Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Puerto Rico - Day Seis

So I'm walking out of a USVI baseball game and I run into this young fella. He tells me his name is Juan and that he is from Columbia. He then started to tell me about how he couldn't find work in his home country and came to Puerto Rico to make the big bucks.

Real estate? Nope. Stocks? Nah. Pyramid schemes? Not even close.

Juan has decided to sell Vuvuzelas to the fat-wallet spectators at the CAC Games. In a totally unrelated story, the sale of headache medicine has skyrocketed in Mayaguez.

Now if you even gave the World Cup a gander, you surely saw these Vuvuzelas in action. It's basically a plastic horn that people blow into to make some low-tone buzzing sound, that disturbs and drowns out the normal sounds you can hear at a CAC sporting event: athletes cursing in Spanish.

I decided to ask him a few questions. At first, he kind of ignored me because he was busy ripping people off for $4 a horn. Then he kept calling me "bro," which I thought to be condescending. So of course, I had to fuck with him.

Me: Hey, gimme a horn. I'll blow into it and help you sell them.

Juan: No way, bro. Four dollars.

Me: But I'll work it off. I'll help you sell. In America, it's called pitching the consumer. Don't you know anything about sales?

Juan: You're from America? I couldn't tell.

Me: What? Is that supposed to be an insult? What happened in the 1994 World Cup? The only thing Columbia is know for is Chavez. Or is that Venezuela?

Juan: That's Venezuela, bro. We had Pablo Escobar.

Me: Yeah, yeah -- I saw the Entourage episode. HBO taught me the history of your country, my friend. What do you think about that?

Juan: HBO?

Me: Never mind. How about I give you three dollars for the horn?

Juan: No. Four dollars, bro.

Me: Please stop calling me bro. Do you have change for a five?

Juan: No.

Me: Alright, chief. You sonofabitch. Gimme a horn. Here's a five spot.

He handed me a horn without looking at me and then gave me a dollar in change. I immediately started to blow patriotic U.S. songs with the horn just to annoy him. I also started to scare away his customers, which really started to annoy him.

Juan started to give me the evil eye and blowing the horn got old fast. A little boy walked up with his father and wanted a horn. Right before the dad asked Juan how much, I handed the horn to the little kid and told him to have fun.

Immediately after I cheated Juan out of another sale, he started to yell in Spanish to one of the stadium security guards and that was my cue to leave. A security guard started to walk toward us and I just grabbed my camera equipment and headed for my rental car.

"See you in the promise land, bro," I muttered as I walked by him.

I couldn't help but smile as I arrived at my car. I showed him, huh?

In retrospect, I was not proud of my juvenile behavior but I rarely am. It was just another example of the pure sportsmanship and crisp demeanor that have soiled these CAC Games.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Puerto Rico - Day 5

Maybe it's the beard? Or perhaps, the charm and good looks.

For some reason, young PR girls keep coming up to me and asking me questions. The questions are always in Spanish and then they see the polite confusion on my face and run off giggling with their friends.

It's starting to really annoy me. It's like I have a 'Kick Me' sign posted on my back and I don't know it.

A waitress at some steakhouse last night said I could pass for Puerto Rican if I didn't say anything and just nodded all the time. I guess it was a compliment. She said the second I talked, it was very obvious I was an American.

Like there's anything wrong with that.

The other day, I was at La Piscina -- that's 'pool' for all you non-Spanish speaking bastards out there -- for the swimming relay finals and these two girls that worked security or something got right in my face and started to bark questions.

I tried out my best Smokey impression: "I don't understand the words that are coming out of your mouth..."

Then they got mad and moved on to someone else. I guess I looked prominent or something. I later found out they wanted to know if that was the last race of the day and if they could finally go home. Apparently, some child-labor laws are being broken and the teenagers in Mayaguez are getting over-worked for these CAC Games.

I started to vent with some of the USVI boxers the other day about my lack of communication. I think I was just happy to talk to someone in free-flowing English.

Clayton Laurent, a USVI heavyweight boxer, was already making an impression on the PR faithful.

"I just ask if they speak English and if they don't, I just move on to the next chica. The ladies here are spicy," he said.

I had no idea what he was talking about. Spicy? It's like I finally found someone to speak English with and I'm still shaking my head.

