I was talking to someone recently about how frustrating it is that everything over here is constantly breaking. But then I began to wonder whether things actually did disproportionately break on this rock or whether the truth was that it simply took a disproportionately long time to repair anything, hence giving the impression that everything is constantly breaking.
It’s a double edged sword of gloom and doom. When something breaks, your first hurdle is that everyone moves in slow motion and tradesmen tend to address most issues “in about a year”. The second hurdle is that “you need a part”.
My car has needed a new radiator for quite some time but I quite simply couldn’t be arsed to deal with it. So I diligently drove around with a gallon jug of water in the car at all times for topping up. Sadly, I eventually reached the point that I couldn’t actually complete my 5 minute slide down the hill to work without the radiator completely emptying. I was still in denial until the boys at the dock in the morning starting talking about gaskets blowing and $$$$$$ being spent. They drove the point home – I had to buy a freaking radiator.
With car repairs here you have three options: they have it in BVI; they have it in the USVI (and will put it on the ferry – a truly exhausting experience); or you have to ship the part in from Miami (which takes so long you have lost the receipt by the time the shipping agent needs it). Fortunately for me, I drive the car of the islands – a Suzuki – so parts can normally be found over here. The Rastaman drives a Dodge, which might as well be a spaceship for the teeth sucking and head shaking that goes on when that thing needs a part.
So I got lucky. Not only did they have a radiator over on Tortola, but one of my boys volunteered to pick it up for me. I felt like a princess. Add to this the fact that my next-door neighbour is one of the best mechanics on the island and he volunteered to fit the bloody thing. For the first time in many months, I felt like a winner.
The radiator was duly delivered to my house by my boy. The Rastaman duly opened it. So near, yet so far….. a beautiful radiator without a radiator cap – ergo, totally freaking useless.
How long could it possibly take to buy a radiator cap on a Saturday, you ask? Nine hours, my friend. NINE HOURS for a $13 cap.
From previous experience, I decided that the safest thing to do was to take the radiator with me to ensure that by the end of the day I had the right cap. So the radiator and I left home at about 9 am and spent about an hour on the corner trying to hitch a ride. We made it to the car parts shop at the other end of the island, only to discover that it is closed on Saturdays. The helpful man that I hitched a ride with told me that he assumed I knew that the shop was closed on Saturdays and that I had other reasons for carrying a car radiator to this destination. Arsehole! This detour meant that I missed the ferry to Tortola. So, at 10:15 am, I cracked my first Heineken. Bring it on. If this is the way this day is going, I’m going through it half-cut.
By 12:15 pm (only three and a quarter hours since I left home), I arrived at the car shop on the next island that had sold my boy the radiator.
Me: “My boy bought this radiator yesterday but it doesn’t have a cap.”
Salesman: “Of course it doesn’t have a cap. New radiators never come with caps.”
Sweet baby Jesus. I am not sure if I was more annoyed with radiator maunfacturers for selling their products without the only vital part or with this charming assistant who had failed to share his in-house knowledge when we bought the radiator in the first place. Would it not be helpful to have a large sign on the box like “batteries not included”, as they do for kids toys? Men/Kids, Cars/Toys, you get me?!
Approximately one minute later, I am the proud owner of a natty cap for my radiator.
Now, because I am a self-confessed idiot, I thought I should try to make this pointless morning more worthwhile by squeezing in a much needed haircut. I figured the next ferry was at 2:30 pm, so I had enough time. Sadly, the hairdresser was fully booked – it was Saturday afterall. So I mooched off to the nearest bar and hit the liquor to drown the sorrows of my pointless day off. I drank another Heineken, a couple glasses of wine, a piña colada, and a shot of cinnamon whiskey. I felt a bit ill.
Suddenly alarmed by the time, I staggered/ran to the ferry dock, clutching my now very cumbersome radiator and was delighted to find that I had arrived ahead of time. Yet 2:30 pm came and went with no ferry in sight. I had an overwhelming desire to sleep now or simply lie down and possibly pass out. I mustered the energy to enquire as to the whereabouts of the 2:30 pm ferry. It transpires that the 2:30 pm ferry is a figment of my imagination. I was now looking down the barrel of a two hour wait for the 4:30 pm boat.
I sat under the pathetic shade of a dying tree and felt the sun burning my pasty white skin with the knowledge that my lunchtime hangover was in the post, guaranteed delivery before nightfall.
When I finally made it back to my island, some poor blind man who couldn’t swim managed to step off the ferry into the gap between the ferry and dock. The ferry workers reacted as if someone had dropped a piece a paper. The next man to disembark reacted like a normal human and dove into the water after him. I, on the other hand, could only focus on one thing – HOME. I was half-cut, sweaty, dirty, sunburnt, and clutching an uncomfortably large box.
I hiked up the road and waited at the prime hitch-hiking corner. The wind blew my radiator into the road. I left it there. I figured I would pick it up when I got a ride. I finally arrived at home after 6:00 pm.
The Rastaman was sinking a cold one on the porch.
“Hello, Princess. Have you had a nice day off?”
An Abridged Guide to Slowly Going Mad via Caribbean Red Tape
Decided it’s time to abandon mainland life and head to the Caribbean? Best of luck to you. Think you’d also like to bring along your trusty mode of transport? Read this first.
1. If in addition to your car, you wish to transport personal goods to the island, fill your trunk until it’s questionable as to whether it will close.
But perhaps you’re moving to an island to simplify…
2. Drop your vehicle at Tropical Shipping somewhere in Florida.
3. Once rock-side, wait for a call to inform that your car is here but waiting for a Customs inspection. You’ll ask when to expect this, and your question will be politely ignored. They will call when it’s complete.
