Are they trying to kill me?

I’ve been on the Island for just over a month now, and one of the first things I set out to master was driving.  Perhaps you already know that it is customary to drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  You may see a sign posted, much like the one in this photograph, and there is a great little shop named Keep Left over in Red Hook.

I don’t know if it’s true, but I have been told that when ownership of the Islands transferred to the United States, the local taxi drivers lobbied to maintain this custom. Why would they care?…because it discourages tourists from renting cars, of course!

As it turns out, learning to “keep left” is the easy part of driving around on this Island. The cars are the same familiar left-hand drive type we’re accustomed to driving on the mainland, just driven on the opposite side of the road. I got used to it very quickly, so I’m sure you could, too.

It is the rest of the driving experience that is quite different and….shall we say….invigorating?!!!

To give you an idea of the experience, let’s play a little game.

Begin by imagining yourself driving on a narrow, steeply-graded, winding road. There are no stop-lights or stop signs on this particular road. At all times, you are either driving up or down these very steep hills.  You will soon notice that this makes the hairpin curves very interesting. (Especially those that bend to your left and around which you have little visibility from your seat on the left side of the car.) You feel like you are on a roller coaster ride.

Now imagine the road you are on is also an obstacle course. The potential obstacles are many and appear suddenly and randomly. These may include a gauntlet of any combination of the following:

Wild chickens, wild goats, feral cats, sleeping dogs, reclining dogs, pooping dogs, dogs chasing tires, cows, iguanas, stopped tour buses, work vehicles, large kitchen appliances, public works crews, hitchhikers, enormous potholes, road construction, barricades, fallen rocks, bags of trash (or other unidentifiable debris), pedestrians (both sober and inebriated), randomly parked cars, school children, cars entering the road from blind drives, open car doors, stopped cars, the car you are following suddenly reversing direction, encroaching jungle vegetation (including potential windshield-smashing dangling limbs and vines), washed out roads, torrential downpours, and road closures due to collisions.  And these are just the hazards I’ve encountered in my first 30 days.

Now imagine that all of the traffic or right-of-way rules you’ve ever known, whether you followed them or not, have been disregarded. (Completely forget everything you know about four-way stops.)  Red lights don’t necessarily mean stop.  Green light? Proceed with caution because the cross traffic may also have a green light.  Headlights on after dark?  Not necessarily.  You quickly sense that if there are any right-of-way rules, they have been rewritten, and you have no idea where the handbook is hidden. The only rules you do know for sure are:

  • It is legal to drink alcohol while driving.
  • It is illegal to drive shirtless; and if you do, you are likely to be pulled over. (This applies to men as well as women.)

Yep…that’s all of them!

Oh, I should tell you the name of the game we are playing! Remember “Chicken?” Yes, that’s the one….two cars drive towards each other on a collision course: one must swerve, or both may die in the inevitable crash, but to swerve before the other driver will earn you the name “Chicken.”

Now imagine that you are one player in a multi-player game of “Chicken” (maybe we should call it “Island Chicken”) and it is being played on this narrow, winding, mountainside obstacle course.

Finally, you have reached your destination. You breathe deeply while asking yourself “Why are they trying to kill me?” Congratulations….you have won the game!!!  You feel happy to be alive…AND you still have both headlights and side mirrors!  This is cause for a moment of silence, followed by a refreshing (adult) beverage.

Cheers!  You have just experienced driving Island-style, and are now an honorary Islander!

Here’s a bonus quiz:

What does a tap on the horn mean to St. Thomians?

  1. Go!
  2. I am yielding to let you in.
  3. May I cut in?
  4. Get out of my way!
  5. Hello.
  6. Watch out!
  7. Stop!
  8. Goodbye.
  9. <Insert your own made-up meaning here>
  10. All of the above.

Happy New Year!

Wow, did you get a glimpse of it?  Like a shooting star, the past year seemed to bolt across the canvas of our lives as if it were only an instant, yet the distances we traveled were significant.

Marty spent a lot of time as a “road warrior,” continuing to enjoy and grow while leading Sungard Availability Services’ quality assurance initiatives. He reports the dubious honor of earning his way into the highest echelon of frequent flyer status on two major airlines. We’re always thankful when he returns home safely, and if it happens that he returns on schedule, and with his baggage, that is all icing on the cake!  He continued to provide for us as Bridget nurtured her holistic real estate practice in the midst of uncertainty, and the opportunities that come along with it.

Summer means Adventure!! so we embarked on “An Expedition of Southwestern Colorado.”  We took off on the 4th of July to explore some of the bounty this great state has to offer.  First stop: Glenwood Caverns, where we went deep under ground and inside Iron Mountain, crawling on our bellies and contorting our bodies to fit ourselves through some of the most unlikely passages leading from one naturally formed cavern to the next.  Marty was afraid they’d have to grease him up to get him through some of the holes we went through!