Then a group of older women hollered at me when I returned to my hotel two nights ago. I was exhausted and half a sleep by the time I made it back around 11 p.m. They were drinking and hanging out near the extravagant hotel pool and almost in unison, they gave me a construction worker whistle, like it was something straight out of Ugly Betty.

I raised my hand to acknowledge them but never stopped walking. Normally, I would have made new friends despite the language barrier but they caught me on the wrong night.

I was a tired Gringo, which means dumb white boy. At least I'm learning a little Spanish.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Puerto Rico - Day 3

It took me coming to the Central American and Caribbean Games to realize how small and sometimes insignificant the U.S. Virgin Islands can be when compared athletically to the other countries in the region.

The athletes have repeated that same theme to me multiple times as I interview them for another losing story.

The USVI has only about 100,000 people. Puerto Rico has 5 million and even though their fans have showed up in force to support their countrymen, they are hardly the most-populated country here. Countries like Columbia and Venezuela are cleaning up at the medals podium and have sent teams of journalists to cover all the action.

The USVI has not won a medal yet and they sent me, a photo/writing extraordinaire.

The newsroom is packed with dark-haired Spanish-speaking reporters yelling into microphones for reasons I do not understand. Web casts? Audio clips? I'm not really sure. All I know is that it's very distracting when I'm trying to dictate quotes from an athlete who spoke to me on the sideline of a packed gymnasium with a DJ who had a ridiculous volume preference.

The music here is garbage. Maybe it's because I don't understand Spanish. Yeah, that's probably it because you can see all the fans mouthing the words to the songs.

I was hoping for a little help from The Buzz, an alternative rock radio station that I listen to while on island. It broadcasts out of San Juan and here's the kicker: it's EN INGLES! As soon as I got to the western quadrant of Mayaguez, nothing but static.

I didn't bring any CDs and I forgot a wire for my iPod. So my 20-minute ride to and from town are consumed by my own singing. It is not a pretty sight.

Well, I'm about to go watch the USVI women's basketball team take on Jamaica for the bronze medal. Hopefully, the ladies can pull it out or it's going to be another "close but no cigar" story.

Cuba is not participating at the CAC Games. I wouldn't mind a cigar right about now.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Puerto Rico - Day 1

Jeez, Puerto Rico has mountains! What a freakout.

These things were huge and I almost crashed my rental car while trying to maneuver my iPhone for a picture. My boy, Johnny Colucci, warned me of the mountains but I did not expect this.

Driving on the right lane was refreshing and I hit 80 m.p.h. while negotiating the island. I wasn't in a hurry. It just felt good to put the pedal down for once (the speed limit on St. Thomas is like 35 m.p.h.)

Flew into San Juan this morning, rented a car and drove to the West Side (always the best side, right?). The whole trip took about two hours and I made a stop at Burger King. I really don't like that place but they do not exist on St. Thomas so I felt like getting my yearly Whopper fix.

I'll be in P.R. for the next 12 days to cover the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games. It's a precursor to the Pan Am Games and Olympics. The USVI sent like 100 athletes so it should be a good time.

Right away, I'm looked at differently when I speak English to these people. Still trying to figure out how to politely say, "I don't speak Spanish. Please answer my questions or I will punch you in the face."

Nah, just jokes there. I would never physically harm anyone. Well, maybe Palin. She deserves a swift kick in the mouth. Wow, now I'm getting political. My head hurts.

Anywhoo, I didn't have any more cash for one of the toll collectors on the highway, which set up another uncomfortable scene.

Drove past my hilarious hotel three times before I saw the sign, face down on the side of the road. I picked it up and leaned against the post to be a nice guy.

Then I saw the dump. Old. Crappy. But it does have a pool.

Like always, it looks nothing like the pictures from the website.

When I asked if it may be OK to switch hotels later on in the week -- my current one is about 20 minutes outside of Mayaguez, where all the CAC Games action is -- the hotel owner said it would be difficult because they are so busy this time of year.

I didn't say anything and just shifted my head outside toward an empty parking lot. No, I'm sorry. There was one car out there. It was my car.

He told me they have a pool. Did I mention that already? And cable TV. I gave it a quick remote surf before I went to the first USVI baseball game this afternoon and there were exactly 12 channels, mostly in Spanish.

Go figure.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Puerto Rico in sight

I wish I had paid more attention to Senora Sneed in my Spanish III class in high school. I was a diligent student during my first two years of Spanish but by the time I had moved up to III, I think I was already a senior and starting to coast through school.

It's coming back to bite me in the ass.

