Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Good Freaking Morning!

Usually we get woken up in the morning by roosters. Yes, actual roosters. Cockadoodle doo! Yes!

Seriously, there are chickens and roosters all over the island, thousands of them, and from about 6 a.m. on there's this cacophony of crowing. The poultry don't belong to anyone, heck it's a rare day when there aren't a half a dozen of them in our yard. There are a couple of hens out back clucking right now. And the roosters don't just crow when the sun rises, they crow all damn day and sometimes at 2 in the morning.

But the roosters weren't the culprit this morning. Oh no. I wish it had been roosters. The roosters are nothing. We got woken this morning about 6:30 by the loudest music I've ever heard. And I've been to a few stadium rock concerts back in the day.

Think the loudest pickup truck stereo you've ever heard going Boom-da-da-Boom-da-da-BOOM!-da-da-BOOM!!! Now imagine someone parked that truck in your bedroom.

Turns out this morning was J'ourvert, part of Festival. Every Caribbean Island has its own festival, and St. Croix's is in the weeks before and just after Christmas. We're in the last week of Festival right now.

J'ouvert is the morning tramp - a tramp being when they put a band or a DJ on the back of a truck and drive slowly down the street with people dancing and bouncing in its wake all the way into town. They do several of them during Festival. And J'ouvert is the one they do in the morning. I don't know why, but there you go.

Now, understand that this Jouver't was forming up THREE BLOCKS from our house, and that tells you how loud the music was. It was fucking LOUD. About 8 million decibels, I'm thinking. Louder than a jet plane, that's for sure. I know this because a jet plane actually flew over our house while this was going on, altitude no more than a thousand feet as it descended towards the airport, and I didn't hear a damn thing. THAT'S how loud J'ouvert was. And it went on for about an hour before the truck got moving and they finally faded from our range of hearing.

And the good news is, they started late. They were supposed to start at 5 a.m., according to the schedule. Thank goodness for island time. Nothing starts at the advertised time, unless you're running late and then it's early.

And all that noise didn't wake the kids up.

I'm looking forward to (seriously, I'm looking forward to it) the Saturday Festival parade. It starts about five blocks from here, and it's sort of a super tramp (for those who like their '70s references musical. Get it? Super tramp, Super Tramp? Never mind.) Bands on trucks. People dancing down the street behind them. The winner is the band that gets the most people following its truck. They toss out T-shirts and CDs to get people following them. I've seen photos, and the street is just a mass of swaying, writhing bouncing dancingcelebratingfunhaving humanity. But it starts at the relatively decent hour of 10 a.m. And we'll be there, dancing.

In the Caribbean - you don't WATCH a parade. That's for wimps. You dance it.

UPDATE: A story on Tuesday's J'ouvert, including a photo that really gives a feeling for the event (click on the photo to make it big enough to see anything), is online at The St. Croix Source Web site. The Source is the online newspaper (a paper with no paper) that I work for. Judging from Bill's story, I must have several of the details wrong. I don't care. It looks like fun!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

What a Place to Live!

Tori and I were at the Caribbean Museum Center of the Arts in Frederiksted Saturday covering an open house. (I works for the St Croix Source, this was an assignment.)

Anyway, after the event we headed out. Walking through the door we saw the arched portico framing the last blush of the sunset, lights from the cruise ship pier reflecting off the water. Stars and an incredibly bright Venus shone in a velvety blue sky, while a warm breeze played on us.

"We live in a good place," we agreed as we crossed the street to the waterfront and sat on a bench.

Tori tried a couple of times to capture the scene with the camera, but it was impossible. This was more than could be taken in by the senses. It filled our souls.

We'll have a longish post wrapping up all the Christmas activities in the next day or two. But this has to be said.

We live in a very good place.

jb

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Update – You'll Never Guess What We Found

Fruitcake.

Yes, we found fruitcake. Sort of. It's cakey, a little light fr fruitcake (that is, I could lift it.) And it's round with a hole in it, like a Bundt cake. So I don't think you could use it as a doorstop very well.

But it's cakey and it's got that awful fruit in it. And Janet is delighted.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve in Paradise


By Mad Sally

The day before Christmas in paradise. A day before Christmas just like any other day before Christmas. We've spent too much money and still have tons of shopping to do. Boxes and bags of potential delight hidden all over the house. Where's the wrapping paper? Do we have enough tape? What about batteries? There are never enough batteries on Christmas morning.



Shopping in paradise had been a challenge. The island seems to be about ten years behind in everything, especially commerce, so those little things on everybody's Christmas list are difficult to find, if not impossible.

Like fruit cake.

My mother wanted a fruit cake for Christmas. God knows why. They really are one of those (edible?) creations that would have been better left undiscovered. But she is of an age where fruitcake is a tradition.

Bless her.

But is there a single fruitcake on the island? Not that I have been able to find. I ask one of the many locals who sell their home-baked delectables in front of the gas station door, "Good morning" -always start the conversation with 'good morning,' 'good afternoon,' or 'good evening' or you will not get a reply- "Do you have fruit cake? My mom wants a fruitcake for the holiday."

With a look of incredulity, the confident, buxomly older woman dressed in a tight plaid apron with her hair wrapped high in matching plaid replies, "De fruitcake? I have de fruit bread, look at de fruit bread!" She grabs my hands and takes me to the back of her minivan, pulls out a bowling ball sized loaf of bread dotted with color, and thrusts it in my hands.

"What's in it?" I inquire with a smile.

"De fruit! De fruit be in de bread!" She laughs at me.

Stupid tourist.

I politely decline, which is a very difficult thing to do here as people with their insistent tones of voice and infectious passion for all things make it difficult to ever say no, and I quickly get away in hopes of finding a "real" fruit cake.

Needless to say, a few days later and 132 miles on the car, I should've taken "de fruit bread."

That is just an example of what is not available in paradise. There are no crossword puzzle calendars, no boxed sets of "Twilight," no CD section at the local Kmart, no reliable video game dealer, no copy of the movie "Amalie," no Bionicle "Mistika," and the list goes on. Sure if we'd been on top of it, we'd have ordered online in advance. But anybody who knows us understands that organized is not our forte.

Really, I am not complaining. It is just another aspect of my mentality that needs to adjust to island time:

Wants and needs require modification, accepting that desirable is the closest available option. In other words, take the fucking fruit bread.

Two days ago I spent the morning at the beach in Frederiksted, which, by the way, is a mere three minutes away from my front door. There was nobody else there.

Nobody.

I read a great book while lounging on the sand.

I snorkeled in the pristine cerulean waters.

I witnessed flying fish leaping out of the water.

I watched sailboats tack into the Caribbean trades.

So worth the loss of a fruitcake.

Mad Sally

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bertha's Better

We had been running Bertha, our '97 Nissan Pathfinder that had gotten a tankful of bad gas , trying to burn off the gunk, but it was still taking several minutes of cranking to get her to start. I had learned what to do to make her stall in traffic and, more importantly, how to recover before she completely stalled out. As our friend Brian - who apparently reads the blog from Oregon - commented, we would have to replace the fuel filter because it was undoubtedly fouled with whatever bad was in the gas.

We had heard something similar from a guy here who commented that filters have a tendency to foul more quickly on the island anyway. So we made up our minds to do it. After doing a little research on Nissan Web sites I decided not only could I do this, but it would actually be pretty easy. Maybe the easiest thing you can do on the car. We don't have a mechanic here yet, and finding a good one you can trust is hard under the best of circumstances. So we were game to DIY it, even though virtually all my tools are still in storage 4,000 miles away in Oregon. I have here one small crescent wrench, a couple of pairs of pliers and four screw drivers. But based on my research that ought to do it.

It's a typical St. Croix story. This (Saturday) morning Tori and I walked four blocks or so to the auto parts store, got the filter for 15 bucks, went across the street to the hardware store where we got a couple of clamps for the fuel line. I was thinking, "I really should have a socket wrench for that bracket, cuz the bolt is probably frozen." But I already have two socket sets – in Oregon. It was hard to decide to spend the money, so we decided to forgo the new wrench. We walked home and got to work.

First - disconnect the battery. Always a good idea when you're working on the fuel system. Then clamp off on the tank-side hose and remove the hose. No trouble. On to the bracket that holds the filter in place.

And that bolt was stuck. I mean stuck solid. WD40. Still stuck. It's been in place for 11 years and wasn't going to loosen without putting up a fight. Part of the problem was the bracket frame had a small lip on it so I couldn't get wrench or pliers or anything on it squarely. Finally I said to Tori, "Gotta have the right tool. I'm going back for the socket wrench." She just said fine, but didn't get out from under the car where she continued tinkering with that frozen bolt. (Frozen Bolt would be a good name for a rock band, wouldn't it?)

I walked to the hardware store. Now this is the most typically St. Croix part of the story. The hardware store only had half-inch drive socket wrenches, but only had 3/8-inch drive sockets. So I also had to buy an adapter - which thank God they had! I knew from my research that the bolt was 10 mm, but I also bought the 9 and 11 mm sockets "just in case." I was tired of walking to the hardware store.

Thus armed, I walked back home. Where Tori was sitting on the porch. "It's done," she said. Two minutes after I'd turned the corner she had worked the bolt loose enough to undo the clamp. The rest of the job was absurdly simple, and she'd finished it up before I got back. I did use my new socket wrench to tighten the bracket – the 10 mm socket was right. I was able to get almost two more full turns on the bolt, so it wasn't a complete waste. That filter won't be coming loose until the day of judgment.

The first time I started Bertha up it still took five minutes of cranking. "The line is empty, drained of fuel. It's supposed to take a few minutes," I told myself with more hope than certainty. Bertha finally roared to life and I drove to the gas station, the good one, the uphill one, where I paid a lot more for the gasoline but it's worth it to just get gas, not gas and something else. I had to turn off the engine to fill it of course.

