Friday, December 30, 2011

Festival Kicks Into High Gear


Last night the Festival Village opened, and the Crucian Christmas Festival kicked off for real. Carnival rides, food, games of "chance." Fun. There have been events leading up to last night, the youth Calypso contest, a parade in Christiansted, pageants. But the village opening is the real start.

For the next week very little work will get done on St. Croix. There's the Quelbe Tromp, the J'Ouvert (must be experienced) a food fair and two big parades, plus a lot of other things.

Every Caribbean Island has its own celebration, and the Crucian Christmas Festival's is St. Croix's.

Anyway, here's the story I wrote last night on the festival, and here's the video Tori shot.The picture above is 6-year-old John Hazell riding the merry go round.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Problems in Paradise

It has come to our attention that some people – you know who you are – get sulky, even snarky, when we post photos of beautiful warm beaches. Especially when the places they live are covered with snow and ice and they spend the winter wiping their runny noses and trying to figure out exactly how many sweaters they can put on at one time.

But to show my heart is in the right place (my chest) I hereby present a list of 12 things that are NOT great about living on St. Croix. To make up for all the perfect weather.

A Dozen Things That Are NOT Great About Living on St. Croix

1 - Hurricanes and hurricane season. Even when there is no hurricane heading for you, it's not fun. It's a low-grade worry for six months of the year, occasionally punctuated by the imminent arrival of a major storm. When a hurricane does come, the power always goes out and stays out for a while.

2 - Grocery prices. Milk is over $7 a gallon, a loaf of bread will run about $4. Virtually everything costs more, except for cigarettes and rum, which are dirt cheap, but since we quit smoking earlier this year only one of those has meaning to us any more.

3 - The price of electricity. The electric bill is always shocking, usually close to $400 a month for us, and it's not like we have air conditioning. And the service from WAPA is crappy. The power goes out for no apparent reason, usually during football games. But when the power bill comes, it's a "sit down and have a drink moment." Fortunately, rum is cheap.

4 - If you love football and follow a west coast team (Seahawks!) you almost never get to see your team play on TV. The networks always assume you want to watch some team you don't care about (the Giants, Jets or Falcons) or some team all right-thinking Americans hate (the Cowboys, Pittsburgh, Philly) when what you really want is the Seattle-San Francisco game.

5 - Availability of fresh water. When the tour guides say, "don't drink the water," they mean it. We get our house water on a cistern that collects rain water from the roof. Certainly it is "green," but we have seen some foot-long centipedes crawling into the dank, watery abyss that is our cistern. We purchase all our drinking water at the supermarket. See note about "Everything is expensive."

6 - Cistern showers. When the power goes out for any length of time, the slab of concrete over the cistern is moved. We tie a bucket to a rope, drop it down into the dark and haul up the water. Our first year we lost power for nearly a week after hurricane Omar. We learned very quickly how to shower with one bucket of water, and to flush the toilet only when absolutely necessary, once a day if possible.

7 - Headlights. Most Crucian drivers keep their high beams on at all times, in fact, they seem unaware they have two settings. Blindness, and hilarity ensues!

8 - Dead Iguanas. Seeing one of these ancient dinosaurs flattened on the pavement just seems so wrong. They are the worst roadkill ever. "Roadkill Iguana" would be a great name for a rock band, but it's lousy to see on the road.

9 - Litter. Speaking of lousy to see on the road, St. Croix is a beautiful place, as long as you don't look down. A lot of people litter here. Just throw trash out the car window with no shame. They also just throw their puppies away. There is a severe, (and sad) problem of overpopulation of dogs and cats.

10 - Customer service is a joke here. There's practically nowhere to shop for the day-to-day stuff except one of the island's two Kmarts. Mix St. Croix's poor idea of customer service with the really bad attitude of all Kmart employees and you can just ruin a whole afternoon.

11 - Shipping. Amazon won't ship electronics to the island. Other places charge an arm and a leg because they say it is "not in the United States." Well, it is! St Croix is a US territory and postage is the same here as anywhere else. And the postal service is unreliable in general. Several times packages sent from the states just never arrived to us, lost in Puerto Rico where mail goes to die.

12 - People stateside, especially in northern, snowy states, get all grouchy when you post photos of beautiful sunsets and warm, sunny beaches while they're shivering in their igloos. Sometimes they even leave snarky comments on the blog. Imagine that!

There. Everybody happy now? Good. Then you won't mind if I post this picture. Just another day in paradise.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Caribbean Christmas!


Merry Christmas from the Baurs and island friends – from left, Alan, Kate, Joey, Max, Tori (the Queen of Christmas!) and John. The Happiest Christmas ever to you all!

And a new year full of really cool stuff!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Christmas!



I've posted this picture before, back on the first Christmas Eve we spent on the island. I don't think I've ever taken a better one. This was literally ON Christmas Eve 2008.

When we posted it back then, a friend in the Northwest commented that they were expecting a white Christmas, "so there." As if that was somehow a good thing and she was one up. My only response was "My sympathies." I was born in Chicago. I've seen all the snow I'll ever need to see for the rest of my life, and shoveled it. Snow is why we moved to the island, that and frozen rain and black ice and other such temperature deprived precipitation.

Got a few errands to run today, and Tori is involved in some major construction project that I'm supposed to not see. I can't imagine what it is. And then if we have time, we'll run down to the beach. But we'll definitely run to the beach Christmas morning, because we have to take a family picture.

Happy Christmas to all our friends! jb

Friday, December 23, 2011

Velvety Sunset


This was taken abut a year ago, 13 months, to be specific. It was opening night for the Good Hope School production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" that Tori has directed, and curtain was another half hour away. So I wandered down to the beach behind the school and shot this and a few others.

The show was amazingly good too.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

More beachside toes

I've already shown you my toes in the surf. Tori's are much nicer, and she has better legs. This was after she'd been snorkeling off Dorsch.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Five Pictures From Sunday Afternoon

'Twas the week before Christmas
And all 'cross the sand

Not a creature was stirring

'Cept Max, getting tan.



Seriously, we just got back from the beach and I wanted to share these. This isn't the beach we normally go to, but a cruise ship was in and Dorsch usually gets a little crowded. This is what we saw when we pulled off the road just north of Rainbow Beach, which is just north of Frederiksted. Virtually empty stretch of white sand.


That palm tree in the distance? This is it, close up.


Max, ready for all sorts of water sports.


And a ballgame on the beach, with the cruise ship in the background. Playing are Tori, Max, Natasha and Alan. Alan is closest to the camera. He's been going to college in Canada, which explains why he's so white.


And that was our Sunday afternoon, and we still got home in time to see some fairly crappy football.

But we have to exclaim to the tropical skies,
"Merry Christmas from us down here in paradise!"

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Nice Thing About the West Side

We get great sunsets over here. Really great. They almost look like a studio photographer's phony prom backdrop, but they're real. This is from Frederiksted's waterfront.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Silly Girls

This pic is from last Easter, I think. They were making candy in the kitchen, and Millie and Tori got a little silly with the icing.

Millie, by the way, is doing great at school. Just so ya know.


Sunday, December 11, 2011

St. Croix Christmas Boat Parade


It's really the best of everything. Sultry tropical night, full moon, choirs, boats decorated with Christmas lights, fireworks, Santa Claus – who in the islands arrives by boat, not reindeer driven sleigh.

It's St. Croix's annual Christmas Boat Parade. We've gone every year since we've been here. Hard to beat. It's rapidly become my favorite island tradition.

Rather than write about it again, I'll give you these links. This is the story I wrote for the Source last night. This is the video Tori shot.

