It took me a little while to learn how to properly maneuver my car (brought from MN) on the roads of St. Thomas. Some would say that I still have a ways to go before achieving mastery in this area. Parking with grace and skill has proved an even greater challenge. Following is one of my first island driving adventures from the days I spent working as a barista in Charlotte Amalie. It’s a pretty classic tale, if I do say so myself. Too classic not to share with you, dear readers, four strange and wonderful years later. (Note: A similar incident may or may not have occurred within the past week…twice.)
I’m running late for work again. But I’m still downtown early enough to nab a free parking space on Government Hill. A parallel space at the top is free, and with no cars behind me, I decide to make an attempt. I’m encouraged by the easy way I slid in last time I parked here, especially because it’s no easy endeavor. The one lane road is quite narrow, of course, and the spots are on the left. I’m used to parking on the right, so this left-side parallel parking business is an extra challenge. On the first try with this spot, my sole success was in bestowing a permanent scrape upon the Corolla’s front bumper. (The first of MANY island injuries she would bear.)
Today the space is almost mine, but I scrape the cement wall to my left before backing in completely. I try to straighten out and reverse in again, but a line of three cars has formed behind me, and the thought of making them wait does not appeal. St. Thomians are extreme honkers.
This is making me sweat.
I continue the hunt, checking for angle spots on the downside of the hill. All the good ones at the very bottom are taken. But plenty of ridiculous spots remain.
What makes these parking spots ridiculous, you ask?
Well, quite simply, it’s impossible to properly park in them. For one thing, they are far too small. I drive a Toyota Corolla of modest size and still have trouble fitting within the painted white line. It doesn’t help that the angle is strange and unrealistic, like an empty puzzle space with no pieces that fit. But by far the worst thing about these spaces is that if you inch ahead so as to not have your rear bumper sticking into the one-lane road, you run a serious risk of having your front tire fall off the ledge.
And this, folks, is exactly what happens to me.
My left front tire drops off the ledge, and my rear right tire flies up in the air, and there my car balances. Precariously. Like a three-thousand pound teeter-totter.
My first reaction is, “Of course this would happen to me. It was only a matter of time.”
I look to my left and see a man and woman watching. The man—young, serious, and lean—already looks like he’s fixin’ to help.
I clumsily manage to get out of the car and greet my onlookers.
“Good Morning,” I say, trying to smile, “this is typical for me.”
The woman looks on and offers friendly, concerned remarks.
The young man gets to work examining the situation.
I start trying to call my (then!) boyfriend, who’s already at work downtown a couple blocks away. I don’t know what I think he’ll do to help me, but he’s my main connection here, and I’m convinced I need to reach him. He doesn’t answer. He always answers.
One of my coffee shop regulars stops by the scene looking all cute and professional for her office job next door to my food service job. I often feel pangs of envy when I see her and other women my age dressed up for work. I used to look all career-wear sexy for the office too. It’s a stark contrast from my current peasant uniform of a shapeless, coffee-stained and yellow polo shirt that completely washes out my complexion, anchored with a pair of old tennis shoes that make me feel like I’m in gym class. *Sigh* But I digress.
Turns out this customer witnessed my graceful move. She is very sweet and offers to help. I’m hesitant to be behind the wheel while trying to get out of this mess. So, she drives while the young man and I push on the rear bumper in an attempt to add a counterweight.
My new friends do their best, but the Corolla only slips further over the ledge.
Fortunately, more helpful people approach, two guys and another woman I recognize from the coffee shop.
They strategize on the best way to return my tires to the pavement. It’s decided that I need traction beneath my dangling tire. What we need are rocks and boards. I’m beginning to think I should keep rocks and boards in my trunk for these instances.
I continue trying to call the boyfriend. I’m generally of little use when it comes to problem solving with heavy objects.
Another coffee shop regular, who works in the government building nearest to where I’m “parked,” comes out of her office and holds up an old board for us to see. One of the guys determines that it will work. And they go about stacking the rocks and board underneath the wheel.
We try backing out again, this time with me steering. (I really need to do something besides try, in futile, to call the boyfriend.) Even with three people pressing down on the elevated back bumper, and one pushing from the front, the car still won’t budge.
More rocks are found and shoved under the board and tire. And, as if sent by Providence, four strapping men walk through the permit parking lot toward our impromptu group. They are recruited and all four get positioned to push from the front.
I, sitting impotently in the front seat, have finally gotten the boyfriend on the phone by dialing his assistant’s extension. Just when he gets on the line, we’re ready to roll. I take the moment to stupidly ask him, “Sorry, did I interrupt you?”
To which one of the most recently acquired men pushing from the front says to me, “Sweetheart, this no time to be talking on the phone.” He sounds irritated, and I can’t blame him. But at least he did the Caribbean thing and left the sweetheart part in.
“Gotta go. Nevermind,” I say into the phone, and hang up.
Four people push down on the back bumper. Four people push up on the front bumper. I gently push on the accelerator. And the Corolla backs up over the ledge and onto the cement once again.
The crowd quickly scatters. I imagine they’re all late. I’m feeling a bit dazed as I exit the car. By the time I get out, most are gone. Only the first man and woman remain.
“Thank you,” I try calling out after the dispersing crowd, “Good karma points to you all…” My voice trails off as I realize they can’t hear me.
“Thanks,” I say to my first two onlookers.
The young man keeps his head down, going over to inspect something, perhaps the ledge or the rocks we used.
“Hey, let me shake your hand,” I say.
He stops and allows me to shake.
“Come into R&J’s and I’ll buy you breakfast, lunch, whatever you want. I really owe you. Thanks so much.”
He blows it off like it’s no big deal that he spent the last 30 minutes helping me out of my silly parking snafu.
I walk toward work feeling a little stunned and very grateful. This is the second time in as many weeks that my fellow islanders have gathered together, with little effort on my part other than doing something stupid in the first place, and have saved me with muscle and ingenuity.
Now, if only we could harness that friendly can-do attitude and channel it toward something more worthwhile than helping a white girl out of a jam. Imagine the possibilities! (But, you can keep helping us island girls out of jams too, please. Thank you.)