Thursday, May 27, 2010

The heat is on

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine who is visiting another friend of ours in South Florida. Now, it doesn't matter if you've been to that special region of the world or not, Miami and the surrounding area is pure fun.

The word "debauchery" comes to mind.

Now Chico, I mean Friend #1, picked up Friend #2 at the airport this morning and I've received a few clouded updates on their whereabouts and shady affairs on this fine day in May. I can't really relay the information, but trust me, they did not go to a library or volunteer at a local church. No sir.

Which got me thinking about the police in the Virgin Islands. It was only four days ago when I said to Brianna that I thought the brass here were pretty cool. I mean, I have never been harassed and my reasoning was that they have many more fish to fry (the murder rate here is starting to rival countries engaged in civil war -- does that even make sense?).

But as I was taking Alison, an out-of-towner, to the beach two days ago, all of my positive thoughts about the local swine changed.

I pulled over on the side of the road to throw some bags of trash in a dumpster. On St. Thomas, there is no home pick-up of trash so the residents are asked to do their part, put their trash in the car and haul it to the designated dumpsters. Anyway, on this particular day, two cops were waiting behind the dumpsters when I pulled over.

It was a sneak attack!

Right away, the female cop said she was going to write me a ticket for not wearing a seat belt. Then she asked for license and registration.

"But wait, I was just trying to throw out my trash," I said.

"I don't care, license and registration," she barked back.

Of course, I didn't have what she wanted. She used her radio to call in my name and I checked out. No alleged murders on this guy.

She only wrote me one ticket and was very mean as I got in my car and pulled away. I was livid. For being a good citizen, I got caught up in an ambush. But this was no time for a showdown.

For now on, I'm just going to dump my trash in the street and hide in my house. Nothing but drug-pushers, murderers and strip club buffets out there.

Or is that Fort Lauderdale? Now I'm confused.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mexican Mayhem

So after watching YouTube videos of the chaos going on in Jamaica, our newspaper published a story in today's edition that the USVI's killings per capita are on-track to outpace Jamaica's homicide rate.

A grin and slight chuckle was all I could offer Alison, a friend from out of town, when we heard five gun shots Sunday evening from my living room.

It made me wonder. Am I really living in a murder zone?

And then I heard the amazing news that a new Mexican Food take-out joint just opened in Red Hook and all my fears dissipated. Ah yes, it's called the Burrito Deli and while walking around with a very hungover out-of-towner (I won't mention any names), we came across this fine establishment.

Even though we had just ate brunch, I had to walk in and check it out. It was about 11:30 a.m. and the entire dining room was empty. No, check that. Two waitresses were sitting at a table and one of them was wearing a hair net, so maybe she was a cook.

No take-out menus available. It was a real classy joint.

My Mexican food obsession has been the topic of conversations at parties and in general passing with friends. I hear of some phantom restaurant on island and it's like a scavenger hunt to find it.

There are just a few things I miss from the States. The Tex-Mex flavors from places such as Baha Fresh, Chipotle and the always-likable Taco Bell are high on that list.

The No. 1 thing I really miss is the ability to watch professional baseball in person. I miss my Orioles and my Nationals. I don't care how bad the Birds are. Lots of excitement in DC these days but that's here nor there.

But I have a marathon race to run and in less than 2 weeks, I will be in Southern California where carne asada burritos are handed to you after you exit the plane and the guacamole flows like rain. Hey, that rhymed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Mi casa, su casa

I enjoy every waking second of it but I have to admit, hosting out-of-towners is a labor of love. For some reason, I immediately fall into tour guide mode when my friends arrive and it starts with a cold beer waiting for them at baggage claim.

For the last three weeks, we have had friends stay with us, which is my excuse for the very low blog frequency.

Had two old work friends from The Capital newspaper two weeks ago, my younger brother and his girlfriend last week and an old friend from Annapolis this week. All in all, everything has been going pretty swell. But a lack of sleep is starting to get the best of me.

For all you suckas that don't know, this guy (two thumbs pointed at me) is running his first marathon June 6 in San Diego so the training has picked up this past month. Not exactly the best time to be up all night slugging tequila shots with tomato juice chasers.

The nights go late and the mornings have to start early if I want to get a run in before that blistering sun sneaks its ugly face over the hills.

But having friends stay here is a pure delight. Just watching their reaction to where I live, where I work, where I drink and where I like to soak in the water is pretty satisfying.

The "I can't believe you live here" comment has been just as prevalent as the "Crazy White Boy" stare I've been getting from the locals. No one around here really runs through the city streets so when this tall, weird-looking Caucasian does it in the pouring rain, the gawking is obvious and I can read their lips.

This picture is of Brianna, myself, Stacey and Conor at one of the best bars in Red Hook, the Caribbean Saloon. Yes, Conor was immediately turned onto my favorite beer here, Presidente, and if you can't read my shirt, well...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Murder, Inc.

It was late on Sunday and my girlfriend was ringing the dinner bell.

I had already cranked out two sports stories and had a football combine feature to finish up after I met Brianna for some special pasta. The girl can cook. You can call me what you want but never call me late for dinner with my baby (Wow, that sounded very sappy).

As I slipped out the office, I caught the eye of a frazzled news reporter, who was holding a police scanner to her ear. Three people, including an infant baby, had already been killed over the weekend and the reporter was up to her neck in blood, gore and a staggering murder rate.

I got in my car and started the half-mile drive back home when the iPhone lit up. It was Constance, the news reporter, and her first few words immediately put a damper on my evening.

"You're going to hate me for this..."

When she told me the news, I pulled a U-turn out of my driveway and already heard the police sirens as the cruisers tore down the streets. I grabbed a camera and followed after them.

