Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Gender confusion at the symphony

So I had a few day-time beers.

Yeah, that's it. I'll blame it on the day-time beers.

I was in Fort Myers, Fla. and was visiting with my girlfriend's parents. My lovely girlfriend, Brianna, surprised her parents with tickets to the symphony that night so she closely monitored my day-time beer intake.

I still had to wait on the outcome of two boxing matches in Las Vegas and then decide if I could get something into my paper before deadline. Ahh, the life of a traveling sports hack.

USVI professional boxers Samuel Rogers and John Jackson were fighting for minor WBC titles that night and instead of sitting ring side in Sin City, I was rubbing elbows with silver-haired snow birds from all across the land.

Yes, they came from far and wide to take in the soothing tunes of the local symphony. What's the difference between a symphony and a orchestra you ask? Good question. I googled it during the first intermission and learned they are basically the same thing. So I did take something away from this valuable night of culture.

Then my cell phone buzzed because I had a text message. Then it buzzed again. And then a third time.

Not only did I have two local boxers fighting over a thousand miles away but a high school all-star football game was being held back on St. Croix. It was a game I helped organize but since it was postponed twice (due to confusion), I was in Florida and not on the sidelines.

Turns out, there were no sidelines. No one mowed the grass and the referees did not show up. So they had 50 angry football players getting screwed over once again and about five different coaches texted to tell me how pissed they were because another commissioner dropped the ball entirely.

Welcome to the Virgin Islands.

I quietly slipped out of the theater and didn't make a sound. As I briskly walked into the foyer, my phone started to ring. It was one of the boxers calling from Vegas. I knew this was my only chance at the interview so without thinking, I walked into a nearby bathroom.

I walked into a stall, pulled out my voice recorder and interviewed Samuel Rogers about knocking some chump out in the 10th round. While I listened to his descriptions of divine perseverance and Mohammad Ali cliches, I quickly noticed that I was standing in the cleanest bathroom stall I had ever seen.

I talked loudly because I had to hold the recorder close to the speaker on my phone. My heightened voice did not deter an older woman in a prom dress from entering the main bathroom area.

“What the hell?” I asked myself out loud.

“No, no … I said I wanted to thank God,” Rogers said back on the phone.

I looked around for a second and then immediate shock consumed me. Why are there no urinals in this bathroom? Oh shit...

I put my phone call with Rogers on hold without telling him, walked past grandma who was now washing her hands and didn't really acknowledge my presence. I can only hope she was hearing-impaired.

I exited the woman's bathroom just as a group of teenagers stood near the candy/coffee counter gawking at me. As if they had waited for this moment. To my right, a few women sat in chairs and gave me the stink eye from hell. The teenagers started to point and snicker.

My utter embarrassment hit a new plateau because I started to stutter, “I, I, I, I thought...wait a second...I, I, I...”

The teenage snickers elevated to full-blown laughter as a result of my bumbling banter. I looked to my left as an elderly male usher stood near the theater door and just looked down toward his feet, closed his eyes and shook his head slightly.

A few superiors in my day had given me that same look before and I think my dad had thrown it at me once or twice while growing up. It was the look of pure disgrace and unnerving disappointment.

I literally ran down the hall to escape but the teenage laughter echoed behind me. The whole time, Rogers was still on the phone and I had digitally recorded the entire fiasco.

“Aaron, are you still there?” Rogers asked.

I didn't know what to do. I bolted into the men's room (I triple-checked before I entered), walked past a row of filthy urinals and slowly put the phone back to my ear.

“Oh my God,” I said faintly.

“That's what I'm saying,” Rogers said. “I put all my faith in God and he helped me in the ring tonight.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

From San Juan, With Love

I usually want to choke myself when I hear the regular joes in my newsroom sling mindless banter around. My usual style is ear phones in, zone out.

But last week, I heard something that sounded like, “20 bucks round-trip to San Juan?”

I quickly investigated and before you could say, “Please shut the hell up – no one cares,” I booked two tickets to the gem of Puerto Rico.

Jet Blue just started non-stop flights to the Rock from Boston and some other East Coast spots so to celebrate, they offered extremely cheap airfares in between San Juan and St. Thomas for only 10 days and this guy (two thumbs pointed directly at me) jumped right on it.

My next stop naturally was priceline.com. Mama Gray swears by the whole bidding strategy for cheap-ass hotels and it works like magic in Vegas. Puerto Rico, not so much. Don't get me wrong, I still got a smoking cheap room just a 10-minute walk from the beach but many people don't operate like that.

“Dude, do not get one of those cheap rooms in Syracuse, trust me,” Michael Rothstein, a former colleague of mine from Virginia, told me when I was planning out my trip up north.

“Why the hell not?” I barked back.

“Prostitutes, dude. Plus, they rarely clean the sheets.”

Since my travel partner was my lovely girlfriend, the prostitutes posed little problems. The sheets, well, what can you do? I can't tip the cleaning ladies in advance. We were booked for only one day.

As we embarked on the 16-minute flight from the Rock to San Juan, I told Brianna that I would pay more for dinner that night than both our round-trip flights and hotel room combined. Then I told her we had reservations at Burger King. She was not amused.

I know we live near the beach but guess where we hung out during the day in PR? The beach.

Even though most of the pink and yellow hotels in Condado were under construction and the subsequent beaches were swallowed whole by the Atlantic, it was a nice change of pace from Limetree, Magens, and Brewer's Bay.

I ordered a Cubano sandwich from a coffee shop, stayed clear of the casino, took a long day-time nap and even ordered a little entertainment for that evening.

It was dinner and a show. He was drunk, slurred the words to many classic Christmas carols and wouldn't leave our table until I greased him. Now Brianna can't say I never serenaded her.

