Forbes Kiddoo is a gentleman, but there is more to it than that
. He greets me at the gate of Forbes Island and introduces himself, beginning almost at once on a tour of the grounds, pointing out the palm trees, Sea Lion Room and lighthouse in a voice that connotes he’s done this song and dance a hundred times before and knows the routine by heart. The World’s Only Floating Island. The Sausalito millionaire who built it. Zagat’s Most Bizarre Restaurant.
I haven’t had a chance to tell him that I’ve been on the Island before, that my experience there was what prompted me to seek him out, to seize the chance to find out about him, who he is and what he’s like. I’ve done no research, know nothing of his background or personality, have no preconceptions. I’m hoping that he’ll be nice, that he won’t be a snob, or see right through my lack of journalistic credentials and pass me off to someone else for question-answering.
I mean, the man’s built himself an island.
Not built a house on one or bought one in the Bahamas, but planned and built his own floating island, complete with palm trees and sand and its right here in the San Francisco Bay. That dream ranks about as high up in my book as you can go, so naturally I’m nervous. I’m meeting a hero of sorts and my tongue is thick with idiocy and lack of drink.
It’s an awkward start, made worse by the fact that I’ve nicked the top of my foot on the metal gate and can feel the blood pooling warmly around my toes. I’m trying not to look at it for fear that he will too and then I’ll feel even more like I’m trying to open my first savings account with a handful of quarters. It doesn’t help that he’s 40 years my elder and still built like a steel freighter, with shoulders as wide across as the length of my arm. But there is a warming crinkle to the corner of his eye and his toothsome smile is genuine.
We’ve made the rounds outside and he leads me downstairs to the dining room and over to the bar. I’m introduced to Erick, his silent partner in the restaurant (which the Island has been since 1999) and who’s the son of a good friend, one who helped build the Island. Staff members have gathered for a brief wine tasting before the evening’s dining begins and friendly introductions are made all around.
A Personal Retreat
Forbes politely asks if I’d like a drink and I murmur something casually about a glass of white, then try not to snatch the Holy Grail from Erick’s hand as he offers it over. It’s a Chardonnay and it’s delicious. I am reminded for the first time that my unobtrusive host has a taste for the finer things, that I’m in the company of an “eccentric Millionaire,” a man who’s made enough money to build his own self propelled floating home in the form of an island. I look at him again, but can’t find a glint of arrogance, no flashiness or vanity. He catches me looking and asks if there’s anything I’d like to ask him.
I’m on the spot and try to seem thoughtful, as if I’ve come with a well-equipped mind and imaginary notepad. Perhaps I’d like to watch a DVD he’s got about himself and the Island? Or would I like to sit down and have something to eat? I sense that I’m about to lose him, that he’s a busy man and would politely like to exit and attend to other things, and he’s right; I’ve requested his time and then said hardly anything, at least nothing witty or worth mentioning twice.
Getting Along Famously
It feels like a moment of reckoning and I give in and tell him the truth – that I simply wanted to meet him. It’s hardly a journalistic answer, but he seems taken by it. I tell him how I’d admired the Island for years and that Frankie took me here for dinner before proposing on the Balclutha in the middle of the night. His eyes light up when I mention the tall ship and we start talking about the Maritime Park, what I do with the kids there and how he likes to sit there on Sundays and look at the ships. The dining room is filling slowly and he asks if I’d like to go up to the Tahiti Room where we can talk with less noise.
Now it’s just Forbes and I and with a second glass of wine, I’ve shed most of my nervousness. I’m asking him questions here and there, about his youth in Brooklyn Heights, the floating homes he designed in Sausalito (the famous reproduction of the Taj Mahal being one of them), his time in the Coast Guard, but mostly we’re just talking. It’s that wonderful talk of life and experience that rolls along between two people newly met, but is sadly scarce in most interactions.
He smiles often and tells me I’m not like most people my age. He’s impressed that as a woman I’m so taken with the water and boats and the Bay. That I’m interested in the history of the waterfront and care so much about the Pier. He’s making me feel good about myself and my admiration for him increases as I’m made aware that he’s listening, he’s interested in what I’m saying. He doesn’t have to be, but he is.
That’s the wonderful thing I’m finding about Forbes Kiddoo, he’s just not what you’d expect. He’s no millionaire playboy, but the hard-working son of a carpenter who never went to college and gets excited about lighthouses. He shows me photos of the 1964 Stingray he built from scratch into a race car, all when he was 25. There’s another photo of him and Anthony Quinn shaking hands and he’s still in awe of what a nice guy he was.
When he speaks proudly of building the Island, he’s not talking about drafting plans and shouting orders, but of carrying rocks and pouring concrete. It took him 5 years to build the home he’d dreamed about, building on the weekends and in the dusky hours after he was done constructing floating homes for everyone else.
It is dark now and we have been happily talking for almost three hours. The launch is ready to take us back to the pier and Forbes has said several times that I should come back with Frankie for a meal on the house. The ride back is short, but reminds me again that I’m leaving an Island, a floating creation that came from the mind of this kind and intelligent man sitting next to me. He walks me to my bike, shakes his head at the notion that I’m about to ride off in a skirt and heels and 3 glasses of wine, then says goodbye with a friendly squeeze of my hand.
Bygones Be Bygones
I watch him walk down the block until I can’t see him any longer, fighting the urge to follow him and make sure that he gets home alright, that no one trips him up or says anything rude. There is a poignant sadness in watching him go, knowing how few people are like him anymore. He reminds me of my father, a different generation of men I admire because they’ve dreamt and built and created things from nothing, with nothing but their intellect and their hands. And perhaps that’s what makes his accomplishments so great. In the end, he’s still just a man.