Now here's where the rubber meets the road. I got back in the car and turned the key.

And Bertha fired right up! Huzzah! We did it! It's certainly no worse (always a concern when I crawl under a car with tools) and it appears to be fixed.

So we seem to have a functional car again. And a good thing to since we haven't even started our Christmas shopping. That'll be the subject for a post in the next few days.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Topography of Fuel

Our 1997 Nissan Pathfinder – named Bertha for the tropical storm that passed the island two days after we bought her in July - is ailing. It's not, I believe (and fervently pray) a fatal illness, more like a bad flu.

Sunday I bought gas - not at one of the two stations I usually fill up at. I was on the road and noticed the needle was almost on E. The station I pulled into happened to have the best price I'd seen in a while, about 20 cents less than the other stations I'd noticed that day. So I was feeling pretty clever as I filled the tank. 15 and a half gallons into a 16 gallon tank. I figure I saved somewhere around $3.

And then the trouble started. The next morning the car died right after I'd dropped Tori and the kids off at school. It took almost two minutes to get it to start. Trouble getting started the next time and the next. Tuesday morning it started up fine, but that as the last good news - automotive-wise – since. Yesterday it actually stalled for Tori on the highway (the one actual four-lane road on the island.) It was rough getting back home.

Clearly I'd bought a bad tank of gas. Almost certainly there was water in it. What seemed odd about that is that every station on St. Croix gets its gas from the same place – the Hovensa oil refinery on the south side of the island. So it can't be the source. What had happened?

At our regular service station Tori put in a half tank of premium. While she then tried to restart it – another two or three minute ordeal - a guy on the corner drinking offered the observation that the place we had bought the bad gas is situated in a small depression.

You have to understand there are no storm drains on the island at least none I've seen. Rainwater runs down the street and guts, and pools in low spots - like that gas station - and sits there, seeping into the tank. He pointed out that our regular station – where Tori ran across the guy – is actually raised slightly above street level, not much but enough, so that the rain runs away instead of forming a lake.

So there you have it. On St. Croix you can't make your fuel-buying decision solely on price, and quality is a non-issue since it all comes from the same place. You have to consider the topography of the station. Is it nicely elevated? Or do you have to worry about what might be in the underground tank besides fuel?

Anyway, we've run about half the new tank out, and I added a water-treatment product (which cost slightly more than the $3 I saved on the cheap gas.) We drive over some fairly bumpy roads (of course we do, we live on St. Croix) so that should mix the dirty gas, the new gas and the additive. This morning Bertha started after less than a minute of cranking instead of two or three. All the way to school and back it ran pretty well, except for once or twice when I sort of goosed the accelerator and the engine hesitated and hiccupped. Backing off the gas smoothed it back out.

The problem will probably continue another week or so, but it should clear up eventually. Sort of like when you get over a flu. You're not better all at once. But eventually everything's all right again.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Sports Fan's Lament

You pull up roots, move halfway across the hemisphere make new friends, develop new habits.

But you never lose your connection to your sports teams.

I moved from Chicago almost half a century ago, but I'll always be a Cubs fan - even though I don't even follow baseball anymore. I was born a Cubs fan, the son of a Cubs fan. That means I have a family legacy of some of the most painful memories in sports. Summer of '69? That might mean all sorts of political and social upheaval to you, but mostly to me it means the Great Choke, the year the Cubs fell apart in August and lost the pennant to the Mets.

I lived in L.A. in the '70s and still have an affection for the Dodgers, although as I say I don't care about baseball anymore. (I figure if the owners and the players don't care about the game, why should I?)

Now I've left the Pacific Northwest after 28 years in the region, but my heart as a sports fan is still there. And it's been a very, very bad year to be a fan. It's even harder watching from a distance.

You see, part of a fan's job, his or her duty to the team, is to always be supportive, always to believe, always to care so damn much that collectively we fans can will the team to victory. (See, you can tell I'm a Cubs fan. I still believe, even though it's been a century now.)

The year started with a bad season for the Portland Tailblazers. Seattle lost the Sonics. Not just a game - they lost the whole damn team! Oregon State's men's basketball had a pathetic, awful season, fired the coach and hired a guy who happens to be the brother-in-law of the president elect. Not that that will help. The Mariners started the MLB season with high hopes based on their huge team salary, and turned out to be the worst team in baseball this year.

But the hardest part has been football season, because I'm mostly a football fan and it's been terrible.

I've been a Seahawks fan since they started the franchise. Seriously, I was still in L.A. when the team first took the field, but I've been a fan from the beginning. I really, truly believed they were Super Bowl bound this year. Instead, for one reason and another having mostly to do with a vengeful God, they pretty much suck this year. Almost the same personnel that won the division last year, and they've lost all but two games so far in 2008. It's been crazy. They've had so many injuries, so much bizarre trouble, that it can only be ascribed to the diety. (They will win this weekend - they're playing the Rams who are much, much worse - but all that'll mean is they'll drop down the list for next year's draft and lose a chance at a better player.)

And if the 'Hawks have been in the toilet, the Northwest's college teams have been much, much worse. U-Dub didn't win a game this year. Not one. WSU won two games, but one was against the Huskies so that doesn't really count.

The lone shining spot was the OSU Beavers. They started shaky (they ALWAYS start shaky - when will Riley get them to start the season sharp?) but then they went on a roll. They won six straight games. They beat highly touted USC (I hate USC. Beating the Trojans was great.) All they needed was one more win or a USC loss and the Beavers would go to the Rose Bowl, which they'd last visited in 1965 (or 4 B.C. – Before Choke - for any Cub fans keeping score.) All they had to do was beat the hated University of Oregon Ducks in the Civil War game two weeks ago.

It took quite a bit of effort to find a way to listen to the game. We finally found a station in Oregon that streamed the game live, downloaded software, and gathered around the computer to listen to history in the making.

So of course, having built up our hopes, the Beavers lost. And they didn't just lose. The Ducks crushed them, exposed them, made us see that the whole six-game winning streak was a sham, even the win over SC. It was pretty awful. They'd just been setting us up to break our hearts. Why would you do that, Beavers? Why?

But it wasn't quite the end. The Beavers could still smell Roses if USC lost to its bitter cross-town rival UCLA last weekend. It could happen. That's the stuff that makes sports so engrossing, the possibility of the impossible, of the underdog rising up and bringing down the bigger, cockier rival.

Which of course they didn't. The Trojans ran roughshod over the Bruins. It wasn't as bad as the Ducks dismantling the Beavers, but it was a steady, workmanlike victory that put the nail in the coffin that was the Beavers' season.

Really, I can only blame myself. Even though I've moved 4,000 miles from the region, the fact that I still care about teams from the Northwest is enough to doom them.

Don't believe me?

Remember, I am the son of a lifelong Cubs fan. Dad brought his sports jinx with him when the family moved to Los Angeles in 1970. The 1972 Lakers were the greatest basketball team of all time. Don't give me Michael Jordan's Bulls or Larry Bird's Celtics or the Kareem-Magic-Worthy Lakers of the '80s. For one season the 1972 Lakers were better than any team ever. They finished 69-13, won a still-record 33 straight games. Think about that. For almost two months they didn't lose a single game. In the finals they beat the Knicks four games to one. Chamberlain, West, Goodrich, Hairston, Riley, Erickson, Ellis. They won all but five of their home games - they were 36-5 at the Forum.

My dad went to four Laker games that year. They lost all four. What are the odds?

So even though I'm now out here on my warm sunny island, as far from the Seahawks and the Beavers and the Huskies as it's possible to be, those jinxed fan rays that shoot out of me are still beaming clear across the continent and dooming my teams.

But just wait. Next year the Seahawks are going to win the Super Bowl. I know it. I'm sure of it.

I believe.


jb

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving

An interesting holiday, to be sure.

First, I'm sure there are Crucian Thanksgiving traditions, but I didn't learn them this year. I heard something about potato stuffing. In the store I saw yams bigger than my head – and I have a largish noggin! But we went very traditional this year. Turkey. Bread stuffing. Mashed potatoes. The green-bean thing with the mushroom soup and French fried onion bits (yes we could find them on the island! Surprised me, I'll tell you!) I've always assumed that recipe came from Minnesota.

But all was not smooth sailing. Two days before the holiday the water started spitting when you turned a faucet or flushed the toilet. II checked the cistern and it was full, so that wasn't the problem. Except, as it turned out, it was. We have two cisterns, and we'd been drawing from the back one, which when we opened it up was empty – an excellent place to store a body. Or a whole LOT of bodies.

So I learned a lot about the plumbing of the house in the next 12 hours. Tori figured out how to switch from one cistern to the other. I had to glue back a piece of PVC pipe that had come loose when the pump ran dry. Then I got to learn how to prime a pump.

It's not perfect. You've heard the phrase describing something as "being held together with baling wire?" Well, literally, that's what ours is like right now. Saturday I'll take it apart, re-glue it and put it back together. But that'll mean being without water for at least 24 hours. That takes a bit of planning.

Which means that "pie day" was delayed. Pie Day is the day before Thanksgiving when Tori and the kids make a dozen or more pies – sometimes a lot more. Once I think they made two dozen. This year, what with the late start, only seven pies were made. Which turned out to be more than enough.

Pie Day was also slowed down by the fact that Wednesday was also Alex's birthday. And the next day was Thanksgiving, which is Alex's very favorite holiday. Seriously, she likes it better than Christmas. It's always, all her life, been a time when we get together with crowds of friends (hence all the pies) and it means a lot to her.

Her birthday Wednesday, then her favorite holiday. So, naturally, she got sick on Tuesday. Spectacularly sick, with lots of throwing up and other unpleasantness. Which – let me tell you - was a LOT more fun with no running water for 12 hours. Poor kid. She couldn't have her birthday cake because she'd just toss it back up. She couldn't eat Thanksgiving dinner for fear the sight of the food would make her sick.