The morale of the story is that San Juan is great. Charlotte Amalie ain't got nothing on Old Town San Juan. If I could go back every week, I would. As we made our final walk around town, Brianna said, “This is nice. I could work here full-time, what do you think?”

Ear phones in, zone out. And then I stepped into a Jet Blue plane.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Some things just never get old

Location: the British Virgin Islands
Date: Saturday, December 10, 2011
Time: 1:36 p.m.

It's crass. Juvenile. Inappropriate. Yet, you can't look away...

I remember when a picture of Houston Texans quarterback Matt Leinart doing beer bongs with a some girls in a hot tub surfaced and it tarnished his image. What is Matt Leinart doing right now? Rehabbing a broken collar bone. What's the connection? I have no idea.

I actually liked Leinart more when I saw the photos. It made him look human.

It's like when I drive through street puddles and soak unassuming pedestrians. I just can't help myself. You know the feeling. Some things just never get old.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Slumdog Millionaire

My last landlord screwed me pretty good and I don't normally lash out on the blog but I know he checks it quite frequently so this one is for you, jackass.

ATTENTION ST. THOMAS: Do not rent from this slum lord...

He has been ripping off the fine Rock City misfits for a generation and chuckles about it all the way to the bank. I won't go into details of how he screwed me ... wait a second, of course I will.

We have two lovely dogs. If you've ever met these fine dogs, you know they would never hurt a fly. Well one day, it appears one of the dogs ripped a small hole in a cushion on the couch.

It was very minor and was covered up with a simple flip of the cushion. Well, this dumbass saw the rip after we moved to a bigger house and decided to hit us where it hurts: our wallets.

That tiny little rip in the cushion was the only conflict with getting our security deposit back. Well, this dumbass brought in a upholsterer and he estimated the couch and felt the fabric would have to be replaced for the ENTIRE couch.

Over three months after we moved out, I finally got my security check back. He gave us back $80 of our $1,000 deposit. After I argued with him about how this whole fleecing went down, he told me to get a lawyer. What an asshole.

$920 to fix a small hole in a couch cushion?

I love the people of the Virgin Islands. There are, however, a few that make money purely on the people who visit and/or re-locate here and those bastards are scum. Get a real job, sir!

Ripping my girlfriend and I off is not worth your pompous lunch dates at Craig and Sally's or paying alimony to your second or third ex-wife. I lost count of how many you have, though that never stopped you from telling me about them.

And check out the teeth! You obviously haven't visited an orthodontist since '63.

This guy is just a retired old hack that goes around collecting rent from his properties and never flinches when its time to gauge a tenant. You are a waste of space. You contribute ZERO to your island or society.

All of this was going through my head when you came into my office last week to put another "for rent" ad in our newspaper. The fleecing cycle continues, huh? You are pathetic.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Touchdown City

Some time in between filing my game story from inside a greasy stadium concession stand and being woken up by a high school football mom while taking a nap in the stands, it hit me.

High school football on this island ain't too shabby.

The U.S. Virgin Islands high school territorial IAA varsity tackle football game (that's a long title for a game played in the outfield of a baseball stadium) was held this week and the timing was not ideal for this dizzy sports scribe.

I'm was totally consumed by the annual Paradise Jam basketball tournaments and the football game was penciled in between the men's and women's tourneys. That's why I stretched out on the top bleacher, relaxed my eyes and took a nap during the JV All-Star game.

"Hey, I know you," the mom said as she sort of nudged my knee. "You're the guy who went to Florida or Mexico or something. The guy from the paper..."

My mumbled response sounded like, "Yes, that's me. Is that why you woke me up?"

Gridiron Mama: "Oh, I just wanted to let you know that you have a following here. I enjoyed your articles. Are you covering this game?"

Lethargic writer: "Yup, front-page exclusive."

Gridiron Mama (not taking a hint): "That's good. These boys are the future of football here."

The future? What was this woman talking about? They don't even play with field goal posts here. A lot of my friends are bewildered by that fact. The simple response is they go for a 2-point conversion every time. Opening kickoffs are laughable (and that's if they stay in bounds).

I'm supposed to talk to my boy Linval Joseph about that next month. I call him my boy because it sounds cool. The truth is I've met him in person only once and we've talked on the phone a few times.

Joseph plays for the New York (football) Giants and he is from St. Croix. He asked me last year what he could do to help out football back home. He wanted to do something different compared to the normal "giving back" tactics. New uniforms, pads, a sponsored all-star game -- all things the USVI players desperately need -- were off the list. He asked me to thing outside the box.

"Three words," I told Linval. "Field goal posts."

He was amazed they didn't play with them. I told him that by comparison, it was a success if a game even kicked off within two hours of its scheduled start time of if the stadium lights actually worked.

Linval laughed at my antics but I assured him that I was telling the truth and it was a bad scene back on the islands. They need his help. I'm going to see him again soon and will tighten the screws on his alleged hometown commitment.

After the mom left me alone, I went back to sleep until the varsity championship. Charlotte Amalie High won its sixth straight title, 38-20. Moments after the game, players from both teams joined the cheerleaders for an impromptu dance party on the 50-yard line.

I thought that was hilarious. They didn't have any field goal posts they could tear down in celebration so a little grinding with the booty-happy cheerleaders sufficed.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Back in America

Well, I'm back on the Rock and it feels good to be home. I'm proud to tell friends that I only got sick twice while in Mexico for the Pan American Games. I had to reiterate that I was Mexico sick, which is a totally different monster compared to the common cold or syphilis.

One thing I learned very quickly is that most Americans speak only one language and this only becomes apparent when you're in a foreign country.

Drunk guy from Peru in elevator: "You Americans only speak English but there's so many countries and languages out there. What do they teach you in school?"

Me: "Sex Education. I know about all the STDs."

