Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"A fart in the wind"

That's right, us tough Caribbean bastards chewed up Hurricane Earl and spit him right back out. But before he left, he politely made sure to leave a couple inches of rain, a few downed trees and power lines and many frustrated citizens without power.

Our homestead only lost power for about 15 hours or so. We're located near the hospital so we got the "hook up" around 9 a.m. this morning. After the lights came back on, I flushed the toilet for no particular reason and made sure to enjoy ice cubes with my morning milk.

It made me laugh today because my boy Nick is the properties manager at a building just outside of Washington D.C. and his whole sector was without power for three whole days following a "summer storm" last month. What is that anyway? A summer storm? And what the hell does a properties manager do?

Let me quickly introduce you to Hurricane Earl. He likes pepperoni pizza, staying up late and long walks on the beach. You better get to know him soon because he's about to crash the party at my old stomping grounds -- the Outer Banks, N.C. -- in a matter of days. He's supposed to cruise up the coast from there pummeling the Northeast along the way.

So to all you state-siders: Enjoy! The USVI was like Earl's J.V. soccer game before the main event. And he's not going to pull any punches.

The eye of the storm came within 65 miles of St. Thomas and from what I've gathered from talking to the pros, we dodged a bullet...

"I've been here for 27 years and after Hurricane Hugo, every other storm that comes through here looks like a fart in the wind," said a high school basketball coach I was talking to today about a totally unrelated manner.

The storm is supposed to grow in strength before it makes its U.S. landfall. And then, when that happens, I'll be that annoying jackass on facebook asking stupid questions like "I heard you guys are supposed to get a hurricane or something like that, is that true?"

My parents were in Corolla, N.C. today to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Mother said lines at the grocery store were long and hurricane mania was spreading fast.

That's right, America. Be afraid. Let the fear consume you.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

No where to play

Before I moved to St. Thomas, I was the senior content editor for a high school sports web site in Baltimore. Great job and it's a great place. I know the Bmore folks go cukoo for their lacrosse but football is a pretty big deal there, too.

"Yeah! Crabcakes and Football. That's what Maryland does!"

Wedding Crashers was a great movie.

So right about now, I know football is in full swing as two-a-days and full pads are the norm in Maryland and probably just about every other state in America. Here on this little tropical island, football preseason is a little different and sometimes non-existent.

I wrote this story about a public school on St. Thomas that unexpectedly has zero athletic facilities at the moment. The kids are ready to work out but it's not going to happen. Remember, this is a public school. Its rival school down the road has a field -- it's laughable -- but they have something and can at least afford practices.

Allen Iverson: "We're talking about practice..."

The story was published Friday in the V.I. Daily News. Are you ready for some football? Apparently, Kean High School is not.

It's kind of sad.

In the words of the great gossip queen Helen Lovejoy:

"Won't someone please think of the children?!"

I took this picture a couple weeks ago. It was during the first practice of a junior flag football league St. Thomas debuted this summer.

If things stay the same way on this island, when these kids get into high school, they'll be twiddling their thumbs come football season.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Exploring the West Side

Sometime between my dog violently rolling around in horse manure and jumping off rocky cliffs into crystal clear water, I realized how much I love Saturdays here.

Well, I love Saturdays during the summer here. Can be relaxing and lazy days -- if you want them to be.

When the sports scene heats up again this fall, I'm sure my Saturday afternoons will be consumed with covering Anti-Violence marches, tug-of-war competitions and wing eating contests.

But this past Saturday was spent in Bordeaux, which is on the west side of St. Thomas, a place rarely visited by humans. I heard Voodoo is practiced there and it was the first setting selection for the second season of Jersey Shore but they passed and ended up in Miami.

From some random V.I. tourist web site: "Located west of the airport, this area doesn't get many visitors. Residents are a rarity too; just around 5% of the population lives out West. One main road weaves north then south through this off-the-beaten-track area, a smattering of houses here and there. A few side roads lead to beaches that deliver a jackpot of solitude; natural, remote, the perfect setting for daydreams of shipwrecks and castaway fantasies."