We had a great time. The only thing is, every year when I go to cover it for the Source, I ask myself, "How come I don't have any rich friends with a boat to invite me to parade with them?" As fun as this is, I'll bet it's a lot more fun from the boat.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Vincent T. Mason Coral Beach Resort



I don't know who Vincent T. Mason was, but he's got a nice stretch of beach named after him. This is about a mile down the coast from Dorsch, almost to the southwest corner of St. Croix. When I took this I was standing right at the line between this park and Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, where sea turtles nest. Here's a link to a story I wrote on sea turtle nesting a couple of years ago. It was very cool, an amazing experience, although it has nothing to do with this picture. Also, Sandy Point was were they filmed the last scene from "Shawshank Redemption," where Morgan Freeman walks down the "Mexican" beach to where Tim Robbins is working on his boat. Also cool.

Oh, and perhaps most important, this is the beach where Tori and I filmed "Wooing Wenches," a pirate love story. If you haven't seen it yet, don't miss it!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall ...

And when it does, you get something like this. Taken almost two years ago down on Dorsch Beach, I believe.


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Serendipity


Serendipity means discovering something you didn't know you were looking for. And that was the case with this pic. Last week I was covering the World AIDS Day march and candlelight vigil in Frederiksted, and my camera went belly up. All I had was the camera on my phone, and the battery was low and going fast.

The community marchers were followed by the band from St. Croix Central High School, who were followed by police car keeping traffic at bay. And it was dark, so the headlights were on and I figured I could use those to illuminate the pic.

I don't actually remember taking this picture, but I found it later when I downloaded the files to the computer. The police car's headlights backlit one of the band's flag twirlers, and I happened to catch it the moment her red flag flashed in front of her. It's a little soft, a little blurry, but I thought it was a very cool shot.

Like someone or other once said, it's smarter to be lucky than it's lucky to be smart.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Change of Pace

Like so many people, I have a blog because I don't get enough guilt in my life. Obviously. I mean, it sits there and I always mean to write something, then I get busy.

Then, last night as I was sorting through the computer's photo library and finding all these terrific pictures just sitting there, I realized I had a better option. Instead of feeling guilty about not writing, at least I could post some of these pictures a couple of times a week! Which give you a good glimpse of island life without having me go on and on and on. And someone or other said they were worth a thousand words a piece so I'll be way ahead of the game. So enjoy.


Those are my toes in the surf at Cheney Bay (it's pronounced sha-NAY bay, and was not named for any politician.) OK, that's not a spectacular picture, but it's a place to start.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Chilly Night

First, sorry so long without a post. Sometimes life just happens. Which is what the blog is supposed to be about – life in the Caribbean – but it gets complicated.

Here's a bunch of little things to catch up on.

It actually felt chilly last night. I checked the temp around 10 p.m. and sure enough, it as unusually cool. I won't insult you by saying cold. But cooler than usual. 72 degrees. I checked and at the same moment in L.A., around 6 p.m., it was 57.

Yesterday was the last day of the official hurricane season. It was a busier than usual season, the experts say, but you couldn't prove it here. And I'm not complaining. Closest action we got was Irene, which was still a tropical storm when it passed here on its way to annoy New Yorkers.

The end of the season means we can let our guard down a little and break into the box of hurricane food supplies. There's a can of beef stew in there, and a lot of canned peaches.

It also means the tourism picks up noticeably. And Christmas and Festival are right on top of us.

Anyway I wanted to get this posted, and have other work I've gotta finish up. I'll try to post more often. If lie doesn't get in the way.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Millie's On Her Way

Millie left today St. Croix today. After a brief visit with friends in Oregon, she'll begin next week at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles.

We miss her already.

Dropped her at the airport this morning and it was touch and go whether it would be a happy or weepy parting. Happy, as it turns out, because even though we miss her, it's a great adventure for her.

Turned out to be a slightly greater adventure than we expected. After leaving the airport I dropped Tori off at school, rushed home to get Max moving and ready to go to school. Right before I put him in the car, I got a text message from Millie. Here's the string of messages back and forth over the course of 10 minutes.

Millie – We are being evacuated from the airport. I don't now why.

Me – Holy shit! Should I come over?

Millie – Lime green firetrucks just rolled up. Hoping it's just a defective alarm so I'm not late.

Me – Hope so too. Keep me posted.

Millie – No, it's fine. Someone just told us they were gonna board us from outside.

Me – Well, that's good. But jeez.

Millie – Shawn (her boyfriend) asked his dad (who works at TSA) and he said that a door was opened that wasn't supposed to be.

Turns out it wasn't just a door open – an emergency exit was was ajar and they couldn't find it! So just to be on the safe side, they pulled out all the stops. But it all turned out OK. The door was found, the alarm silenced, the pane loaded and everyone was off. If that's the biggest glitch, what a great trip she'll have.

But it's typical Millie. Can't even board a plane for school without excitement and drama. Looks like she picked the best possible career.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ophelia Update and Vigilance

Looks like Ophelia will be giving us a pass - literally.

Ophelia, which a few days ago looked ready to hit the Virgin Islands pretty hard, has weakened and veered to the north, just like Maria did a few weeks earlier. Closest pass will be tonight, more than 200 miles north of us. We'll get some rain out of it – maybe as much as a couple of inches, but that's all.

And Philippe, which formed up a couple of days ago off the the coast of Africa, is not a threat to anybody at this point. Every forecast and computer model shows it veering away to the northeast and just sort of fading out in mid-Atlantic.

It's been a busy hurricane season, we're already up to P and it's still September, but so far no big problem. But we can't let down our guard. The season runs through November. Our first year here we got hit by our first hurricane in mid-October. That was Omar, and not only was the storm late, it came out of nowhere, approaching from the south southwest instead of the east.

So we're keeping our eyes open and fingers crossed. Keeps yours crossed for us – fingers, that is. Not eyes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Random Connections on the Island

Some random thoughts:

Tropical Storm Maria was a total bust. Not that I'm complaining, but after you make a bunch of plans, you feel weirdly cheated if you don't get to use them. Maria was storming towards the Antilles, picking up strength. Then two days before it was due here it just sort of stopped and fell apart. Then the remnants sort of meandered away to the northwest, dropping a bunch of rain on the way. We were still getting rain from what had been Maria four days after the storm was supposed to have come and gone.

You'd have thought the circus came to town. The crowds at the opening of the Home Depot was huge, and it didn't slack off at all. The store opened Wednesday and there were more than 1,000 people there. he parking lot was jammed, and even the adjacent lot had been weed-whacked and took lots of overflow parking. We wandered through but didn't even think about buying anything. The lines at the checkout were insane.

And the crowds didn't seem to abate through Sunday. Every time I drove by the place it was full. You have to understand that people have been waiting for this store for more than four years.

Had a pleasant Talk Like a Pirate Day evening at a restaurant that was new to me. Pirates Tavern is at Salt River Marina. Non-intuitively, it's a Mexican restaurant, but the food's great. We were there in the evening and with a storm brewing we sat out on the deck, maybe 20 feet from a row of tied up boats, watching lightning flicker over the hillside that rose above the far side of the marina.

The only problem I can see with Pirates Tavern is that it's located in an inconvenient spot from where we live. No easy way to get there. But it struck me as such a fantastic place to kill a Saturday afternoon – feet up on the railing, watching the boats and enjoying a cold beer – that we're going to try that some weekend soon.

But almost certainly not this weekend. Because another system is moving towards us out in the Atlantic. This one is likely to become Tropical Storm Ophelia within 24 hours. The computer projections disagree wildly about where it's heading, but a couple have it tracking directly over us. Others have it going far south or far north, So it's really way too early to say, but never too early to start preparing.

Maybe we should make a trip to Home Depot!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Here we go again

Now it's Tropical Storm Maria bearing down on the territory. We expect it to arrive about 24 hours from now, early to mid-morning Saturday.

Shouldn't be a hugely devastating storm – winds around 40, 50 mph. But four to eight inches of rain and the grounds already pretty soaked. Some flooding is likely. And, as I think I've mentioned, there's no storm drains.

So when Tori and Max get home from school this afternoon I'll run out to the store and top off supplies. I'll feel better with more batteries in hand, and one of our five-gallon water jugs needs to be refilled.

Then first thing in the morning I'll check all the windows – no loose jalousies – and then we'll just ride it out. Knowing Tori's excitement we'll probably run out and shoot some video, then try to get it posted before the power goes out. Because the power always goes out.

