'x3' version, but found one that was 7 1/2 feet tall. Very cool! Eleanor Gibney has seen the movie, and says it wasn‘t all that good. It was filmed in the BVI's.

Next problem was getting it framed. Frames of Mind is good, but because of the size, they had to get the frame stock on a container and we waited very long to get this done. And it was not cheap work. The poster was in two tattered pieces, which they carefully pieced together. Excellent work. Price of the poster: $75. Cost to get it framed: $819. Bang for the buck in Bongo Bongo: Priceless.

October 17, 2006

This has nothing to do with St. John or Bongo Bongo, but every now and then there is an obituary that touches you, and since this is my blog, my tribute.

Christopher Glenn died today from liver cancer at 68. If you’re around my age you remember him as the guy who anchored the In The News segments during Saturday morning cartoons. (Those little segments ran for an amazing 15 years; 1971-1986). He was a lot more than that…including 35 years at CBS Radio with his really incredible, rich, silky-smooth voice…but that’s how I’ll remember him. A guy who made news interesting to kids. This is the guy who got me interested in broadcasting.

He retired from radio earlier this year. Here’s a quote from a cbsnews.com interview after his retirement. “I’ve done it all, seen a lot, had a very good time, very few disappointments, very few bad days if you want to put it that way, and I'm sorry to go, but it's time now.”

Close your eyes and say "Time on the World News Roundup, eight past the hour." Maybe you don't know it, but that's Christopher Glenn you hear.

October 18, 2006

Funny that a blog about building a house on St. John has included references to Marlo Thomas, Tom Cruise, Edvard Munch and Christopher Glenn.

We’ve been getting monthly statements from the management company and, to be honest, we’ve been so busy trying to keep on top of everything else with this house that we have just given them a quick look, pointed to the bottom number and said “that’s a plus sign” and shoved the statements in a pile. We got the latest one tonight, and the bottom number was negative. Which prompted me to try to start getting a handle on management expenses.

For us, and probably most, this is far from a money making deal (except for the real estate part.) Even without a mortgage, the expenses wipe out most of the income. Our goal is to not touch any of the Bongo Bongo account money for mortgage payments until at least the first of the year. Neither one of us has spent a dime on ourselves in a year, which sucks because I’ve determined pleated pants are really, really out this fall.

October 19, 2006

There was a great show on CNBC last night called A Week in the Life of American Airlines, and it went behind the scenes to try to shed some light on all the mysteries of how airlines function. It was fascinating. Especially how airlines price seats and why the prices fluctuate so wildly. Fares are set on every single flight based on both computer models and teams of human beings that constantly monitor bookings. They squeeze as much revenue as possible out of each plane, and they are so focused on it, that every single individual flight is closely monitored. The show tried to explain the methodology, but I was even more confused. On one flight, a passenger who paid $800 for his flight was sitting right next to somebody who paid $50.

What I did learn is that airlines hold seats and if you’ve got the stomach for it, you should wait. Don’t book 6 months ahead. You’re a sucker. But don’t buy a walk-up ticket. You’re considered desperate. I can say, from personal experience, I have flown to St. John for less than $350 buying a ticket 3 days in advance, and as much as $850 on a ticket I bought more than 21 days out. There is order in the chaos, and we're not privy.

And, if you fly US Airways, can I just get a show of hands from those who think that the bag lunch you get in coach is just awful? I mean seriously! A week old dinner roll with a slice of slimy turkey and some kind of sweaty cheese-like product all balled up in plastic wrap. Hello? Airlines are making money again. Bring back the Salisbury steak.

October 21, 2006

There’s the waffle iron. I did not try it out, but it looks like it will make a mighty fine waffle or two.

I did something that was so totally liberating today. With the exception of tax-related stuff and Carefree Getaways-related stuff, I categorized, filed and organized every single piece of paper related to this house…every single bank marathon…every single Sunnyrock requisition and correspondence…even the architect’s plans…and put them all in a big box, put a lid on it and put it in the basement. And then I taped the lid closed. I am serious when I say I feel exorcized. I may even go back downstairs and drive a stake through the box or shoot it with a silver bullet or something just to be safe.

October 24, 2006

True story. When I left St. John a week ago last Saturday, it was POURING down rain. I wanted to be on the 1 o’clock barge and I got to the barge at 12:55. As I was backing on I realized I forgot something at the house. I said to the guy trying to tell me where to park that I forgot something and asked what time the barge was leaving. He said 1 o’clock. Now, we all know that “the 1 o’clock barge” is more of a suggestion than an actual event, but still. I explain that I forgot something and that it would take me at least 10 minutes to leave and get back. He looked around, smiled and said they would WAIT FOR ME. I’m thinking, ya, right. I race home (oh…”home”…what a wonderful and unintentional reference that was!), get what I forgot and race back. It was 1:05 and the barge is still there BUT the next barge was already there, making me think they really DID wait for me. As soon as I pull on to the barge it was gate up and off we went. Whether the barge actually waited just for me I’ll never know, but I choose to think it’s true. I will try it at the Dupont Metro tomorrow morning and see how it goes.

October 25, 2006

Hung and happy. (Not me, the sign.) Ya know, this house is unlike anyplace I’ve ever had when it comes to wall art. Concrete walls mean everything you hang requires elbow grease. Anyway, the sign’s up and Bongo Bongo is now a home.

We found out from the management company today that this week’s guests WERE MARRIED at Bongo Bongo yesterday. Like, the whole ceremony and everything. It was a small wedding and Carefree says they are very nice people and nothing bad (as in house was not trashed) happened. That means some happy couple will be looking at their wedding pictures 20 years from now, and there will be Bongo Bongo. That’s pretty cool.

The happy couple checked in last weekend. Thank goodness there are two bedrooms. It would have been very uncomfortable for the groom to sleep on the couch every night until the official vows were exchanged.