Plain and simple, the trails and beaches on the West side are amazing. My friend and fellow thrill-seeker, Thomas, is an expert of the area and knows the ins and outs of many of the dirt trails. A 4-wheel truck is needed along with a sense of adventure.

Some aqua socks and a flask full of whiskey doesn't hurt, either.

This is the group that went out for some rock scrambling and cliff jumping last week. My boy Jerry and his Julie were involved. Thomas is the red-headed fellow holding Fatty, the small dog. Del is a cool cat I met the other week over a few cocktails at Betsys in Frenchtown and he brought two more friends. My girl Brianna is the sexy lady all the way to the right.

Where am I? I took the picture. Stop asking so many questions.

As you can see, the terrain is filled with rocks and there are plenty of little cliffs off to the right. We got to this particular spot after driving down a dirt trail for about a mile and half.

We've brought an underwater camera to past excursions and once my lazy friends put the photos on facebook, I'll be able to share them with you.

Nothing like seeing the expression on someone's face as they're jumping off a cliff into an uncertain depth of water with crazy swells crashing all around you.

Until then, I'll just leave you with another scenic shot I took after trying to clean the horse poop off my dogs back.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Say Anything

Don't you hate those John Cusack movies where he seems to pause the movie and talk right into the camera as if you, the audience, is right there next to him?

I freaking hate that. It makes me cringe.

Yet, I've seen a lot of movies with this no-talent ass clown stinking up the joint.

Here's one people (mostly female adolescents during the 1980's) can relate to. It's from the critically-acclaimed smash hit, Say Anything.

Now check out this next picture. Oh how times have changed...

That's my friend, Rob, holding an iPod speaker set. Who knows what the hell we were listening to at the moment the picture was taken?

He sold me his old washing machine and dryer -- true story!

Last weekend, we had a great conversation about the perpetual legalization process of marijuana in our country. All the finer points were discussed and Rob had an interesting point of view.

The conversation occurred under a tent at the annual St. Thomas Chili Cookoff. Those are the kind of events where logically-thinking individuals like myself, Rob and Cusack gather for introspective debates about social issues.

That's it. That's the end of the story. I think I just wanted to publish that photo.

Resturant Review -- Mafolie Hotel

I really struck out on this one. Well, more like a check swing.

I had been drinking most of the day and my restaurant perception was askew. To make matters worse, Brianna's friend from L.A. had just arrived and we wanted to take her somewhere nice.

Now with out-of-town guests -- the humble abode has been a hostel in recent months -- I like to take them out slow. You know, average restaurants and beaches early on in the stay and then work my way up until they are literally contemplating relocation by the time I drop them back off at the airport.

This time, I went on the advice of my friend Thomas and if you're reading this -- YOU DROPPED THE BALL, KID. The night before, I saw his jeep parked in front of Mafolie Hotel and I later learned he took his girl there for a nice dinner.

Check out the menu.

The hotel and restaurant are perched on the side of the mountain and does have a fantastic view. This pic is of me and my younger bro, Conor, who stayed at the hotel for two nights in May.

The buck stops there, though. Thomas told me the new chef there is really stepping up his game so I decided to take Bri and L.A. Christine there.

First thing was first. We did not make a reservation so to punish us, the hostess sat us in a four-top away from the balcony. No biggie.

We did some wine and ordered the conch fritters for an appetizer. The waitress was nice but she tried to remember our entire order in one swoop and that usually means trouble.

Bri is on a vegetarian kick these days (I coincidentally stopped showing her documentaries) so she ordered an eggplant dish that turned out to be the best of the three.

I believe it was on special and it came with twice-cooked mashed potatoes, which was the highlight of the entire meal and some steamed veggies.

L.A. Christine went with the pan-roasted mahi-mahi filet topped with pineapple salsa.

I'm not sure she was too impressed. I failed her and she had only been on-island for three hours. She said the fish came out dry and over done. Plus, because of the waitress' steady hand, all the food had slid over to one side of the plate and presentation was compromised.

When I'm in doubt after looking at the menu, I do what most guys do. I order the biggest steak they have and hope for the best.

This ribeye was over-cooked and was not a very good cut of beef. Plenty of grizzle and the waitress forgot to bring me a steak knife so my right forearm got a sweet workout with the butter knife.