Drunk guy: "That's gross, dude."

Me: "Come si dice 'genital warts' en Espanol?"

In all seriousness, I later explained to my new Peruvian friend that he was right. That most Americans lack a connection with other cultures or even any interest in them. He couldn't totally understand it but I tried to explain to him that our country thinks it is so wonderful. The USA is so grand that its citizens really do think the world evolves around them.

Photographer from California: "What's the point? In most parts of the world, it's considered uneducated or crass if you don't speak English. I guess we lucked out."

He had just bought me a beer and tequila shot before he dropped that sophistication bomb on me so I did not argue with him. Instead, I shared a photo on my phone with him, which he found to be hilarious and brutally honest...

Click on the image to get a full view

Friday, November 4, 2011

Guadalajara Glory Days #8

I'm covering the Pan American Games from Oct. 13 through 31 in Guadalajara, Mexico for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

Security at the Games

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Gaudy M-16 machine guns don't seem to deter computer hackers.

There's no question the Mexican federal police force stepped up its presence in and around Guadalajara during the 2011 Pan American Games. At almost every corner, the policemen were dressed in dark blue commando outfits and carried huge guns I've only seen before in video games.

Early on during my stay, I had to snag a picture of one cop who held a massive gun in one hand and checked the text messages on his cell phone with the other.

But these intimidating figures apparently have little sway when it comes to computer security at the Games.

The Globe and Mail out of Canada reported Monday that an anonymous tipster alerted reporters via email that personal information about the media – full name, date of birth and the first five digits of his or her passport – was accessible through the Pan Am Games website.

There are more than 1,400 journalists covering the Games as 21 accredited Canadian journalists received the email, along with reporters and photographers from The Associated Press and Reuters. I'm happy to report the V.I. Daily News was spared during this fearful campaign.

The Guadalajara 2011 Organizing Committee (COPAG) later released a statement denying any illegal access to the website took place. But the fear still remained.

“I'm just going to work from my hotel for now on,” said German, an Argentinian writer I met at the main press center, who had interviewed me earlier about where exactly the U.S. Virgin Islands were located.

“I'm not so sure that will preserve the safety of your online information,” I told him. “Those police officers with the big guns can find you anywhere.”

Maybe the sarcasm did not translate, because German quickly became annoyed, rolled his eyes at me and left the press room.

WAPA troubles in Mexico

It was the emptiest open bar I had ever seen. Bartenders with their arms crossed and nothing to mix up. Bottles of water everywhere.

I guess that's what happens when international athletes get together for a little dancing and fun.

A local club in Guadalajara sponsored a “Athletes' Village night” on Tuesday where Pan American Games athletes could drink for free. I won't mention any names, but the USVI was well represented. The territory's best athletes – and a certain sports writer – owned the dance floor and we felt right at home when all of a sudden, the music stopped and room went dark.

“Someone didn't pay their WAPA bill,” I yelled out. No one really laughed but I got a few snickers from the USVI contingent.

Cornell University reunion

USVI track coach Nathan Taylor grew up on St. Thomas and graduated from All Saints Cathedral. He represented the territory as a track athlete when he lived on St. Croix in the 1980's and has been a college track coach for 24 years – the last 12 at Cornell University.

Strangely enough, Taylor was not familiar with the fictional character Andy Bernard from “The Office,” who boasts his complete allegiance to Cornell.

“Never heard of him,” Taylor said. “Is he a dweeb? We have a lot of them up there.”

Along the way, Taylor has coached over a dozen college athletes who had ties to the USVI. One of his Cornell products was Mohammad Halim, who is not a dweeb and competed for the USVI in the triple jump at the Pan American Games.

“For me, this was a great experience because Mohammad is a special athlete,” Taylor said. “I've known that ever since I met him when he was 17 years old. It's been a pleasure to coach him at Cornell and at the international level.”

Guadalajara Glory Days #7

I'm covering the Pan American Games from Oct. 13 through 31 in Guadalajara, Mexico for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

Innocent bystander

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Considering I don't speak Spanish, this Guadalajara Gringo has relied on physical and visual landmarks to get around town.

Inside the main foyer of the Guadalajara Expo Complex, where the main press center is also located, a massive model of the city reveals where all the Pan American Games sports venues are and all the roads associated with them.

Earlier in the week, I got yelled at because I walked up one of the viewing stations when it was very late at night. I was done writing for the evening and was trying to figure out where the next day's adventure would begin. A nearby security guard yelled at me from the upper floor, kept a keen eye on me while he calmly rode the escalator down to my level and was not happy when he finally came within reach of me.

In my best Spanglish, I quickly told him I didn't know I was in the wrong and sarcastically begged for his forgiveness.

Through an interpreter, I later learned that another media member had accidentally dropped his soda from the very same viewing station the night before and the security guard thought the same culprit was back again. It was the first time not knowing Spanish actually helped me.

“The guy from last night was Colombian,” the interpreter said to me. “Sorry about that.”

Planning ahead

U.S. Virgin Islands Olympic Committee president Hans Lawaetz is also the treasurer for the Central American and Caribbean Sports Organization (CACSO) and that group held meetings this past week in Guadalajara.

The main discussion was about the when to hold the 2014 CAC Games in Veracruz, Mexico.

“The mayor of Veracruz said he wants it to be held in October, which as we've learned, is not good timing for the other countries' athletes,” Lawaetz said. “That's when kids are still in college and it's going to limit participation.”

At these Pan American Games, four USVI track and field standouts stayed in school instead of taking two weeks away from the classroom. Lawaetz and a majority of the other Olympic Committee presidents are opposed to any start dates after the middle of August.

“The weather is better in October – that's their only excuse really,” Lawaetz said. “A lot of people don't know this but things like the CAC Games are a money-losing proposition. We'll see what happens.”

