I often compare life on the island to living in a stereotypical small town where everybody knows everyone, everything, and every misstep. If you’ve never experienced what it’s like to live somewhere like Mayberry, allow me give you a briefing so you have an idea of what I’m referring to.
You Know You Live in a Small Town When…
- You have been in the town parade
- Loitering isn’t a bad thing, it’s the only thing
- You refer to THE stoplight
- You measure distance in minutes
The similarities here on Tortola to small town living haunt you sometimes – like times when you can’t find anything open on a Sunday, or times when it feels like the sidewalks have rolled up at 5pm, or times when you just want to be anonymous but will inevitably run into someone you know. Generally, I just shrug it off and accept it as a fact of island life, however, there are two situations where it goes beyond basic acceptance and living in a small town setting can either make or break you.
Small Town-Island Survival Tip #1 : Secure a Reliable Gossip Source
When you go away for a couple of weeks, you’re bound by Small Town Code to come back and immediately catch up on all the gossip you missed while you’ve been away. This is critical: you must have a reliable source to come back to! In Tortola, very little changes with the landscape and businesses and what does can usually be summed up in a sentence or two even if you’ve been gone for months; what can’t be summed up in a sentence or two is the bemusings of the people in Tortola… my equation works out to roughly one drink per week you’ve been away. Without a solid source to come back to, you could mistakenly walk into a minefield of foot-in-mouth situations which have the potential to spread like wildfire. I repeat: always have a reliable gossip source to come back to!
Small Town-Island Survival Tip #2 : When Dating, Hope for the Best – but Prepare for the Worst
If you come to this island single (or single-minded), chances are you are going to end up dating someone and with that, is the chance that you will end up not dating that someone (read: The Dreaded Ex). When dating in your small town-island, it is wise to hope for the best, but prepare for the very worst. Best case scenario, you fall madly in love, spend your days here in bliss, and maybe even take your love with you beyond the island someday. Second choice best case, you break it off amicably and continue on with your separate lives, saying hello in passing and otherwise being unobtrusive. If only it were always that simple…
Enter worst case scenario (the best of the worst), which you can expect to play out in several ways:
- You work in the same office as The Ex and still have to see them everyday
- You attend the same gym as The Ex and even when you vary your schedule, 9 times out of 10, you run into one another
- You start dating someone new and, on your first date, end up being served by The Ex (yes, it happens!)
The other worst case (worst of the worst) combines the small town-island inability to not run into the same person over and over with a case of rock fever (read: uncontrollable crazy behavior) – trust me, you will recognize this situation when you see it. It’s when an abrupt spatter of yelling occurs on an otherwise pleasant Friday night out, or when laser beam eyes start burning a hole in the back of someone’s head when they’re chatting with someone new, or when one person is constantly showboating to whoever will watch to appear as though they are the superior being, or, my personal favourite, when all of the above are combined (with multiple drinks) into one giant explosion of WTF ?! All I can say is, always hope for the best but prepare for the VERY worst.
– – –
With a profound positive outlook on life, I can see the the good side of these small town quirks. When the foot-in-mouth situations occur, or the almighty WTF ?! moment just happened, the good news is that at least you’ll never have to repeat the story yourself; Small Town Code dictates that within the hour, the majority of the population will have already caught up with their source and be fully apprised of the scoop!
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?”