The mashed potatoes (cooked only once) were OK and the veggies couldn't save the day.

We didn't even finish the bottle of wine between us. That never happens.

Afterward, no one was totally satisfied but it wasn't the worst restaurant ever. You can tell there's some potential there and it's one of those places where which night you go to eat there makes all the difference.

Like Vince Vaughn's character in Swingers: "It's 4:30 a.m. on a Tuesday ... this is the skank shift."

Next time I will make a reservation, try to drink less beforehand and come on a weekend night.

Final grade: C-

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Can I get a burger with that shake?

A good dose of honesty smacking you in the face is a good thing sometimes. Well, here goes.

About 12 days ago, I had a seizure. Now I know what you're thinking...

If you know me well and are aware that I have worked with this weird and mysterious condition since 2005, I'm sure your first reaction may be of concern.

If you didn't know I've battled against seizures, go ahead and let it out: WHAT THE FUCK?

I've only had two conscious seizures in my life. The first obviously opened my eyes to the condition. I didn't know what seizures really were at the time and actually denied that I had even had one. But it happened inside a newsroom in front of 7 or 8 people and they begged to differ. Our office had just replaced the carpet with hard tiled floors the week before so I have a small scar near my hairline to remember the fantastic occasion.

It happened again in 2007 while giving my little brother and his friend a tour of my then new house in Annapolis, Md. I dropped like a bag of bricks in the middle of my backyard deck and legend has it my dogs guarded my shaky bones and barked at anyone who tried to help me. Awkward events aside, I thought that was pretty cool.

Besides that, a few slumber party friends have seen me seizing in my sleep. This has happened a handful of times and is very scary for the witness but usually painless for me during my hibernated state.

OK, why do I bring this up? Not sure.

This latest bout surprised me because I thought I was over "the shakes." But I was not smart and I did not keep up with my meds.

It happened early in the morning on Monday and it occurred during my sleep. The only thing I remember is two paramedics inside my room and my girlfriend cleaning dried blood off my face. I went to the hospital, did all the the tests and (drum roll please...) no real answers.

"Just don't stop taking your medication!" the doctor scolded me.

He was right. I had gone camping the Friday night before and I didn't pack the meds. Had a little too much to drink on Saturday night and passed out without taking the meds. The medication level was scary low in my body, the doctor revealed, which points to only one thing -- seize.

I had a gash above my right eye brow. No, it was nothing like Eli Manning, who received 12 stitches and will hopefully be ready for Week 1.

They put skin glue on my gash and it got soaked up in blood. It was not the most attractive thing and invited plenty of inquiries.

I decided not to tell people I had a seizure because just the very word freaks people out. Instead it was, "I fell off the bed" because I did.

"Oh yeah, so that's what you're going to stick with, huh?" a person at my office said. "OK, Aaron. I believe you."

I've been told that seizures can really ruin a weekend. Trust me, they're no fun. But I refuse to let it hinder my life.

That's why the very next weekend, I was rock climbing and cliff jumping with friends at Bordeaux on the west side of St. Thomas.

While putting on and taking off my snorkel mask, the skin glue came off and the final wound was revealed. It didn't look that bad. And the fear had already dissipated.

It's a simple formula to follow: watch doctors shrug their shoulders, take my meds, live my life. Doesn't sound so bad, does it?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gimme the loot

So I came into work early today because I'm working on a story about a local public high school that will not have its football field ready before school starts. The school's gym is under construction too which probably means no football, no volleyball and potentially no physical education program for the upcoming semester. If there's no P.E., then the school will potentially lose its accreditation and then the real shit storm starts.

Not to mention these kids will have nothing to do when the final bells rings at 2:30 p.m. everyday. You want a gang problem -- you go it.

Anyway, I sit down at my desk and instead of hitting the phones, I open The Daily News and find that we started to publish the names, positions and salary of every single government employee on the island. There's almost 10,000 of them so this will take all week. Today's section: the V.I. Board of Education.

I couldn't help it but I had to look up the salary of every teacher, coach and athletic director I interact with on a daily basis. It was intriguing. Some of them make a lot more than they are worth while others are definitely getting screwed.