Team USA doubling up

Midway through Tuesday's track and field events, the Americans have really started to run away with the medals count at the 2011 Pan American Games. Just before the evening sports started, Team USA had secured 173 medals, including 64 of the golden kind. The next closest is Brazil with 79 medals (29 gold) and Canada with 73 medals (20 gold).

The Games are starting to wind down but there will be plenty more opportunities for Americans to climb up to the medals podium. More than 40 medals will be up for grabs on both Thursday and Friday.

Since the Pan American Games started in 1951, the U.S. has won an all-time high 3,936 medals. Aruba, the British Virgin Islands and Saint Kitts and Nevis have yet to win a medal.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Guadalajara Glory Days #6

I'm covering the Pan American Games from Oct. 13 through 31 in Guadalajara, Mexico for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

They grow up so fast

PUERTA VALLARTA, Mexico – While sitting inside the restaurant at the Presidente Hotel, I met a delightful American woman named Connie who was decked out in the red, white and blue. She later told me that she was a mother of the one of the Team USA softball players.

After some more chatting, I realized the starting second baseman for USA was a former high school standout I used to cover when I worked in Maryland. The coincidence prompted a stern invitation from Connie to cover the team's game on Friday. No RSVP was needed for this party because the softball mom was not going to take no for an answer.

While I've spent the last few years getting used to living on St. Thomas, University of Tennessee junior Lauren Gibson has climbed the ranks of elite college softball champions. She competed in the 2010 NCAA Softball Division I Championship so it was a no-brainer for U.S. coach Ken Eriksen to bring her aboard.

“I actually recruited her out of high school so I know her a little better than you,” the coach joked with me before their 8-0 rout of Argentina.

Not so fast, Eriksen.

I interviewed Gibson, who was a hard-throwing pitcher while in high school, for the first time when she was a freshman. She dominated newspaper headlines and opposing batters for the next four years until she capped off her prep career with a no-hitter in the Maryland Class 4A state championship.

“Wow, it's great to see you,” Gibson said when I methodically hunted her down after the game. “I didn't recognize you because of the hair.”

From Maryland to Mexico, my hair continues to define me.

Puerta Vallarta field trip

I took a quick trip to the coast on Saturday. No, not for a Mexican vacation. Even though I did stay at a resort filled with either retired couples or crazed Spring Breakers. Wait, is it that time of year yet?

Puerta Vallarta was the location for the sailing and triathlon competitions. It was a 20-minute flight from Guadalajara but a 4-hour bus trip through the mountains to get back.

As soon as I stepped onto the bus with my complimentary bag lunch, I knew this would be a unique experience and would probably find its way into the Guadalajara Notebook. Not a single journalist was on the bus and there was only one open seat left.

After a Forrest Gump childhood moment – “you can't sit here” – I found a spot right next to the bathroom and was amazed with how far the seats tilted back. The engine started and then the televisions lit up. Three movies, one after another, all in Spanish.

It didn't matter. The scenery out the window was amazing and the bus driver was not intimidated by the tight, meandering mountain roads. I made it back to Guadalajara after a relaxing nap and just in time to see some boxing.

Feliz cumpleaƱos, Chico

U.S. Virgin Islands Olympic Committee secretary general Angel “Chico” Morales is in Guadalajara supporting the USVI athletes and he celebrated a birthday last Thursday. It was a quiet gathering – because I wasn't invited – as he and some friends went out for a special dinner.

Morales was elected to the VIOC Executive Committee as vice president for St. Croix in 1988 and became the committee's secretary general in 1996. He has represented the territory at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea; the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain; and the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Guadalajara Glory Days #5

I'm covering the Pan American Games from Oct. 13 through 31 in Guadalajara, Mexico for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

Say No To Dope

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – U.S. Virgin Islands female boxer Tiffany Reddick has been staying up late at night this past week in Guadalajara because she said she's too excited.

It wasn't as if the very first female boxer to represent the territory at the Pan American Games already had enough on her mind. Earlier in the week, three Anti-Doping Agency workers arrived at the USVI apartment in the athletes' village and they knocked on Reddick's door when she was asleep in bed.

Reddick, 24, was informed she had go with the three Anti-Doping agents to a clinic in the village for a an immediate drug test. No questions asked.

“Before we left, they wouldn't let me wash my hands with soap,” Reddick said. “They did let me brush my teeth but they came into the bathroom and watched me do it.”

USVI boxing coach Julian Jackson went with Reddick to the clinic for the athlete's first ever drug test. Once there, she had to fill out some paperwork and was handed a cup to urinate in. When she went into the restroom, she had more spectators.

“We went back into the room after all that and then they finally let me wash my hands,” she said. “I had to pour the sample into two more containers and it spilled all over the desk. It was strange. I had to do all the dirty work and no one in there had any gloves on, which I thought was very weird.”

Reddick was the only one to handle the containers. She closed the lids, tightened them and had to match up the confirmation numbers before she finally surrendered the samples to the drug testers.

Questions were then asked about the types of vitamins she had taken, where she was born, her birth date, what country she was from and her American favorite football team. Well, not the last question but for the record, Reddick is a Pittsburgh native and she pulls for the Steelers.

“After that, we were done so they gave me a pin,” Reddick said. “It said 'Say No To Dope' on it.”

She has not heard any results from her drug test and weighed in for the boxing competition on Friday. Reddick is scheduled for her first fight on Sunday so one can assume she passed with flying colors.

“I knew there was a chance I may get tested but I didn't think it would happen,” she said. “I don't think it's random. I'm new so I feel like they went after me. It's cool. It would be nice if someone told me I passed though.”