4. Two days later with call received, it’s time to go to Tropical Shipping. While you may expect to leave behind the wheel of your vehicle, in reality you’ll wait another four to twenty-four hours. What you will actually pick up is your Bill of Lading (BoL) and an incorrect list of instructions for the treasure hunt needed to reclaim your car. You intend to mention the mistake upon return, but by then, you’ll have lost the will.
5. To further proceed, your car must be insured. Few people purchase comprehensive coverage because for an “island vehicle” it’s not worth the money.
6. Next, per your instructions, go to the VI Revenue Bureau. After standing in line for 15 minutes, the lady behind the plastic window will mouth, “Road tax at inspections,” to which you will reply, “What?” and she will again whisper, “Road tax at the inspection lane.”
7. Since it’s on the way, you might as well stop by the Excise Tax station behind the junior high school that looks abandoned but isn’t. Here an old woman will appear to be sleeping, chin on chest. Upon realizing you’ve entered the office, she’ll look at you with contempt in her glazed eyes and grunt something in your general direction. Tell her you’re here to take care of the excise tax for your car, and hand over your BoL. “No excise,” she’ll say with hostility. Your paper will be stamped, and you’re dismissed.
Empty Road. Car Soon Come.
8. The inspection lane, where you supposedly pay road tax, is at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV). However, the inspection lane is NOT where you presently need to go. You actually must go inside the BMV. You will probably enter the first door where many will be assembled in a long, narrow corridor. You’ll observe multiple windows with multiple purposes, none that seem to be yours. Look perplexed for several minutes until a skinny youth wearing his weight in gold graciously shares that road tax is paid next door. Later, you will discover that he’s a professional who navigates the process for hire.
9. Next door is a spacious room with far fewer people and windows. Road tax is paid at the furthest one from the door. After sliding your growing pile of documents under the ubiquitous plastic window, the clerk will turn up the radio and sing along. Then she will charge you sixteen cents per pound of your vehicle.
10. Take a short trip to the next window for the $5 permit required to move your car from Tropical Shipping to the BMV. You may expect to receive said permit at this window. You would be wrong. In order to retrieve the $5 permit to move your car one-half mile, it’s necessary to return to the other BMV office, the one you mistakenly entered in the first place.
11. The same bling-laden fellow points you to a window, with no sign designating the permit-fetching place. You’ll wait for five minutes while the clerk talks on the phone. When she notices you, tell her you’re here for the permit you purchased next door, and thrust your papers through the hole. (At any given time, you have no idea which one they need.) When she returns them, you’ll go on hope that your permit is included.
12. Now on to Customs. Behind another plastic window, two men sit astride a woman. A sign advises you to stay seated until acknowledged by an officer. When the woman looks at you and snarls, it’s time to advance toward the window, where she may be reading the newspaper. Hand her your documents. She’ll look through them, muttering,
“…What is this?…I’m sure you don’t have what you need. What is this stuff…?”
She may sound like she’s having a stroke. Perhaps English is her second language, a fact for which you may usually have patience. But since she’s grumbling about your stupidity after all you’ve accomplished to get this far, you’re quickly arriving at a state in which you almost hope she is, indeed, having a stroke. Because, at this point, you’d really enjoy seeing someone trapped in the clutches of excruciating pain.
Assure her you’ve completed the appropriate steps. She’ll hand you a form with items circled, which you assume are the important bits. After filling in the blanks, you’ll return to find her wholly engaged in the newspaper. Fortunately, the man next to her will point out the errors on your form. After you fix them, he’ll ask a few questions, stamp your BoL, and you’re free.
13. By now you may realize that no more will be accomplished today. The next step is returning to Tropical, but they close at 3pm, and Inspections closes at 2:45. It’s 2:15. You will try again tomorrow. After beers and sleep.
Lonely Parking Spots Await Corolla
14. Back to Tropical Shipping. They’ll verify that your documents are correctly stamped and signed, then charge you by weight for shipping your car across the ocean. You will meet a nice man in the parking lot to inspect for damages. Which you really don’t care about because you just want to get behind the wheel and drive the damn thing away. Sign another paper, and the car is again yours.
15. Return to the BMV. Pull behind the building to the inspection lanes. Many will be gathered, armed officer included. None will appear to be working. A dread-locked man will beckon for your paperwork, and sign it without so much as glancing at your car. This is your inspection. He’s nice enough to tell you which window to approach inside.
16. Wait patiently in line. Not that others will be. Many locals will loudly complain, banging on the windows, and asking if the clerks have gone to lunch. Meanwhile, the security guard will instruct those waiting to form a straight line, to which one man may reply, “Make them go faster,” to which the guard will say, “The are moving fast.”
17. When you advance to the window, the lady will put up her hand, communicating that she’s not ready for you. Eventually, you’ll be handed another form and a laminated number, which you’re instructed to sit with while waiting to be called.
18. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear your number and window. You arrive, and the clerk will be discussing lunch with her co-worker. When she makes something akin to eye contact, give her your items. She’ll leisurely calculate your fees and collect your new plates and sticker. Then tell you a sum twice what you expect, given the amount posted.
19. After multiple hours, thousands of dollars, and with a stack of more than 20 papers, your new VI plates and registration sticker are in your hands. Hopefully, you brought a screwdriver. No, not to inflict pain. Rather, to change your plates in the lot.
Victory, at last.
20. It’s time for a Presidenté. Or a Painkiller. You’ve earned it.
21. And for Jah sake, after all this, remember to stay left!