Which brings me back to the field. Who the hell is going to pay and get this field ready?? Are these kids getting compromised so this guidance counselor ($68K) or that JROTC instructor ($90K) got an extra few bucks?

The field has freaking trees -- I'm not joking -- tress growing on the 50-yard line. It's been this way for three years now!

Meanwhile, the public works director won't answer my questions about why this public high school football team has to practice at a nearby arboretum and play its home games in the outfield of a baseball diamond almost 12 miles away.

Well, I know how much he makes. Should be a good ice breaker.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Roasting the Swine

It doesn't get any better than good people, a delicious pig roasted Cuban style and enough beer and rum to quench an army's thirst.

Ahh, but what if that army is Glacial Energy?

My girlfriend Brianna started working for Glacial as a inside sales representative several months ago. Even though the work is not exactly the type of stuff she studied in school for, the pay can be bountiful and the people are cool.

Case and point came last Saturday. The Brugos Brothers -- Joe and John -- came to my little birthday soiree a few months back and that's when chatter about their annual pig roast started. Just by listening to how excited these guys got, I could tell they meant business.

They live on the north side of St. Thomas and because they're brothers, they live next door to one other along with their significant others. Their street is on a dead end which meant all the craziness funneled through their humble abodes.

Beer bong, flip cup, over-sized Jenga -- these guys had it all. And I can't forget the delicious pig they roasted. There was different kinds of hot sauce and all the fixings (mac and cheese, potato salad, etc.)

I couldn't catch my stride at flip cup -- I lost two games in a row, which never happens -- so I ventured to the back porch to take in the scenery and marinate. I had the creative juices flowing so that is where I decided to do a glamor photo shoot of my beautiful girlfriend...

I then climbed the roof of the house to grab an aerial photo of the Pig Roast, which was already underway.

Indeed. A good time was had by all.

Before I fell off the roof, I turned around and was able to grab these shots of Magens Bay and the surrounding beauty I'm consumed by everyday while living on this island.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Weekend warrior

It's only Wednesday and I'm finally coming back to earth after a stellar weekend.

August 5th marked the one year anniversary of when I started to hike the Appalachian Trail so I had to celebrate. I took off work, loaded up my gear, bought some 49 cent packs of Ramen noodles and headed for St. John.

I've lived in paradise for almost six months now and it was my first Virgin Islands hiking/camping excursion. It definitely won't be my last.

I settled on Cinnamon Bay, where I thought all the cool kids hung out. But when I got there, I couldn't even get anyone to answer my bell rings at the front desk. I kept ringing the bell and sat patiently. Instead of grabbing a random camp site, the lady at the general store helped me out and assigned me a spot right next to the beach.

I thought she gave me such a sweet spot because I called her "ma'am" and was polite. It all went to waste as I later found out I was one of the only campers at Cinnamon Bay that night and it was Friday.

Why the sudden absence of campers? What gives?

I later found out. But not after taking in a great sunset...

My campsite was about 15 yards from the beach and after the sun set, I decided to get started on dinner. When I hiked the AT, I was known for cooking Ramen noddles on a nightly basis with tuna and SPAM added for good measure.

Since it was an anniversary night, I went with the same. But of course I added some peanut M&M's for dessert and threw in a bag of chex mix for an appetizer.

Here's when it got hairy: the sun went down but the heat remained. It got so hot, I stripped down to my boxers while laying in my tent. I had hiked about 8 miles during the day and normally, that would knock me out. Not that night. It was just too freaking hot.

I literally picked up my tent, which was already set up with all my belongings inside, and hauled it toward the beach with the bright idea that perhaps the shore breeze would chill my sweaty bones. It helped but provided barely any relief.

When I finally did lose conscience around midnight, a flashlight glare hit me in the face and a camp ranger asked me what I was doing camping on the beach, which was not allowed.

I acted like he startled the shit out of me.

Me: "Wha! What's that?! Who's there??!! Oh my God..."

Park ranger: "Hey, take it easy. What are you doing? You're not allowed to camp on the beach."

Time to kiss some ass.

Me: "Oh please, sir. I was sweating pretty bad at my site and I brought my tent out here hoping for a breeze. I promise I'll be out of here before first light."