USVI Olympic Committee member Lyn Reid said Reddick has been the only USVI athlete to be drug tested in Mexico, which is below the current average.

“We had two USVI athletes tested in Singapore last year at the Youth Olympic Games,” she said. “It was a unique experience to say the least.”

Boxers get acclimated

Since USVI boxers Clayton Laurent and Tiffany Reddick arrived last Thursday, boxing coach Julian Jackson has worked them out twice a day every single day. These have been full workouts, with pads, endurance exercises and up-tempo sparring sessions.

“We have been training hard,” USVI Boxing Federation president Tony Rosario said Thursday night. “The first time we put them on the track to run, they almost died. They couldn't breath because they had to get used to the altitude.”

Guadalajara is approximately 5,200 feet above sea level. Take four Empire State Buildings and stack one on top of the other and you'll get close to Guadalajara's altitude. Crazy, huh?

After a few workouts, Jackson wanted to test the boxers even more.

The USVI boxers' apartment in the athletes' village is on the 19th floor of a tower so they pushed the beds out of the way and worked out there on Wednesday.

“We came early just for this reason,” Rosario said. “We figured if you can do four, five rounds up here, you can probably go 10 rounds in the ring. They're definitely going to be ready.”

Reddick will take on a Dominican Republic fighter on Sunday and Laurent, a super heavyweight, will draw hands with a Puerto Rican on Monday.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Guadalajara Glory Days #4

I'm covering the Pan American Games from Oct. 13 through 31 in Guadalajara, Mexico for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

Another day at the office

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – On paper, it didn't seem like such a sweet gig. He had to wear a full suit, wait around a pool deck and hand out medals to triumphant swimmers late into the evening.

Because of his 40-year service to the Olympic movement, U.S. Virgin Islands Olympic Committee president Hans Lawaetz was tapped for such a duty this week and he didn't hesitate.

Every medals ceremony is special in its own way but when there are attractive, athletic females waiting at the podium for you, it ups the ante. Did I mention three more Mexican beauties accompanied Lawaetz into the pool area with the medals?

“I tell you, I was smiling the whole time,” Lawaetz said after Wednesday's festivities. “This was the second night we've been together so I made good friends with one the girls who brought out the medals.”

OK, Mrs. Lawaetz can take her ear muffs off now.

Even though the American swimmers continue to clean up at the medals stand, the Mexican swimmers found a small niche. After a roaring home crowd exploded for bronze medal winner Rita Medrano in the 200-meter butterfly finals, she became overcome with emotion.

“I was just trying to be very polite and then the last Mexican girl hugged me,” Lawaetz said. “It's a hard job but someone has to do it.”

Practices makes perfect

USVI long jumper Leon Hunt Jr. arrived to Guadalajara a little early and had his first official practice Wednesday afternoon at the brand-new Telmex Athletics Stadium.

While Mexican maintenance workers scrambled to paint walls and install seats at the stadium, Hunt sprinted down the new runway and leaped with all his might into a sandy jump pit numerous times.

Each of his practice jumps were digitally recorded. The former Florida A&M University standout watched and meticulously studied each leap on his iPad while he sat inside the USVI apartment at the athletes' village on Wednesday night.

“The track and jump areas are straight,” Hunt said. “The rest of the stadium is still coming together. It doesn't matter, I'm ready to go.”

Hunt and fellow USVI long jumper Collister Fahie are scheduled to compete on Monday.

All-American meal

Nine USVI track and field athletes and coaches are in the process of arriving in Guadalajara. Nine people at nine different times over three days.

“Kind of a scheduling nightmare,” Lawaetz said.

Norfolk State University star Wanetta Kirby was the last to arrive late Wednesday night. Lawaetz, myself and two of my favorite Mexican volunteers – Maria and Rosa – were together and before we picked her up, we had some time to kill so we stopped at a restaurant near the airport.

Remember, these Pan Am Games are being held in Mexico. So we decided to eat at one of the finest establishments known to the Western Hemisphere: Chili's.

We talked Maria into ordering a good old-fashioned cheeseburger – I considered the jalapeno poppers – and after a local soccer match ended, I convinced the bartender to change the channel on the TV to the first game of the World Series.

The waitress made fun of me in Spanish as Rosa and Maria laughed. They didn't have any Budweiser so my American Dream was not complete. But watching a bearded Lance Berkman round the bases inside a Chili's in Mexico wasn't too shabby.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Guadalajara Glory Days #3

I'm covering the Pan American Games from Oct. 13 through 31 in Guadalajara, Mexico for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

Patching things up

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – A long-time Olympic tradition is the swapping of national pins between athletes and coaches. It reminds me of high school when all the popular kids had the most signatures in their yearbook.

U.S. Virgin Islands taekwondo coach Eugene Phipps doesn't play the 'pins' game. But he still likes to leave his mark when he travels to different locations for international competitions. Phipps is a lieutenant volunteer with the St. Croix Rescue Squad and never leaves home without a commemorative patch.

“I've been there for a few years and every time I visit another country, I try to visit the local fire station and see what they have,” Phipps said Tuesday. “It's good to see how they do things differently. It's a rescue firefighting tradition to trade patches.”

He met a rescue responder at the Pan American Games opening ceremony on Friday but he didn't have time to unpack his bags and his priorities were not in order. Marching around a stadium with over 60,000 cheering fans will do that to you sometimes.

“I didn't know I would actually see firefighters there,” said Phipps, who is a full-time volunteer, is on-call 24 hours a day and helps teach and form local task force units on St. Croix.

Between training USVI taekwondo fighter Jahmar Jean-Marie and watching other events, Phipps was not able to visit the Guadalajara Fire Station during his stay. But he gave a St. Croix patch to one of the Mexican volunteers helping the USVI contingent and will hope for a envelope postmarked from Guadalajara in the very near future.

