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.

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.

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?