At first, I felt like one of those jackass lawyers who chase ambulances. I slowed down because I knew where the cops were headed. When I got close, there was another cop, who blocked the entire road and asked pedestrians to turn around. I showed him my press credential and asked if I could go around him. He looked at me like I was crazy.

"There's bullets flying and people dying up there..."

I humored his ode to an Ice Cube rap song with a nod and started to drive closer to the crime scene. Since the road was blocked off, I was completely alone on this dark road and it felt very eerie as I approached. Finally, I saw all the lights flashing -- the cops had turned off their sirens by now. Other cops rolled out the yellow "Don Not Cross" tape around the scene and the big guns were out.

I made a quick call back to Constance to give her an update before I got out of the car and she gave me the name of the police chief that is friendly with our paper. She told me that most cops won't tell you anything without consulting the chief but I found it quite the opposite.

I asked one of the cops rolling out the police tape what had happened and told him I was from the paper. I think he was impressed with my response time.

"Four shot, two dead..."

I got closer and started to snap off as many pictures as possible. After talking to drunk on-lookers, I started to piece together what happened.

Two guys had waited in the woods across the street for these two other guys coming out of the Cock Pit (Yes, I know it's crazy but there is a cock-fighting place here and believe me, it's not one of the places I will show my parents when they visit next month).

When their ride showed up, the two guys came out and there was a fire fight. Three people were taken to the hospital, one was DOA and a second fatality was still in the car.

It was the guy that came to pick up his friends.

He was wearing a red shirt, his seat belt was still buckled and he was slouched over the center console of the bullet-riddled SUV. The corpse remained in the car as the police conducted their investigation around him and after a while, a crowd of about 40 people had gathered outside the Cock Pit to watch.

It was the first dead body I've ever seen outside of a casket.

Now I continued to click away photos and after I finally got a hold of the police chief, I headed back to the office and brought a few of the gruesome photos with me. I sat down with the executive news editor and went through (what I considered) the best ones. She decided to stay conservative and this is the photo that ran in the next day's edition:

Per the story I had a co-byline for: After a shootout outside the Cockpit on Sunday night left two dead and two wounded, the territory’s homicide count stands at 34. By this time last year, the count had reached 22 — and all of 2009 had a record 56 killings.

For some reason, people on St. Thomas are killing each other at an alarming rate. It's not exactly a statistic I like to share with out-of-towners, who are booked at my house all month.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Carnival -- Part Deux

The J'ouvert Rally is one of the finales for Carnival. It's a party that starts at 4 a.m. and it consists of several 18-wheeler trucks with bands playing on top, scantily-dressed women, and a whole lot of Cruzan rum.

Click HERE to see some video footage of the melee.

Our executive editor assigned me to cover the party. Well, not exactly. If all the party-goers were dribbling basketballs or if L.T. was in the crowd, then it would fall under the "sports" realm.

Basically, my job was to protect the news writer assigned to the story: a very sweet girl by the name of Constance, who has a thick Southern accent and took me up on my ice-cold beer offer at 8 a.m.

She was a bull dog and worked the crowds. I just tried to keep up and not be seen by high school girls I normally cover on the sports field who were now shaking their butts to the very loud music.

Per her story in The Daily News: "By 9 a.m. the day was wide open. Bodies were packed along Veterans Drive from the storefronts to the sea. A helicopter hovered over the harbor, lending a post-apocalyptic feel to the party and giving the revelers a welcome breeze when it dipped close to the crowd. People danced on speakers, rooftops, stone walls, the beds of pickup trucks. The crowd was a tight, sweaty, lingerie-clad ball, gyrating toward Carnival Village."

By the way, and some people will not like to hear this, but the local music here is horrible.

Don't get me wrong, I am a sucker for the steel drums but the bands that played J'ouvert -- and I was told they play every year -- should not be asked back. Or maybe after some music lessons.

I remember when my mother got me a kiddie karaoke machine when I was five and I would just holler and scream into the microphone because it was the thing to do and there was no reason, no rhyme. Well, that's what these bands sounded like.

But the girls still went crazy and the booze flowed like water.

Yes, that's a media credential dangling from my neck, a beer in my hand and pretty lady's dairy air in front of me.

I'm work hard for the money.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Styling in the VI

For those who know me well, you also know that I am fashion-challenged. I wear and sport what is comfortable and as long as the threads haven't completely fallen apart, they will remain in the rotation until I either lose them or they mysteriously disappear to my girlfriend's delight.

So I shouldn't make fun of how people dress here and the funny styles that stick out to me. But in dedication to all the extravagant outfits I saw on TV during the Kentucky Derby this weekend, I felt it was the right time to show you, the reader, what is popular around these parts.

First of all, JHORTS (jean shorts) reign supreme here. I found that out the first week I moved here and Dickie's is the go-to brand. Older men wear them long and high school students sport them as part of their school uniforms (all VI students, private or public, are required to wear uniforms to school each day).

I will not abide by the JHORTS fashion trend here. No sir.

All the young men have both their ears pierced. Instead of the traditional hoop or a silver ball, they love to sports little cursive words. I sneaked this picture during Carnival and got a nasty stare after the unassuming teenager heard the camera flash.

He didn't punch me but his defense was up and I was never able to get close enough to make out what the ear jewelry said.

Now, of course I understand that kids like to do things different. I had my ear pierced all through high school and I even had my eye brow pierced when I was a freshman in college (Yeah, I was that guy).

But it just goes to show you that style is universal. It's also different depending on where you are in the world.

It reminded me of a retarded VH1 show I caught this weekend about how Jessica Simpson travels the world, tries to keep the weight off, and asks the question, "What is beautiful to you?" to different foreign cultures.

While I gawk at the different trends here, I really can't compare them to what is going on stateside. Or in China, where half the world resides.

Remember Starter jackets? Those things were awesome.