Back in the Long Ago — farther back than I care to remember most of the time — I spent a few years hanging out with some semi-reputable folks at a small airport in South Florida. One of the more colorful parties was another guy named Bill. He and I were drawn together by a shared love of airplanes, flying in general, drinking, the bars of Ft. Lauderdale and their stewardess habitués.
Bill, in addition to being a charming guy and inveterate manipulator of facts — hell, let’s just say it: he’d lie when it would have been easier to tell the truth — was a dreamer. He was always looking for the next rainbow or, lacking that, the next scam. I could write a small novel about his misbegotten escapades and may someday, but this is about the time Bill decided to corner the market on iguana tails.
At the time we were both working for a small operation that had business ties with developers in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Bill was flying a Cessna 180 out of Provinciales in the T&C, ferrying folks — and often their livestock — around the island chain. (Ever tried to get a goat into a small airplane? A story for another time….) I was spending most of my time as a flight instructor and charter pilot at the Florida base, but kept pretty close track of Bill, not only because he was my friend but also because he was always entertaining.
During a well-lubricated get-together someplace in the islands, somebody introduced Bill to iguana tail as an entree.* Bill, never one to pass up a bad idea — especially if he was drinking, i.e. a good deal of the time — decided that here was an unexplored opportunity for culinary and financial success. The lower islands of the Bahamas chain were at that time literally crawling with the big lizards (as is South Florida these 50 years later) so the supply was assured.
He got to work on it immediately. First he checked with Algernon, the airport gofer. Algie assured him that he had many friends who would be glad to catch de ‘guana, Mon. Then he spoke to the proprietor of the local ice house and determined that there would be enough of that popular commodity (not much A/C in the islands in those days) to ice up his catch. Another dreamer named Joe had an old Twin Beech that would haul a decent load, and he agreed to transport the tails to market for a cut of the profits.
Bill then contacted several disreputable restaurants in the South Florida area and convinced them to try the new taste treat. Enough of them agreed the exotic fare might pique the palates of their customers that Bill was able to make up a shipment. Algie mustered his troops and the iguanas were accordingly deprived of their tails and, coincidentally, their lives. This created another issue, since not much of an iguana is actually tail by weight, and there was no place to put the remains. So Bill, ever resourceful, convinced Algernon that he and his minions could make a buck off of the iguana skins (think wallets, belts, etc.). I have no knowledge of that enterprise’s outcome, but I suspect it was not the boon to the island economy that Algie and his friends envisioned.
Finally a couple of hundred pounds of tails were skinned, iced and loaded on the Beech. Bill and Joe enplaned, and they were off to Florida where they delivered fifty pounds of more-or-less fresh iguana tail to four different eateries. Then they flew back to the tropics and awaited their reward, doubtless over a few drinks.
There was one fly in the ointment; one hitch in the git-along; one unanticipated factor. It turned out that the customers at the restaurants didn’t want to eat iguana tail fillets, sandwiches, omelets or lizard parts in any other form. Not only that, the establishments were disinclined to pay for stuff they couldn’t serve. Poor Bill, Joe, Algernon and friends were out their labor and expenses, the restaurateurs had to dispose of 200 pounds of lizard meat, and another set of dreams was squashed by the whims of the public and poor market research.
I don’t know if Algie and friends learned anything from that experience, but I’m pretty sure Bill and Joe didn’t. Bill went on to brief fame as a wannabee gunrunner, and Joe bought a mountain in North Carolina with no road access, no water, no electrical power nearby, and no room for the rich people’s retreats that he envisioned.
Ah. But where would the world be, without its dreamers?
*It tastes like chicken — really.