October 26, 2006

This picture ended up in my In Box today. (It’s a small island..) A photo from the remains of Bongo Bongo’s first wedding. It looks like they really had a pretty ceremony.

This is kind of a touchy issue here. Villa weddings are seriously frowned upon…by neighbors…neighborhood associations…management companies…owners. Some villas cater to this, but they are generally big and expensive.

We don’t think these guests had any idea that weddings weren’t allowed without prior approval, and it wasn’t some huge affair anyway. We're happy for these guys and pretty hugely flattered that they chose our little house for one of the most important days of their lives.

But, as owners, we need to decide what the policy should be. Think about it. A two bedroom house with four guests max, and even if they have a few friends over for dinner a couple of times, is a whole lot different than a wedding that potentially brings dozens of people to the house who don’t have any real responsibility for how the place is treated, and a wedding planner who drags furniture all over the place and cars everywhere and liability issues and damage issues…well you get the point. We welcome feedback, but the beach seems like a good place to get hitched. Bongo Bongo seems like a good place to just consummate the hitching.

October 27, 2006

Have you heard about this thing? The SkyScout. A GPS-based gadget that you point at a star and it tells you what the star is. Or you tell it what star you’re looking for and it guides you to it. It gets good reviews and we’re getting one for Bongo Bongo. St. John is a great stargazing place. (Although it took me a couple of years to figure out that the big dipper is upside down down there.)

We want to start a toy box for adults, and we’re naïve enough to think cool things won’t get taken. I can’t tell you how depressing it is when people who’ve owned a villa for awhile tell us not to buy nice things “because they’ll just get broken or taken.” Maybe after a few years of bad experiences we’ll sound as bitter. Not yet though. What exactly is the point of renting people a nice house if all that’s in it is scratched up plastic plates, a rusty old boom box and a jigsaw puzzle that‘s been put together one too many times.

There is a cool little remote controlled helicopter in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog that would be great for flying over to Ristaba to borrow some nutmeg.

October 28, 2006

Here’s how we spent a productive Saturday afternoon. AND, I may have found yet another use for Cruz Bay Grill Rub. The pumpkin seeds. They’re in the oven now. A review later.

Another -only on St. John - story. One of the West Indians on the Sunnyrock crew plants a garden at every single worksite he works on. BB included. He grows tomatoes, watermelon and peppers (but not pumpkins) and, while I didn’t see his BB garden because it wasn’t exactly the kind of thing to be showing to the owner, I’ve been told since that his gardens always do very well. Very funny. Maybe we can get some kind of IRS farm subsidy credit.

October 29, 2006

Okay…the Cruz Bay Pumpkin Seeds are a hit. Very, very tasty. Here’s the recipe:

Carve a couple of pumpkins, or if you’re lucky enough to have kids let them do the work. Separate all of the seeds from the goop and rinse them really, really well. Spread them on a couple of cookie sheets and let them dry out for a few hours. Spray them with canola oil (or if you’re from the Midwest, Pam), and GENEROUSLY sprinkle them with Cruz Bay Spice Rub. Put in 250-degree oven for an hour, tossing them around every 15 minutes or so, until golden. Cool. Eat.

I’ve read the ingredients on the jars of this stuff a half dozen times and there's nothing all that unusual on the list. Still, this stuff is really addictive. I think it’s the “and other spices” part that Ruth is holding out on. Come on Ruth. It’s weed, isn’t it? That’s why we’re hooked. You put weed in your spice rub.

October 30, 2006

This is a papaya tree in the back of the house that sprang from seed and it can’t be more than four or five months old and it is now almost five feet tall. I think there are a couple of others elsewhere. From seed to five feet tall in months. That’s almost creepy. It will probably be twice this size and have fruit in another four or five months. There is a mango tree that was planted as an actual plant and it has hardly grown at all. There is a bunch of bamboo that supposedly will grow big quickly, but it hasn’t changed that much yet. Papaya and bougainvillea, boogies as folks there call them, are apparently the weed plants of the island (not like Ruth’s “weed” plants of course.)

November 1, 2006

Here’s a wedding picture sent to me by the bride herself along with a completely unnecessary apology. Really. She just has to agree to name the first born after the house. Twins would be good. If it’s boy and girl twins, we’ll accept Bongo and Bonga.

Josephine called today and screamed WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN SAYING ABOUT ME ON THE INTERNET?! She meant it in a good way…I think. Some other people, blog readers, building a house in Virgin Grand Estates tracked her down today and wanted to see BB’s landscaping. I’m pretty sure they hired her.

I am addicted to You Tube. If you don’t know what it is, do not go to it. It is a HUGE productivity killer. If you search for St. John Virgin Islands, nothing all that interesting comes up, but I did find this pretty cool little segment. Enjoy.

November 2, 2006

There has GOT to be something more creative we can do with the yellow bedroom’s patio. That little table is just dwarfed and the space is otherwise empty. I think I mentioned this before, but this whole patio was a mistake. The patio, and the yellow bedroom’s outside shower, were supposed to be half as wide as they are. (Measure twice, pour concrete once.) If we were smart , which we repeatedly prove we are not, we probably could’ve figured out how to turn that mistake into a third bedroom. Really. You’d be surprised how many x-bedroom houses turned into x+1-bedroom houses because of things like this. I personally know of two houses finished this year that ended up with EXTRA ROOMS. Can you imagine your builder telling you that they screwed up, but the good news is you have an EXTRA ROOM?

That patio seems like it has a whole lot of potential but it’s just not a destination right now. Hammock maybe. Pool table. Shooting range. I donno.

And these outdoor rugs are a huge disappointment. If you buy a rug that says you can hose it off, you ARE NOT buying a rug.