Team USA off to a fast start

During the opening ceremonies last Friday, it was obvious the United States and Brazil had many athletes in Guadalajara. But it's the Mexicans who understandably have the largest contingent with 617 athletes competing in 344 competitions.

Quantity hasn't added up to quality though.

At the beginning of competition on Wednesday, Team USA had racked up 46 medals, including 18 gold medals. Brazil and the host country were tied at 22 each and were a distant second to the Americans.

The U.S. has made a big splash in the swimming pool as it has already collected eight gold, eight silver and four bronze medals. The aquatics competition ends Friday.

“I think the U.S. sends it's 'C team' to the Pan Am Games because their best swimmers are already focused on the Olympics,” USVI swimmer Branden Whitehurst said.

Doping with Mexican beef

Before my trip to Guadalajara, I was told by many to stay away from the street vendors who sold beef on the corners. I guess the main fear was that I may get ill from the food. But if I were an athlete – many people here have already asked me which sport I'm competing in – another huge risk is attached to eating those delicious beef kabobs and tacos.

Canadian and U.S. athletes have both been warned to stay away from the beef because of a certain drug Mexican farmers inject into their cattle. The drug causes no real physical harm but it shows up on the radar of the World Anti-Doping Agency and could mean disqualification. Even the fine-dining restaurants in Guadalajara can't guarantee the meat they serve does not have the steroid clenbuterol.

Clenbuterol is used to reduce fat and increase lean meat in cattle, a process that is outlawed in Mexico but continues to occur. Five Mexican soccer players tested positive for it a few months ago, and it is the same drug that pushed 2010 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador right into a doping scandal.

If everyone just eats at the cafeteria in the athletes village, they should be fine. They don't serve anti-doping Johnny Cakes there but I think our USVI athletes will survive.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Guadalajara Glory Days #2

I'm covering the Pan American Games from Oct. 13 through 31 in Guadalajara, Mexico for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

Surprise performance

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – The media are generally not a spry bunch.

So when Saloman Correa thought it would be a good idea to surprise his wife, Pan American Games main press center manager Claudio Navarro, for her 29th birthday while at work on Saturday, the nearby members of the media had home-field advantage.

Moments after I asked Claudio numerous mundane questions about photographer credentials, media transportation and wireless Internet hookups, her day got a little more interesting. After she took two steps into the main press area – which was bustling with journalists and photographers – an eight-member Mariachi band entered the room, followed by three dancing Pan Am mascots and Saloman, who carried a bouquet of roses.

The band started to play and then the fiesta was under way.

Photographers and television cameramen dropped what they were doing and flocked to the scene, as Claudio's co-workers cheered in the background. A conga line formed right next to the first table of journalists and the celebration lasted for the next 20 minutes.

“I always tell Saloman that he never serenades me,” said a surprised Claudio, who could not stop smiling and promptly returned to work after she caught her breath. “I guess this makes up for it.”

Media eating, drinking good

A big presumption about journalists is that they are overweight and not physically fit. At such events like the Pan American Games, people are away from their comfort zone and have to make due with what is available.

The media food court is a quick stroll from the main press center and it consists of Starbucks, Dominos Pizza, Burger King, a sandwich counter, an ice cream tent and a sushi take-out shop. Not exactly the most healthy choices.

Right behind the Burger King – yes, I did get my fix – is a liquor counter that reminded me of the duty-free stores at King Airport. Different types of tequila were everywhere. How do they expect us to get any work done?

Mexican barber shop

Guadalajara native Maria Fernanda is one of the personal guides for the U.S. Virgin Islands executive board and does many of the thankless tasks for the USVI contingent like arranging rides, making different accommodations and translating Spanish to English and vice versa.

A few days ago, she was in charge of shaving the head of USVI swimmer Branden Whitehurst.

“Yes, that was all me,” she said when I noticed Branden's aerodynamic hairdo Sunday morning.

Whitehurst also shaved his head for the FINA World Championships in Shanghai, China last July and decided to continue the trend when he arrived in Mexico.

I asked Maria if she still had the clippers and wanted to shave my head. She took one look at my curly mop and rolled her eyes.

“Sorry, I'd like to help but we don't get paid overtime for this,” she said.

Guadalajara Glory Days #1

I'm covering the Pan American Games from Oct. 13 through 31 in Guadalajara, Mexico for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

And so it begins

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – The only Pan American Games opening ceremony general admission tickets available Friday for the public cost 3,850 pesos each, which is approximately $290 U.S. dollars. Around 8 a.m. on Friday – 10 hours before the opening ceremonies were to start – two very long lines wrapped around the box office near the Guadalajara Expo Center.

When I was there around noon, one line stretched into street traffic. That did not gain the approval of the Mexican federal police officers, who wore all black uniforms, carried semi-automatic rifles and stood in the back of marked pick-up trucks. They have had a constant presence in and around Guadalajara ever since I stepped off the plane on Thursday night.

At least four different Mexican television stations walked around and interviewed people who stood in line for opening ceremony tickets. Upbeat Mexican sports fans could also purchase tickets for other sporting events, which did not expedite the process. All walks of life waited in line under the sun: from business men wearing ties to little children, who sought shade under their parents' umbrellas.

“Everyone wants to see the basketball games – those are the most popular tickets right now,” an English-speaking volunteer at the ticket window said.

The party venue

The opening ceremony was supposed to be held at Jalisco Stadium, which is the country's third largest stadium and was built in 1950. However, the powers that be decided to switch it to Omnilife Stadium, which opened last year and cost $3.5 billion to build.

It's located closer to the athletes' village and with that kind of a price tag attached, it promises to have a much better infrastructure.

