It's got all the elements--the bearded palm trees, the sugar cane waving in the hot sea breeze, the native taxi drivers careening down narrow streets, the expensive but sleazy hotels, the slowly rotating ceiling fans above ranks of sweating diners in dark restaurants, the bikini-clad tourists on the beach, the U.S. combat troops walking around the airport with that special saunter. You almost expect Joel McCrea, the jaunty reporter-hero from Alfred Hitchcock's "Foreign Correspondent," to come wandering through.
It's also got 325 crazed journalists.
But this is Barbados, not Grenada.
"Seven days down here and it's been a bitch," said Time magazine photographer Michael Luongo, standing outside the old shambling airport building that has become the press center. "Press liaison has been nil. We've had no briefings to speak of."
"Everybody in the press is outrage ," said Newsweek correspondent Elaine Shannon in the air-conditioned restaurant at the airport, where she had sought a cheeseburger and respite from the heat. "I've never seen so much pent-up fury."
Of course, both Luongo and Shannon might be happier had they not been left out of the limited press pool that U.S. military forces flew yesterday and today from this island paradise 150 miles across an azure sea for a few hours' look at Grenada.
But of the 325 journalists from all over the world that U.S. officials said are here today, so far only about 35 have been given the limited press tour.
They are "pool reporters," which means that when they get back after their tour they are duty-bound to give all details of their reporting to their comrades in the press corps. The result is a madhouse, a frustrating mob scene.
"People were screaming 'Talk! Talk!' " Shannon said of last night's pool report. "Nobody could file because the flight was so late coming back. We were faced with a pool report that quoted paratroopers who would not give their names quoting Grenadans as jumping up and down shouting, 'We're free!' "
But the frustration is real, and what is happening here among the press, the soldiers and the U.S. government is strange and slightly unnerving. For example, a camouflaged trooper sitting at the airport here today was asked if he was a Ranger. He replied, with a curl to his lip, "I don't know, man."
"I've just never seen such a mad dog and pony show before," said a senior editor of a major media outlet who asked not to be identified. "I just think the g--damn thing is such a flagrant manipulation of the press. They keep talking about how they're concerned for our safety, which I find truly touching."
Carole Agus of Newsday said U.S. Embassy officials at the airport yesterday tried to confiscate her notes after she walked past Marine guards and interviewed officials that apparently she was not supposed to interview.
"I don't think you should release that--anything you hear here you can't write," Agus quoted an embassy official as saying. Agus said she failed to obtain complete identification of the embassy officials, and got out of the situation by laughing and saying, "Hey, come on fellows, let's be reasonable." She said she then walked away and the officials did not press the point.
Luongo, the Time photographer, had an even more hair-raising experience--this one with Barbados police officers who, he said, seemed to think he should not be taking photographs near the airport, where U.S. military aircraft are plainly visible going about their operations.
Luongo said he was detained and strip-searched. "I was personally stripped naked . . . by airport security police," he said. Three other photographers also were strip-searched at the same time in a small room where police took them, he said.
"They didn't touch us . . . they wanted our film. We gave them bogus rolls."
Facilities at the press center, several miles outside of town, are minimal. Only about a dozen telephones are installed, and when the pool reporters returned last night all phone connections out of the island were jammed for hours.
The big, linoleum-floored press room smells of stale sweat and is littered with trash. Reporters nervously fidget about, some talking on the phone to their editors, others pumping information out of one another. The U.S. military command post for airport operations here is nearby, but there seem to be only minimal and quite formal relations between the press and the military. The nearby airfield contains many C130 and other transport aircraft for ferrying U.S. troops to the combat zone, as well as transport and fighter helicopters. The whine of aircraft engines and the thumping of rotor blades form a continual backdrop.
For example, to find out how many reporters are here, one had to submit a written request. About an hour later, a very polite Capt. Dean Chamberlain returned with the answer--325--but since he was new on the scene, and could not be substantively questioned about anything, and because he was the only available military officer at 2:30 p.m., reporter frustration was buzzing in the air.
Eventually Chamberlain emerged with a mimeographed "Grenada update," which he handed out to about 100 reporters.
"Between Oct. 25 and Oct. 27," the news release said, "all major military objectives on the island of Grenada are secured . . . Our forces have been well received by a friendly populous sic . . . the fighting is continuing."
About the time the news release was being handed out, there was a sudden flurry among the reporters as someone rushed into the room and shouted, "There are evacuees out front!"
There was a great scrambling and grabbing of camera and other equipment as reporters rushed outside to see what was going on. Many evacuees from Grenada were there--it was not clear exactly how they got there, but as the press interviewed them it was clear that they had been evacuated by American forces.
Most appeared to be not too happy about it. As cameras clicked and rolled and as microphones were thrust into her face, an evacuee who identified herself only as Marina said, "We're not happy because we did not feel it was necessary" for the American troops to invade Grenada.
"How do the Grenadans feel?" shouted a reporter.
"They were very scared," said Marina.
Another evacuee, Kathleen Robinson from Great Britain, was standing nearby. "Would you go back?" shouted a reporter.
"Once the Americans clear out, yes. I liked it very much," Robinson said.
Another evacuee, a German who identified himself only as E. Bock and who demanded that no photos be taken of him, said, "The opinion of most Grenadans is they want to finish it but they have such a strong anti-sympathy to the Americans that it will probably continue."
"He's an engineer," joked a cynical reporter, "and part-time terrorist."
Other reporters nearby laughed.
"There's something strange going on here," said Luongo of these evacuees. "They won't talk much. They're making some gross exaggerations."
Another photographer, Alan Oxley of Sipa Press, said, "Are they Canadians, these weirdos?"
Later, speaking of the American military, Oxley said, "All this crap. We need to be on the island!"
By 6:45 last night, the press pool due in at 5 had still not returned from Grenada. The press center was jammed with roughly 200 reporters growing more and more restless.
"What an abortion this thing is," said Tampa television correspondent Rob North. "So many high journalistic hopes dashed. I'm so sick of looking at network crews and foreign crews and everyone else, I could throw up. I just want it to be over."
That seemed to reflect the mood of many of the people here, and as the minutes and missed deadlines continued to tick by, it promised to be a long, frustrating night.