Oh! Apropos of nothing – I got new glasses yesterday. The first new glasses I've had in five years. Wow! Talk about a whole new world! I didn't realize all I wasn't seeing. Tori almost got tired of hearing me say, "Did that always look like that!"

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Leftover Thoughts

Just a couple of leftover thoughts from the recent passage of Tropical Storm Irene two wees ago and Hurricane Kata passing well to the north of us yesterday.

  • The most annoying thing about the power going out is not the darkness – we've got candles and lanterns and flashlights. It's not the TV or even the Internet being out. We gathered around the table and played cards. And we read a lot. It's not being able to flush the toilets.

    No, we don't have Electric Toilets, although that would be a pretty good name for a rock band. But our water comes from the cistern under the house. Rainwater is funneled off the roof and collected in the cistern. It's pumped up into the house by – you guessed it, didn't you – an electric pump. No electricity, no running water.

    Yes, we can fill the toilet tanks manually. We even have gallons of water stored for just that purpose. But when you don't know how long the power will e out, you don't want to waste it until there's a fair amount of waste. After Hurricane Omar in 2008, we were without power for over three days. Using a bucket and rope to pull water from the cistern to flush toilets gets very old.

    Fortunately we were only without power about 12, 14 hours this time. Not so bad.

  • One of my very favorite words learned since I moved here is jalousie. Almost every house on the islands has windows made of those slates that you crank open or closed. Those are called jalousies. And in the hours before Irene fully arrived, I was touring the house to make sure it was all buttoned down. In the bedrooms, I found that both Max's and Kate's beds were damp because rain had been blowing between the slats that hadn't been cranked down as tightly as they should have been.

    Going back downstairs with my arms full of damp bedding, I remonstrated with them, and came up with an even better band name than electric toilet.

    Ladies and Gentlemen! Give it up for .... Loose Jalousie!

  • Finally, we've had our eyes on Katia for days, and are delighted to report she passed more than 300 miles from here yesterday, just like the forecasters predicted. They don't always do that. Irene, for example, was supposed to pass south of here, but in its last day before arrival veered to the north and came almost over the top.

    Katia was well behaved and stayed where she was supposed to. Now the computer models are predicting she'll veer off to the north and fall apart over the north Atlantic without ever making landfall in the states. Good for her.

    We were supposed to get some big swells yesterday, but out at Dorsch Beach the waves were mild as ever. Maybe they were a little bigger on the northside, at Cane Bay, but probably not There's several islands between us and where Katia went, most notably St. Thomas. It may have gotten some big waves on its north side, but I haven't heard.

    Instead we had sunshine and light breezes. Just another day in paradise. The uncertainty of hurricane season is just the price we pay for getting to live here.
jb

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Irene

It has been a few days since Tropical Storm Irene became Hurricane Irene. We live on St Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Irene formed right over our heads. All through Sunday night we sat in a darkened house while her 50 mph winds and horizontal rain beat a steady hard bass rhythm on our tin roof overhead. And even though she didn't do more than drop several inches of rainwater and mow down some branches and drop a few trees, I am exhausted.

A lot of work goes into being prepared for a hurricane or even a tropical storm, and no matter how much work you do, there will always be something you forgot to do. You have to make sure there is enough food to eat, drinking water and non potable water to flush the toilet when the current (the Crucian word for electricity) goes out. And it will go out. You have to make sure all those chores you need electricity for are completed: clothes washed, dishes washed, (buy paper plates) house clean enough so you don't trip on things stumbling around in the dark, phones, computers, cameras, and game systems all need to be charged. And don't forget to have candles and flashlights in a ready place, as well as a deck of cards or a favorite family board game to pass the time and distract you from the storm outside. A goodly supply of batteries is a must as well.

We found that when the current went out at our house, we had to replace a lot of batteries by candlelight and didn't have enough batteries for our emergency radio. Get gas for your car, gas for your generator and extra cash from the bank - just in case. Remember that ATMs and gas pumps run on electricity, too. And people with pets have as much work to do keeping them comfortable, safe and calm during a big storm.

By the time you think you are finished running errands and prepping the house, car and yard -bringing in all the plants and outdoor furniture, securing trash barrels - the most difficult part begins: the waiting.

Waiting for a potential disaster consumes a lot of energy. Although it makes you feel anxious, it is exciting in a weird way, much like waiting to go to the most popular kid's birthday party, but knowing that raging out of control bully will also be at the party. And he will punch you in the arm. Several times. Hard. He'll probably pants you as well.

With Tropical Storm Irene, the sounds of the storm when it hit full on were frightening. The wind screeched through cracks in the walls and between the spaces in the windows. The rain pummeled without letting up. Tree branches crackled. And it was more intense because everything was so dark.

Tropical Storm Irene was a doozy. And when she passed over us, she was only a lowly tropical storm.

Now, she is a cat 2 hurricane (expected to be cat 3 by 8 a.m. Friday) moving towards North Carolina and other populated Eastern cities. I can't imagine what she will do with even more energy, as she was so angry and intense last week before she grew up.

I would urge anyone in her path to take her seriously. Be safe rather than sorry. Our web video on The Source has had over 45, 000 hits and if you watched it, it can't convey the intensity of what we really felt that night. What the video does show is how quickly it rolled in: Now you don't see her, now you do.

Please, be prepared. Be smart. If you are in her path, get out. If Irene was a maniac as a lowly tropical storm, she is a Super Bitch as a hurricane.

(Written by Tori Baur, posted by John)

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Picture Perfect


Don't know if you can make out the sign in the background. It's the name of the restaurant where this palm tree fell.

Coconuts on the Beach

Just seemed an apt place for a palm tree to have been blown down during Tropical Storm Irene.


Sunday, August 21, 2011

And here comes Irene

(UPDATE – An hour later, and Irene is now a hurricane. Just so you know.)

Alex came to visit this week, and she'll be here until the start of September and we couldn't be happier about it, she's been gone for a year.

BUT – there's an unwelcome stranger knocking on the door, and I'm not talking about the guy who traveled to the island to see Millie. Alex got here just in time for the season's first close approach of a tropical storm.

Irene was upgraded to a tropical storm yesterday and was supposed to pass about 120 miles south of here. Which would have been quite close enough, since tropical storm-force winds extend out about 150 miles. But she wobbled during the night, and that brought her lurching right onto our doorstep so to speak. At this point they're calling for a pass of about 28 miles away. Which is to say, right here.

We're prepared, although now that I think of it we could use a little more in the pantry. We've got plenty of "hurricane food" put away, but you don't want to break into that right away. So a trip to Plaza Extra (grocery store) is next on my to-do list. And make sure everything we've got that takes a battery is completely charged, because it's a sure bet the power is going out. The power always goes out.

We don't expect a lot of damage, although you can never be sure. But it's really annoying, we had plans for the weekend, and they didn't include huddling inside with flashlights while 60 mile and hour winds blow at the windows. Among them, Millie's birthday is tomorrow and since she has to work Monday, she was planning to spend the day at the beach with friends. That ain't happening. Nor is the pirate video shoot we'd planned. We could do it, but it won't be the same in the driving rain.

Anyway, 'tis the season, to borrow a phrase from a completely different context.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I Ain't 'Fraid ah no Jumbie

Last night was the annual Jumbie talk, and Max and I – who went last year – brought Tori along.

I've covered the event twice for the Source. This is the link to this year's story, which was affected by some heavy rain a couple of hours before it was scheduled to start. It's a good story, but last years (linked here) was better, I thought.

A Jumbie is, essentially, a ghost. Or as one guy – a Catholic priest who wrote a book on Jumbie tales – said "Ghost is Yank and jumbie done be Crucian. We got no ghosts in the Virgin Islands."

Anyway, the event is held at a camp up in the rain forest. There's a hike right down the middle of the road, in the dark, where the guide points out haunted spots on the road. There's a dinner of local food, performance by a quelbe band, and, when its good and dark, jumbie stories. Anyone can tell one, but the best are from the old timers. Jumbie stories were a big art of island lore before television and smart phones and the Internet, and the event is a chance to recapture some of that oral tradition.