Arrivals, check-ins

USVI boxers Clayton Laurent and Tiffany Reddick arrived Thursday, taekwondo fighter Jahmar Jean-Marie arrived the day before and swimmer Branden Whitehurst has been in Guadalajara since Wednesday. USVI shooters Ned and Karen Gerard came to Guadalajara earlier in the week to get a few practice sessions in and finalize their itinerary.

“To tell you the truth, I'm not even sure where we are competing,” Ned Gerard said on my voicemail earlier in the week. “But that's why we come early. We want to take care of all the little things first.”

The Gerards open competition in the men's prone rifle and women's air and sport pistol today.

USVI sailors Mimi Roller and Cy Thompson arrived in Mexico on Thursday but they compete in Puerto Vallarta, which is on the west coast of Mexico. VIOC president Hans Lawaetz said it is a 4-hour bus ride from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta and they left for the coast when they got here so they could not march in the opening ceremonies.

Not everyone had a smooth trip from the islands to Mexico.

“We had about four bags missing from the flights when we arrived,” Lawaetz said. “The problem was that their opening ceremony outfits were in those bags. It took a little time but we finally got it resolved.”

When Tiffany Reddick arrived in Guadalajara, it was the first time she met Lawaetz and others from the VIOC executive board. Reddick trains full-time on St. Thomas – most of the board resides on St. Croix – as the Pittsburgh native is the very first female boxer to ever represent the territory at an international event of this caliber.

“Just a splendid young lady,” Lawaetz said. “We're expecting some big things from her.”

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Meeting in the middle

How did this all start? Remember those books back when we were kids and you could choose the ending or at least the next sequence in the book? I think they talked about it in the movie 'Big' with a young Tommy Hanks.

I was sitting in the Rockfish in downtown Annapolis enjoying a happy hour drink when the V.I. Daily News called me on my cell. I went outside the pub because that's what a respectbale young man does when potential employers call.

There was snow on the ground – I think it was right after a blizzard. It was very cold and I left my coat on the back of the bar chair.

It was OK because my future employer wasted little time and got down to brass tacks, which impressed me. He offered me a job to be the lone sports writer for this little publication in paradise. I had initially applied to the newspaper from my iPhone while standing atop a mountain in Maine a few months earlier.

Now at that exact moment, I was standing in the snow without a paying job or a coat and this question was asked of me.

“Would you like to work for the V.I. Daily News?”

I told boss that I would call him in the morning, thanked him profusely and politely hung up. Since I didn't even know where the U.S. Virgin Islands were located, I immediately called a good friend who is the only person I knew who had ever visited Rock City.

I could tell he was happy with the news but it also struck a nerve in him. At that moment, Nick Wassum was completely motivated. He had to come here. I think for Nick, it was already determined before I hung up with him (and even before I accepted the gig).

“Oh yeah, Nick has been wanting to live there for years,” his older brother, Jon, told me. “I think he's been mentally preparing for the move since his first visit.”

I won't get into the specifics that surround Nick's debut on these islands but it would put that Max Tucker guy to shame.

Less than a month later, my beautiful girlfriend and I were living in a one-bedroom bunker in the brush near Charlotte Amalie and I was annoying high school volleyball coaches with nightly phone calls about how their team performed in the game that night.

I think I started this blog the day before I flew here for good. To some unknown island in the Caribbean. That I have never visited in my life.

At about the same time, Nick started a mental countdown in his head for when he (and his lovely girlfriend) would join me in paradise and everything would be bliss. The only treacherous obstacle: he had a killer job, wore a suit to work everyday and was getting paid a lot of money. His girl also had a solid gig and went to work with great mutual friends.

Why pick up and leave?

Now I'm not saying that reading my shock-and-awe rants on this bloggy blog poured fuel on the fire. I'd like to think it did. I'm selfish like that.

It will be two years for me this February. Nick and Kerrie moved here three months ago. And I might add, they are killing it here. This kid left a great job, followed his dream and is chasing it before it slowly hides behind the horizon. Kerrie, who had never lived anywhere outside the D.C-metro in her life, is doing the absolute same.

They are riding the big wave that life sometimes throws you. I freaking love them for that.

Just the other night, Nick said, “We haven't been in you blog because we haven't done anything yet.”

I couldn't disagree more, my friend. On this island -- you can ask other misfit veterans -- people come and go. Drinking buddies, fellow sports fans and genuine good people spark your whole social existence here and then before you know it, they hit it big in Dallas, feed the Alaska fix, sail the Mediterranean Sea, get engaged to a French girl and move to London, take it easy in Illinois for a few or decide to travel the country and not have a worry in the world.

You know who you are.

Having Nick and Kerrie here is a new blend of life for me. Great people I grew up with in Herndon, Va. moved here to share this dream with me. It's a priceless gift and if I don't show appreciation more often, then I must apologize.

Wow. Strange memories inside this sweaty hotel room on St. Croix. For some reason, I wanted to pick the right night to write about these good people and tonight, I hit the parlay. (Calm down Chico, I got a great one in the works for you, my friend).

And on that note, I believe it is time to rest my weary head. I'm truly blessed to have such chronic friends on this island, Rocky City, New Jersey, Virgina, So Cali, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Cleeeeeeveland, Oh-hi-Ohh (OK, time to take Sublime off Pandora).

Salud! See you guys on the flip side. And good night.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Best bumper sticker ever

I was at the last comedy show put on by the St. Thomas Sport and Social Club and right after I spit out some of my beer from laughing -- yes, it really happened -- a friend tapped me on the shoulder to say hello.

It was Patrick Dow and I hadn't seen him since a blurry boat trip to Hans Lollik a few months back. We've chatted a few times on facebook (I heard that's what all the kids are doing these days) and we shared a vested interest in a certain bumper sticker that had been circulating through the Misfits on St. Thomas.