I leave tomorrow for a 13-day mission in Puerto Rico, where I will be covering the Central and Caribbean (CAC) Games. The USVI is sending 136 athletes and coaches in 11 sports so I'm going to be running around like a lunatic.

It should be a good time.

Already, just from phone calls to media people in Puerto Rico, I can tell that I will be treated like a second-rate citizen due to my non-Spanish speaking skills.

Wish me luck. Godspeed.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Donnie, you're out of your element

I have been a busy bastard these last few days as our newspaper's preview coverage of the Central American and Caribbean (CAC) Games has kicked off. I leave for Puerto Rico next week for 12 days of sun, fun and ... more fun.

How do I make this simple for you? Basically, an athlete has to do well at the CAC Games in order to qualify for the Pan American Games. If they do well there, then the Olympics are next. Pretty basic stuff.

Unfortunately, the USVI athletes have not fared well at any of these sporty parties, which I'm quickly finding out as I make calls and drop in on our territory's finest athletes.

Now I have to be brief here but a funny thing happened when I drove over to the St. Thomas Bowling Center to talk with the USVI's national bowling team.

First of all, I didn't know we had a bowling alley on the island. It's only six lanes and open on the weekends but a score, none the less.

In between gripping questions like "What's your most inspirational moment inside a bowling alley?" and "How much do you bench?" I decided to throw the three local bowlers a curve ball question.

V.I. journalist: So I can only assume you guys have seen The Big Lebowski, what do you think of that movie?

Older female bowler: You talking about Kingpin?

VIJ: No, but that's another fantastic movie about bowling. Some believe it is also where I got my nickname but let's not go down that road.

Younger male bowler: I've heard about it but never seen it. Woody Harelson, right?

VIJ: No, again. Are you telling me that I have to lecture you guys, the best bowlers on the island, on the differences between these two legendary flicks?

Both the bowlers chuckled politely but they abruptly stopped when they saw the seriousness in my eyes.

You got to be kidding me? That's why the USVI has not won a single bowling medal at the CAC Games since 1966 (the year we started sending "athletes" there).

I asked both of the bowlers, and their coach, to screen the movie before their next practice. Then I asked them to call me so they can tell me how much it changed their lives.

The bowling preview ran in Tuesday's edition and I just checked...

No missed calls.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

LeBron in DC?

This has nothing to do with anything. But as I sat inside my newsroom, listened to the 1-hour LeBron Decision special and wrote a blurb about the V.I. little league baseball teams getting pummeled in Puerto Rico, it suddenly hit me.

LeBron James + American Idol = playing for the Washington Wizards.

I'm sure it rubbed a few people the wrong way when LeBron made a big stink about where he would sign as a free agent. He could have just held a press conference like everyone else. Instead, he wanted to do it live and ESPN's SportsCenter probably earned its highest TV rating of the summer.

Stay with me here.

He should have just listened to my boy, Ryan Seacrest, and turned the whole saga into an American Idol results show.

He's young. He can play anywhere (i.e. D.C.) for the next five years and have a good time. Why is he in such a hurry to win some rings?

Money, huh? Well, I got you covered, King James.

The show could have been set up where people call in or text which team he should go to and that he would have to play there. If each call/text cost like $2.99, he would make his base salary on one night's work.

Imagine all those saps in Cleveland who haven't seen a winner in decades. They would have sunk every last construction and mining penny into that bastard to stay in Ohio.

Chicago wants to move on from the Jordan years and I'm sure Obama would have cast a vote in the form of some expensive stimulus package.

There's gold practically flowing up on the shore in Florida and around Miami. I'm sure some of those rich fellas that ride yachts around wouldn't mind paying for LeBron sprinkles to go on top of their Wade-Bosh cake.

And New York City? Fffugetaboutit.

LeBron would have scored mad duckets if he just listened to me. Why didn't I think of this plan earlier in the week?

I could have hit him up on Twitter. Yeah, I'm following his ass.

While the increasing-by-the-second basketball faithful in South Beach will celebrate tonight for what looks like an NBA coup, I wonder if the Wizards will ever get a chance to buy a winner.

Probably not. Do I care? Not really.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Restaurant Review -- Tavern On The Waterfront

My girlfriend is an amazing cook so I guess you can call her a foodie. I don't like that word but when I typed in "person who frequents restaurants" into dictionary.com, it came up with zero references.