So that part of the holiday – not so good. But in all, it was a good day. We flew in an out of he kitchen in teams and shifts and singly putting together the meal, checking the water system, enjoying each other's company. The kids enjoyed the fact that the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, which in Oregon airs at 7 in the morning and they never see the beginning, any of it, aired at 11 p.m. here because of the time zones, so they enjoyed the whole thing. Had a delightful dinner and enjoyed each other's company very much.

Then Tori and I took our after T-day dinner walk. We've been doing that since we were first married. Sometimes with the kids, sometimes alone. This year we went alone, because instead of walking through the neighborhood in Oregon with the temp hovering in the low 40s, we were walking along a starlit Caribbean beach with the temp in the low to mid 70s. Who wants kids with you in those circumstances? Even when it rained a little (and with one empty cistern, we certainly didn't object to that) it was warm, and just enough to make skin glisten in the star light.

I can unequivocally state that it was the BEST post Thanksgiving dinner walk I've ever taken. I think the girl by my side agreed with me.

So Thanksgiving. What were we thankful for?

Running water. Health and the fact that Alex seems to be on the mend. Thankful for food and family, and for the friends who are far away but who we thought of a lot during the day we associate with them.

jb

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Timing is Everything

Except when camping, I've never used bottled propane as my cooking fuel. But when we moved into our home here, well, that's how you do it on St, Croix. So we contacted Antilles Gas Co. and ordered our first bottle - 100 pounds of gas. The big blue and silver tank sits out back where it's hooked up to the house. During the hurricane we made sure it was tied down securely, but other than that we haven't done anything to it except use it.

There's no gauge on it, so there's really no way of knowing when it's empty except sort of hefting it and guessing. When the guy delivered the first tank, he said it would last three months. That was in August. It's now been almost four months and there was no sign of it giving out, nothing you could tell. The flame didn't flicker any more than it had when we first got it.

But with Thanksgiving coming, we decided not to wait for trouble. The last think you want is for the flame to go out in the oven half way through cooking your turkey. (Yes, we've decided to go with turkey this year. More on that another time.) So I called the gas company and the guy came out.

Tori was here when he arrived. He unsecured the tank from where we'd tied it down, disconnected, and lifted it. And his eyes got big.

"This tank is empty!" he said with surprise. By that, he meant completely empty. As in, not one more meal could have been cooked by it. He rarely sees a tank that empty except when the resident makes a mistake - as we almost did - and runs out of fuel.

So we were lucky there. I had cooked dinner Sunday night and there was no sign that I was running on empty.

I cooked breakfast this morning an there was no difference in the blue flame from the stovetop.

Just lucky I guess. In life, as in comedy, timing is everything.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I Find That Very Odd

I've got CNN on while I work this morning, and they ran that ad again – the ad extolling the joys, the adventure, the sheer DELIGHT of taking your family on a vacation to beautiful Nebraska.

Nebraska??? I live in the freakin' Virgin Islands!! Nebraska??!? Let's see – Virgin Islands? Warm, beautiful beaches, balmy temperatures, deep, deep blue waters, friendly smiling people, tropical rain forest. Nebraska? Prairie. Rolling fields of wheat. Tornadoes. Raging blizzards. Have I missed anything?

I'm just not sure why the Nebraska tourism people even bother running the ad here. Sure, maybe if you lived in some rusting old industrial city with a winter composed of three months of howling bleak frozen nothingness, maybe Nebraska would look good. But in the Virgin Islands? The worst thing I can say about this place is a lot of people here seem to think Coors Lite is beer.

I think my family drove across a corner of Nebraska 40 years ago on our way home from Yellowstone. That's about right, a dozen or so miles of Nebraska every half century or so.

As I recall, the Nebraska rest areas were very clean. That counts for something.

jb

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Milestones and Holidays

Many things to talk about.

Halloween

Two weeks ago we found a place to take the kids Trick-or-Treating for Halloween. Up to an hour or so before we left I didn't think that was going to happen, but Tori was determined. There's a housing development near the refinery – owned by the refinery, as it turns out, with a terrific view of the refinery (if that's what you want) – that seemed almost Southern Californian. All the houses almost identical, only differences being the foliage and the slight angles or distances they were set off from the road. Kids all up and down the streets, which were closed to traffic. It seemed almost like something from the states. That didn't mean much to Tori and me, but it was nice for the kids. Not everything from their lives has been changed.

Four months

The next day, Nov. 1, we were driving somewhere and I turned to Tori and said, "Happy anniversary."

"What?" she said.

"We've been here four months now."

She thought about it, then turned back to me.

"Is that all? It seems like we've been here longer."

It does, she's right. We live here, it's home now. We're settled in, know where we're going when we get in the car. Know what to expect from traffic (basically, we know you can never anticipate what traffic is likely to do.) We have our places we like to go, people we know, stuff like that. It seems like we've been here a lot longer than four months. But that's the truth of it. She got off the plane with her mother and our son Max on July 1. That's four months.

And counting.

Election Milestone
Election night was something, wasn't it?

We were glued to the TV, enjoying every minute of the big news.

But whether you supported Barack Obama, as we did, or preferred Sen. McCain, you can't deny it was a breathtaking moment. Let me share just a little bit of he reaction here on the island, where the population is 76 percent black. VI residents can't vote in the U.S. presidential election, but we sure felt a part of it here. I've seen more Obama T-shirts here than I did on the mainland, and people here contributed to the campaign even though they couldn't vote.

On election night we spent an hour at an Obama victory party at Pier 69, a restaurant/bar in Frederiksted. The woman who owns it was dancing, her arms raised in the air and shouting, "I'm 64 years old and this is the most important day of my life!" There was a woman there who said not only had she not ever thought she'd live to see a black U.S. president, her 22-year-old daughter had said the same thing. Her five daughters, by the way, all live in the states and all voted for Obama.

Another woman said she couldn't help thinking about the old Danish fort just a few hundred feet from where we sat. For centuries African people had passed through the fort in chains, bound for slavery in the sugar can fields. Some no doubt were moved on to the states, where now their progeny were lining up to vote for a black man for president.

It's hard to overstate how much last week's election meant to so many people all around the world, even those who couldn't vote.

We got home just in time to see the projection – CNN Projects Barack Obama is Next President of the United States" and opened the bottle of champagne we'd bought fr the occasion.

Somehow it felt even more important to me for having spent some time with my neighbors at Pier 69.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Omar Plus Two Weeks

It’s been two weeks since Hurricane Omar blew through here, so if I have anything else to say about it, I guess I’d better get on it before it’s ancient history.

----

A hurricane has a voice. As Omar came ashore, we heard a rumbling like a freight train. (We used to live about a quarter mile from a train track, so that’s not hyperbole. It sounded like a damn freight train.) And over the rumble was a howl that would occasionally jump a couple of octaves into a scream.

An hour before the storm hit the weather maps online still showed it heading pretty much straight at us on the southwest corner of St. Croix. Then in the last hour it shifted east a little and hit that end of the island hardest. We spent most of the evening out on the front porch (don’t worry, it’s a very well protected area, we had to step down into the car port to get the real effect of the wind.) It was blowing hard and raining like a son of a bitch, but wasn’t really that bad. Actually, it was kind of exhilarating.

The power went out at 8:25 p.m., just 35 minutes before the presidential debates started, so we missed that. We were inside at around 11 p.m. when we heard a snapping sound and went back out front. “Well, the cell phone tower is still standing,” I said, looking out into the dark. “Wait a second,” Tori said. “We can’t see the cell phone tower from here. There’s supposed to be a tree in the way.” She was right. The tree in our neighbor’s front yard had blown down, completely uprooted from the soaked ground by the powerful winds.

The storm raged through the night, and we went to bed around 1 a.m. with the winds still howling. In the morning, the power was still out, and a few trees in the neighborhood were down. But we were pretty lucky. Th sun was out, the wind was still, and there was no damage at all at our house.

It was apparently much worse on the other side of the island, with power poles blown down and roads blocked.

The power stayed out for three days. It was more than a minor inconvenience. We thought we’d been prepared, and mostly we were – flashlights, a radio, plenty of food (although we spent the first day and a half eating our way through the freezer before the food spoiled. Friday night we had frozen waffles, friend on the stove, for dinner.

The biggest inconvenience was flushing the toilets. We had plenty of drinking water, but we hadn’t saved nearly enough for flushing, and when you’re on a pump and there’s no electricity, well, you’ve got a problem. Our house sits on a cistern that holds over 6,000 gallons, but the only way to get at it was to open the top of the cistern and fish the water out bucket by bucket. Then you haul the buckets inside, pour them in the back of the toilet and flush, while filling every container you've got with more for the next time someone has to flush.

It got pretty old.

Maybe the most important supply we laid in was some books we’d bought just a few days before the storm hit. At the thrift store we’d found a 37-volume set of Agatha Christie and by the time the power came back on we could probably have entered an Agatha Christie trivia contest and done pretty well.

Finding ice was also a challenge, figuring out which store nearby had it or when they might get it.

Saturday the current was back on at Salaam’s Mini-Mart, the convenience store just 150 feet away on the corner, but we were still in the dark. By that evening we were all pretty tired of it, so when the WAPA (Water and Power Agency) truck came down the road checking all the lines around 7 p.m., we were pretty excited. Half an hour later, lights suddenly came on all up and down the street, accompanied by the sound from every house of people applauding.

A lot of people are calling Omar “The Landscaper,” since a lot of trees got blown down. But the public works crews have been busy and have the streets open and most of the debris cleared. All but a few isolated spots have the current back on. Life is returning to what we call normal on the island.