November 3, 2006

With the Love on a Virgin Island poster hung, we had to move the bongo album covers. They are really quite cool and we didn’t know where to put them. They ended up in the red bedroom’s head. This really is not a demotion, even if it seems like it. If ever there is a place where what is hung nearby is going to get your extended attention, it’s in the head. Bathrooms should have good stuff to look at (and this one still needs more.)

I see the St. John time lapse cloud video on You Tube, that had 300 or so views in its 4 months since it was posted, has had 500 or so new views in the last two days. Hmmm. Wonder where they came from. And you didn’t stop with that video, did you? I told you You Tube would kill your productivity.

November 4, 2006

The hot tub mechanicals developed a pretty serious leak. It was actually several leaks. Angel Electric, who we bought the hot tub through and who installed it, spent quite a bit of time this week trying to fix it. We were told “it is 99 percent fixed.” Huh? I guess that means it is still 1 percent broken.

We went straight to Angel on this one, and I do have to say they were quick to respond. It wasn’t on the punch list, and we’re actually pretty frustrated with the lack of action on punch list items. The leaky gutters were fixed...for which we were sent a bill. That's about it. It is difficult to get crews in with guests occupying the house. I understand that. And one set of guests ran a crew off that showed up unannounced at 7am to do something, as well they should have. Fortunately there is nothing all that major that needs fixing, but it all annoys us and we…just…want….to get…this…house…done!

November 6, 2006

I spent all day Sunday going through 20 hours of videotape of the building of Bongo Bongo and I had a ball. The proverbial stroll down memory lane. I’m going to make some kind of video documentary of the whole experience so we can have something to look back on and laugh about in our old age. I did pull some video from a week at the beginning of April and posted it on You Tube. It’s here , if you want to kill some of your productivity.

You Tube is kind of weird by the way. You’re limited to 100 MB unless you’re a “director.” I don’t know what that means, but I obviously am at the very bottom of the You Tube learning curve. The quality is absolutely terrible.

November 7, 2006

That time lapse video on YouTube now has more than 1,000 views, including somebody who just posted a comment that says “you show my house - between 46 and 50 seconds.(see photo) The big house on the bottom with the yellow roof. Thanks I am in New York and do not get down as often as I would like - it is great to see it.” Any ideas what house this is? Where this is? Reef Bay maybe? Hello owner. Out yourself. Tell us about your house.

Our little video won an honor today as the most-watched video in the travel and places category. Over 260 views now, which means I have wasted collectively 34.6 hours of blog readers’ time. (Russ thinks its creepy and wants me to take it down.)

Time Magazine this week voted YouTube the 2006 invention of the year. Last year’s winner was a cloned Afghan dog named Snuppy.

November 8, 2006

Somebody on St. John e-mailed to tell me the segment in the time lapse cloud video is actually Enighed and you can see Perelandra in the shot as well.

If anybody has any St. John video, you should upload it to YouTube and e-mail me the link. I will post it here. It is really pretty easy, and if you don’t have any video editing software, you can even upload it straight from your camera. I’m serious about this, and we will be soliciting video from people for this blog’s next incarnation anyway. Got some fun video? Upload it and tell me. Going down soon? Shoot some fun video. Just one request. No nekkidness, please.

November 9, 2006

An anonymous voice mail pointed me to a very cool new St. John Web Cam. It is Gallows Point’s new Web Cam and you can find it here, and click on Webcams.

I was going to post a frame grab from it, but it is night now, and there is nothing to see, so do it during the day.

There is a bit of a learning curve, but you can control the camera. Zoom it in. Rotate it. The quality is very, very good and it refreshes in almost real time. Its functionality is a bit dodgy and I don’t know what happens when more than one person tries to control it, so be prepared to take your turn. But it is worth it. I had a ball using it to chase boats coming in. This is really quite cool.

Also, somebody sent me e-mail saying “Jeff, your voice is SO sexy.” She did not say I was one hunky, sexy dude. She said my VOICE was sexy. At my age, I gladly take what compliments I can get.

November 11, 2006

One of the air conditioners stopped working and the guests who checked out this morning didn’t report it until this morning. I was told they were not upset and I am SO glad they reported it and I only hope it wasn’t something they just put up with all week. Maybe it just stopped working the last day. Maybe it was all week. I don’t know how long it wasn’t working. To anyone renting a house, if something doesn’t work, pu-LEEZ call the management company and tell them. You are NOT a pain in the ass. That’s what we pay them for, and unlike a hotel, where maids are in and out every day, the house is yours for a week and if something doesn’t work that could mean a week goes by without anybody fixing it.

We got somebody in Saturday afternoon to fix the air conditioner so all is well for the renters who just checked in. Their flight was delayed and they got in late, and Cindy, who called to tell me the A/C was working again because I think we are the owners from hell because we call for reports all the time, told me the guests’ only concern was to make sure we had ESPN so they could watch the Arkansas Razorbacks which after asking around I have determined is a sports team of some type.

November 13, 2006

The waffle iron guests have come and gone. It passed the test. Her review:

“The waffle iron was even better than the one I have at home. I loved it! It beeps every time the waffles are ready, so it's idiot proof. They came out perfect every time.”

We got their week mixed up with another and failed to deliver a little gift basket of jams and syrup. We DO have the naked guests on our calendar and will be sure to remember the 1890’s-style swimming suits we’ve ordered for them. Full length trousers. Turtle necks. Very nice, quick dry Lycra. They’ll love them.

November 14, 2006

I WANT TO GO TO ST. JOHN. (Russ, me and his sister at the Peter Bay lot we’re buying. Kidding! Although she is a doctor.)

I decided not to go down there this month, even though I probably should have, and I regret it. Especially after watching that video of a plane landing at Cyril E. King Airport. Even when I KNEW I was in for a miserable few days, I couldn’t wait to get off the plane and throw the top down on a Jeep and get over there. We were there every month, sometimes twice a month for the last year and a half. Talk about spoiled. And I only now look back and appreciate that.

