Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Few Obvious Differences

St. Croix has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. New Orleans has the Mississippi River. It's called the Big Muddy for a reason. There are apparently very nice Gulf Coast beaches within an easy drive, someone told me I could be in Pensacola, Florida, in six hours. We haven't had a chance to explore that yet, and we won't until we make our car more reliable. On the island we were three minutes from a great beach on St. Croix, so even with better transportation, the island wins on that one.

On the other hand, the roads on St. Croix are potholed messes, and unusually narrow We lived on a road that wasn't any wider than a standard driveway.

When Public Works finally get around to patching a pothole, the patch would last a month or so, then starts degrading again so that within half a year the hole is as bad as it ever was.

Most of the roads there seem to be what are known as "pie crust" pavement, thin layers of brittle paving over an inadequate base. But there's no rhyme or reason to where the bad paving is. We used to have to drive a stretch every morning and evening where the pavement was pretty good for a mile, then became so bad traffic crawled along for three-quarters of a mile, veering from side to side to avoid gaping chasms. Then back to perfectly decent pavement. We called that stretch "Old Bumpy."

The roads here are really well laid out, well maintained and logical. Locals may find that comment comical, but my experience is that locals never like the road where they live. The main streets here all have U-turn lanes to help you get where you're going, it's all very logical and consistent. And all the streets have names that are well marked. We've gotten lost once or twice, but it was our fault, not the road's.

And for comparison, Albany, the small town where we lived in Oregon, had pretty well maintained roads, but for a town so small the layout was was crazy. The main road came into town going north south, and went out of town going east west, making a big 90 degree turn in the middle. It and the railroad tracks effectively cut the town in half. And the second major road came into town at a 45 degree angle to the main highway, so there was this insane five-way intersection. They've tried different traffic signal systems and one-way couplets and all the usual. Nothing helps.

There was also a five-way intersection on St. Croix. Poorly planned, traffic would wait forever for the light to change and then plunge off in different directions. There was one orphaned lane, it had no signal, and your only choice was to turn right and find a place to turn around. A friend told me it actually worked better before they put the traffic lights in. Everyone just took their turns ina neighborly way. Crucian traffic is bad, but Crucian drivers are very nice. 

One thing I miss about St. Croix traffic is the horn honks. As I have mentioned Crucians honk their horns for any number of reasons – almost all friendly. It's the morning melody of too much traffic on imperfect roads, all trying to get along.

We've heard horn-honking here, but it's not the friendly island style. It's aggressive, angry. It's "Hey, the light changed .0037 seconds ago! Get moving!"

On St. Croix they recognize that everyone is on their way somewhere, so let's all work together. No one on St. Croix is so in a hurry to get anywhere that they feel the need to be rude about it. It's "Island Time," with all that that implies.

And that's one thing I miss about the island. That and the beach.

On the other hand, you've heard of Southern hospitality. It's real. The people in the stores, the people in offices and on the street, are all pleasant, smiling, friendly. They'd be ambarassed to be curt or unfriendly. We've been here two months, and there are supermarket checkers who know us and chat every time we come in.

On St. Croix, the concept of customer service is as foreign as Mandarin Chinese. You can stand at a counter for 10 minutes while the clerk carries on a phone conversation with a friend, not even acknowledging your presence. The people are friendly enough, the Good Morning/Good Afternoon'Good Night mantra making everyone a community, but put someone behind a cash register and you just disappear as far as he or she goes. It's an odd attitude for a community that depends on the tourist industry.

Anyway, those are a few of the differences we've noticed so far as we settle in to ourt new home.


wReggie said...

And good old Gallows Bay becomes a cobblestone road after a heavy rain. 5 points...yep that is confusing. And I love the drive through Dominican Bar near
Annaly Farms Meat Market.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

I pulled into Gallows Bay once two months after a heavy rain, and the parking lot was still three inches deep in water. It's in a bowl, and the rain falls on the hills and trickles down and keeps the shopping center parking lot more or less indistinguishable from the bay.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

And Dominican Bar was indeed what I referred to as Ol' Bumpy, as you apparently could guess.