-------
A lot of folks here have asked what we thought of our first hurricane. We always say, “Not too bad, kind of exciting.” And they almost invariably say, “Oh, that was nothing. You should have been here for Hugo.” Or Marilyn.

Now, I understand that Hugo was the worst thing to hit St. Croix since Columbus. Lots of homes destroyed, plenty of trees and power poles blown over. Power wasn’t restored for most of the island for three or four months (not days) and some people didn’t get current back for six months. Crews from utilities all over the U.S., even from Guam, were flown in to help rebuild the system. So yeah, Hugo was terrible. Omar was nothing.

But Omar was our first hurricane, and it sort of hurt to have people denigrate the experience. But at the same time they were right. Omar was nothing compared to Hugo and I’m delighted I didn’t have to have something that challenged the big one. So, I didn’t follow through with my plan to have a T-shirt made up. On the front it would say, “Yes. I know. Hugo was MUCH worse.” And on the back, “Marilyn, too.”

Anyway, we made it through and life is pretty much back to where it was. We’ve learned a lot and next time (of course, we’re aware there will be a next time) we’ll be even better prepared.

We also still have several more photos and videos to post online. We’ll get to that within the next day or two, and then let it fade into pat of the memory of how we adjusted to life in the Caribbean.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Omar V – Aftermath

Sorry to have been out of the loop, but we've been out of the loop. This is just a note to tell you all is well. The hurricane was – well, kind of exciting. (I know, Hugo was MUCH worse. Everyone we've talked to since Wednesday made sure we understand this.)

So the power went out at 8:25 p.m. and the storm reached its height a little after midnight. I'll have more to say about it later.

The power did not come back on here until about an hour or so ago. So for three days we've been dealing with no electricity, which means also no running water. And no Internet access. So no updating.

We also taped a couple of short hurricane reports for youtube that are still on teh camera since ... like I said, no Internet. We'll get them up tomorrow, though they are a lot less timely now.

Anyway, just wanted to report in. We're all alive and well, if tired and a little skanky. (I'm last in line for he shower, which is odd because I think I'm skankiest.

Until tomorrow. Right now, it's my turn for the shower.

jb

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Omar IV – Pics


Omar isn't really here yet, but hey, it's still light out and we still have power, so what the hell.Let's post some pix, even if they don't show much yet, 

 Just to complicate things, I can't figure out the fairly simple blogger controls for posting pix, so there all over the place. I'll have to do one at a time for each post.

This is the front porch, with the windows all boarded up. Also, all the plants and chairs and shells (fabulous shells!) and whatnot (lots of whatnot on our porch) have been ought inside to prevent them from sailing off, or getting blown through something.







Omar III

Landlord came back with more plywood and we're all buttoned down now. Then he headed off to take care of his own home. He mentioned that this house was built about 1964, so it's been through Hugo and others. "This is built right, not like the stuff they're building now," he snorted.

Virtually all the houses in the Caribbean are built of cement and/or cinderblock. You know what you call a stick-built house in a hurricane? Toothpicks. You know what you call a mobile home in a hurricane? A box kite.

In laying in supplies, we thought far enough ahead to include a case of Heineken. Gotta keep your fluids up! This seems like the wrong place to mention, but I'll mention it anyway, that I've been very surprised to discover that people here think Coors Lite is beer. There are a few local beers, and the brewpub in Christiansted does a dark ale called Blackbeard's Ale. It's good, but it's no Dead Guy Ale. And Coors Lite is the top selling beer on the island. I can't fathom it.

We're just hoping that the power stays on long enough to let us see the presidential debate. That ought to be entertaining. But the latest look at the Wunderground (weather underground) maps show Omar making straight for us, I mean like we're the head pin in a bowling alley and Mother Nature is trying for a strike. So we may not get to watch the fun.

Tori's midly disappointed that she couldn't go snorkeling today. When school was cancelled yesterday, first thing she did was wake Alex and take her down to the beach for a swim with the fish. She's gotten hooked on it, and she's been swimming with rays, squid, sea turtles, octopi and lots more. But the swell is up today, the water's choppy and looks turbid. Not even Tori is THAT fanatical to try swimming in this. It'll be a couple of days, and that'll be the first time since August (when we moved into this house) that she's gone more than three days without hitting the sea.

Speaking of which, I wonder how the vacation house we stayed in when we first got here will fare. It's on the north side of the island so might be okay, but it's right on the water, and there's an awful lot of glass.

But that's not for us to worry about today. Today we're hunkered down and staying so for the near future.

Still raining, but not much wind yet. That'll change, I'm sure, as we get closer to nightfall – and landfall.

jb

Here comes Omar II

It was a quiet night, started raining again around 8 a.m. In the last 15 minutes the rain really kicked up. From the pictures on The Weater Channel it looks as if Omar is coming in right over the top of the VI, and since we're on the southwestern corner of the island and the storm's coming from the southwest ... Hmmmm.

We're pretty much set, although our landlord is suggesting you're NEVER really set. He came by to board up te front windows. Sadly, he cut the plywood a foot too short, so he's gone off to get more. It is his house, after all.

The big question for us is power. We don't have a generator, so when the power goes out (and I think it's safe to assume it will, given the local power grid) we'll be in the dark for the duration, which might mean a couple or three days. We've got water laid in, food, cash and a full tank of gas (because if the power's out, gas pumps don't work. Ditto ATMs.)

Excited is the wrong word for what we're feeling. Scared is also the wrong word. Concerned, maybe even anxious, but there's also, I'll admit, some exhilaration. Let's see if I still feel that way tomorrow.

Tori has me doing video spots from the front porch, and she's going to try to post them on youtube. Take care all!

Hmmm. The rain just eased off a tad. Don't think that means anything, though. Omar is coming and there's no stopping him.

We'll check in again as the power situation allows.

jb

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Here comes Omar

Posted by John

Just getting ready to wake the kids for school this morning when the phone rang. It was Mrs. Gadd, the principal at Manor School saying school was canceled today because of the approaching tropical depression 15, which by tomorrow should be Tropical Storm Omar. The governor canceled public schools, so the private schools followed suit.

Lots and lots of rain expected. We already had two inches yesterday. On Puerto Rico and St. Thomas there's fear of flooding. Less so here, it's flatter and bigger than STT, but still, a LOT of rain – maybe more than a foot – and it's not like the roads here have a lot of storm drains – or any storm drains. When we get rain there's always streams running down the sides of the roads.

Omar (to be) is southwest of here, around what are called the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao,) but is expected to move northeast, which they almost never do. If you're watching the Weather Channel (which is now my favorite station) if they mention Puerto Rico, you're talking the Virgin Islands too, we're among the smallish little islands you can see to the southeast and east of PR. So we'll be keeping a wary eye on that for the next two days.

Just a reminder that, even though it's no longer September and most of the tropical weather news has dropped off, hurricane season runs through Nov. 1 so you can't let your guard down.

Max and Millie, on the other hand, were delighted to be told to stay in bed because there's no school today or tomorrow. We'll see about Thursday.

jb

Monday, October 13, 2008

A 'funeral' in paradise

Written by Tori Baur

I had a funeral last week. Sad to say that Ginger, my 8 year old Mac laptop with the cool clamshell design, died. A few weeks ago, she exhibited some classic symptoms of failure - strange messages and crashes the likes of which I have never before seen on her screen - and then she died. I zapped her pram and control/alt/shift/option/started her, and repeatedly held her start button down, all of which felt like giving CPR to a DNR patient, but to no avail. I took her to the computer store where a gorgeous young man who looks like Orlando Bloom with the soul of Johnny Depp, told me she was as dead as dead can be and there was not much hope of reviving her unless I was willing to send her far away and pay more money than she was worth. I don't think Orlando Depp liked Ginger much as he sneered at how old she was and how old and slow she most certainly was. Well I told the pretty young lad that I was a little old and slow, but I wasn't ready for the scrap heap just yet.

So I mourned for about three whole minutes and then ran my fingers across the sleek new Macbook. (Thank you, John. We bought it with his Jeopardy money.) I named her Tallulah. While Tallulah doesn't have the quaint clamshell look that I so loved in Ginger, she is pretty damned sleek. And I got the clamshell carrying case in memory of Ginger; may she rest in peace.

I sound like an advertisement for a Macintosh, but that is part of the reason I haven't written a blog entry in while.

The other reason is I have been busy living in paradise. I have been teaching 4th, 5th, and 6th grade at The Manor School which is a trip in itself and an English teacher's nightmare. Suffice it to say the Cruzan dialect is not given to using standard English. More about that later...

The other reason I have been so busy is I have discovered snorkeling. I try to go every day. It is my reason for living. Weather permitting, almost every day after school I rush home, then hit the beach. I don my mask, snorkel and flippers, float atop the reefs and watch the underwater world ebb and flow and swim on by. And when I say I float on top of the water, I do mean float. It is amazing how buoyant one is in the Caribbean waters. I think it has something to do with the high salt content in the water, and it feels so amazing, almost Christ-like to be able to stay securely on top of the water, never sinking, just floating. And the things I have seen while in this state of bliss!

Green Sea Turtles feasting, giant five-six feet long (not including the tail) spotted Eagle-Rays, jellyfish, huge alien-looking color changing squid, Angelfish, lobster, big-eyed Balloon fish, coral - soft coral, brain coral, hard coral - and a plethora of fish and plants of all different colors, shapes and sizes. What really blows me away is how close to the shore all this underwater life is! Literally just a few feet off the sand there may be three hundred fish, perhaps seventeen different varieties darting in and out of rocks in just a few feet of water. In some places, you can just stand ankle deep and little blue and yellow fish dart between your ankles. Giant brain coral grows just a few yards out, and empty conch shells litter the beach. And the water is so warm and clear. And the beaches are so beautiful and empty. And I feel so lucky to be here doing what I am doing and seeing what I am seeing everyday, and feeling like I feel everyday.