Tori noticed this first, but when the old timers told a story, it was almost always about a jumbie as a malevolent spirit. "Jumbie gonna get you!" Being chased by jumbies, running away from jumbies, or advice on how to avoid or fool jumbies. Jumbies are apparently kind of stupid. Wear your clothes inside out or backwards and that fools 'em.

Jumbies were something parents used to make their children behave or teach them lessons about what's expected of them in Crucian culture.

But when younger people, especially people who moved here recently from the states, tell about them, it's always a warm fuzzy, very new agey story about spirits. Not nearly as entertaining.

Anyway, we had fun. The rain cut the crowd from about 200 last year to about 60, 70 this year, so there was more than enough food to go around. The organizers made people take extra plates home. And of course it made everything wet, but since there were so few people, there was plenty of space at the picnic tables for everyone, and no need to spread out a blanket on the soggy ground.

And, by the way, jumbie is not to be confused with his benevolent cousin, the moko jumbie, portrayed by stilt dancers in parades and at festivals. The moko jumbie is originally a Trinidad tradition, I believe, a guardian of the village. Because he's so tall, he can see danger coming a long way off.

Just remember that if a jumbie is following you, go into your house and leave 99 grains of rice on the porch. The jumbie, who is apparently also an obsessive-compulsive, will have to count them, and spend so much time trying to find the 100th grain that he'll forget all about you. They also don't like lime, garlic or salt.

Just in case, you know?

Sunday, August 7, 2011

That was a mistake

Well that must have surprised anyone who happened on it while it was briefly online.

I posted Mark's 46th chapter of a story he and I are writing on a different blog, but instead of putting it where it belonged I posted it here. If you're a follower of Island Time you might have briefly been aware of the chapter on this blog. I deleted it and put it back where it belongs. So everyone move along. Nothing to see here.

And why was I posting Mark's blog? About the time Google acquired Blogspot and required you to have a Google address to use it, it all got too complicated for him. He is NOT my co-worker with whom I once had the following real conversation:

Co-worker – The printer is broken.

Me – It's not broken. It's out of paper.


Co-worker – Well that's broken to me!


But he's not a lot more comfortable with anything more technical than a bottle opener. And that's really all it is. Comfort. Mark is as smart as anyone I know. He just prefers his comfort zone. And who can blame him?

Anyway, you might want to go over to "The Curacao Caper" on The Ships Log o' the Festering Boil and see what's up with the story. I figure the caper has about three chapters before it's done.

jb

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Where's Emily?

After days of preparing for Emily, the tropical weather system that was churning towards us across the Atlantic, we were braced for whatever she might throw at us. And all the forecasts had her strengthening into a pretty good storm, and coming right over the top of us.

But over the weekend, when it should have been organizing, it didn't. And then the track shifted south, so it looked as if it would be passing about a hundred miles south of us. Not that we're complaining. Just because you think you're ready for something doesn't mean you want it.

Emily finally did reach the designation tropical storm Monday, and Tuesday passed about a hundred miles south of here. Sine rain and wind. That's it. Here is the video we shot of it and posted for the Source.

The photo shows pelicans lw over the waves, battling the wind from Emily Tuesday afternoon near Good Hope.

Emily was good practice for August and September – the heart of the hurricane season. Becase you don't want to wait until the storm is on tp of you to get ready. She was a wakeup call. Out here you just never know what's coming for you across the ocean.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Rainin' to beat hell

Just a note - a tropical wave is passing through with rain to beat hell and thunder and really impressive lightning.

Flood watch (not warning) in effect through Sunday. No place I have to go tomorrow, so I'm not going anywhere. Very small chance of this system developing onto anything bigger.

Maybe I'll even get some work done! Although Losing power is a good bet.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Sun Also Rises – Twice

Couple of weeks ago I was driving Millie to work at the crack of dawn. Literally. That's the whole point of the story. We left the house before sunrise.

She works at a patisserie near Sunny Isle and once a week has to open, so since we only have the one car, once a week I have to get up damn early and drive her to work.

So anyway, we're driving down the highway when it happened. We saw the sun rise twice. Absolutely true.

It's easier to visualize than to explain, ut ll do my best. We were near the end of the highway, it rolls up and down the feet of a couple of hills. In the near distance there was another hill certainly not a mountain, I'm guessing a coupe of hundred feet high at most. It was less than two miles away. And the stretch of road we were on was shorter by maybe a hundred feet, maybe less. Got it more or less in your head? I'm probably explaining this badly. Sorry.

At 5:48 a.m. we approached the end of the highway, the highest point of the trip. The hill ahead was still taller than where we were, but not by much. And as we neared the top, the sun rose over the hill. I noticed because we were driving due east and it burned a hole in my eyeballs.

Then we topped the rise and started down, and as we descended I could see again because the sun dropped back down behind the hill. Or the relative position of the hill, our car and the sun put the hill between us.

Moments later we drove up the gentle grade to the traffic light at Sunny Isles (some of the worst traffic on the island at midday, hardly any at 6 a.m.) And as we climbed – and as the earth spun, of course – the sun popped back up over the hill.

Tried to repeat the experience, but we mistimed once and got there too soon, and there were clouds the other. But I'm going to keep trying, because that was pretty cool.

My first day with two sunrises.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Anniversary and Mangoes

This is the three-year anniversary of our move here. I'd actually gotten off the plane the day before with Alex, Kate, Millie and a pissed off cat. On July 1 I met Tori at the airport with Max and Janet.

It's been great and we have no regrets, except that we miss friends and it's hard to travel anywhere from here. On the other hand, we live here, why would we travel? It's like the ads we've been seeing on TV urging us to plan a vacation in Michigan, or Nebraska or Missouri. WE LIVE IN THE VIRGIN ISLANDS!!! We may visit any or all of those places at some point – as a matter of fact I've traveled through two of the three in my life. Bu I cannot imagine the circumstances under which I would choose to leave my tropical island for a vacation on the plains.

Last weekend was the annual Mango Melee. It was one of the first events we went to when we got here three years ago. This year I covered it (again – also covered it in 2009) for the Source. It was something of a milestone. None of the kids wanted to go, so for the first time ever, the Baurs' Fun Family Outing was just me and Tori. And you know what, it was nice.

A video I shot for the Source is online here.

The mango eating contest actually was kinda exciting, neck and neck. And next year Tori is thinking of entering the Mango Dis, Mango Dat cooking competition because it looks like fun.

Anyway, it was way too long since my last post. I'll do better.

(July 23 - Just noticed and fixed a really stupid typo.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pretty Good

We were sitting on the beach yesterday watching a squall move over the water, the sun poking fingers of light through the clouds, when Tori laughed.

"What?" I asked.

She pointed out at the beautiful scene and said, "If this is as good as it gets, this is pretty damn good!"

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Here It Comes

Very exciting times. Every time I drive out to Sunny Isles, I pass where they're building a Home Depot store. It'll be open by fall and we couldn't be more excited.

Why is it exciting that they're building another big box store? Understand first that there aren't a lot of places to buy things you need here on St. Croix. There's two Kmarts, which I find myself in two or three times a week. Want shampoo, or paper products, or cat food or socks or vitamins? Kmart is pretty much your only choice. There are a couple of decent grocery stores, but no other choices for general "stuff."

There's an Office Max at Sunny Isles, it opened about year before we moved here. I'm told people were so excited they actually made a day of it, going out to see what the store carried. It's pretty good for a lot of the office supply stuff. But unless you're looking for very basic stuff, they never seem to have what you need. I was recently there looking at laptop computers. They have a whole display of them, a dozen or so models all set up to look at. But they don't have a single one to sell - and couldn't tell me when they're likely to! Same with cameras when I was looking for one. I'd like to look at that one Don't have it. How about that one? Not in stock. That one? Also not in stock. I finally was able to buy my fifth choice.