I also hope this blog hasn’t discouraged anybody from doing this. If we pulled it off, just about anybody can. We were bottom-of-the-barrel perspective St. John villa owners. All we had was a piece of land, a couple of bucks, a bunch of moxie, and a whole lot of blind stupidity. We had no business doing this, but we did. I think we are little guy heroes. I also think moxie is worth a whole lot more than money.

Besides, I have a flair for the dramatic. It really hasn’t been all that bad. Hmmm. Well, actually that last part is a lie. But, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few nest eggs. (That's so lame, Sorry.)

Oh, the plane landing. And, there's nothing "scary" about it. I don't get the title. Weenies.

November 15, 2006

St. John Spice Ruth is the first to submit video. It is the best video we’ve received so far. (Did I mention that it is the only one?)

While her production is a little short on the content side, she demonstrates a keen eye for capturing the human element of her subjects. The cinematography is reminiscent of Hitchcock. Directorially, I’m thinking Spielberg…no, Tarantino. Although dialogue free, she uses classic Film Noir lighting and camera angles to really draw you in.

Ruth calls this “Hot Sauce Tasting.”

I am seriously in tears. Fascinating. I think I’ll watch it again.

November 17, 2006

There was an accident at Bongo Bongo Wednesday night and it looks like I’ll be going down after all.

The folks staying there were having a catered dinner prepared and a pot of hot oil exploded, sending grease flying everywhere. Details are sketchy…but it was apparently violent enough that it spewed hot grease 16 feet into the air and soaked the cypress ceiling above the stove…and shot oil 20 feet across the living room, hitting a couch and a rug. The good news is nobody was hurt, and that sounds like a miracle. The bad news is it sounds like it’s a real mess.

I called the guests last night to make sure they were okay and to make sure they knew this was an issue between us and the caterer, not them. They were very cool, all things considered.

I’m going down in the morning and will meet with the catering company owner, a contractor and the property manager Sunday, then will come back Sunday afternoon. THIS will be a wicked weekend. Rugs can be replaced and couches recovered. Not sure what the story will be about the cypress, especially since it is (purposely) unsealed and a very light color.

We can’t figure out what in the world could have happened for grease to fly at such velocity and distance.

Fried wantons are now added to the new list of banned activities at Bongo Bongo! (I just keep thinking, what if the nekkid people were there when scalding oil was flying about? )

November 18, 2006

No pictures tonight, because the Ackley connection is SLLLLOWWW for some reason (although I have a choice of connecting to a WiFi called Ft. Miles, which is a house way across the hill, but I won’t.)

An extremely nice 3 page note from the folks whose caterer blew hot oil everywhere. Guys…forget it! We’ll deal with it, NOT your fault, but as punishment, you have to come back and rent again.

Updates to come: Damage, guest book, Reef Madness, papaya twins and THE BUBBA KEG!

November 20, 2006

The place needs some more cleaning. The guy who is going to work on the cypress used to repair antique furniture and he’s pretty sure he has a couple of tricks that will get the grease out, including the use of a hair dryer and some chemicals. I look forward to seeing the results, but not seeing the process. A rug will have to be replaced, and we’ll get the sofa cushions recovered right on St. John at the Fabric Mill on the second floor of Mongoose Junction. It’s a very cool store which is run by the ex-wife of our architect and the mother of the turtle painting artist. (On St. John, you are 3 degrees away from Kevin Bacon, not six.)

And the turtle painting is the only bad news. Grease splattered on it as well. We’ll call Kristen Maize and see what she thinks can be done.

I’m starting a new feature called “unusual things people leave at the house,” and will grade them from A to F. First rule. Booze automatically loses one grade level because that just means somebody’s eyes were bigger than their liver and that’s not right, what with millions of sober little children running around in China.

November 21, 2006

Here’s a picture sent to us by the guests taken shortly after the wonton incident. I have no idea how many rolls of paper towels and how many dish towels they must have gone through.

Someone also pointed out that I spelled wonton as wanton in the original post. Funny slip, since they were actually kind of wanton wontons anyway.

In keeping with my desire to get people to waste time, here’s a link sent to me after a Kevin Bacon reference in a recent post. A University of Virginia Computer Science Department project that determines what it calls “The Bacon Number.” You type in one actor’s name, and a second actor’s name, and it shows you how far removed they are from each other. Try as I might, I couldn’t get a Bacon Number higher than 3.

The Bacon Number.

November 22, 2006

Okay, ANYBODY get more than 3 Bacons? Boris Karloff and Macaulay Culkin is only 3 degrees of separation! I thought that was a slam dunk 6.

If you ever wondered what those beautiful native stone walls so many cool houses have look like when they’re being made…here you go. By hand. One rock at a time. This is a house in Sea Grape Hill being built by some very nice, and now very weary folks in Annapolis we met through this building process. The house will be called “Reef Madness”, which I think is one of the greatest names I’ve ever heard.

They have also submitted video, which they call “Accidental Reef Madness”, which is nothing more than the guy accidentally shooting 20 seconds of video before realizing he’d done it. Ya know folks…this was not supposed to be the assignment. But…I’ve watched it a half dozen times.

Our latest Cannes entry: Accidental Reef Madness.

November 23, 2006

This is a bubba keg. A couple of months ago I got an email from people who would be staying at Bongo Bongo telling us they bought a Bubba Keg as a gift. I remember not having any idea what a Bubba Keg was. Now I do. A 128 ounce cooler that is even personally engraved “Bongo Bongo 2006.” And there is a pour spout on the bottom, which they say works perfectly on the edge of the pool.

I call today’s video Pool Cam. Again, meaningless. But if you want, you can float in our pool for 90 seconds. Float away.

