When I first moved to the VI, one thing I found supremely irritating was when old West Indian men offered unsolicited driving advice, specifically when I would try to maneuver or park in a tight area.
Try to being the key phrase here.
Because I’m not very good at it.
Oh, I’ve gotten better. Years of backing onto the car barge have improved my technique, no question. But I’m still nowhere near as skilled at maneuvering the islands’ narrow, winding roads and parking lots than the folks—especially the men—who have driven them all their lives.
Inevitably, the old island men limin’ under the tree in the parking lot, drinking greenies and playing dominoes would stop what they were doing to watch me. And one or two of them would go to the trouble of actively, and loudly, telling me how to go about doing it.
Since I was already on edge in these situations, being not only watched, but actually bossed around on top of it, would bring me to a state of silent fuming. In turn, making my task even more difficult.
Oh, how this would piss me off. Did they think I was stupid just because I happen to have a vagina and white skin? I drove in a big city for years! I didn’t need their damn help.
Until I realized that yes, yes I did need their damn help. And if they were offering to aid me, I might as well let them.
My poor Corolla from Minnesota had taken quite a beating in the first few months on island. (This theme continues.) Clearly, I was not an expert when it came to driving on island roads. And I finally came to realize that it might behoove me to put my ego in the glove compartment and just follow the old codgers’ instructions when they yelled them at me.
Five years later, I’ve actually flipped this former annoyance into quite the resourceful habit. I used it to my advantage just the other night in Cruz Bay. Which, for such a tiny downtown area on the tiny island of St. John, is generally a bustling place. And free parking (residents are rarely willing to pay) is a time-consuming challenge.
Luckily, the parking fairies were working for me that evening. On my first loop through town, I spotted an open space right in the Customs lot, the largest, most conveniently-located free Cruz Bay parking lot. Roughly 10% is taken up by a rum shack, and another 10% is reserved for Customs use only. So, finding a spot in this no-pay lot always feels serendipitous.
But there was one problem; the entrance to the empty spot was itself about 10% blocked by the ass end of a safari bus. Looking at it, I knew it was possible to get my Corolla in there, but I also knew the chances of pulling it off successfully on my own were rather low. Furthermore, it would probably require a carefully executed reversal into the space, rather than a more easy-for-me forward haul.
But the parking fairies continued to favor me, because while pulling into the lot, getting closer to the empty spot, and trying to figure out how I’d make this work, I was fortunate to notice an old West Indian man heading toward the rum shack. I rolled down my window and said loudly in his direction, “Good Evening, sir. Do you think my car would fit into that parking space?”
If he was surprised at the novelty of a bespectacled white girl randomly addressing him from her driver’s seat, it didn’t show. He just immediately looked toward the partially-obstructed parking space beyond my car and replied with assurance, “Ya, you could do it,” nodding his head vigorously for emphasis.
And as I knew would happen, not one second was wasted before he gave direction. There was absolutely no need to officially solicit his services, he started to shoot orders as if it were his job. (Although it occurs, perhaps unfairly, that if he had been on the clock, he might’ve been less eager to assist.)
The small group of tourists standing near us were utterly confused as to his master plan, but I trusted him completely. Caribbean born and bred drivers are experts at reversing into tight spots. I swear they could easily parallel park on a one-lane road in reverse around a blind curve while eating a johnnycake.
He had me pull way far forward, shouting, “turn it right…right…RIGHT…okay okay…keep gon fahwad fahwad FAHWAD…STOP. STOP. …Okay now come back…I said COME BACK…okay okay…keep gaan…turn it left…left..LEFT…keep gaan…KEEP GAAN…okay okay…right…RIGHT…STOP.”
We cheered simultaneously at our shared mini-victory. I was in. And beautifully so.
While in the midst of pliantly following his directions, I was so grateful for the confident assistance that I decided to buy his next drink.
I was still thinking this once settled in the spot. He looked so absolutely pleased that we’d made this work (with his leadership, and my obedience), a huge smile on his face…but then he walked away…rather quickly. It felt awkward, and maybe a little ham-handed to call after him, and since he looked fulfilled without it, I just thanked the Universe for his timely presence and got on with my evening.
Living happily (with relative sanity) on an island requires constant spinning of negatives into positives. I’m particularly proud of this one.