It is a damn good life.

Sure, it is a lot of work. I get up early now. The mosquitos are beyond a nuisance. The power goes out occasionally due to inclement, worrisome tropical storm weather. We have to lock our gate, and the roosters never shut-up. (They constantly crow their merry morning song, which sounds a lot like the opening theme music of the 'Odd Couple.' We always hum the second part of the Odd Couple song after the cock crows it's predictable, opening melody. Try it next time you hear a rooster 'cock-a-doodle-doo'.) So yeah. Some things about living on a tropical island are a pain in the ass. But it is worth it to enter the blue, blue water almost every day and float above and look below at the life under the sea.

So if you don't hear from me for a while, you know where I am.

Tori

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Three Months

It’s hard to believe that we’re already at our three-month anniversary on St. Croix. It seems like just a few days ago that I met Tori, Janet and Max at the airport on July 1, having arrved with the girls just the day before. At the same time, it feels like we’ve been here far longer, that we’re home.

People have told us, “The first anniversary that matters is four months. By then you’ll know whether you’re likely to stay.” Others have advised us not to ship our personal belongings until we’ve been here at least six months because “what if you hate it and move back right away? You’ll just have to pay to ship it back.”

Well, that ain’t happening. We’re here. We’re home. We’re staying.

Tori loves her job teaching fourth, fifth and sixth graders at the Manor School. I’ve been in her classroom and she’s great at it, and the kids love her. I’m enjoying working for the VI Source, an online-only newspaper. I’ve covered some interesting news already, and I’m starting a really interesting series. All this while waiting for word (any day now, I’m told) that a publisher has finally purchased my novel. (Any word yet, Scott?)

Millie still wants to “go home,” but she’s – not coming around, that’s the wrong phrase. But she’s making friends – in fact today she’s going home after school for a couple of hours with a classmate. In fact, she got elected junior class vice president. That’s not quite as big a deal as it sounds, she’s one of only eight juniors, but still. And she’s attended a sweet sixteen party, and there are far too many boys hanging around her for my comfort.

Max is making friends at school, Kate worked two weeks as a temp, Alex is looking for work and as businesses gear up for the start of tourist season her chances are looking good. In the meantime, she’s already been called on twice to be a substitute teacher at Manor. We need to get Janet out more, it’s hard for her with her health, but she’s adapting.

Even our cat, Roger, is much happier here than the beach house, where the ever-present crash of the surf against the cliff drove him to distraction.

Tori and the girls go snorkeling almost every day after school, and they’ve had some terrific adventures that I’ll let her tell you about. I even got the situation with the bank resolved, and someday they might even let me have some of my money back. Banking here is like banking was 30 years ago in the states – they close at 3 p.m., they hold your check forever, stuff like that. (Any word on the book yet, Scott?)

But all in all, we’re making a life here. We recognize how lucky we are to have sold our home in Oregon to make this move – in fact, if we hadn’t sold when we did we might have lost it in this economy. We have landed on our feet.

And our feet are in the warm waters of the Caribbean. You can’t beat that.

jb

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Best Store Sign Ever

Posted by John

The other day I had to stop by the art supply store after dropping Tori, Millie and Max off at school to pick up some supplies Millie needed for her art class. I’d driven by the place several times so finding it was easy. Pulled up at the front door at 8:10 a.m. They were closed, so I checked the sign on the door to find out how long I’d have to wait. This is what the sign said:

Approximate Hours
Monday through Friday 9:01 a.m. to 5:01 p.m.
Saturday 1:14 p.m. to 4:47 p.m.
If we’re here, we’re open. If we’re not open, we’re not here. If we’re open and not here, please call the police and kindly leave a donation”

You've gotta love it. I certainly do.

As it happens, a woman walked down the sidewalk 15 minutes later, opened the door and went in. They were there, so it was open. I went in.

The store, by the way, had everything Millie needed and LOTS more. It was a far more complete art supply store than anything in Albany or Corvallis Oregon, really a terrific art supply store. It'd be my favorite store on the island – if I had any artistic ability whatsoever. I don't, but I still like the store.

jb

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Frustration and Persepective

So I've been having on ongoing situation trying to start a new bank account. The bank we went to first was nice enough, but didn't have an office anywhere close to our house. So we closed that account and decided to switch to a different one.

Should have opened the new account first. It's been more than a week and we're not quite there, although finally getting close. It really doesn't do any good to argue when they say they need this or need that. The individual you're talking to isn't being mean or purposely hindering you. She's got her rules she has to follow and even though you can logically show why something doesn't make sense (try explaining "freelance writer" to a person who sits in a bank office all day long) the person on the other side of the desk has to follow the rules if she wants to keep her job. It's not her fault, and the person whose fault it is isn't there, or on the island or even necessarily in the U.S.

So you keep your sense of humor, keep smiling, keep jumping through hoops and finding more pieces of paper for them as they think to ask for them (and they NEVER tell you everything you need, you have to keep coming back with more.)

It wouldn't be a problem except we're getting close to a cash-flow problem. We've got lots of money (well, maybe not "lots," but enough) but we can't get hold of it yet. Not a disaster – yet – but it's starting to get aggravating.

And then you step out of the bank office and look across the street to the promenade, where the Caribbean surf is gently breaking against the seawall and the sun is shining and everything is so blue – and so many different shades of blue – that it's impossible to capture it all in a single glance.

And you say to yourself, "You know, that's frustrating, but it's really not the end of the world. Things could be a lot worse. At least I'm here.

John B.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Home again

Last week I went off island for the first time since we moved here. Two and a half months. It was a business trip (and those who know me know that the words “business trip” don’t mean stuffy meetings and boring conferences. Cap’n Slappy and I were performing our pirate shtick in Philadelphia.)

I liked the city, at least as much as I saw of it. The hotel was clean, the museum was nice. That’s almost all we saw. There was a lot more traffic – obviously – than on St. Croix, but it mostly flowed smoothly. On my one foray out to find aspirin at a drug store two blocks away, I enjoyed the street life in the central city.

But it wasn’t home. When I got off the plane the weather seemed chilly – 70, maybe 72 compared to the stx, which is about 10 degrees warmer. I actually slept under a blanket! And while the people were all friendly enough, I missed the outgoing dispositions of my fellow islanders, who wouldn’t dream of entering a room without greeting everyone present with a “Good morning!” (Or afternoon or night, obviously, as appropriate.) And yeah, I missed my family a lot.

The weekend went well, the audiences liked us, the people who had hired us seemed to love us, and all in all we did fine. But I was sure ready to go home.


They always say, “No matter how long your layover in San Juan is, it’s not long enough.” Not because it's so great. It's an airport, not much better or worse than any other I've been to. I guess the issue is making your connecting flight and making sure your luggage gets transferred to the right plane. But I’m telling you, six hours was way more than enough. Three would have been plenty. My flight out left at 10:40 a.m. and arrived in Philly at 8:30 p.m. Six hours on the ground in San Juan. The homeward flight left at 7:50 and I got into stx at 6 p.m. All the extra time on the ground in Puerto Rico.

It’s very, very hard to sleep in those hard plastic airport seats that are exactly the wrong size and shape to relax into. Once you’ve cruised through the duty-free shops and realized you don’t need anything they’re selling, you’ve pretty much exhausted the entertainment options. There was a TV set on the Weather Channel, and even without sound I watched that pretty constantly (thanks closed-captioning!) keeping track of Invest 93, the weather system that never quite formed a tropical depression (thanks upper atmosphere wind shear!) and was dumping huge amounts of rain on the island.

The heavy rains and head winds meant the plane had to take on extra fuel, but there wasn’t a person on board who’d have voted to delay. We wanted out of San Juan!

Forty minutes later the ATR 70 turboprop set down at the stx airport. And there was Tori and Max to greet me! It was raining, and by 8 that evening the rain had turned to a tropical downpour courtesy of Invest93. Between the warmth and the rain it was positively steamy.

It was great to be home.

John Baur

Friday, September 5, 2008

No news is good news

Just in case anyone was wondering or worrying about us, there is still no trouble from hurricanes here on St. Croix. As I write this, Ike is 340 miles almost due north of the island, heading west. We're told there might be some sea surge, maybe a little extra rain, but that's about it. I can honestly say I Like Ike, because it's not coming here.

A few days ago we had another pretty good lightning storm over the water, and some torrential rains that evening. But it wasn't enough to knock out the power, and on this island it doesn't take much to do that. That was the very edge of Hannah brushing past on its way northwest.

It's all a matter of perspective. While the TV was full of Gustav about to touch down, that was old news here. Gustav had passed a week earlier. When Hannah started filling the news, we were already looking at Ike and Josephine. Now Ike is safely past us and Josephine (as of now) appears to be a non-factor, angling out into the Atlantic basin, we're tentatively breathing easier. Of course, there's still plenty of time in the season for a K storm, an L, M, N and maybe an O. But they're not actually on the ocean's surface yet.

It's a little like being a bowling pin You know a bowling ball is going to come hurtling down the lane. you're just sitting there, watching and wondering exactly where it'll hit, and there's nothing you can do but get ready. We're preparing for the worst and hoping it won't come to that. But I sure never thought The Weather Cannel would become one of my favorite TV stations.

jb

Finally connected

The long wait for Internet connection is over. Our DSL is hooked up, and the good (or at least better) computer arrived. So we'll be posting a LOT more frequently. Tori just finished her first week of school, as did Max and Millie. I'm working now. Janet found a doctor she really likes. I'm told by a source that the police now have an idea who the perp might be in the hold up of our daughter. More to come on that as news develops. And today is our anniversary – Tori and I have been married 19 years. So things are happening, we're adjusting and getting used to island life, and we'll have a lot more to say about that in the weeks and months to come.

jb

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fay? No Fay here

Posted by John Friday afternoon

I've had several phone calls with people stateside in the last couple of days, and they all ask if we survived Hurricane Fay okay.

