[From time to time I might excavate and post something I wrote eons ago. This one comes from the glory days of the late 1980s when I lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I found it last week and since it comes from my relatively small “humor” file I thought it might be a nice antidote to some of the recent “gloom and doom” posts about the horrors of World War II. Plus, I myself am currently transiting through yet another frigid New England winter and this is a story about one year when I actually did something about it.]
D and I had just finished dinner at a little Greek place in Waltham and were walking back to his trusty Hyundai on a cold night in January. We rounded a corner which had been blocking the air flow and suddenly felt the full force of the wind chill squarely in our faces.
“God, this climate is unbearable!,” D exploded, as he dodged a seemingly endless series of slick ice patches super-glued to the sidewalk. “I can’t stand it another minute. Can you get off work for a week or something? Let’s get the hell out of there and go someplace warm.”
Armed with D’s credit card number and a list of locations in order of our personal preferences (low on casinos, high on beaches and scenery), I found myself sitting across from a travel agent in Harvard Square (“Just Go Away”) during my lunch hour the following day. “Here’s the deal,” I told her. “We can only go the week of January 27th or February 2nd. We can only spend XX amount of money. We’re not much on night life and we love to hike. Now, whatcha got?” Since payment was required at the time of booking, I was a bit anxious when I got back to the office and gave D a call. “Sit down and take a deep breath,” I began nervously. “We’re going to St. Lucia and we have to be at the airport at 5:15 this Saturday morning.”
Before we were really anywhere near awake that day, we were airborne on Gulf Air to the southern climes. Changing planes in Barbados, our group of pasty-faced newcomers walked past the out-bound group of boiled-lobster returnees, glowering at us with envy and resignation as we headed to the next leg of our trip. A few short minutes later, we touched down in St. Lucia.
The Caribbean never fails to enchant from the skies. The aquamarine waters surrounding the island, the white beaches, the pastel-colored houses interspersed with palms. But the culture shock begins in earnest once one wends ones way through Customs and is shuttled into the appropriate vans for the destination resorts. The interior of our minivan was completed lined top to bottom with kitchen shelving paper featuring the wildly improbably color combinations of the late 1960s. The air conditioner was clearly a decorative accent rather than a functioning appliance. D and I collapsed our lanky frames into the second row of seats, just behind one of the remarkably obese (and, as we were to learn, remarkably obtuse) Catholic priests who were, improbably, headed as a group to the same resort as we were.
It’s a good thing the scenery in a place like St. Lucia is so distracting, because something has to take the traveler’s mind off the kamikaze driving techniques of the local drivers. For starters, we were on the ‘wrong’ (i.e., British) side of the road, which is always disorienting. Then it appeared that it was a badge of honor among the locals to keep to the middle of the road (avoiding potholes?), thereby facing oncoming drivers squarely in the face for as long as possible before swerving to their respective sides and passing one another with a friendly ‘beep-beep’ and wave of the hand. Finally, let’s not forget the island is ringed with sheer volcanic cliffs, dropping straight down hundreds of feet along the road directly to crashing surf below, unspoiled by any warning signs or railings. D kept a determined sickly smile on his face, as if to reassure me about the terror I was feeling having dragged us both into this surreal situation. I tried to cultivate the Buddha consciousness, paying close attention to my breathing.
“Do the children on St. Lucia go to school?,” asked the priest riding alongside the driver.
“Yes,” the driver replied.
“Why aren’t they in school today?”
“Because it’s Saturday.”
“Do you drive American cars on this island?”
“No, our cars come from Japan. We buy them in Trinidad.”
“I’m sorry, I can’t understand you.”
“TRINIDAD!, screamed all nine passengers.
A moment of silence while this piece of useful information was digested. We stared out of the window at what seemed like acres and acres of banana trees, cows ruminating on banana trees, volcanic hillsides covered with banana trees. We were to learn later in the week that these amazing plants grow 12 feet in roughly nine months. I began to ruminate on the perils of a single-crop economy.
We crested another hill and caught a glimpse of a large town spread before us. It had been an hour or so of hard driving since the airport and I knew our hotel lay at the northernmost point of the island. I idly wondered if we were halfway there or whether we were being driven in circles in order to convince us of the need to hire vans and taxis rather than to try and drive ourselves.
“What’s that city?,” asked the priest in the front seat.
“Castries,” replied the driver.
“Castries the capital of St. Lucia.”
“CASTRIES, ST. LUCIA!,” shouted the impatient nine.
Whether it was that the information finally got through or whether it was the sheer humiliation of the situation, the priest settled down for the remainder of the trip. It was with great thanksgiving that we entered the gates of our resort and unfolded ourselves from the back of the minivan.