November 24, 2006

I tried a different dining experience at the airport. Got my boarding pass and instead of going straight to the cattle corral to hell, I meandered over to the restaurant by the luggage carousels. Exact same food. But I felt less trapped. But the exact same food. One time, the airport cafeteria’s special was pig tails and cabbage, which just isn’t what you’re looking for ahead of a long flight home.

Here is video that must have made the rounds when I was gone. The link sent by Kyle and Colleen of a sunset while they ordered dinner. Oh, and they paired lobster with chardonnay. (Let this video fully load, then scroll through it, time-lapse style. Or...eavesdrop on their entire dinner conversation.) Kyle and Colleen’s sunset.

November 27, 2006

First Bank has now sent us all the documentation we requested, closing out all loans and insurance issues. We also have letters from First Bank saying they have notified all 3 credit agencies of inaccuracies, although one remains on my credit report, which I will have to continue following up on.

The bank that bought our refinanced mortgage through the mortgage broker has already sold it to another bank. It took exactly 3 months for that to happen. Not at all unusual in the mortgage business…but we can’t help but wonder if the bank put our mortgage in the storefront window with a sign that said “Good investment, inquire within”, or if it sold it out the back door in the alley like day old fish.

November 28, 2006

This papaya tree was 5 ½ feet tall 3 weeks ago. It is at least 8 feet tall now. We may be making papaya smoothies Christmas morning. And this whole back patio has vanished in over-active landscaping. A major haircut is needed. These were TINY six months ago.

We had dinner tonight with some people from here who are about 11 months into their St. John building project who made it sound like things were going well. That’s just not fair, so we did our best to scare the hell out of them about what’s to come. And what’s with all these DC people building houses on St. John anyway? Are we all so happy with owning property in one dysfunctional city that we’re compelled to own more property someplace even more dysfunctional?

Somebody got a Bacon Number of 5, using Bob Smith and somebody named Miss Hill, who, best I can tell, was in one movie in 1916. And it was still a 5. I really think 6 is impossible.

November 29, 2006

We got our latest statement from the management company today and at last, it is starting to look good. Like a tooth after a root canal, the throbbing is finally subsiding. In our most recent month we grossed almost 60 percent (before mortgage, storm insurance and property taxes) which isn’t too shabby. We also have not touched that Carefree account since the first renters got in, so it is getting nice and healthy. Our goal has always been not to touch it until after the first of the year, which has meant paying a mortgage that is 3 times our primary residence mortgage completely out of pocket for the last 7 months.

Okay, my first entry in “Unusual Things People Leave at the House” is Old Bay seasoning. This gets an A+. DC may not be Baltimore, but we’re close enough to appreciate the joys of having rust-colored fingers after a good shellfish slam down. Not only is this imported goods, it is versatile, it encourages the cook to think beyond a grilled rib eye and it’s just plain thoughtful to leave it behind. Again: Old Bay, A+.

December 1, 2006

Okay…F! The next entry in the Unusual Things People Leave at the House is this package of Hollandaise sauce mix. Hollandaise sauce MIX. I hope whoever bought this intended to make it while everybody was still asleep, dispose of the envelope, put a bunch of egg shells in the sink and slap flour all over their face for effect for when the gang stumbled into the kitchen for breakfast.

The good news is this obviously never got made. Had somebody tried, I would hope the Viking range would’ve unhitched itself from the gas line and stomped itself out of the house. Hollandaise Sauce: Butter, egg yokes, vinegar, butter, a lemon. Hollandaise sauce mix: Butter, some powdered crap. The devil you know or the devil you don’t? Huh? Huh?

Somebody sent email saying it looked like I was peeing on the papaya tree. Yes, I said to Cindy, who took the picture, “Hey, do me a favor. I’m going to pee on the papaya tree. Take a picture of me, okay?”

December 2, 2006

Today’s installment of Unusual Things People Leave at the House gets a B. It only gets a B because I said any booze loses one grade point automatically, otherwise I would give it an A-, or maybe a B+ because it is the quintessential definition of unusual. Maybe it’s not unusual, and maybe I’ve been in some kind of designer drink void, but I’d never heard of this.

Alize. The bottle says “French cognac and vodka.” There have been several under-30 couples at the house and I’m quite sure it came from one of them. It seems clubby and hipster and way too cool for my crowd. Wedding, grease explosion…why not a rave.

Neither one of us can believe we’re 2 weeks away from spending the holidays at Bongo Bongo. This was something we fantasized about 4 years ago when we bought the land. And day-dreaming about this very trip kind of became the driving force over the last 18 months. We are determined to do nothing but have fun. AND... to plan the next adventure. I saw a refrigerator magnet at Fresh Fields today and had to buy it. It says "Leap. The net will appear." So far, so good. (Although the damn net took its sweet time showing up this time.)

December 4, 2006

Refrigerator etiquette: unopened bottle of white wine: B (only because of the rule.) Unopened wine is a great thing to leave behind. Open wine is trash and hopefully, but not always, the cleaning people throw it out. Remains of a 12 pack of diet Coke: A. Four beers: B (rule.) Box of Ore Ida frozen twice baked potatoes with one potato left: F.

I think the general rule for the cleaners is unopened cans and bottles stay. Anything that fits in the door shelves stays. Everything else goes.

Once I arrived at the house before the cleaning people had been there…and in the frig was a plate with a half eaten steak and the remains of a baked potato…and a knife and fork on the plate. Ya gotta wonder what that person said when they went to bed the night before. “I’ll finish that steak in the morning”?