While Marty never did get stuck Winnie the Pooh-style, it was an exciting and amazing experience none the less. Entering into and crawling through an awesome natural phenomenon that is relatively untouched and undisturbed was truly thrilling. To see a variety of unusual organisms that live without any sunlight was life-affirming. To feel the darkest darkness that has ever closed over you is sublime.  To feel the lump of fear rising in your chest before catching somewhere in your throat as you realize that you are sitting alone under tons and tons of solid rock in a small dark chamber that millions of years ago was filled with acidic water and no exit is visible to you . . .  and you have now gone farther down the rabbit hole than you ever imagined . . .  is terrifying.  Letting go of that fear and allowing joy to take its place is exhilarating!

Such intense physical exertion had to be followed up with a long soak in the hot springs pool that made Glenwood Springs famous.  Feeling rejuvenated the next day, we enjoyed a beautiful drive down toward Gunnison to the rim of the Black Canyon where we stood in awe of Nature and Time, and could neither see nor hear any evidence of another human being.

Back in the car and on to Montrose, down through Ouray and into Durango.  All in all, it had to be the most magnificently scenic drive either of us has ever taken.  There are no pictures or words that can do justice to the majesty that is so abundant here.

At the end of the day, we rolled into Durango where the next day was spent riding the old steam engine train up to Silverton and back.  Marty found he didn’t much care for the rocking motion of the train.  Now, he doesn’t mind being thrown around every which way in an airplane, but give him the safe, comforting back-and-forth motion of the train, and he starts to get a little pale!

The next day, we left Durango and soon were climbing around in the ancient cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde to walk in the footholds of the Ancestral Puebloans.  That night was spent in peaceful Pagosa Springs and the next day was a full day driving home.  Whirlwind, beautiful, fun, and memorable!

The following week we were back in Indiana for the annual Foltz family reunion, always a highlight of our summer, and always much too brief.  It was bittersweet without Granny Foltz, who we laid to rest in the spring.  God wanted that piece of heaven back.  We truly miss her.

Bridget was so happy to get some bonus time with Aunt Carolyn and Uncle Monty when they stopped overnight on their way to Colorado Springs after having taken in the Frontier Days Rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  Marty, unfortunately, was racking up those miles and missed the whole thing.

Marty began winding down the summer with the annual hike up one of Colorado’s fourteeners with friends who heroically made it to Denver from Chicago a day or two later than planned. This year it was Quandary Peak, elevation 14,265’, making it the 13th highest in Colorado.

Just before Labor Day we enjoyed some time together in Las Vegas while Marty attended a leadership conference.  Bridget found that lounging near a gorgeous pool for hours in intense, dry heat, bright sun, and quiet solitude was the ideal creative environment.

Two weeks later we were back in Nevada making our annual pilgrimage to The Reno Air Races, where aviation enthusiasts with spine and character congregate to celebrate speed, power, daring, and love of Country.  We’re sorry for all the Sallies who just couldn’t put on their long pants in time to be able to join us.  Better luck next year?

Thanksgiving brought us again to Indiana.  It is astounding what an inch or two of snow can do to a highway stretched flat across the Kansas prairie.  Bridget had her eyes screwed shut. Marty’s were wide open.  Luckily, Marty was the one behind the wheel.

Somewhere along the line we have been adopted by one, and then later, a second feral cat. The first we eventually named Roger after a character in a Comcast commercial.  The second cat immediately became known as Bob due to his . . . we prefer to use the term “inadvertently abbreviated” rather than “severed” . . . tail.  He found his way to our house during a barbeque we were hosting, and hasn’t been off of our property since.  He’s a little worse for wear: his long gray fur is a little rough and matted, his “meow” sounds like he’s been smoking two packs a day for the last 50 years, and yet he has a gentle charm that makes you want to keep feeding him day after day.

As seasons tend to do this far north, fall eventually fell into winter.  The rhythm of life changed, and the living arrangements had to as well when temperatures dropped below freezing.  Bridget crafted two cozy cat houses, each made out of a polystyrene foam container used to ship meat, duct tape, and a heretofore unopened roll of Con-Tact® paper that may possibly pre-date Marty.  Once filled with shredded newspaper and placed under the eaves in the protection of the courtyard, order and warmth were restored.  Bridget & Marty still sleep indoors.

The year in short:  We laughed out loud, learned something new about the world and each other, played with our food, served in the Civil Air Patrol, stared down fear at least once, shed tears of both joy and sorrow, were blessed with two visits with Jeff & Ilona, loved with our whole hearts, lost a water heater off the back of the truck on the way home from the store and had to go right back and buy another one, discovered new answers to old questions and asked new questions of old answers, celebrated 4 years of marriage, entertained new ideas and different points of view, made new friends, didn’t always do the best job at staying in touch with old ones but we keep trying to do better, believed in the possible and impossible, and danced to the rhythm of life as best we could with our hearts open wide.

And, here we are at the time of year when we all hopefully slow down and reflect on where we’ve been and, more importantly, where we’re headed.  May this find you safe and well!  We’ll keep you close in our prayers, and hold our vision of all of the good and wonder that is possible for all of us in the coming year!  Happy New Year!!!!

Share