There are several hardware stores on island, but only one worth going to. Gallows Bay Hardware is good, but it's in a difficult place to get to. This is a small island, but depending on traffic, it can take as long as 40 minutes to drive there, which is kind of a pain in the ass. It's also one of the few stores on island with good customer service.

You want terrible customer service? Kmart is your place.

So here comes Home Depot. They had actually announced it was coming in early 2008, but then the economy went sour and their plans were delayed. During last year's gubernatorial election the challenger made a big deal about how it was never going to be built and it was the current governor's fault. Didn't help his campaign when they broke ground two weeks before the election.

So I've been watching. The grading and foundation seemed to take forever, then suddenly the walls flew up. About six weeks ago, driving by at dusk, was the first time I saw lights on inside. I can't tell you how cool that was.

Yes, Home Depot will probably be a problem for some of the existing hardware stores. The one out here on the west side will probably survive, because it's the only one out here if you need something simple and obvious. And Gallows Bay will survive, because it's much handier to people from the east side, and has a well-earned reputation for service and a loyal following. If it was easy to get to I'd go there all the time. They've also been planning for years how to survive Home Depot.

The others will be in trouble, and I can't work up a lot of sympathy. The biggest one on the island is terrible. I've never been able to find what I'm looking for there, or anyone to help me find it. You see people in the aisle with name tags and they either ignore you or run the other way.

Maybe that's the best thing about Home Depot coming. My experience with Home Depot in the states is that service is key. I like a hardware store where you know generally what you need to do and they can't wait to tell you how to do it, and what you'll need. When Home Depot opens in the fall, locals will treat it like a trip to Disneyland. I certainly will. I've already warned the kids that all Christmas presents this year will be bought at Home Depot.

But its biggest impact might be if they can bring that idea of customer service and instill it in the local employees. That'll be the gift that keeps on giving.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

'Toot!' Cut Right In!

"Why did the Crucian honk his horn?"

I looked over at Tori, in the passenger seat. She was staring straight ahead, with that smile that said she'd come up with a good one.

"I don't know, Tori," I said. "Why did the Crucian honk his horn?"

"Because he was driving."

Honking horns are nothing new. In lots of places people seem to steer with their hands plastering down on the horn. But in almost everyplace else in the world, it's either aggressive, impatient or a warning. "Get out of my way, jerk!" "Can't you see the light has changed, idiot!" "Don't even think about pulling into this lane you moron! I'm drivin' here!"

On St. Croix, and probably elsewhere in the Caribbean but this is what I know, it's different.

First, you have to understand that there is only one multi-lane road on the island. The Melvin Evans Highway boast two lanes east and two lanes west. All the rest have room for only one lane in either direction, and many don't really have that much room but they painted a line down the middle anyway.

The point being, the roads can get crowded and if you're on a side street waiting to get acoss traffic or just turn into traffic, there are times and places - especially early morning or between 5 and 6 p.m. – where you could be waiting a
long time.

Except for Crucuan driving courtesy. You can pull up to a stop sign on a cross street of a busy line of traffic extending out of sight, and can rest assured that someone will stop, toot their horn (or flash their lights, but horn tooting is far more common) and let you go. Honestly I think it's very rare that I've had to wait more than a minute, no matter how heavy the traffic has been.

I can't do the horn toot. Whenever I've tried, it sounds to me a little too loud, to aggressive. So I go wth the light flash. Tori does the horn perfectly.

And, yes, I have heard an aggressive, "the light has changed, idiot" car horn once in a while – three times, maybe four, in the almost three years I've been here. Usually, almost always, the tooting of car horns is the melody of the road, a polite musical accompaniment to the morning commute.

So at various times a car horn honk can mean:

Go ahead and cut in front of me please.

Thank you for letting me cut in front of you.

Hello friend! I haven't seen you since yesterday!

Look! My car is equipped with a horn!

Sometimes someone will stop to let you turn in front of them or cross traffic when there's no one behind them for a quarter mile. All they have to do is pass on by and you can do whatever it was you intended to do in perfect safety. But the whole driving courtesy is so engrained in them that they can't not. And it does no good to wave at them or blink your lights to suggest they have the right of way. They will not move until you turn out. Not always, but it happens at least once a week to me.

Because they just want to be polite. And really, there's nothing wrong with that.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sunday Surprise

I put down the book I was reading, "And Another Thing," by Eoin Colfer, and looking out at Tori, Max and our friend Alan in the water decided to join them.

It was Sunday afternoon and we were at Ha'penny Beach, a beach on the southside we'd heard was the nicest on the island. It was nice, a white beach circling a perfect little bay. But the nicest beach on the island? I mean, how do you choose? It's a small island, but it's almost all beach.

Still, it was the first weekend of spring break and we decided to try a different beach than our usual one – Dorsch Beach, a three-minute drive from our house – as an adventure.

The water was shallow and you could wade a long way out. I was waist deep and still about 20 feet away from Tori, who was about shoulder deep, when a shadow passed over the water between us.

It was a bright day, hardly a cloud in the sky. The shadow was small but distinct. I wish I could say that, like Aragorn in "The Fellowship of the Ring," I had realized immediately that it was moving swiftly, and against the wind. I admit, it was only later that I realized the shadow was moving west to east, while the breeze was coming from the east. At the moment, all I realized was that it was all wrong to have been cast by something passing between the sun and the surface of the water.

It was something big under the water, passing right between us.

Tori realized it right away, and it made her jump.


"Ray!" she shouted. And no, she didn't mean a Corvette Sting Ray or one of those bikes with the banana seat and butterfly handles. This was a ray, a flat, diamond shape fish, about four feet from tip to tip.


Tori has seen them in the water before. She snorkels, and has found herself more than once passing over one. She gives them a respectful distance. She has also noticed them noticing her, and circling underneath her as if trying to decide whether she posed a threat or would be good to eat.

This
one had apparently been enjoying a snooze on the sandy bottom (a good name for a rock band) when it was annoyed by the sudden presence of a school of people splashing about. So it took off in a huff.

It
had been closer to her than to me, but since there was only about 10 feet between us, it was a tight fit. And a little alarming, I admit. He swam away, but Tori and I decided maybe we'd get out of the water for a bit.

Max and Alan (he's the 19-year-old we've known since Tori's first on-island teaching job) weren't in the least fazed by the experience, so they stayed out. And Tori and I both went back out in the water, though I admit I didn't wade out as far as I had. And none of the other 30 or so people at the beach had noticed a thing or showed any concern if they had.


That's all it was. A thing. The sort of event that happens from time to time when you live in the tropics and go in the water. And if you don't go in the water, what's the point of living in the tropics? Other than the rum, I mean.


We stayed at Ha'penny about another hour, as the sun worked down the sky. Being a sunny Sunday, the beach was "crowded" by St. Croix standards – I counted 38 people in the water or on the sand in that almost mile stretch of beach.

Here's the other thing about St. Croix's south-facing beaches. From any of the north beaches you can usually see St. Thomas, sometimes St. John and even up to Tortola in the BVI. From the western beaches, on a clear day you can see all the way to Vieques, the island just off the southeast coast of Puerto Rico.

From the south, it's nothing but blue, bending horizon from the east to west. There's nothing to see but the occasional ship and Venezuela about 500 miles to the south.


Staring out to sea at the deep blue of the Caribbean, I shook my head again. How did we get so lucky?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cheesey Ecstasy

Four things we most missed about living in Oregon –

• Friends, of course.

• The Oregon Shakespeare Festival. A great theater experience, and one that, when I was still a reporter for a daily newspaper in the state, I got free tickets to. It was terrific, and I still read the reviews of their productions and wish I was there "on the bricks."

• Two businesses - Les Schwab Tires (they give you meat when you buy tires! and they always come running – literally running – when you pull up. They also repair tires free, even if you didn't buy it from them) and Oil Can Henry's. Two places where customer service is alive and well.