She actually doesn't like to eat out that much because she feels she can cook better than most professionals. I can attest to this.

Anyway, I'm getting off the subject. We do eat out from time to time and I felt it would add a little spice (no pun intended) to the blog if I start to critique the fine eating establishments around St. Thomas. There can't be more than like 35 so if I hit one a week and share my analysis with you, the reader, then everyone wins. Right?

OK. Here goes.

Restaurant Review #1 -- Tavern On The Waterfront

I found out last week that our friend, Julie, just started to work at Tavern and it sits close by to a favorite happy-hour spot, the Big Kahuna Rum Shack, so we decided to try it out.

Brianna, my girlfriend, actually had lunch there before and already had pretty high reviews for it.

It's right on Veteran's Drive and is perched on the second floor across the street from the waterfront (hence, the name). When it comes to successful restaurants on St. Thomas, it's all about location and this one sits almost in the epicenter of cruise boat tourist central.

As we walked up the stairs, I read that they have a 2 for 1 drink special EVERYDAY except Fridays. You have to sit at the bar for the special but that tidbit of info had me smiling before I even entered the door.

The dining room was mostly empty but it was 5:30 p.m. and there was only one cruise boat in port that day. The bar, however, was almost at capacity with muffled afternoon boozers.

Before our friendly server Melanie seated us -- we later learned Julie only works the lunch shift -- I got a good view of the place. White cloth tables, gentle jazz music playing in the background and a table right next to the window waiting for us.

I snapped a primitive photo with my iPhone of the restaurant after the bar emptied out. It's a little fuzzy but Slav, the owner, is behind the bar. Great guy.

They had an extensive wine menu that we did not fall victim to. Instead, we each ordered ice water so we could maximize the taste and complexion of the food.

Wow. Did you hear that? Like I'm some kind of food critic or something. Hilarious.

My baby recommended the Polish Perogis -- she had ordered them before -- for an appetizer and we decided not to get them with bacon. Brianna doesn't dig on swine anymore.

They arrived with sour cream on the side and with caramelized onions draped across them. Of course, they were piping hot and I burned my mouth because I was hungry and I could not wait.

After glancing over the menu, which was a little on the expensive side, I opted for the special that Melanie described to me for my entree. It was a rib eye steak, with scallops, mashed potatoes and mixed veggies. Does it get any better?

I didn't find out until the check came that it cost $32. The N.Y. Strip on their menu was $28. Now I'm not going to get into an argument about the different kinds of steaks and how they're cut so save that for another time.

I ordered it cooked medium and it came out perfectly. The bourbon sauce they poured all over it made the meal. The scallops were a little small but tasty. Mashed potatoes did the job and the veggies were on point.

Brianna order the Fruit & Berry Salad and she was quite pleased.

It had a big chunk of fried goat cheese and was surrounded with diced strawberries and green apples. She surrendered a taste and it was one of the best salads I've had since I've been on island. I don't know if that says a lot.

It was the clean plate club, as usual, and we were too full for dessert unfortunately. Slav, the owner, came by our table during the meal to chat. He told us that they have an open mic night on Fridays and that's why they don't do the drink special.

He said last week a 15-year-old got up on the stage and impressed the crowd. Slav said it was some of the best jazz he's heard and invited him back. Will I be in attendance? Tough to say.

But I will come back for the food. Good service. Great presentation and it all happened within a comfortable setting.

Final grade: B+

Monday, July 5, 2010

Swimming with the fishies

Last week, I talked my girlfriend into a Netflix night. Now, it's safe to say we have pretty different tastes when it comes to film and cinema.

She likes Sci-Fi and fantasy flicks while I enjoy movies that are actually good.

Since college, I have been interested in documentaries and I hope to film one myself one day. The one we watched last week was called The Cove.

I highly recommend it if you're into the docs. It's about the dolphin slaughter going on in Japan and an activist's pursuit to bring the atrocity to light. Very powerful stuff.

As a result, my girlfriend is now a vegetarian.

The next day, I had a few free hours before journalism so I put on a bathing suit and headed to Morning Star beach, a public beach right next to the Marriott Hotel on the south end of St. Thomas.

During my parents visit last month, they bought me a snorkel kit at K-Mart and I just then realized I had not broke the flips and mask in yet.

While gliding across the surface of the water and with the sun scorching my back, I couldn't help but think about the movie. I don't want to ruin it for you -- SPOILER ALERT -- but the actual slaughter scene is quite traumatizing.

