Miami Beach, Florida: The goofy gunman

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Miami Beach, Florida: The goofy gunman

In the fuzzy Polaroid I am standing next to a short, goofy-looking guy with a curly blond Afro. He is holding a multicoloured cocktail. And I have a parrot on my head.

It was at a travel industry function in Miami Beach some years ago and representatives of various countries, every American state and dozens of major cities, and many small tourist operators, were there to sell their destinations by day -- and party by night.

Del -- the goofy-looking guy -- came from some dude ranch in central California and while he was an enthusiastic promoter of it he was really there to party.

Every night squadrons of buses would pull up outside the various hotels we were staying in -- more than 500 delegates, and me who happened to be in town -- and then truck us off to a beach or pool party hosted by some rum or vodka company. Tables bowed at the middle under the weight of the silver buckets full of seafood, and waiters made sure no one was sober after half an hour of arrival.

Inevitably people did silly things: tragically on the first night a guy from New York with three kids dived off the top of a fountain at dawn into a few centimetres of water and killed himself instantly. That delegation went home immediately.

But mostly people just partied and paid for it, or ended up in the wrong bed. Or got photographed with a parrot on their head.

Del and I had hit it off and on the night of the parrot incident we both felt we'd had enough of loud drunken blondes from Texas so we hopped a cab back to his hotel to have a quiet night and see what was in his minibar. We sat and chatted and swapped stories -- and at some point we got to talking about guns.

Del had one -- he pulled it from a briefcase -- and told me he'd once shot someone. Not dead, but enough to bring him down.

It seemed that a few years before Del -- who looked utterly harmless in a Harpo Marx kind of way -- was the proud owner of a particularly expensive car. He was also in possession of a gun and a cocaine habit. One night while living in LA and wired up he heard someone in his yard and, fearing his car was being tampered with, got his face out of the white powder, grabbed his gun and ran outside.

Sure enough some kid was going at his car door with a screwdriver. The kid took off. Del gave chase, caught up with the kid and crash-tackled him to the ground. The kid stabbed at him with the screwdriver -- which explained the scars on his forearm, and he showed me the wound in his shoulder -- and then got up to run off again.

Del fired three shots, one of which hit the kid in the leg and brought him down.

The kid -- maybe 16 or 17 -- wasn't hurt too bad so Del said he yelled some more and told him to go home and never come near his place.

The kid didn't.

Nor did the police -- which was just as well because he had white powder all over the coffee table. And he was still in his underwear.

He'd left LA shortly afterwards and cleaned himself up at the dude ranch owned by a friend of the family.

He told this in a flat and unadorned manner -- although at the end gave a little James Brown funky dance and whooped "livin' in America" -- and afterwards I couldn't think of anything to say.

We shook hands and said goodnight, the following day I waved at him across the convention hall, but we didn't catch up again. Somewhere I've got that photo of our brief encounter and have shown it to a few friends who always ask -- as if having a parrot on my head is not worthy of comment -- "Who is the goofy-looking guy?"

So I tell them.

For other travel stories by Graham Reid, see here for his two award-winning travel books.

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