Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Exodus

All is not happy in paradise. Ever since the announcement of Hovensa's closing, the other shoe drops, and drops, and drops. It's like an octopus.

The refinery ceased operation in April and is completely shut down now. It's weird driving by at night and there's no lights on the buildings except for a few red aviation lights blinking on the top of the stacks.

The company housing is closing down, and now that the end of the school year is approaching the pace is accelerating. Every time I drive through there's a couple more houses shuttered, a couple more driveways empty, the gardens mowed down flat.

We have a lot of friends taking off. They're all going to places where there are oil jobs. One family we were just getting close to saw the writing on the wall and left for Panama before the news broke. Another is moving to Houston. They're great people and their son Ricardo is a hoot. He's in the fifth grade, but Millie keeps saying she's going to marry him when he's old enough. And we are totally responsible for making him a Dr. Who fan.

Then there's a young man who went to school with Millie who we have sort of half adopted, or he half adopted us, hard to say. Anyway, he goes to college in Canada, but his “home” will now be San Antonio. Other friends are off to Alberta, Canada. That's about as far as you can get from St. Croix, if not geographically (and it's far) certainly socially and climatically.

And the secondary exodus has also started. People who didn't work at the refinery but whose jobs relied on it. Not a lot of those yet, but they've started. We've heard of people heading to Georgia (Atlanta is very popular with Crucians for some reason) and Texas. Another family is returning to Wisconsin Wednesday, not happy to be leaving the island but glad they have someplace to go back to.

In the “Department of Looking Desperately for Silver Linings” I suppose this means they won't count against the jobless rate, which is expected to top 19 percent by the end of the summer. But that's a long way to go for any good news.

By the time the new school year comes around, this island is going to be a very different place.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Adventures in Paradise - Sea Plane

Saturday we had a Source staff meeting. We do that a couple or three times a year, at least partly I think because, as an online paper with a virtual office, it's good to remind ourselves that our co-workers are real people.

So I and my two fellow St. Croix staffers – Bill and Justin – were on the sea plane for St. Thomas. That's the best part of the meetings, practically the best part of island living. When I have to get to  St. Thomas I take the sea plane over. (Obviously when the meeting is on St. Croix we just drive.) Seaborne Airlines uses these little 15-seat float planes, small enough that when you check in they ask your weight so when they assign seating the weight is properly balanced. And you can't imagine lying, because an unbalanced plane is a high price for a little vanity.

You walk out onto the dock and climb in, crouching as you work your way forward to your seat. The co-pilot, who is sitting so close you wonder if he paid for his seat, turns around and gives you the safety drill, then they start the engines and you're off. 20 minutes to St. Thomas.

There's no door between the cockpit and the cabin, and you can watch them as they work, both of them pushing forward on the same throttle to hold it wide open as you suddenly pick up speed and dash across Christiansted Harbor. I've flown the sea planes back and forth from St. Thomas a dozen times or more and it never gets old. It's just so cool as the plane hurtles across the water. You watch the tip of the pontoon – when it suddenly stops throwing up a wake, you're airborne.

Normally you just sit and read, but on the flight over Saturday I kept a close watch on the cockpit. The pilot seemed fine, a middle-aged guy in a wrinkled uniform shirt, baggy shorts and sandals. The co-pilot, however, was worrisome. She didn't look old enough to drive, let alone fly. I'm sure she had all the proper training and the FAA knew about her, but I wanted to make sure she didn't suddenly decide to use the navigation system to update her Facebook page, or whatever the kids do these days.

In no time we were over Charlotte Amalie's harbor, coming down straight for the water. That's the view through the front window – blue water. Out the side window a palm-lined beach flashes past, then we were racing past the line of moored sailboats. It was the most tropical scene you could imagine, and I wondered – what did I do to deserve this? Talk about unmerited blessings from a particularly benevolent deity, I am living a pretty cool life.

The meeting was fine, this one was actually sort of productive. I worked for six years at the Corvallis newspaper. Maybe it's because it's a university town, but that was a meeting crazy culture. We were constantly in meetings, it's hard to imagine how we actually got the paper out. Our close personal friend, Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Barry, said meetings are what corporations do because they can't actually masturbate. (I'm pretty sure that was Dave. Sounds like him.)