• And the blocks of Tillamook Mediom Cheddar cheese. My favorite cheese, made in Tillamook Oregon. I'm not a big cheese guy, but it's far and away my favorite. Here on the island we were reduced to the mass produced Kraft cheddar, not the same thing at all.

Well guess what we just found at one of the local stores. Not our friends or Oil Can Henry's. Two pound blocks of Tillmook, and less expensive than the Kraft!

It's been 10 days since Tori spotted it at Cost-U-Less (an interesting take on Costco, which I also miss,) and we've gone through about six pounds. I'm sure the novelty will at some point wear off, but it will still be delicious!

Grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner, anyone?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thank God for Bill

This is where I was supposed to tell you about this year's St. Patrick's Day Parade in Christiansted. It's a great event, and for the third year in a row I was designed to cover it for the Source. Here's the video I did for last year's parade.

Instead, I'll tell you about this year's flat tire.

The schedule laid out perfectly. I had to get Millie to work at 10 a.m., giving me plenty of time to get to Christiansted, park, and amble over to the parade, slated to start at 11 (which on this island usually means about 12, 12:30.) We headed off down the highway at about 9:30, and I hadn't gone a mile before I heard an odd sound. No sooner had I voiced the question, "What's that?" than the sound changed, became unmistakable. I had a flat on the rear driver's side. By the time I could convince traffic to stop pulling around me (because I was slowing down in the faster lane) and let me over to the broad shoulder of the road, the tire was shredded. Fortunately I hadn't damaged the rim yet.

Naturally I have a spare, one of those doughnut tires you use in an emergency. I'd had an emergency about five months ago, and the doughnut was now flat, with an obvious hole.

So I called my co-worker Bill Kossler. Bill is the St. Croix assignment editor. He also lives on the west end, like we do, and we seem to take turns having absurd car problems. The day he sent an e-mail saying he couldn't make it to a story because "my hood blew off," I e-mailed back, "You win."

I told him the situation and suggested he call Taylor, a young guy who moved here about seven months ago from Arizona, to cover the parade. Then I asked if he could come by, pick up me, Millie and the flat tire and take me around to where I could get a new one.

He said sure. No problem.

In the wait I decided to remove the flat so we'd be ready when he got there. Five lug nuts. All tight and my lug wrench is short so I couldn't get much leverage, but by bouncing on the end I quickly had four of the five loosened.

The fifth turned out to be a problem. Not because it was unnaturally tight, but because it was a slightly different size than the other four and the lug wrench wouldn't fit over it.

How the hell does that happen? I had bought the two back tires in – I believe – October, and all I can guess is that when they put the tire on they simply fished around and found the wrong bolt. Who knows?

A police officer stopped by to see if he could help, but his lug wrench didn't fit either. Then – and this amazed me – he ran off to see if a guy he knows living nearby might have a different one.

In his absence, Bill arrived (in his dark green Malibu with the tan hood) and – Wonder of wonders! – he had a tire iron! You know the kind, a steel X with a different sized lug wrench on each end. They give you options and all the leverage you'll ever need. Within a trice (no more than a trice and a half) the tire was off. At which point the officer showed back up, smiling that his friend had a tire iron as well! But he expressed pleasure that the situation was on its way to being resolved, and drove off. Nice guy. I know the police in the territory sometimes have a bad reputation. All I know is that the three times I have had non-reporter interactions with them I have found them courteous, helpful and really nice guys. Even the one who wrote me a ticket. After all, I was in the wrong and he wasn't an asshole about it.

So not to drag this out much longer, Bill drove us around to the place he gets tires, what he called "the most reliable of the cheap places, or the cheapest of the reliable places," (I had bought my current tires at a place whose primary asset is it is "the closest to my house.") and I eventually got a new tire on. Bill had even stopped to get cash in case the place didn't take credit cards - which it did. But it was nice of him to think of it anyway.

By the time I got the new tire on it was well after 11 and Tyler was on the scene at the parade. So I took Millie to work (she was late of course) and drove home.

Tyler did a fine job of covering the parade – it's hard not to love it. The parade is a bizarre mix of island and Irish that has to be seen to be believed. Well, I missed it this year but I'll be back for it next year.

And I'll have a spare tire AND a tire iron in back, just in case. And Bill on speed dial.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dear Foxmorton



After sending out the call for pirates to join us this weekend for Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers, I got this message from an old friend, Mimi Foxmorton, who lives and borrows goats in upstate New York where apparently the weather hasn't been idyllic.

"Dear Asshole,

Greetings from gray, freezing fecking perpetually sunless CNY.

Hope you St. Croixians had a fabulous time.

Don't forget the SPF. I hear sunshine can be a bitch though personally I wouldn't have a clue.

Carry on.

love & kisses

Foxmorton the Pale and Sober"


Hi, Mimi. How're the goats?

First, we on St. Croix refer to ourselves not as St. Croixians but as Crucians. Oddly we refer to things from St. Croix as Cruzan (like the rum.) BUT they're both pronounced the same way, so unless it's a written conversation it's hard to know whether you're referring to a person or a bottle of rum, and often immaterial.

Now, I'm afraid, it gets worse – at least worse from your perspective. Friday at Cheeseburgers was absolutely great. Tom Mason isn't just a songwriter, singer and guitar virtuouso, he's a terrific enertainer. The nine costumed pirates in the crowd were a colorful addition to the proceedings, as always, not to mention quite startling to the large gathered audience. Tom (I call him Tom now, we're buddies, even facebook friends!) knows how to play a crowd. Most of his pirate songs (from his new album, "Tom Mason and the Blue Buccaneers") have choruses that the audence can bellow along with, which is really the best way to enjoy pirate music, pounding yer mug on the table (beer mug, not your face, although I admit I've never tried the latter.)

For "Throw Me In the Drink," he invited the Crucian pirate contingent onstage to sing the chorus with him, and that was a blast, easily the highlight of the evening as far as we were concerned. When you watch the video (it'll be a couple of days to cut together) you'll even hear some of us going up in high harmony. It's been too long since I shared a stage with Tori, and though it was just a few minutes, damn it was fun!

Another great moment was when he asked for requests. There were two, the classic chanty, "Drunken Sailor," and "Free Bird." He attempted to do them as a medley, although neither he nor the woman who requested "Drunken Sailor" knew many of the words. But "Free Bird" bellowed out as a pirate was priceless! Yes, it'll be on the video. Coming soon!

So a time was had by all. But wait! There's more!

Cheeseburgers (And by the way, it's not just a clever name. they make a great cheeseburger. I prefer mine without cheese, and the cheese I prefer it without is Swiss, but it's still a hell of a hunk of meat, which coincidentally is ... never mind.)

My point is, Cheeseburgers wasn't their only gig on this island tour. They played Saturday night, then Sunday afternoon at Rainbows, which is right on the beach. We wore what I call "pirate lite," because it was quite warm and sunny and the place is open air. Did you hear that, upstate New York? Warm and sunny, open air. Too warm for full pirate gear. Just sayin'

The show was supposed to start at 4. We got there a few minutes late. The stage was all set up for them, but there were no musicians. We ordered beers, which took forever, the place was crowded, and still no band. It was about 15 minutes later that this guy walked up out of the ocean, towelling himself off. It was Tom. I asked if he was concerned about being wet and shorting out on the electrical equipment, but he was pretty calm about it. As he finished drying off and started throwing on his pirate rig over his damp shorts, drummer Paul and bass player Lorne rolled out of the surf, dried off, and the show got under way. What a great gig!

They were joined this time by two local musicians whose names I didn't get, both percussionists, couple of older guys who really knew their stuff. Paul told me later, "Yeah, they were great. I really had to work. I was like, 'Damn, I've gotta be good!'" And they added SO much to the music.

Tom and the band don't have three hours of pirate music, so they interspersed some of their older stuff and an occasional novelty song, including "Sugar, Sugar" (well, they make rum from sugar, and it was a prized commodity pirates seized, so it fit) and "Last Night I Got Loaded." And once again we pirates were back on stage to sing the "Rum diddy" chorus of "Throw Me In the Drink." I think I've got the hang of it, now. Although both times we made sure Millie was closest to the mike, because of all of us Crucian pirates, she's the one who can sing.