Only 26 days remain until the BB blog’s final entry. :(

December 5, 2006

We bought a few really nice, copper Tiki torches to replace the cheap ones. We’ve gone through about a dozen of the cheap ones and that’s okay because they were only $6 a piece anyway. It was an experiment to see if people would use them and as it turns out people love them. These are classy and will last awhile. They’ll also not need to be refilled constantly. We’ve gone through several cases of gallon jugs of Tiki torch fuel in the last six months. These also weren’t outrageous. About $50 each. www.buytikitorches.com

From Wikipedia: The term "Tiki" comes from the islands of Polynesia in the South Pacific, and has multiple meanings. In Polynesian mythology, Tiki is the first man. However, it also refers to a wooden or stone carving of a Polynesian god or an ancestor of the owner.

Wow. I thought it was just Hawaiian for party on.

December 6, 2006

The new phone book is here! The new phone book is here! We’re somebody! There we are. Somewhere between Cinnamon Bay and Coconut Coast. It’s the Innovative phone number, not the Ackley number. That’s okay. It’s their book, and both lines ring in the house anyway. How exciting!

I had to call my mom and tell her this (mostly because she likes Steve Martin and I wanted to scream that first line into the phone to her) and she asked how big the St. John phone book was. Well, this is the BIG three island Innovative book, so I counted all the blue (St. John) pages. It’s 15 and a half pages. If a telemarketer works this book the odds are very good we’ll be getting a call. “Wouldn’t you like to save money on your winter heating bills?” Um…no. I’m good.

More great lines from The Jerk.

December 7, 2006

When I flew back two weeks ago, the US Airways jet was a 767 again. My itinerary said 757, so I don’t know why there was an equipment change. Maybe mechanical problems on the plane down from Philly. At any rate, I was already checked through in first class (which has been the BEST bonus of all this flying), but the first class cabin, which has 24 seats vs. 8 in a 757, was less than half full when the door was shut. Coach was packed. I don’t know why they didn’t do that thing where they announce available seats for a couple of hundred bucks but they didn’t.

We just bought tickets for this month’s trip. I keep hearing about great deals on air fares, but we paid $760 each, which is one of the highest fares I have ever paid. Ahhh… but…Christmas AND New Years on St. John? Priceless.

December 11, 2006

Board games! They’re going down with us and hopefully will be the beginnings of the great collections of games and stuff you see at villas. This is the kind of stuff that just takes time to accumulate.

You know what else I like? Houses that have little “lending libraries” chock full of well-read paperbacks. Unfortunately, all I can contribute so far is the entire collection of Harry Potter books read on planes over the course of construction trips.

I can only offer a couple of reasons to keep reading this blog at this point. One is the dirty laundry. Stop sending emails already. We’ll admit to the money magic it took to finish the house this week, as embarrassing as it will be. The other reason I hope you hang around is for the Website that replaces the BB blog. It’s something to keep us island-connected and entertained (and hopefully anybody who reads it) and we’ll start it as soon as we shoot the BB blog in the head. Which is soon.

Oh…it’s the new Monopoly Here and Now version. All new landmarks and real estate trophies. I think a St. John version is also in order. Replace Boardwalk and Park Place with Peter Bay and Virgin Grand Estates. Little green plastic villas with pools…and BIG red pieces with names like Sirenusa and Grand Bay.

December 12, 2006

The only reason a can of Coco Lopez counts as Unusual Things People Leave at the House is because it was actually left and not used. It gets an A+ (even though it’s 1 Bacon number away from booze which almost marks it down a grade level) because it’s the thing you always mean to get at the store but keep forgetting. And there it is. Just begging for some ice and juice and rum and nutmeg.

Not to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of Painkillers, but just for fun I googled calories of various drinks today, and you’re much better off having a Bushwhacker, even with all that’s in it. A Bushwhacker has 263 calories. A Painkiller made with ONE OUNCE of Coco Lopez has 325 calories. I don’t know anybody who delicately splashes one ounce of Coco Lopez in a drink. A Painkiller also has 4.5 grams of saturated fat! Have 4 Painkillers and you have consumed an entire day’s worth of fat. Depressing, isn’t it. At least the maraschino cherry counts as produce.

December 13, 2006

Why are we telling how we pulled this off? Because folks building or thinking about it will actually feel a lot better about themselves when they read what a train wreck we embarked on. And the good news is there is a very happy ending.

We’ll recount the financial trial in generalities, so as not to get too personal.

Rewind to March 2005. We borrowed enough money to pay off the land and to fund about 90 percent of the original build estimate. We had enough cash we were willing to spend on our own to cover the remaining 10 percent, and to go up to 30 percent over. And we knew, worst case scenario, there were other accounts.

Draws repeatedly fell short of requisitions and our “cash burn rate” (a term lovingly thrown about during the dot-com boom in the late 90’s) was seriously severe. By January, 06 when we received the first budget revisions, we had gone through all of our own cash. We were four months away from done and, with the exception of a very meager construction loan balance remaining, we were dead, dead broke.

To be continued…wonton story-telling style. (That girl can write, can’t she???)

December 14, 2006

We‘d love to meet ourselves two years ago. We‘d say “So you guys are hot shots, huh?” We thought we were. Excited, a little money, and full of blind optimism. That’s the only way for guys like us to have done this, so, in retrospect, no regrets about being naïve.

So, continuing…In February, Plan B: We modified the construction loan higher, which was actually pretty painless. The bank WANTS you to finish the house.

The period of February through May 2006 was miserable. The bills kept getting bigger, not smaller. We had no choice but to go to Plan C, which included cashing in two stock funds, then tapping an equity line of credit on our DC house, then borrowing from both of our 401Ks. And the bills kept coming.

In April, We maxed out a very high-interest personal line of credit….. AND… in the final month did something we laughed about from the very beginning of doing if we ever got desperate. We started writing out those checks the credit card companies always send you. No, seriously! (We stopped throwing them away long about March, just in case.) We call the red bedroom the MasterCard Suite and the yellow bedroom the Visa Suite. We tried to get a naming rights deal with Bank of America.

Final quarter. Clock is ticking. One shot left. From half court no less. Continued....