It made me appreciate the pureness of the island's beauty and the wildlife that surrounds it. At that moment, I felt even fishing was not cool.

Then I had to write a story in today's paper about a kiddie fishing tournament ... those kids got free pizza, free fishing rods, a free T-shirt and the winners got a $50 cash prize. Did I mention they were all younger than 12? Pretty bad ass.

Anyway, snorkeling in the territory is sort of a pastime. Like baseball back in the States. The best spot I've been to so far has to be -- TOURIST ALERT -- at Trunk Bay on St. John. The V.I. Tourism Administration needs to throw me a few nickels here but Trunk Bay is pretty bad ass itself.

I spent my birthday there...with a James Bond chick.

Whenever an out-of-towner visits, it always makes for a great excuse to get back out there. There's a small cay about 50 yards from the beach and there's scuba signs along the reef to guide tourists on what they're actually looking at.

I need to learn more about the fish that inhabit this area. They sure are fun to look at and swim with.

Snorkeling is a great time to turn off your brain and just soak up the surroundings. I prefer to do it alone. That is, until some yuppie tourist kid tugs on your leg and asks you if there are any sharks in these parts.

"Nah," I remember saying. "No sharks. But I heard the dolphins come through here from time to time. Say, have you ever seen The Cove?"

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rolling with the homies

Making moves, not movies

I'm not sure what it even means but I've been saying it since college. For those close to me, you know I say some weird shit. And for some reason I can never split ways with these Aaronisms.

A few more: Jesus Crackers, the rain locker, Weakels Baneeckles, Jeez Luise.

Wow. Strange thoughts on this balmy Thursday night in paradise.

For a few close friends, this night is their first of many more back on the mainland.

So I was sitting at Caribbean Saloon in the early afternoon last week. No, it wasn't happy hour or anything like that. I watching World Cup soccer, so get off my case.

Anywhoo, I'm sitting at the bar and I got three island homies with me. Brianna, my girlfriend, said if I could rank them, they may fall atop my island bro-mance list.

Now I found out Carlos, my Mexican partner in crime, was leaving island for good about a day or two before. He's spending the summer in Chicago before something else pops.

But then Bill leans over and I notice he's trying to book an airline flight via his laptop.

"What gives?" I ask.

"Oh yeah ... Dude, I'm leaving St. Thomas. Like next week," he says very nonchalantly.

Turns out, Bill, an avid sailor and death-defying surface diver, was offered a sailing job in Nantucket where he will be able to work on his captain's license. Zach, the third homie there, said he was leaving too but not for two more weeks. Zach is headed back to school in South Carolina to finish up his medical degree or something like that.

And just like that, I was all alone.

"Damn, I'm happy for you guys but that sucks!" I yell.

Moments later (and this is totally unrelated) I lost a $20 rock-paper-scissors game in double overtime. My afternoon took a severe turn for the worse in a matter of minutes.

The first picture is of Bill and Zach getting rowdy and the next one is Carlos filling up a beer bong for some island vixen on a boat. Yes fellas, I straight jacked these photos from your facebook.

We celebrated their final night on St. Thomas last night and after shaking off a sharp headache this morning, it made me think about how delicate my time here is.

In life, people come and people go. I understand that. But I guess when you live on an island that is only 13 square miles, the feeling of a friend having beers with you one second and then being gone forever the next second stings a little more.

Now I need to find be some new island homies ... paging Nick Wassum. Mr. Wassum, where you be?

It also reminds me of random conversations I've had with people I just met here. When it's obvious the person didn't grow up on St. Thomas (not hard to spot them out) a question that is blurted out early on in any get-to-know-you conversation is "How long have you been here?"

The answer to that question can range from "Dude, I'm on one of those cruise boats" to "Maybe a month" to "What are you, some kind of private investigator?"

I've been here for exactly 136 days. Doesn't seem that long at all, huh?

Another word thrown around the campfire is that couples move here and break up fast -- that the island is hard for lovers. Well, I'm very glad my beautiful baby hasn't dropped me for some pirate or West Indian (they get all the hookups here on jewelry).

I'm better looking than those guys, anyway. And I'm the author of this killer blog. Now all I need to do is tighten up my rock-paper-scissor skills and I'll be irresistible.

Alright then Bill, Zach and Carlos. You guys take it easy and remember everything I taught you. Good luck, fellas.