Who says work and pleasure can't be combined? Our author, that's who.
Already I'm being bad. The first thing I do when I'm shown our room at the luxury resort in Barbados is to case it for an Internet connection. They had been vague about this on the telephone. "Some rooms" had access, I'd been told. When I wondered out loud if mine would be one of those rooms, they, too, expressed wonderment. We would all find out together. And the answer is: No, my room is not one of those rooms.
I'm here in Barbados because I could really use a vacation, yet I really can't permit myself to take one because I've really got too much to do, which is really stressing me out. The best I can offer myself is a change of scenery for my work. "Vacations are overrated" - that's the assessment of a woman I know whom I'll call Pickle … though, if Pickle meant it, why is she here with me? She craves massages and pedicures, like most girls, but more often than not, she exhibits type A behavior. I ask her what her goal is on this trip. That's how we talk to each other.
"To concentrate," she replies. That's my Pickle.
The place where we're staying is called the House, situated on the Caribbean coast of Barbados at sandy Paynes Bay. In addition to its exquisite location, the House is small (though much bigger than a house) and unfussy and caters to adults. Its website promises "a setting so inspiring, so seductively sensual …" Meaning romance - which Pickle and I have no time for - but also solitude. The "ambassador" (that's the House's term for the hired help) who hands us a welcome daiquiri - and who's wearing an all-white wardrobe and thus looks less like an ambassador and more like a monk-bartender amalgam - tells us to call him whenever we need something.
We've come to the right place. The House, behind security gates, is barely visible from the street. Once inside, you step onto dark wooden floors that lead to an open-air bar and then to a deck that explodes out into a staggering vista of the Caribbean. Torches line the walkway. White-clad ambassadors glide in and out of view as if on ice skates. There's ambient music - Pickle insists it's Tom Petty, but I can't hear it over the waves - and the occasional grinding of the daiquiri blender. I feel removed. But I also feel like I could … well … get a little bit of … y'know … work done here.
Our ambassador has read me like a cheap novel. Before leaving us, he shows us the House's library. Inside are two computers with Internet hookups.
I steal a glance at Pickle. Her eyes say yes!
On our way past the bar, we see a stack of papers on a counter: today's editions of the [London] Times and the Washington Post. Double yes!
Call us pathetic, but you have to admit we're on to something. Getting away from it all, except not really - it's an idea whose time has come. I live in Washington, D.C., where everyone is chronically overworked. They never use their vacation time. How pathetic is that? I've never believed that work and play have to be mutually exclusive functions like eating and sleeping. You always hear people say, "I do my best work when …," and they're never referring to work done at the office. So why not embrace the obvious? Why not do your best work in Barbados?
Pickle and I are sharing a suite that has two bathrooms and two balconies overlooking the water. We've packed identically: a laptop and a suitcase filled with summer clothes, books, magazines, and office documents. Pickle emerges from her bathroom in a bikini, holding a container of sunblock in one hand and a book in the other.
"Chop-chop," she urges.
The water is an unsullied blue, and its waves are persistently gentle. But the sun is not - and because I've spent the better part of two years huddled inside with my laptop, writing a book, I am as white as a refrigerator. Pickle's way ahead of me. She stretches out beneath a canopy. I take my place beside her. For beach reading, I've brought along Cobra II, a zesty little tale about the invasion of Iraq. Pickle is reading Senator Barack Obama's autobiography. I notice a British couple mounting a Jet Ski and laughing as they tear across the surface of the sea.