Speaking of singing, there was an older guy in the crowd – damn, he must have been as old as me! – who was just hanging out, and then suddenly Tom was calling him up on stage. The story, as I later got it from Tom, was that this guy had come for a vacation from New York in January and sort of forgot to go home, and who could blame him? Tom had heard him singing on the Christiansted boardwalk and invited him out to Rainbows to join them onstage.

He was introduced as "Big Papa," that's all the name I've got for him, and he sang one number, a blues song called "Crosscut Saw," full of wonderful double entendre. Man! He was good! I didn't realize what was up at first, but as soon as I heard the first couple of lines I was on my feet, with my camera, and caught about 90 percent of it on video. It'll be posted this week. And Tom's blues guitar licks were smokin'!

They wound up as the sun went down over the Caribbean. No "green flash," there was a band of clouds right on the horizon, but other than that, it was an almost perfect evening.

Anyway, that was my weekend (with some actual work filling up Saturday from 9 a.m. to about 10 p.m., so you can't have everything.) How was your weekend, Foxmorton?

jb


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Nothing New, Just a Nice Pic


Nothing to add, just had another pic from Monday at the beach that I wanted to share.

This is the section of beach we almost always go to. Dorsch Beach, about a mile south of Frederiksted proper (as if there's anything proper about Frederiksted.)

We've always been beachophiles. Trips to Newport on the Oregon coast were practically a monthly event for us. Packing up the kids and usually the dog and the car and bringing a picnic lunch, then driving from Albany through Corvallis and Philomath and up into the coast range past a bunch of towns you've never heard of and even if you lived there probably never saw, until we finally came down out of the hills and the kids would lean forward staring to be the first to shout "I see the ocean!" Took about an hour, and when you got there it was always cold and usually rainy (very picturesque) and the water was a couple of degrees above freezing, Just talking off your shoes and wading was literally painful.

This stretch of beach is three minutes from our front door. Millie sometimes walks, but usually calls for a ride home because it's almost all uphill. The sun is almost always shining, there's hardly anyone on the beach, seriously, most days you can look up and down the beach a hundred yards and on a crowded day see a dozen people, maybe 18. And the water is as warm as a bathtub most days. You can see that catamaran I was talking about in the background.

Like I said, not much to add. Just wanted to post the picture.

jb

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

And How Was YOUR Weekend?

Good weekend. Nothing huge or explosive. Actually quite the contrary.

The annual Ag Fest was this weekend, and I drew the straw and covered the opening day, Saturday. Ag Fest is just like what it sounds like, with a Crucian twist. It's St. Croix's answer to every county fair or 4-H gathering you've ever been to (and as a reporter on a string of small newspapers, I assure you I've been to plenty.) No elephant ears, but Johnny Cake, which are essentially big lumps of fried dough. Didn't see any deep-fried Snickers, but I'll bet there's no county fair anywhere in the Pacific Northwest featuring kalaloo or fungi.

The opening ceremonies were interminable, and as the reporter covering for the Source I had to be there. First, it started late. Let's be honest. Everything here starts late unless I happen to arrive late, in which case it miraculously starts on time. But since the 9:30 opening parade didn't start until 10:10, there wasn't much chance for the ceremony, which started at 1034 by my clock. By 11 they had introduced all the speakers and the various other officials and high muckety mucks and ... well, basically everyone there. By 11:30 they had finally presented the first award. I got a picture, and realized I had neglected to charge my camera. So, with all the information I needed in the program I'd bought at the gate, I wandered away for a while and joined Tori, who had dispaired of my ever leaving the stage area. We went off to explore.

I don't know if it's the nature of fairs or the nature of farm people. but this fair looked a lot like the Union County Fairs I used to cover in La Grande back in 1980. You want cows? They got cows. You want chickens or rabbits or goats? They got chickens and rabbits and goats. They've got the exhibition hall filled with displays by all the local schools illustrating the fair's theme. There was plenty of fresh produce to buy (we scored a bunch of great tomatoes) and merchants selling all kinds of stuff, from local crafts to clothes to music to you name it. And booths by local agencies, utilities, government groups etc. each eager to tell their story to anyone who made the mistake of slowing down while walking by.

We scored 16 pencils and pends, thee water bottles, three sewing kits, four tote bags, two note pads, some hand sanitizer and some information that will come in handy for Max's science fair project. It was fun. And Tori bought my birthday present, which I will endeavor to be surprised about on Wednesday.

As we prepared to leave we had to walk by the stage area, where I heard the governor starting his speech. He was the last speaker on the agenda for the opening ceremony. It was finay ending, two and a half hours after it began. They've got some serious tolerance for public speaking on this island. So I went back, listened, got a few more quotes and the other information I needed, and we left.

Sunday we wasted the day. And I mean, seriously wasted it. Except for driving around taking Millie to work and Max to a friend's house, we mostly sat and watched the entire second season of HIMYM. I worked editing for the Source that night, but if you asked what I did Sunday, I'd tell you "not much, and it felt great."

And Monday we spent the morning at the beach. Read a great book and got a little too much sun doing it.

There was a cruise ship dominating the seascape from where we were, about a mile or so from the pier. It's been a good year for cruise ships, Monday's was the third in a row. The bring in a couple of thousand (or more) tourists for a day who drop their money and enjoy the island. The population of Frederksted more than doubles while they're here. Sitting there watching it (and watching the tourists strolling down the beach, we commented again how these people had spent a year, sometimes much more than a year, to take a cruise to visit the island for a day. And we get to live here 24/7/365.

As I watched the cruise ship, I saw a catamaran come around the corner to seaward of the big ship. All its sails were set and it was making really good time. Within minutes it was directly off shore of us, dropping its sails. They threw out an anchor and became part of our backdrop. If the two, I'd much rather sail on a catamaran than a cruise ship. I don't like umbrellas in my drink.

Anyway, the photo attached shows Tori in the water with the cruise ship in the background and the cat to the left (south, for you geography nuts.) I kept shifting my position to get the boat directly behind Tori, but it was too fast. I finally settled for the image you see. It shows enough, I think.

Just another day in paradise.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sign of the Times

Driving home after taking Millie to work a few minutes ago, I was sitting at a stop light and saw one of the lanes ahead closed by traffic cones. There was a sign that said:

Slow Down
Machine Ahead


And I thought, as I'm sure you did, "Ah, the slow-down machine! THAT'S why things proceed at such a leisurely pace around here."

Couple of months ago I saw one similar. It said

Slow
Workers
Ahead


You can guess what I mentally did with that one.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Life is Good for Max, Too


I was not the only member of the family that spent an afternoon on the water this week. In fact Max, who is now 12, will be on the water every afternoon this week.

The sixth grade at the Good Hope School is spending the afternoons on Roseway, a 137-foot schooner built in 1920 in New England. Roseway is part of the World Ocean School. During late spring, summer and early fall she's in Boston. She winters in St. Croix, where she's available for educational purposes. The photo shows her at anchor in Christiansed Harbor, just off the fort.

Max and his classmates go out to Gallows Bay (what a great name!) at noon, board and set sail. Literally – the kids haul the lines and set the sails. So far they've been learning knots, navigation and the importance of Dramamine.

The taxi vans bring the kids back to school around 4, and they ooze off like a barrel of cold syrup, exhausted, but excited and ready to go back the next day.

How come we didn't have educational programs like this when I was in school? Oh yeah, wait. I went to elementary school in Chicago. If we'd had anything like this it would have been conducted on The Loop, not a schooner.

Maybe I can get Max to write something about the experience, but so far he's been so wiped out when he gets home he pretty much eats dinner and goes to bed. But he's up and rarin' to go the next morning.

You can read more about Roseway and her history here, and the World Ocean School here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Life is Good



Sometimes that's all you can say. Life is good.