December 15, 2006

Let me just say once, and I’ll probably only say it once, we really don’t blame our builder for what happened to the budget. Well., we sort of do…but what we can pin on him isn’t much compared to the vortex of spiraling materials costs, shipping delays and general “St. John-isms.” Erase the money part, our builder gave us a damn good house.

So, last we left off, Jeff and Russ were tapped out, buried in high-interest debt, out of options and wide awake staring at the ceilings at night. We obviously had two very clear choices. Sell the house. Or refinance. Choice two was by far the preferred route, but we’d gone from hot shots… to guys who’d be kicked out of a Payday Advance office. Thank God we still had 3 things going for us. A home, respectable incomes and, NOW!…a villa in the Caribbean! , which appraised nicely.

The half court shot, all net, to come….

December 16, 2006

But by the grace of God, and I truly mean that, by July we were able to refinance the entire mess. We did it at an interest rate that was better than we could have gotten through an island bank, and when you’re talking money this big, a half a point makes a world of difference. We paid off the evil credit card companies, paid ourselves back, put money back where it never should have come from and ended up with a bigger mortgage than we ever planned.

And then…the house was a hit. . A serious hit. As stupid as this blog has been, it turned out to be accidental genius, and guffaw all you want.. but I swear we didn’t start this blog as a marketing tool, but it became one. We were able to almost immediately put a competitive rate on this house without having to wait one or two years to establish it. AND… we delivered. Renters are already re-booking, which is a very good thing because it means we put together a great place.

And the icing on the cake is that the house is actually generating more income than we expected. The mortgage payment is bigger. But the net income bigger is as well.

So you see, there is a rainbow at the end of our story… Which is a tacky way of segueing into an explanation of this picture, which someone captured from the St. John Web Cam and sent to me.

And with that, our dirty laundry is washed, dried and pressed. And… we’re back to being hot shots! Off to St. John for 18 (hopefully) glorious days. The final updates to come…from Bongo Bongo itself!

December 17, 2006

Oh we are going to have fun. I wasn’t kidding when I said we got a remote controlled helicopter. I hope it’s really quiet, because otherwise we will ground ourselves before Chocolate Hole does.

It won’t be nearly as much fun as the real thing however, which we’d love to do again on this trip. If you’ve ever considered a chopper ride around the islands, do it! It’s not cheap. I think about $800 for a half an hour, but the helicopters hold up to 5 people, plus the pilot. Ask the pilot to take the doors off. (They strap you in very safely.)

December 18, 2006

The ‘07 Wrangler is here! The ‘07 Wrangler is here! Budget has tons of them. Avis had a few of the super-cool new four door Wrangler version.

The ‘07 two door Wrangler is bigger, beefier, and really good looking. All new cockpit. The storage behind the rear seat is maybe just a couple of inches bigger.

Mine is gun metal gray (with 127 miles on it), but it appears there is a battle over this year’s trend color. It will either be bright red, or a really cool G.I. Joe Army green.

St. John is BEAUTIFUL. Breezy and cool, very green and very busy.

December 19, 2006

It looks like Santa is driving a 2007 Wrangler this year!

I went to the Mail Center today and the guy says “You’re Jeff, right?”, and I say “Um, yes.” And he says “Well thank God.” Stuff we sent ourselves occupied about half of the pile of boxes in the store. If you want to send yourself something, Express Mail to the Mail Center is a slam dunk. We have not yet lost one thing doing this, and the biggest benefit is that there is parking, so you don‘t schlep far with the boxes. (And they’re pretty nice people.)

We are not at Bongo Bongo yet. We took a last minute reservation (one more check in the bank in 2006), and we will move into BB Thursday morning. Staying at a very old, very cool house on Great Cruz Bay Road called Haiku. We’ll review it with pictures next month (hint, hint), but it’s what I imagine staying on St. John used to be like. It’s an open house, and I really like it. And it’s mega private, for those of you who like to run around naked all day. Me and my Midwestern sensibilities, the farthest I run around naked is from the shower to the towel bar. But that’s just me.

December 20, 2006

A couple more things about the ‘07 Wrangler and then I‘ll shut up. There is a small, lockable storage area in the floor behind the rear seats, if you have a padlock. And the stereo has an auxiliary jack, so you can play your iPod. Bring a cable that has eighth inch plugs on both ends.

Here‘s a little video that boils 15 months of building BB into a couple of minutes. Watch the red numbers in the lower right corner climb!

Watch if you're out of other ways to waste your productivity today: Bongo Bongo start to finish.

December 21, 2006

That’s Dave at Frames of Mind. I brought down a US Airways poster for the US Virgin Islands that’s a picture from Honeymoon Beach that a friend who used to work for US Airways gave us. Looks great. If we laid the framing material end to end that Frames of Mind has done for us, it would reach to the moon and back.

Being a villa owner is definitely different. Instead of arriving and walking around deciding who gets what bedroom, you walk around saying “That didn’t last long”, “That needs to be replaced”, What happened here?” I can’t believe how quickly things get ratty or break down here. I used to think shabby villas were the result of cheap owners. But it is obviously going to be a big deal to keep on top of breakage, ahead of the elements and proactive about keeping things fresh. But ya know what? Who cares! It is a major pinch-a-thon to remind ourselves that the place is actually ours.

December 22, 2006

The SkyScout is a big hit. It really works. Point it at a star and nice, female voice tells you what the star is and a fun fact or two about it. Choose “tonight’s highlights” and it takes you on a guided tour through the sky. Tell it what star or planet you want to see, and it guides you to it. The GPS also tells you exactly where you are and what your elevation is.

It seems to work very well down here, which is great because on a clear night like last night, the sky is amazing from St. John.

