Friday, October 11, 2013

Notes From Paradise

St. John, USVI -- If you think it's been a while since you've seen anything from this neck of the woods, you're right. For the past six weeks I've been laying low in this little island tucked between St. Croix and St. Thomas , the other two islands that make up the trust territories know as the United States Virgin Islands. St. John is nestled in the tropical loveliness of a land time would forget were it not for the tourists who swarm here when cruise ships make port on St. Thomas. Many come, I suspect because it's part of the tour package; some own vacation property and visit periodically just for respite; some came for vacation and have stayed ever since. It has become the only place they want to be. I am typing this as fast as I can because Connections, the Internet cafe where people come to check mail, access Western Union, pick up packages, buy post cards, check bulletin boards for apartment rentals and get stuff notarized, is a serious meet'n'greet kind of place; it is also the only place I could find to use a computer. Oh, and they charge. sid, who owns this little communications center, is one of those who decided more than 30 years ago it was where she wants to be. She sees all, knows all, but probably only ever tells a fraction of what she knows. She has able assistance from Mary Pat, who has been here 34 years. They are good people to know. Diagonally across the street is 1st Bank, the only bank I ever heard of that charges customers for deposits. Down the street toward Rhumb Lines, a popular watering hole, is the post office where, when the line is unusually long, you might hear "Good Morning" a dozen times before you get to the counter. That's because here it's considered bad manners to not speak before embarking on a business transaction. Across the from the post office is Capp's, another hangout bar, but what's significant about Capp's is its proximity to Thomas' smoothie stand, which isn't the exact name, but there doesn't seem to be a general consensus about what its official name is. First names tend to be the rule, and people who have been around for a while might be stumped when you ask for a last name. Some street names are uncertain, and where they exist, numbers might not make much sense. There is not one stop light on the island, only a handful of stop signs, and the island speed limit is 20 mph. One you've negotiated the hairpin switchbacks that lead to wonderful beach at Maho Bay (a federally protected sea turtle nesting site), you understand why. Some roads are paved, others not (sorta like Texas), and there are points where if you're not careful you could do serious harm to a chicken, peacock, goat, burro, egret or iguana. I know this because I'm winding down six-week house-sitting duty here. The story of how it all came about is a tale for another time. But suffice it say that several years ago when I said I wanted to live out my crazy life here, several locals suggested that I spend time here in the off-season, when restaurants shutter for much needed rest from high-season activity and mosquitoes celebrate by chowing down on whoever is left. The pace returns to normal, which is r-e-a-l slow. I wanted a bigger slice of island life and I got it. I managed to totally avoid the Cowboy Bar except to wander in briefly to meet friends. I didn't come here to encounter Texans, although I did overhear a wonderful conversation a few nights ago while having dinner at Morgan's Mango, another local favorite. A table of eight were having a merry time, regaling one another with tidbits from local newscasts -- local people are not particularly preoccupied with mainland news, especially politics since the USVI, while a protectorate, shares with Puerto Rico the inability to vote in American elections. But here were some folks from the aforementioned mainland, have a good laugh about a man who had been arrested for trying to cut the lawn at the Lincoln Memorial, citing the incredible stupidity of bureaucrats. Then came the biggest laugh of all: Texas Republican Randy nitwit attempting to blame a lone park ranger for shutting down Washington's Veteran's Memorial. And of course it was a female ranger. Certain male Texans really get off on upbraiding women. Anyway, here I am, 2,000 miles from Austin and stifling a smile as the group cracks up. Someone then said "Who would we laugh at if it weren't for Texas?" Well, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Kansas -- the list could go on. And while Minnesota can legitimately lay came to the weirdest of the End Times weirdoes (thank you, Michele Bachmann), we've got Louie Rohmer and Ted Cruz. Who could ask for anything more in the "REALLY?!?" department. But all I'm asking for at the moment is a successful Wendy Davis campaign. I'm returning to the mainland for three reason: My daughter, my friends and electing Wendy Davis for governor. After 2014 all bets are off; i'll probably be out of Texas. I am hopelessly in love with turquoise and cobalt blue water that surrounds an island that is a roughly 65 per cent national park, thanks to one of those Rockefellers. The west end of the island -- the entire island is only slightly larger than Manhattan -- is the most densely populated, and home to Cruz Bay, which is home to shops, the ferry landing, the high-end Westin Hotel and villas and a few lovely B&Bs, one of which is Garden-by-the Sea. But more about that later too. At the east end is the less populated and undeniably quirky Coral Bay. At some point before I leave I plan to spend more time investigating that side as a possible, as they say in airplane parlance, final destination. In time I suspect the best place to find me is either enjoying a smoothie at the ferry landing or at Connections. Next time: food, shelter, booze and new friends.

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