Park ranger: "Did you register for a camp site?"

Me: "I sure did. 8C. That's me."

The park ranger checked his clipboard and it's not like he had a lot of campers to confirm. He said he could have been a jerk but he was going to let me be. He asked me to be out of there by 6 a.m. and I promised not to leave a trace.

When I woke up the next day, I couldn't think about anything besides swimming. I had been sweating my ass off -- August is just too hot to camp in the tropics -- and couldn't wait to soak up the cool water.

I emerged from my tent around 5:30 a.m. before the sun had even shown itself and it was the perfect time for a morning swim.

I eventually gathered my stuff and started to head to the main road. For some idiotic reason, I forgot to pack a spare change of clothes so I had to put my sweat rags back on (Another AT habit).

A safari taxi driver took me back into town for $7 -- it cost two dollars less to come out of town -- and I ate breakfast at JJ's Texas Coast Cafe just before the 8 a.m. ferry left for St. Thomas.

Aside from the heat and sweat, it had been a successful trip and I was pretty proud of myself.

But there was no time to pat myself on the back because I had a pig roast to attend that afternoon. And it wasn't just any pig roast, it was the 2nd annual Brugos Brothers' Pig Roast on the North Side of St. Thomas. Brianna made cupcakes and I brought my sobriety.

I'll save that story for next time but here's a picture to wet your appetite...

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Puerto Rico reflections #2

Some of you guys have asked about how crappy my hotel was so I snapped a few pics. Hotel Villa del Ray wasn't all that bad. Good people. It was a great way to see Puerto Rico, if you drove off the highway, down a meandering road where natives give you the evil eye in the middle of the jungle.

I drove by the place three times because I could not see this sign. It was face down on the ground when I finally discovered it and I leaned it up against a nearby wall. After I told the owner, the sign remained there for the next 13 days until I checked out.

It wasn't a slum or anything. This was the view from my room. The hotel was basically empty the entire time I was there (except for a few preferred customers).

After one day of staying there, the owner went on vacation with his family. They traveled to St. Thomas, of all places, for their annual summer getaway. I asked him if he wanted to do a house swap deal and he was not interested. He also left his teenage niece in charge, who liked to have late-night parties with her overweight, beer-drinking girlfriends in the pool and of course, none of them spoke English.

So to follow up on my last post: After getting my hair did up, I walked over to this neighborhood bar that didn't even have a name. No one was really inside when I strolled in but they had a big flat-screen TV and the Puerto Rico-Mexico gold medal game was about to tip.

I sat down and watched as the TV cameras kept panning to outside the stadium, where drones of people had gathered to watch the game on a movie screen. To me it looked like one of those soccer riots you see in Europe. "That's right down the street," the bartender told me. After breaking free of the melee just an hour earlier, I knew all too well about the shenanigans taking place.

I drank several Medalla Lights -- the go-to beer in western P.R. -- before I was approached by this loud, bare-foot guy who entered the bar drinking from a Burger King to-go cup. My first thought: this could be trouble.

The bartender welcomed him but you could tell he was hesitant. After the rambled on in Spanish about God knows what, he directed his attention to me.

"So where are you from?" he asked.

Surprised he spoke perfect English and excited about the upcoming conversation, I responded quickly.

"The Virgin Islands."

He did not expect that answer and I sensed immediate street credit.

We continued to talk and I later found out that he had spent some time in Florida and had already been married and divorced twice. He was only 25 years old. He didn't drink either.

"He's not allowed to drink here," the bartender muttered to me.

During our exchange, two rather large women sat down at the bar and started to put back shots of tequila like it was their job. We all sat and watched the P.R. game as passerby's would stick in their heads just to see the score.

"So this is what Puerto Rico is like," I thought to myself. "Good people sitting around a neighborhood bar watching their national team in action..."

Just then, a warm shot was pushed in front of me. Wha??

The ladies motioned to me to take the shot as everyone in the cramped bar was invited to enjoy one on the house. One turned into several and then I realized that these people wanted to test my drinking limit.

The bartender gave me a free Puerto Rico T-shirt, which was cool, but I was no match for these booze hounds. I walked to the bathroom in hopes that these tequila-crazed women would calm down.

