The following may sound ungrateful. Harsh, even. But what I am about to describe is an island reality, a prevailing attitude among many in the hospitality industry. Namely, that working in tourism on a tropical island is far from a permanent vacation. At times, it’s downright draining.
Somewhere between six months to a year of working with the tourist public, you’ve become so weary of telling your island story that you must exert not a small bit of effort to keep from sighing and rolling your eyes when asked for the 378th time,
“So, how did you end up here?”
Or the keen, “You’re not from around here.”
Or the stupefying, “Do you live here?”
During my honeymoon period, I was thrilled to share. Starry-eyed and naive, I gladly recounted my tale of “getting bit by the tropical crazy bug” to anyone who’d listen. This lasted maybe six months – interspersed, I might add, with periods of despair and regret. Certainly, 10 months into my VI residency, after a series of Murphy’s Law life events occurred in rapid succession, I silently groaned every time a well-meaning tourist asked, “How did you get so lucky to live here?”
Some people start to invent backgrounds. I get why they do it. After being asked all day every day the where’s and why’s of your life, you get so tired of repeating your story that rewriting is necessary simply to preserve sanity. Otherwise, it’s akin to spending your days with a dementia patient – you just keep having the same mundane conversation over and over again. Not to mention, we’re often really busy concentrating on our jobs during this impromptu interview. Plus, it’s really nobody’s business. My story includes info that needn’t be shared with every curious visitor. While I don’t make things up, the version I share depends on my time and mood, and their personality.
I’ve watched the honeymoon phase peter out in others too, sometimes with a bit of schadenfreude on my part. I am reminded of a young woman who briefly worked at a bar I frequent. Upon arrival, she was full of pep and sparkle and light. A fresh-faced, all-American girl on a post-collegiate adventure. Smartly dressed, hair swept into a perky pony, she exuded enthusiasm for her new life. On a weekday afternoon not long after she landed, I was venting to another local about some island inconvenience when she piped in,
“But look, honey, you have this to enjoy every day, ” while doing a Vanna White toward the (admittedly) gorgeous turquoise water and white sand mere paces away.
Since I hadn’t been to the beach in several weeks and had spent my recent vacation plugged into work correspondence, I couldn’t help but feel slightly annoyed with this Pollyanna business.
Fast forward a few months. I see the same girl at a neighboring bar, smoking cigarettes, sipping lunch wine from a plastic cup, baseball cap pulled down over her eyes, and well, not looking quite so sparkly.
Hmm. What can I say? Island life catches up with the best of us.
When I’m especially depleted from a lack of true free time in several days, weeks, months, even years, depending on your perspective, I can be downright indignant. But, I do my best to keep a lid on any resentment at work. And at home too, since, ya know…I live at my job. It may not surprise you that I don’t always succeed at this particular endeavor.
Not long ago, a guest offered what he surely felt was a compliment.
“You have my dream retirement job, you know,” he told me, a friendly smile on his broad white face.
“Well, you better expect to work really hard in retirement, then.” I did my best to match his smile.
Fortunately, my mom was visiting so I could bitch immediately to a sympathetic ear about his well-meaning but rather offensive comment. I hear a version of this all the time. That my reaction is so inwardly vitriolic, which I try to outwardly disguise, makes me feel even worse.
Because in reality, I do have a beautiful life. I live on an acre of lush tropical gardens with daily views that astound. I have no commute. Unless, that is, you count the 15 paces from cottage to office during which I watch hummingbirds and butterflies suck nectar from colorful flowers. I understand why my situation appears romantic. In some ways, it is. And in many more ways than I’ll burden you with, it’s not.
Speaking of romance, I’ll give you just one example. I’ve given up all attempts at discretion regarding what little dating life I enjoy. Every guest or owner on-site bears witness to all who leave and enter my cottage. You needn’t even look; footsteps are easily heard on the gravel pathways. Believe me, I know. Part of my job is to be intimate with the property’s noises. I can’t even have a private conversation unless I close the windows and turn on the A/C. So, as you might imagine, this ritual is essential if I’m lucky enough to get laid and want to ensure that my guests won’t hear me. And by my guests, I mean my customers.
Would I trade it for a 9-5 with a 30 minute commute in the city? No.
Would I trade it for a bartending gig on the beach? No.
But do I have a dream job living the easy life? Hell fucking no!
The reality is that those who are not independently wealthy and want to do more than just survive in the VI have to work their asses off. Especially if they have designs on raising a family and providing their children with a quality education. Living in the Virgin Islands is anything BUT a permanent vacation.
The annoying part isn’t so much that island life doesn’t equal a perma-vacay. What irritates is the constant perception that it does. When well-intentioned tourists constantly inquire as to your personal story and insist that you’re “living the dream” (WTF does that mean anyway?!) when you’re actually working harder than ever before, and for less money, and you can’t even recall your last beach day, sometimes it’s hard not to tell them to go fuck themselves. This is especially true if you were under the same impression as them before your big move. Then you want to tell yourself to fuck off too.
When people are unsatisfied and bored with their own lives, they idealize what they see on the outside lives of others. It’s obvious in the way we worship celebrities, even though their lives are just as difficult as ours often seem. But people are so hungry for something more. Something different. Something other than icy commutes, mundane routines, mortgage payments, and asshole bosses…that they’re quick to place more value on the daily experience of others than their own.
It’s just as easy for me to idealize the lives of my married friends back in the states. They’re all so clearly in love with the babies they’re making. Facebook photos show cozy, family-filled scenes. Children filling lives with joy. Had I not moved to an island, this would be me. The solitary posts I offer of tropical vistas and my dog can feel rather lonely in comparison. But I’m not seeing photos of marital strife and honeymoon stitches, intrusive in-laws, and kid puke in the bed.
Celeb mags are photoshopped to the hilt. Reality TV is rife with scripting and manipulative edits.
And paradise does not exist.
Or, perhaps more accurately, paradise is what you make it. Because when you finally bring your fantasy into reality, the inevitable cosmic dog shit of real life will make its way there too.
Where you live matters. What you do matters. But what matters more is the lens through which you view your circumstances.
A lesson it would clearly behoove me to take from myself.