Monday morning I got an e-mail about a lionfish trapping project taking place at the Frederiksted Pier. I'm including a link to the story I wrote so I don't have to give a lot of background. If you don't want to read it (it's an interesting story, I think) just remember lionfish = bad.

The message gave a time of from 1 to 3 p.m.

I didn't know what to expect, but I figured a short little spiel for the press. They'd show off the traps, give the "lionfish = bad" rap, answer a few questions and go to work. So I drove down to the pier after lunch. Got there at 1 p.m. on the dot, but forgot to factor in parking. Ended up having to park three blocks away, and walked onto the huge concrete cruise ship pier at 1:07.

And saw a dive boat pulling away. Literally, 30 seconds later and I'd have been right there. But in life as in comedy, timing is everything. Assuming that was the lionfish project, I had just missed them.

I stood thee and stared, waving a little, hoping someone might glance back. Another boat pulled up to the pier, this a small, yellow inflatable motorized kayak looking thing. A young guy, mid-20s, got out and tied up.

"Do you know if that's the lionfish project out there?" I asked, pointing to the dive boat, which seemed to be stationary, about 100 feet off the end of the pier.

"Yeah," he said.

"Damn," I said.

He looked at me funny and I explained I was a reporter who had just missed my story.

"I can take you out to them," he said.

"Great! Let's go."

I scrambled down into his boat, which he explained was used for diving, and was designed for Navy SEALs, which would explain the large opening in the bow. The SEALs could enter the water without having to go over the side. He zipped it up, and we were off. The photo shows the nose of our boat with the dive boat dead ahead. That's what the picture shows, the approach to the dive boat.

Just moments later we were circling the dive boat, where a couple of the people aboard recognized me and waved us over. With permission to come aboard, I transferred my phone and camera to the safer Velcro pockets of my cargo paints and reached for the proffered hand that helped me step up into the dive boat. It turned out the hand belonged to a friend of Millie's, MacKenzie MacQueen. She's a senior at Good Hope, and a certified diver. The trapping project is actually her project for the school science fair, which is a very big deal at GHS.

Along for the ride were her dad Neil, who I've met before and is an interesting guy, the young lad Alex, another friend of Millie's from GHS, Dr. Coles from Fish and Wildlife, the guy piloting the boat, and another diver, Pete, hereinafter referred to as "the ancient mariner," not that he's any older than me, probably not quite as old and certainly in better shape. He's a real lionfish zealot, says he's personally killed more than 14,000 of the bastards.

The whole project is described in the article linked to above and I won't bother going over all that here. I could have shot the whole thing from the pier, watching as they circled around dropping the traps in specific locations, and gotten the information after they came back, or in a phone call.

But who wouldn't want to spend a chunk of the afternoon out on the water, sun shining but a breeze keeping the temp down. The water so damn blue I can't describe it. It was as bright as the blue of a particularly clean swimming pool, but a much darker shade.

And this way I got the story in a casual way, in bits and snatches of conversation rather than a more formal interview – not that there's anything terribly formal about my interviewing style. My very favorite interview of all time was when I got to interview a Nobel-prize winning physicist and started our talk by saying, "I have no idea what you do." He was so startled by my candor – and such a gentleman – that he tried really hard to explain his work and what it meant. Really nice guy.

But back to the point, they kept trying to convince me that I had to take up diving. I kept explaining that I'm not much of a swimmer, that if I go in the water and don't drown, that counts as swimming for me. They claimed that you don't have to know how to swim to be able to scuba, but it sure seems to me like something you ought to know before you take up diving. Maybe I'm missing something, but you're in the water, right? Like, way underneath it? I'm not convinced.

Anyway, in no time at all the traps were in the water and we headed back to the pier.

Being a reporter has its plus sides. Along with the usual crap, I've got to watch a couple of rocket launches, interview some celebrities and high muckety muck politicians and that Nobel winner and walk through a forest fire with a firefighting team. Met a lot of interesting people in interesting places. Got into Disneyland free several times.

But I'd have to put that hour on the water up there with any of it. Even given the serious subject matter (lionfish = bad) it was just a great, great way to spend the afternoon. And I got a good story out of it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Doppleganger


So who is that in the picture on the left? Me, or that other guy?

I mentioned earlier that on several instances since arriving on St. Croix I had been mistaken for another guy who apparently looks just like me. His name is Winegar, presumably that's his last name. People have called out the name to me as I drove by, walked up and asked if I remembered them, people who thought they had worked with me (him) sometime in the past.

They're convinced I'm him, surprised – even shocked – when they find out I'm not.

Well, it's still going on. It's happend three more times just since the first of the year, bringing the number of "Winegar incidents" to well over a dozen. I am, of course, guessing about the spelling of the name based on the pronunciation.

Here's what I know about him so far, based on what people have said when trying to prove they know me/him:

• He's got two sisters in Phoenix.

• He worked for a while at the Animal Welfare Center

• He worked more recently at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. May still work there.

• He appears to play a musical instrument, although I don't know what.

• He seems to be a nice guy, very friendly. No one has ever come up to me with a scowl and behaved angry, as if they had mistaken me for some jerk. No, it's always with a smile, as if they're glad to seem him after a long time. No one has ever shook his fist at me or demanded the money Winegar owes him. They're always happy to see him, or they would be if I were him.

And he must just be handsome as hell. After all, he looks just like me, apparently.

The obvious thing for me to do is call DPNR and ask if he still works there. If he does, ask to speak to him and settle this once and for all. But quite frankly I'm afraid to.

What if he does look just like me, but he turns out to be – by any objective standard – funny looking, odd, or old or fat or – you know – ugly? What would I do then? Do I want to take that chance?

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Top Ten List


With apologies to both Dave Barry and Dave Letterman, here is The Top Ten List of things you see or hear often on the island of St. Croix that would also make a good name for a band.




10) Copulating Lizards

9) Sea Glass

8) Sheck Sheck and Flamboyant

7) Wild Dogs

6) Roadkill Iguana

5) Feral Chicken

4) Pothole

3) Dead Horse in the Water

2) Leatherbacks


And the No. 1 thing you see or hear a lot on-island that would make a good name for a band is –


1) I Smell Pot









Tuesday, February 1, 2011

It's That Time of Year

I'm really not an asshole. Really. I'm actually considered a very nice guy, sympathetic, caring.

But this is the time of year when I particularly enjoy having made the move to St. Croix.

When I'm in the car, listening to the radio, and someone from Oklahoma City says the snow is already up to her knees, I chuckle. When I hear that Chicago (where I was born and lived my first 10 years of life) is bracing for one of the 10 worst snowstorms in its history, I get a warm glow inside. I hear from our friend Larry in Nashville (where I lived five years) that he's expecting snow again there, I commiserate, but I can't help smiling. And when I check the weather in Oregon (where I lived more than 20 years) and see that the temp is 47 and might make it all the way up to 50 today, and it's raining (as if a cold rain in Oregon in February is news – a cold rain in Oregon in February was what made us decide to move here) I feel a deep, deep sense of satisfaction.

Granted, I don't get much kick out of the news from Los Angeles (lived in SoCal 10 years,) where the temp will be in the mid-60s again today. I've got to check the news about freeway traffic and earthquake predictions to get the same smug, self-righteous, innsufferable satisfaction, as if I'm somehow responsible for the weather here.

Right now, at 8:40 a.m., the temp on St. Croix is 77, and is expected to be about 84 by midafternoon. It's always about 84 by midafternoon. There's not a cloud in the blue, blue sky. Tonight's low is forecast at 72, which is a little chilly for these parts.

Sorry – I really, really am not an asshole. Making those comparisons is sort of the point. Yes, there are problems and occasional challenges to living here, but none of them have to do with snowstorms. I promise to write about one of them really soon, if that'll make you feel better.

Or wait until August and September. You can all get back to me while I'm sweating out another hurricane season. Except in parts of the U.S. you'll be sweltering in 100 + heat, and the headlines wll be about heatwaves, and here it'll be about 84 by midafternoon. I'll take that.