December 23, 2006

We had this clever idea to sprinkle river rocks on the bottom of the fountains. Insane! Let me put it this way. River rocks are for vases, because the actual square footage coverage you get from a container of river rocks is NOTHING. We ended up buying every single container of river rocks we could find on this island…about two dozen of them…and at $13.50 per container. We have now barely covered the bottom of one fountain. But. It looks good.

We’re really over painting and putting together and hauling and doing chores. I’ve been here 7 days and Russ 4 and neither one of us has even been to a beach. Beach BAR, yes. Beach beach, no. (Slightly changed menu at the Beach Bar which includes a really, really tasty roast beef sandwich on a baguette with au jus. Oui, oui.)

Christmas Eve, 2006

Here’s our Christmas Palm Tree. We played all day. Lunch at the Beach Bar. A couple of fun interviews with some new businesses. An afternoon at Trunk Bay snorkeling with the fishes and the masses of yellow-vested cruise ship folks. Christmas Eve tonight with presents (I got a BIG telescope, Russ got diving lessons), a mighty fine iPod Christmas music mix that includes Judy Garland, Jimmy Buffet and a great Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet doing Little Drummer Boy. Search the Washington Post’s Website for a story in this week’s Style section about that song. It is a GREAT story. Bowie refused to sing Drummer Boy. Producers wrote a duet he would sing. Bing dropped dead a few weeks later. Christmas special aired anyway. Big hit song resulted.

Off to bed early. Tomorrow is Christmas Day and that means Jost van Dyke! Denver this ain’t!

Christmas Day, 2006

There are certainly worse places to spend Christmas. White Bay was absolutely perfect. It also wasn’t as crowded as last Christmas. After lunch and a couple of hours of boat and people watching, we moved on to the Willy T. anchored off Norman Island. It was also tame, at least according to the folks who were there who said it is usually crazy. But what a beautiful spot it was.

Just 6 more blog entries remain. BUT, we’ll start the New Year with something else fun to read. Stay tuned.

December 26, 2006

We took a dinghy out today and spent the day beach hopping and snorkeling. We saw this big turtle at Francis Bay. The snorkeling isn’t bad, although the water seems a little more murky than usual.

Other than Francis and Maho…and the big draws like Trunk and Cinnamon…the beaches were pretty empty. We had Little Cinnamon to ourselves for almost the whole time we were there.

The helicopter was a disaster. Its first and only flight lasted less than 15 seconds. I pushed “turbo” instead of “hover” and it shot straight up 30 feet in the air and then plunged straight down and into the pool. That was about $20 per second worth of fun. The real thing is a whole lot cheaper.

December 27, 2006

Steve Simonsen shot photos of Bongo Bongo today…more than 1 year after we first scheduled him to do it! Now, that’s funny. What a nice guy. We got to talk some about the new Friends of the Nat’l Park DVD. An interview on the new site in a few days…but as a tease…ask yourself this. Why Rockefeller?

Oh, and his crew shows up with more lighting equipment than a 60 Minutes crew, and bags full of props. Like croissants and fruit and stuff to set tables. Free Breakfast tomorrow!

Tomorrow is Russ’ first diving lesson. I will sit on the boat and watch. I figure God gave me feet and He gave fish gills. And I don’t see any fishes taking jogging lessons.

December 28, 2006

Russ is now a diver. I got a free boat ride. They dove at Mingo Cay and Stevens Cay and everyone looked like they enjoyed being trapped under water wearing their contraptions. And the captain of the boat owns the house below Bongo Bongo…called Still Waters. He asked how I liked the neighborhood and I said I loved it because it’s so quiet. He said “Ya, now that you’re done building!” Oops.

The island is very busy this week. Last week it was dead. Someone who works at The Fish Trap said they went from averaging 70 dinners a night last week to 170 a night this week.

December 29, 2006

These hot tubs are complicated! I mean, you can turn it on and get in and it’s great. But then you start pondering all of the valves and knobs and settings, and just fooling around with them doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll stumble upon the magic combination. Blow a villa management company away and ask them for the make and model number of the hot tub at the house you’re staying at. Then download the operating instructions. That’s what we did. We’re starting to understand it.

These are the best Tiki torches. They burn forever. I’ve refilled them once the whole time we’ve been here.

The river rocks have become a cause celebre. Even St. John Spice Ruth weighed in, stopping us on the street to tell us to take a bucket to Frank Bay and load up on little rocks there. Found more today the retail way. Just enough to finish it. And now the fountain ROCKS!. (Sorry.)

December 30, 2006

Hey! We found our outhouse! It is now doing duty at a worksite across the hill on Roman Road where somebody else is building their dream home. I suppose there are all sorts of metaphors and analogies we could come up with, but it kind of speaks for itself.

And we’re just days away from picking the first papaya from Bongo Bongo’s garden. The fruits of our labor. That’s a $1.3 million papaya hanging on that branch. I think they’re about $2 at Whole Foods.

December 31, 2006

And so ends a running account of 21 months of our lives. We met some nice folks and made a few friends because of this blog. Thanks to everybody who read along, and a huge thanks to those who took the plunge and stayed at Bongo Bongo, including coffee grinder Mary Beth, waffle iron Dot, wonton Tammy and the upcoming nekked Jorge. You guys gave this house personality (not to mention a WHOLE LOT of greatly appreciated publicity.)

We hope this blog hasn’t discouraged anybody from building down here. If a couple of punks like us can get through this, anybody can. But we do hope we opened a few eyes for what to expect.

From the first time we got in our pool to the last time we were in it, and to the next time we are…we have no regrets. We love St. John and now we have a house to love here too …and that ain’t bad!

-The End!

Oh, and here‘s a brand new Website that we’ll try to make fun and entertaining. An occasional Bongo Bongo tale may show up, but we promise something new every day. So bookmark it: www.on-stjohn.com .

UPDATE: As it happens, this blog also continues occasionally. Bongo Bongo Blog 7 here .

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