Instead of having the meeting in some conference room with stale air and a table littered with staler bagels or cold pizza and Sticky Notes, our meeting was held at a waterfront restaurant, Hook, Line and Sinker. This is a picture of what we saw out the window.

Then it was back on the sea plane for the return flight. Both crew members were appropriately grizzled this time and I could relax.

At least until we got back. The landing at St. Croix is always a little unnerving. To hit the harbor at the right angle the plane has to come in over land, dropping lower and lower over the highway, the housing project, the WAPA generating plant. There's a power line you cross right near the end that I always feel I can reach out and touch. But then it's past, a strip of white sand flashes by and you're splashing down safe and sound in the harbor. Home!

Rough life, huh? How was your last business meeting?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Catching Up: Heroes, Food, Flame, Rum

It's been busy around here, but that's no excuse. Sorry. I'll try to catch up.

HEROESThis may be the coolest thing that's ever happened to me in 40 years as a reporter. I got to shake hands with three members of the Tuskegee Airmen, three genuine American heroes.

TASTE OF ST. CROIX – Covered this for the Source. Seems like every place on the map has a “taste of” or “Bite of” kind of event. But who knew Forbes had named Taste of St. Croix one of the top 10 food events in the world?

It was pretty great, even though I was working. I didn't get to eat much, but what I did … Wow. The very best thing I had was the slider from Fort Christian Brew Pub. It looked like a little burger. It was ground lamb that had been marinated in the pub's Jump Up Stout, which is the best beer available on the island, then garnished with a little Wasabi.

Here's the story I wrote. And a pic of the guy who invented the Bonfire Old Fashioned – rum, fruit joice, smoke, yes I said smoke – and served up catfish that did NOT taste like catfish! The restaurant is called , John Eddie's Lowlife Bar and Refuge, a new place on the Christianstead boardwalk.

Who has been hiding this from us? I have heard of carbonera before, but never had any clue what it was. Then about a month ago we were watching some celebrity of the day being interviewed and he happened to mention cooking spaghetti carbonera, it was his “go to” meal that everyone loves and it's really easy. Then we found out what it is – pasta with cheese, bacon and eggs. What's not to love about that?

We made it, and it was great! There were ni leftovers. And so easy. Made it again a couple of weeks ago. Almost as good! Here's a hint – don't skimp and buy cheap bacon. It really makes a difference. And the first time the bacon had been frozen, so it was really easy to dice before cooking.

Anywhere, here's the recipe I used. Ohmigod it's good! I can't believe I never had it before, or that no one ever told me about it. Bacon, eggs, cheese and pasta? Fantastic! 

Tori has been really busy with school. Besides teaching the fifth grade she coached the high school Moot Court team, which finished fourth in the territory. Pretty good considering the school had never taken part in Moot Court before.

She was also involved in Alan Alda's “Flame Challenge.” Her class was one of 10 from around the world chosen to take part in the live global web conference. It was a terrific experience for the kids, and Tori got a personal message from Alda, who she now refers to as “My close personal friend, multiple Emmy winner Alan Alda.”

You can see the webcast here at the Flame Challenge's site. Abd the link to the Flickr page, on the right? Those are Tori's kids.

Oh, one other thing. Diageo opened the new visitor center to their Captain Morgan's Rum distillery. It's 7,500 square feet of the history of rum, the Caribbean and Captain Morgan – with a gift shop and a bar. When the hold any kind of ev ent at the distillery, they always bring their Captain Morgan imitator, who looks nothing like Captain Morgan but a LOT like the picture of him on the bottle, painted by our friend Don Maitz. 

I took advantage of the opportunity, and here's a pic of the Captain and Ol' Chumbucket.

Tori had some more excitement last week, the annual four-day field trip to St. John, but I'll let her tell that story. I have to finish putting together the video she brought home of “Tori's Underwater Adventure!”

And, you know, life! Been writing. Been working. Been going to the beach (although definitely not enough.)

Life goes on – Oh baby, life goes on.