Henry has worked at Quality Inn and Suites in Hollywood, Florida since 1970. That’s the year my Polish grandfather, Adam retired. His wife, my grandmother Wanda is still drawing that pension.
That’s not why we come here – well, not completely. I first found the Quality Inn because it ran a free bus shuttle from Fort Lauderdale airport. And it had a pool. When I saw the online pics of the pool, I was sold. We’d just finished a two-year sailing stint. Non-stop ocean and all we wanted to do was swim in a concrete-bordered space. Go figure. Water without waves, no other potentially large creatures or current to contend with. I booked. Then we arrived and there was proper torrential rain. We just stared out at the water. And we met Henry.
We actually had a disagreement with him. He’d gotten all funny when we asked if we could store our bags before our evening flight. Eventually we convinced him to use his storage room which seemed uncannily designed for that purpose. Still, it was tense. To smooth things over, Jack gave him a Trinidadian ten-dollar note. We’d managed to turn up in America without any greenbacks.
Henry brightened up. ‘A guy who works here is from Trinidad. I’ll go show him,’ he said. Jack winced. Indeed, two minutes later Henry returned with a deflated expression. ‘He says it’s not even enough to buy a beer with.’
Then he burst out laughing. We all laughed. And the next time we came through Florida we went to the Quality Inn.
Luckily, each time we come here the weather seems to improve. This is our fourth visit now. It’s glorious. As soon as we walked through the door, Henry was there.
He came towards us. ‘Oh my gawd, look at all your bags! Are you moving here?’ He grinned. ‘Go on, you can just come and live here. Sell the boat. Buy a nice house. Life will be good for you.’
He knew. Last time we were here, we’d been talking to him in the car park. Then he’d murmured, ‘Look behind you.’
We’d whirled around. At least ten cats were making their way towards us. Miaowing as they stepped.
Henry pointed to the shipping container next to his car and explained. ‘People dump their animals here, so I feed them. But I have to feed the alligators too so they don’t eat the cats.’ He shook his head like a doting father. ‘And they still eat the cats sometimes.’
We asked him now. He gave us a broad smile. ‘I have 45 cats at the moment. Plus the alligators. ‘And,’ he added a touch sheepishly, ‘the iguanas.’
Iguanas? You feed the alligators but you’re sheepish about iguanas? We’d soon find out. The next morning at breakfast, we had a line of iguanas, similar to the cats last year, just by our feet. And the big ones are about two-feet long.
Lulu commented, ‘I don’t know why, Delph, but somehow they remind me of you.’
Delphine lifted her feet on the chair cautiously. ‘Thanks, Lu.’
‘They won’t hurt you, right?’ I said to the Quality Inn lady. ‘They don’t bite.’
She nodded grimly. ‘They don’t bite, but sometimes they’ll climb onto you. They can get a little, well, frisky.’ With this, she flicked her tea towel at them. ‘Go away! These guys don’t to talk to you right now!’ The iguanas scampered, doing their reptilian run.
Romantic iguanas! At least ten of them meandered around the pool during the morning. The tea towel saw a lot of action. Poor guys.
Later, we saw Henry. ‘Henry, your iguanas! They’re romantics!’
Henry laughed, but looked around as if to check the manager wasn’t around. ‘They’ve had babies and they’re hungry. Everything lives here – with the green and water.’
He got a call on his radio. ‘I gotta go. Some kids are messing around in the car park.’
We watched his tall, lanky frame move away and hoped he’d be ok with the kids. This was America after all. Then again, he did have an army of faithful alligators. Romantic iguanas. And the miaowing cats. Surely it’s a force to be reckoned with.