Just so you're not worried, Fay was a non-issue here. About a week or so ago we caught on outrider of the gathering storm, and got some rain and a terrific lightning and thunder show over the water. But that was it. Nothing to write home about,and we hope it stays that way.

Fay apparently started forming up south of here and blew by without much notice. We're still learning the ins and outs of hurricane season. Apparently there's "unsettled weather," then a tropical disturbance when it starts forming into a storm. That's what we caught the edge of. Then it goes up to tropical storm as it gains momentum and wind speed, and the circular pattern begins.When the wind hits 50 mph, it's a hurricane.

We've started getting supplies ready "in case." We've got about three days of water stored away, and we'll begin laying in some canned goods and a camping stove soon. When hurricanes actually are about to hit, WAPA (the Water and Power Administration) shuts off the power so that when lines get blown down (and they will get blown down) and the power goes out, there won't be problems when the power comes back on. So even though our stove burns propane (we've got a hundred pound tank out back) the stove also requires electricity.

We're hoping it's like when the weather looks dicey and you take an umbrella. As long as you've got an umbrella, it won't rain. Mother Nature only dumps on you when you forget the bumbershoot. We're preparing for a hurricane, so with any luck that should keep one from happening.

So no, there were no problems from Fay here. The cluds blocked us from watching the Perseid meteor shower, but the lightning show made up for it.

On another note, my DSL was supposed to be hooked up by yesterday. But it turns out there's not an available access port, so they've got to install one and it's going to take another week. Damn!! I am SO ready to not be sitting in this plaza (a very nice plaza, but still) and using a free wireless connection. It's kind of a pain.

Soon come.

jb

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

It Feels Bad

The following is Tori's (Mad Sally's) response to last week's mugging of our daughters.

So much has happened.

We found a place to live, I got a job teaching at the Manor School and I saw a giant manta ray while snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea.

But I feel so bad.

As my girls, Kate Millie and Alex were walking to the corner store to get a candy bar around 7:30 pm, they were accosted by a street punk on a bike. He held a gun to my sweet Millie’s head and said, “Give me your fucking money!”

The girls were dumbfounded. They were only a block away and it was barely dark out.

He grabbed Millie’s purse off her shoulder, which had a total of 22 dollars, her sunglasses, the book she was reading (it was an old copy of “The World According to Garp.” If it had been the new Stephanie Meyer’s book, “Breaking Dawn,” I am certain she would not have given up her purse without a fight) and some irreplaceable pictures of her best friends. The little bastard didn’t take Kate or Alex’s purses, although he snarled at them like an animal and moved toward them as if he were going to strike, but backed off and rode away at the last second.

We filed a police report and the girls looked at some mug shots at the St. Croix police station, but they’ll most likely never catch him.

I don’t even want to think about what could have happened, so I won’t. I can’t. It tears me up inside when my mind goes there. I am so thankful that my girls are okay. Shook up and jumpy, but otherwise fine. I just feel angry that this happened at all. I feel ashamed that I wasn’t there to protect them. I feel intense rage that some little punk-ass bitch is running around with a gun in my neighborhood terrorizing little girls and fucking with my family.

And I feel terrible that my paradise has been sullied. Suddenly the roosters that crow at midnight are no longer endearing. They annoy me. All those mosquito bites I have endured laughingly suddenly burn and itch like never before. And the lightning storms which were beautiful and powerful a few days ago are today scary.

I know with time we will forget about it, as we should. While I want to put it on the back burner of bad memories, I want to remember the lesson: Never be complacent about my family’s safety ever again. We now lock our gates up tight at dark. Today I bought pepper spray for all the girls. Tomorrow we will look up self-defense classes and over the next few months and years, we will learn how and when to fight back.

The girls did everything they were supposed to do. Don’t engage, just give them the money. But should they ever need to defend the thing that really matters, I want them as prepared as they can be. I don’t like feeling helpless and I don’t want my family living in fear. Ever. So rusty cutlasses and fake powder pistols aside, we will do something real about it. I’m not just going to sit around and hope and pray it never happens again. And I am not so vain to believe that having a little pirate in me is enough to protect me and mine. Being a pirate does, however, spur me into action and keep me from cowering in the dark. If we are ready for it, it will never happen again.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A very scary night

Wednesday was a good day. We had several things happen that would have been good subjects for this blog. It was a good day. Then, after dinner Alex, Kate and Millie decided to walk up to the store on the corner to get a snack. They didn’t know if it was still open, but they thought it might be. And it’s only a hundred feet or so from our house, just south down the street, so it’s not like it would be a big deal if it were closed.

They left the house at 7:45. The sun was already gone, it gets dark early here. I was on the porch with Tori and Janet, each of us enjoying our favorite bad habit. (We were having a cigarette.) As I stood there I happened to notice a bike go past fast, heading north. I had an impression of a bike, and a white T-shirt. Then the phone rang.

It was Millie on her cell phone. Her voice sounded tiny as she said, “Someone stole my purse,”

“What?” She repeated it, and I was already heading south down the street, walking fast. Tori started to cfollow, then thinking more clearly then I did, went back for the car.

I got there and the store was closed, Alex and Kate were standing on either side of Millie with their arms around her, and she was shook up.

Alex filled me in. Some kid, not older than they are, had pedalled up on a bike, pulled a gun on them and said “Give me your fucking money.” They froze, mostly unbelieving. He repeated himself, then grabbed Millie’s purse, pulling it off her shoulder, and rode off. Right up our street. The kid in the white T-shirt I had just seen.

I called 911. Ironically, one of the reasons we had liked the neighborhood is because the police station is just two blocks away. I finished with the call and the operator said she’d send someone. At that moment Tori pulled up and got the kids in the car. Got me in the car. I told her the police were coming and we should wait. It seemed like it took hours, maybe days for them to arrive, but they were there within five minutes. Corporal Cornelius got a quick description from the girls and two other cars took off to see if they could find anything. I wasn’t surprised that they couldn’t.

We were there with the police about 45 minutes giving them the story. Then the investigator arrived and asked them to come back to the station with him for a complete statement. I came home, because we’d left Janet with Max and a very incomplete story.

If they choose to write about it, you’ll get a lot more detail from them. I heard the story three times, once from each of them, and I’m still hazy on the details. It’s kinda hard to focus on words when you’re dealing with something like that.

Why did I let them go to the store? I had heard about not walking around after dark. Why didn’t I at least go with them? I know, I know. It wasn’t my fault. Not their fault. It was the fault of some kid, not more than 16 or 17, who could think of nothing but to do that ride around with a gun and jack around with some girls. But that doesn’t make it any easier in retrospect.

So what do I tell my daughters? Especially Millie, who hasn’t been happy here yet and who just stared down the barrel of a gun wielded by a kid not much older than her, and probably just as scared.

They did exactly the right thing. They weren’t alone, they had each other, but that wasn’t enough. They didn’t argue. They didn’t fight. Millie gave him her purse. She lost about twenty two bucks, some sunglasses, her wallet and maybe some makeup. A VERY small price to pay. A terrible lesson learned. Yes, that could have happened anywhere, probably did happen simultaneously elsewhere in the world. I worked on the paper in Albany 13 years and I know that kind of stuff happened all over there, too. The fact that it never happened to my family doesn’t change the fact that it happens a lot there.

But all of that requires a bit more perspective than I’m able to muster right now, and even if I could say that, I wouldn’t. Because it didn’t happen there. It happened here. It happened to my girls. We’d been having a good day, and then this. And I’m really pissed.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Kate’s assessment of things to date

Posted by Kate

Yo’kay, the new house is pretty cool. At least there’s room for all of us. Just this morning a lizard the size of my hand was in Al’s room. It was either a big anole or a small Iguana, either way I managed to touch its tail a bit before it scampered away. No idea how it got in.

In other news, I’m working on a few books. That’s right! I’m actually being productive! One is a book on toon theory, and the other is about a coven of wiccans who meet on the internet. Both are WIP at this point, and one is still in my head.

Speaking of wicca, I’ve been studying it more prominently lately than before. It’s really something I can get behind of all the religions and philosophies I’ve studied. It encourages free will, supports equality for all, and is aware that it isn’t the only way to live your life.

Go on, I dare you to judge me ... on second thought, don’t. Just keep it all in your head and then release it somewhere else on the internet so no one will know it’s you, just like the rest of the world.

Hmm, I wonder how many people I’ve made mad from that last comment.

So, to distract from it, I’ll point out that as I type this I’m watching the Olympics. The opening ceremonies are too awesome for most words, I only have a few statements about it. First, take that Athens, and second, I feel sorry for London.

Getting the hang of it

Posted by John

It still feels odd from time to time to drive on the left side of the road, but I’ve mostly gotten used to it and I haven’t been getting lost at all lately.

Driving the other day on North Shore Road, which winds around the coast – some incredibly beautiful seascape. As I rounded a bend and entered a short straight away, a car came around the bend about 100 yards ahead of me and headed straight for me.

“Oh gosh, I did it again!” I thought to myself. But I looked down and, no, I was in the correct lane – on the left side of the road. Just as I realized this, the other driver did too. The other car suddenly jerked sharply to the right (my right, of course, not his) and drove past me in the correct lane.

I had to laugh, and think to myself, “Tourist!”

I guess I’m getting the hang of this.

jb

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"Wow!" at Turtle's Deli

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur, August 6

It’s been unusually chaotic the last couple of days, even by our standards. We moved from the vacation villa to the house with a six-month lease.

It’s a nice house, and well within our price range, Unfurnished, so we’ve had to do a lot of scrambling. Several trips to Kmart (don’t skoff - Kmart is pretty much IT on St. Croix, we’ve got two of them! It’s the place to go for a lot of the stuff you have to have for a home.