Just as I come back, I watched the bartender go back into the kitchen because the ladies ordered some mozzarella sticks. And then it happened.

I watched as the 25-year-old double divorcee leaned over the bar, grabbed two bottles of booze and scampered out the door. The women started to hoot and holler and then the bartender emerged from the kitchen.

He looked at me and I had few words for him.

"It was the barefoot bandit!" I yelled as the ladies burst into laughter.

The bartender started to laugh too and my timely remark seemed to dull the sudden tension in the room. I sat back down at the bar and my empty Medalla Light can had been replaced with a fresh one while I was in the john. The bartender just shook his head and smirked at me.

"That's why that piece of shit is not allowed in this bar," he said.

Right before I left, I grabbed a picture with my iPhone of another guy that walked in later that night. He was related to the bartender in some way: cousin, nephew, fellow gang member.

The symbol shaved into his head was the logo for the Mayaguez CAC Games. He told me he had it done across the street at the barber shop. I assumed he really liked the CAC Games and he shook his head.

"Lost a game of pool," he said with a smile. "Loser got his hair cut by the winner."

It was another satisfied customer.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Puerto Rico reflections #1

Ahh, where to begin?

I remember how I felt when I barely made it out of this stadium alive. The USVI men's basketball had just dropped its bronze-medal game and even though the gold medal match between Puerto Rico and Mexico didn't tip for two and half hours, the mayhem unfolding outside was scary.

Fans were going nuts and trying to grab a good spot in the line outside the front entrance. Music was playing, booze was flowing and it started to look a little dangerous. A stadium security guard couldn't believe it when I asked him if I could leave. He gave me the "it's your funeral" look and opened the door as the drunken savages made a quick attempt to enter the venue.

I had a laptop bag for my computer and bag over my shoulder with three expensive cameras inside. I was a sitting duck -- but this duck had moves. While wearing flip flops, I broke through that raucous crowd like Brandon Jacobs, which meant a few innocent bystanders felt the wrath of my lead shoulder and elbow.

After I cleared the fray and during the walk back to the car, I realized that the game I just covered was the last USVI event at the CAC Games and a little euphoria came over me. I did a damn good job and felt like celebrating.

Passed a ghetto barber shop on the corner. Yeah, why not? I needed me a tight fade anyway.

Walked into the joint and like a lot of my entrances during this 2-week excursion, the record screeched to a halt. Actually, it wasn't a record but some ass-jiggling Spanish reggatone rap video that was playing on the TV was suddenly muted just so all the barbers could take a gander at the stupid white boy that just walked in. The barbers even pulled the chairs around so the clientele could get a look.

For some reason, there was also a pool table in the middle of the room. Which I found just adorable.

I took off my camera bag. I put my laptop computer bag next to it and looked around. No one spoke English. Or at least they acted like they didn't.

Finally, a guy with a pool stick in his hand and a snazzy haircut told me in broken English that they were closed. Almost relieved to leave the room, I shrugged my shoulders and grabbed my luggage. I must have walked about 40 yards down the city street when the same guy came out and yelled to me. I couldn't understand what he said but he motioned for me to come back. So I did.

I walked in again and he started to clean off the only open barber chair in the corner of the room. I put my bags back down and then asked him a great entrance question.

"What, did you lose?"

"Nah," he answered. "I never lose."

And then through some interesting descriptions, I told him how I wanted my hair cut. It was the first time I had been in a barber shop since I moved to the V.I. in February -- my girlfriend takes the clippers to my dome -- so it was refreshing to sit there and let this guy line me up.

He really put some effort into it and gave me the best haircut I'd ever had. A lot of people thought I looked Puerto Rican during the trip but this little enhancement sealed the deal.

He charged me $7, I gave him $13 and I walked out of that inter-city Puerto Rican pool hall/barber shop a new man. It was a great feeling.

I felt so good that I decided to celebrate by having a few beers across the street at a similar establishment. But instead of haricuts, this particular place specialized in cans of Medalla Light and warm shots of tequila.

Yes, it was a fun night and it was just getting started. But I'll leave that story for next time.