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Franz Lidz
February 12, 1999
Bomba runs the wildest bar in the Caribbean, which means it's probably the wildest bar on earth
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February 12, 1999

Dissipation Row

Bomba runs the wildest bar in the Caribbean, which means it's probably the wildest bar on earth

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You don't so much walk through Bomba's Shack as wade into it. Built around a lofty sea grape tree, it looks as if a junkyard had collided with a pile of driftwood. It is chaotically crammed with a bowerbird's nest of objects: busted traffic lights, broken phones, shattered surfboards, gutted televisions, expired parking meters, cracked blenders, bald tires, rotted mufflers, run-down running shoes, sprung Slinkys and rusted license plates—the detritus of Western civilization. Stapled to its ticky-tack walls and tacky tin ceiling are hundreds of business cards and hundreds of pairs of autographed women's lingerie. The junk gives Bomba's an air of decadent entropy, as if the world were placidly corroding away.

"Hurricanes attack the shack, but none ever break it," says Bomba. Then again, how would he know? "Hurricane Hugo attack the shack," he says. "But he actually help the shack." A decade ago Hugo spun 200-mph winds around the island, wreaking much havoc. Much of that havoc washed up on the Capoon's Bay beach; Bomba simply banged in a few nails and called it an extension.

The British Home Office once listed Tortola as "the least important place in the Empire." By "important," the agency may have meant that while the island offered nonpareil snorkeling, sailing and sportfishing, it lacked casinos, golf courses and high-rise resorts. Tortola's chief appeal is its Sartrean sense of nothingness; and there are few more seductive places to do nothing in style than Bomba's.

"The shack have the flavor of old Tortola," Bomba says. "This is how I used to live growing up—in square, wood-framed, plywood homes divided into bedrooms and a living room. Out back was the toilet and the kitchen. We had no electricity, no running water, no phone."

Bomba tells me he is listed in the Tortola phone book under his given name, Charles Callwood. A check of the local white pages reveals 37 Callwoods—including a Rufus, a Zephaniah and a Wise-Up—but no Charles. "That must be because they have me under my birth name," he says.

Which is?

"Charles Alexander Llewelynn."

No luck there, either. Bomba shrugs. " Maybe my birth name was Smith," he says. I can't remember. Too long ago. I do know I was a big baby. Fifteen pounds, 12 ounces." He had a big family, too. Nineteen brothers, one sister. "The same father, but not all by the same mother," he explains. "Some are alive, and some are dead. As the years go by, they get to dying more and more."

His father ran a sugar mill on the island. "He only hired ladies," says Bomba. "That's why he had so many kids."

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