Tuesday was the most hectic day. I figured we didn’t want to cook dinner (especially since the guy from the propane company STILL hasn’t delivered our gas, so we can’t cook on the stove yet.) Someone had told me that Turtle’s Deli in nearby Frederiksted was the best place on the island for a sandwich, so off I went to pick up dinner for the family.

Well, the sandwiches were everything we’d been promised. It was a much more complete deli than I’d expected. But even better that the sandwiches were the couple – Bob and Mary – who own the place.

As soon as they heard we were new on island, the stories and advice started pouring out of them. As they sliced meat and cheese, spread mustard and all the rest, they told us how they’d come to be here, how glad they were we’d chosen the west side of the island (I’llo post something about the east/west split soon.) Schools. Shops. Everything.

And they wanted to k now about us. I mentioned that Tori is a teacher with a special ed background looking for work and Mary immediately suggested a school, sort of an alternative school that her children used. It’s a great place, she said, the woman who runs it is fantastic, and they just lost two teachers so Tori should call right away.

I asked Bobif there was a place in Frederiksted that had wireless – an Internet cafĂ© sort of deal. I’ve been using a spot in Christiansted, but it was sort of inconvenient on the other side of the island.

“Right here,” he said. “I think I’m the only one in town. You have to supply the computer, but my wireless is usually up and usually works.”

Wow. This was turning into one of the best errands I’d ever run.But I had an uneasy feeling. I glanced around the shop and realized I didn’t see any Visa signs. I was planning to pay with my credit card, but there was no sign they accepted it.

“I probably should have asked this before you started making the sandwiches,” I said, “but do you take plastic?”

“No,” he said. Problem. But then he said, “I do take IOUs.”

He said he’s taken checks from all over the world (tourists) and almost never been stiffed. He’s taken IOUs from people off a tour ship he returned home and mailed him cash. People haven’t taken advantage of him, hardly ever, and he just preferred to do business that way. He wrote up the bill, I signed it, and he said, “Come back anytime this week and we’ll be fine.”

Wow.

Then Mary took the receipt back and scribbled on it –– the name and phone number of the school where Tori should apply.

And when I got home, the sandwiches were excellent. Too big, I’m about to have the second half of mine for lunch today. But excellent.

Tuesday was also the birthday of our son, Jack (yes, he's Jack Baur.) 26. How did that happen. He did NOT make the move with us, he recently finished grad school and is making his own life. He just moved to the Bay Area.

And damn, we miss him! Happy Birthday Jack!!

jb

One Month! And Counting

Written by John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur, July 31

First month under our belts. What have we accomplished so far?

Let’s see. We’ve bought and insured a car. We found a longterm place to live. We acquired some furniture and some friends. We’ve certainly gotten to know the island, driving all over in search of those things.

Tori has applied for several jobs and has good prospects at a couple of schools. I actually found a job, writing for the island’s online newspaper, the St. Croix Source. It won’t make us rich, but it’ll help pay the bills.

More still to do, but it’s a start.


Bits and pieces

I had commented to the Realtor who was driving us to look at the wrong house that few streets had names, but even those that did, no one seemed to know. In getting directions several times I’d said something like, “Okay, so I take 70 down to Emancipation Road ...” and the person I was talking to had said, “Oh, I don’t know names or numbers. Just drive past the police station and turn right.”

“No, people usually use landmarks,” the Realtor had said, pointing out the old rusted water tank that was often an important landmark in that part of the island. “When I first got here, someone was giving me directions and told me to drive until I came to the field where the horses used to be.”

***

Lot of wildlife on the island. There’s a stretch of road near here that I’ve driven by almost every day, twice a day coming and going, and there’s always goats right along the side of the road. A dozen or so, grazing, oblivious of the cars flying past. I’ve taken to calling it “Goat Alley.”

Chickens everywhere, apparently running wild. No one seems to own most of them. Our friend Daryle warned us, “Never feed the chickens. If you do it once, you’ll have 40 chickens at your house twice a day, at 10 and 4, waiting for food. It was costing me $10 a week in chicken feed.”

I love watching the hermit crabs scuttling along the deck here. If you walk past them, they immediately tuck into their shells and roll over as if saying, “Nothing here but a rock! No need to try to eat me! I’m a rock!”

Lots of birds. I’ve always thought of pelicans as sort of comical birds, probably from their depiction in the cartoons of my youth, but they’re amazing flyers and fishers. Watched a frigate bird last night, holding his place in the sky almost effortlessly for more than 10 minutes as he kept on eye ion something below.

And we saw a deer the other day. Honest to god, I couldn’t have been more surprised.

Still to do

Biggest thing on the list is to get the kids settled. You’ve probably read their posts – Kate and Millie, especially the latter, but all of them really, haven’t really accepted the move, accepted that this is home. They’re still looking back, at what they’ve left, not forward at what’s to come. It’s understandable. Tori and I both moved fairly often while we were kids. We do understand how hard it is for kids. But they’ve got to try a little. Right now they spend most of their time watching TV, reading and sleeping.

In part, Tori and I have been so busy trying to get the family established here that we haven’t been able to spend as much time helping them through this as we’d like to. Millie, who writes the most dogmatically about hating all of this, has actually done the most. She has gone with us on many expeditions, and has taken to doing a lot of baking –and for the most part is really good at it. It’s something she can do. Alex, except for one brief and not successful job attempt (I wish she’d write about it, it’s a funny story) spends almost all day sleeping. We’d like to take her on some of our errands, but we can’t wait until 4 p.m. to start the day. Kate watches TV, and Max, as the youngest is the most malleable. He trusts Mom and Dad that this will all work out.

Janet has also been a concern. She has good days and bad days – both physically and in attitude – usually on the same day. She tries, but she’s limited in what she can do and over the course of a dayshe gets tired, then the kids start to wear on her, then she starts wearing on the kids, until by evening no one is really happy.

We’re here. We’re going to be here for a while. We’re together, we’re a family. We need each other. Everyone needs to accept those things, or everyone is going to be miserable. We’ll work it out, it’ll take a little time is all.

Teenage Insomnia

Written by Millie, July 29

It’s two in the morning, and I can’t sleep.

Lately, I haven’t been able to fall asleep until close to four or five in the morning.

I toss and turn (and drive Kate crazy) until I finally sink into the shallow recesses of sleep.

This is made worse if I don’t talk to Jesse before I go to bed. It just feels wrong not to hear his voice before I try to sleep.

I miss him more than ever. There isn’t much that can distract me from thinking about him. I sit and read all day to try and escape into another world, and it works for the most part. But the second my eyes leave the page, my mind goes straight back to Jesse.

My birthday is coming up. In less than a month, I will turn 16. I should be excited, but the thing I want most for my birthday is the thing I am pretty confident I won’t get.

I want to go home.

I want to spend this milestone birthday with my friends.

Even just for a little while, I want to go and see my friends and the people I love. I miss them, and I can’t stand being away from them.

I have cried almost every night since I got here. I wish I had my own room again so I could be free to go to pieces in private, but I have to deal with Kate coming in at random times, so that freedom is denied to me. I don’t like crying in front of other people when I can’t even explain to them why I am crying.

I love my family, but I want other company than them, and to be honest, I don’t want to deal with meeting more people that I am just going to leave in two years. Mom and Dad keep insisting I go out and meet people, but I don’t want to make friends with people that I am just leaving. I don’t want to have to do that again. It hurts too much.

Mom had said it was a possibility to send me back for my birthday a few months ago when I first broached the subject, but I don’t know if she’s even thought about it at all since then. I doubt she even remembers.

What I wanted to do was stay in Albany until the end of the summer so I could spend my birthday with my friends without the cost of flying me back and forth, but they weren’t too keen on that.

I haven’t told anyone about wanting to go home for my birthday. I guess I’m writing it down here because I know that Mom and Dad will read it. And because I can’t sleep and they have been asking me to write another blog for a few weeks.

If I don’t go home for my birthday, I won’t see anyone from Albany until Christmas, when Jesse and his family come to St. Croix. I don’t want to wait until Christmas, and although Jesse is my main motivation for going, I want to see my other friends as well.

Unless Jesse packs my best friends in his suitcase, I don’t get to see anyone else until March or June. These aren’t completely random dates, I promise. March is mine and Jesse’s one year anniversary, and June is his graduation. I’m going to one or both.

Time for me to go back and lay down. I would say time to sleep, but I know I won’t. Not only do I suffer from teenage insomnia, but I have really bad cramps. I swear they are worse than they are on the mainland.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

They're Taunting Me

By Tori "Mad Sally" Baur

They’re taunting me.

Fish. Big ones that swim languidly in the tidepools just off the balcony of our house.

And it hurts.

There are six of them circling together. Some sort of spotted sea trout. Big ones. Ones that inspire fish tales, only these fish are big enough that lying about their size would be unnecessary. I have been watching them dancing in the clear, blue water circling clockwise together, black fins and tails lifting out of the water, circling, circling, circling together for the last three hours.

They are taunting me with every liquid turn and dip. And it hurts because I don’t have a fishing pole.

They are certainly beautiful. The biggest fish is the leader. She decides the path, mostly clockwise around the perimeter of rocks, but sometimes she chooses to swim counter-clockwise as if to test what it would feel like to swim in Australia where the water does indeed run backwards. The other fish obediently follow along just behind and to either side or under her. Their bodies are all touching as if this is some sort of private love dance among them. And it may well be. I thought at first that the fish might be feeding as the brown pelicans seem to find plenty of fish to eat near this spot as they circle above the water and then take a nosedive down into the water, pause for a moment, and then lift their long pelican bills into the air to let gravity help them swallow the fish they’ve caught. But the longer I watch these fish, the more I think that they are mating, procreating. I imagine the biggest fish a female full of eggs. I envision her dropping streams of her eggs onto the rocks that she has been swimming over and around for hours. I can almost see how she has been leading the other fish, all males in my imagination, around and around over her dropped eggs and in her seductive circular swim, she entices them to fertilize her eggs.

As full of wonder and mystery as these creatures of the water may be, I still want to bait my hook and toss out my line. I want to feel the tug on my pole as I reel in “the big one.” I want to pull it onto the shore, and feel it shake and wriggle violently in my hands as I remove the hook from its mouth. I want to dash its head on the rocks to make it stop moving, and plunge my knife into its belly and clean its insides out with deft handiwork.

I want to smell like fish.

I want it all over my hands, on my clothes, on the counter I work on, even in my hair. I want to find fish scales under my nails and down my cleavage when I take off my bra at night. I want to feel a tingle when I wash my hands and realize I must’ve cut my finger on a sharp fin or bone. I want to bleed with my fish. Just a little. Just enough to say, “I appreciate your sacrifice, big fishy. Here is mine to you.”

And to taste it.
I want to cover my freshly cleaned fillet with butter and lemon, wrap it in foil and put it on the grill for about fifteen minutes on each side. I want to see the look on my family’s faces as they taste the fish that I caught and cleaned and cooked for them, for me, for us.

There is nothing like being the one who brought the big fish unto the dinner plate.

While I may rationally understand that the fish – beautiful fish ¬– swimming below me are possibly fulfilling their predetermined life cycle and it is a miracle to bear witness to such an event as egg fertilization in the wild, nonetheless I still want to catch them, rip them open and eat them.

I’d like to think that living on St Croix in the wild Caribbean makes me feel so acutely hunter-gatherer. “It’s just the sound of the waves crashing so violently against the rocks,” I say to myself as I try to reason with my piratical obsession for wanting to capture and kill these majestic fish.

But I know there is no rationality behind my desire. Fishing is like a drug and I am an addict, an obsessed junkie who needs a fix. This is who I am. Its in my veins. So tomorrow I will buy a fishing pole and as I know nothing about ocean fishing, I will seek out others who are like me and court them until I glean the knowledge I so crave. And over time I will learn how to fish the surf. I will learn the best places to go, what test to use on my reel, which lure works best, how to properly bait my hook and in doing so I will cure my helplessness and feed my addiction.

Tonight my family will eat fish. I will go to one of the many fish markets on St Croix, where vendors sell fresh fish, lobster and conch right off the street. I will pick something up, perhaps some bass, tuna or snapper and I will clean it myself, grill it and serve it.

And although I didn’t catch this fish myself, I will feel a little bit better for having plunged my knife in its belly. It is my methadone until I can get the real thing. I know that in all the ocean there is a fish out there – a big one – who has my name on it.

But right now, it hurts.

Family, Friends and Furniture

By John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur

When you think about furniture, especially when you think about a big dining room table, you think about friends and family, right? A Norman Rockwell image of people gathered around the table on Thanksgiving or something like that.

Well, this is a story friends, family and furniture.

After securing the house on Friday, we spent Saturday running to garage and moving sales, always a good source of used furniture at good prices, and on the island really the best source for such things.

By 1 in the afternoon we’d found several things, including a love seat, and were driving back toward home with the back of the car stuffed with a wicker set of chairs and a little table. If I can brag for just a second, we found every sale with a minimum of directions and I don’t think we got lost at all, although I was pretty sure we were lost once, before we rounded the bend and saw the place.)

But there was one more sale to visit, and though we were pretty much feeling done, it was close, and the ad had sounded like it was right up our alley. A moving held by a family that after years on island was ready to move to the mainland, in North Carolina to be near family. They had some beautiful things, much too nice for the likes of us. Of particular interest was a Lane cedar chest and a handmade dining room table that the man, a carpenter, had made himself. The table was about six feet long, the top solid African mahogany, the legs Spanish cedar. It was very plain, very simple, just a little scroll work with a router. It was beautiful. It was also a tad more than we were prepared to spend.

Well, both were great pieces, the sort of thing our kids would fight over after we were dead and gone. The chest wasn’t a “must have,” but it was awfully nice, and the price was right. We ended up buying it.

The car was already full of the wicker we’d bought, so we arranged to come by the next day to pick up the chest.

That night, Tori had a dream about the table. I didn’t get the details, but we’ve been married long enough that I know what it means when she has a dream. We would be buying the table.

We went back on Sunday to get the chest. Pulled into the driveway and Daryle – the carpenter – made me pull back out and back across his lawn until I was right against the porch. “Why do you want to work that hard?” he asked, smiling. We got out of the car and their huge dog Beau (a mastiff, and a real sweetheart) lumbered over to be petted, drooling everywhere. We started chatting, Tori and I and Daryle and Arvena Satchell. How we’d ended up on the island. Why they were leaving. Did we have enough plasticware? We’d need it to keep ants out of everything. Moving’s a bitch, we all agreed, especially those last two weeks when you’re seriously just considering setting a big fire. Did we need a desk? They gave us the one Daryle had made. And the matching file cabinet and chair. How about these bookshelves? If they haven’t sold in two weeks we’re just throwing ’em away so why don’t you take them?

What do you do for a living? I’m a teacher, Tori said, and John’s a writer. The Satchell’s older daughter, Avonia, about seven years old with big, solemn eyes, looked up at that, went into the house and came back holding the book she had written about a day at the beach. “You can read it if you want to,” she said. So of course I read it. Handwritten and illustrated an carefully stapled together. A delightful tale. Then while Daryle took Tori in to look at the desk, Avonia took me around back to see the chicken laying eggs.

We weren’t sure how we were going to get all this stuff into our rig, let alone across the island to our new home. No problem, Daryle said. I’ve got the pickup until Tuesday and I’m not doing anything. We’re signing the lease Tuesday morning, so if the rental agent says it’s cool, we’ll just go with him to drop it off that afternoon.

We had driven over to pick up one piece - the chest. We were there over an hour, swapping stories with these lovely people, learning a bit of island lore (the spectacular Flamboyant trees, for instant, are only called that during this time of year when their fiery red blossoms are in full bloom. The rest of the year they’re called something that sounded like “shek shek,’ which doesn’t sound complimentary.) Daryle and Arvena took Tori around the yard pointing out different plants and talking about how to grow them. This was while I was reading Avonia’s story.)

At one point Daryle was explaining “island time,” which often drives newcomers crazy and with which even he sometimes has trouble. Even in the emergency room, he said, people take their time. “Nothing is urgent here,” he said, leaning back on the porch and gesturing expansively. I wanted to say, “You mean, like this now?” but I have better manners than that. Besides, I knew just what he meant. I was in no hurry, and they were nice people. What’s the rush?

And, of course, you have to keep things in perspective. Getting the furniture was important. But these delightful people are leaving the island soon, so we focused on what mattered most.

And, yes, we bought the table.

jb

Monday, July 28, 2008

A home of our own

Well, hardly any posts the last two weeks. Not because there’s nothing happening, or because of the difficulty in getting online – I found a free wireless hub in Christiansted, all I have to do is drive the 20 or so minutes into town and if the laptop’s battery has taken a charge I can take care of most of my business in an hour.

No, the reason we haven’t been posting much is that we’re in a rush. I know that’s not an “Island time’ concept, but we are. When we came here we arranged for a month in a very nice, very posh and kinda spendy vacation villa for the first month. It was more than we wanted to spend, but better that than thinking we’d gotten some great deal only to find we were living in a shithole, ya know?

But the month is nearly up. We’re not going to get thrown out on the street – the place we’re at will let us stay since no on has reserved it for August, but we’d rather not pay the price. This is about transitioning from island newcomers to island residents.

It took us almost two weeks to find a car. It was worth taking the time, because Bertha (named for the hurricane/tropical storm that passed by while we were searching) is reliable. A ’97 Nissan Pathfinder, not great mileage but sturdy and it’s already broken in, which on these roads means something. After our last car (don’t get me going about Volkswagens, they’re crap) reliable is a very good thing. And we got her insured, which on the island took the better part of a day. No, those online insurers don’t cover St. Croix.

Then Tori and I – and sometimes Millie and I can’t tell you how happy I’ve been to have her along, showing an interest – spent two weeks looking for a longterm rental. We drove almost four hundred miles – no small feet on an island that’s only about 30 miles long and five or so wide - in the course of two weeks looking at neighborhoods and areas, checking out houses for rent in the papers, getting lost more than a few times but that's always an adventure, getting shown really inappropriate things by Realtors who – I don’t want to cast aspersions but it’s true – heard our stateside voices on the phone and assumed we were rich or something. It had to be that, or else they were just really stupid because we’d tell them exactly what we were looking for and they’d show us things that cost twice as much. One was three times the top range we said. Really nice houses, and everyone a Realtor showed us had a pool. But not what we were looking for.

Well, we found it at last, because Tori is just bound and determined to succeed. Driving into Frederiksted she told me to drive straight instead of making the turn into town. Then she told me to take a right at the market on the corner. Then she told me to stop. There was a for rent sign on a nice little house, sort of Spanish style. The neighborhood is okay, not great, but it’s close to town, close to where we’re pretty sure Tori will be working, and the price was lower than we’d hoped. We called the agent, two days later we looked through it and were amazed. It was nicer inside than out,. No air conditioning (with the price of power on the island that’s not necessarily a bad thing) and it’s very breezy. The agent had opened all the windows and doors, and the doors kept blowing shut. We filled out an application and after a brief discussion of our shitty credit and our suggestion that perhaps they’d like us to pay a couple of months in advance, we got the house.

It’s unfurnished, so we’ve got a lot more to do between now and moving day. Yea! Another adventure! And we’ve got a place to move into.

jb