We promised to alert the other if one of us discovered it. My friend Bobbi has the same sticker on her refrigerator. To this day, it's one of the best ways to describe this backwards island.

Apparently, there is a guy who hangs out at Island Time Pub in Red Hook and sells them for $4 a pop. I saw them on sale for the first time at the annual Chilli Cookoff, but a quickly-approaching tropical storm prevented me from reaching into my wallet and brandishing actual currency.

Patrick: "Yea, I bought like 10 of them if you want one."

Me: "Let me get this straight, you dropped $40 on stickers? What are you in the fourth grade? Are you going to put them on your Trapper Keeper?"

Patrick: "Leave the jokes to the professionals, ass. And try not to spit up your beer next time you hear a good one."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Boating adventures and booze

I don't know why everyone loves that movie, Almost Famous, but do you remember when the main character wrote the lead to his story in Rolling Stone magazine? Something about flying over the ocean and "we're all going to die..."

Well I'll do you one better, chump.

Two weeks ago, I was with some friends on a boat and we were powering our way from St. John back to St. Thomas late at night. The ride usually takes no longer than 15 minutes. During the excursion, the boat shut off completely. Our drunken giggles and the sound of the whaling engines were suddenly replaced by severe silence as we started to drift in complete darkness.

The boat doesn't have a gas meter so we all thought we ran out. Perhaps the battery? It didn't really matter because we were in a pickle and the situation looked grim.

As everyone retreated to their cell phones and attempted to call boating heroes at 2:18 a.m. on a Sunday morning, I took off my shirt and stared at both shores. Which one was closer, St. John or Rock City? Could I swim it and be the hero? If I did make it to shore, then what?

All these questions annoyed me so I did what any rational person would do in such a situation.

I popped a bottle of champagne.

"I've been in a lot worse predicaments than this, folks," I said in attempt to chill everyone out.

For some, it really didn't matter. My girlfriend and another girl we were with had already hunkered down in the front of the boat. It looked like they were going to sleep this one off and wait for the sun to rise in a few hours.

So you can imagine their reactions when they heard the steady stream of urine hitting the warm Caribbean Sea in the middle of the night. They were really irked when they heard the cork pop off the champagne bottle.

I thought it was a great idea. It was a minor celebration to mark the end of a great adventure.

It all started about 10 hours earlier when Brianna and I met Scottie H and Benji at the marina, where they keep their boat. It was raining when we arrived and we just sat in our cars and waited for the storm clouds to push off.

"Shit will burn off," Brianna said while mocking one of my favorite island quotes.

For some odd reason, Moose and Marcus bought about two cases of Schaefer beer. You know, the good stuff. The cans are only 10 oz. so that justified the need to crush at least 20 of them before we got to shores of Cruz Bay.

Once there, we picked up a few more beach beauties and went to a nearby bay for some scurfing. What is scurfing you ask? Well if you didn't waste your time clicking on that link, it's basically like water skiing but using a surf board. We did that for about an hour and a half. Maybe that's how we ran out of gas?

After the scurf action, we decided to go back to shore and visit the fine establishment otherwise known as Woody's. We had already crushed our Schaefer supplies, mixed vitamin water with Cruzan dark and I guess we were all had the happy hour shakes. What turned into "one shot and we'll move on" turned into a shot frenzy and a $362 booze tab.

If there was a break in the sloppy conversation, Scottie H would lock eyes with you and tap his wrist with two fingers. In most civilized cultures, this gesture usually references what the current time is. To Scottie ("Boating!" was his war cry), this meant it was time for another round of shots. Though I didn't take part in each of them, Jager bombs, Cruzan 151, Washington Apples and Statue Of Liberty shots -- the one where you light your finger on fire -- were all consumed.

It's during those critical hours that follow when I want to hire a stenographer. For obvious reasons.

I do recall wandering into a sophisticated bar called Castaways where Scottie H grabbed the soda gun that servers use to refill drinks and shooting different liquids at innocent bystanders.

Later on, there was a debate with a cute bartender named Ricki. No, not about another gaudy bar tab. The bartender grew up on St. Croix, as did Scottie, so a little trash talk about their rival high schools started up. Since I cover high school sports for the Daily News, I felt I had some knowledge on the subject and decided to chime in on the discussion.

What did I say? I'm not too sure. I don't really remember. All available stenographers, please send me your resume.

At some point, I remember watching the Mayweather-Ortiz fight at another bar. I had a great conversation with a Islander who was a huge boxing fan. I told him that I wrote the article about the USVI professional boxers earlier in the week and he hugged me. Then he bought me a shot. It was a great symbol of respect shared among two sports fans.

The blurry St. John experience started to fade when we got back on the boat in Cruz Bay and warmed up the engines for a return trip.

Later on, when the engine went dead, the champagne was drank and after Moose proved his vast knowledge of 90's alternative music via Pandora to me, a savior joined the party.

Our friend Emily, who was also on board, somehow got in contact with a friend of a co-worker of a former roommate of a dental assistant and he rolled up to our drifting boat on a dingy with a 5-gallon drum of gas. We offered him money and he passed and he wouldn't even take a sip of champagne. A true American hero who did not seek any praise.

After a few pleasantries, he set off back to St. John and we were able to start the engine again. Most people would go straight home after such an ordeal and be happy they didn't have to spend the night out at sea.

What did we do? We got to shore and stopped into Caribbean Saloon for one. Make that many.

It was just another typical Saturday in paradise.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Muscles are sexy

Today was the day. I joined a gym.

Well, not really. I recently moved and now I am located very close -- about 75 yards -- from this gym. I don't want to divulge the name of said gym because that would violate the meathead-to-gym confidentiality agreement.

That and I haven't really signed up as a member yet. I don't plan to, either.

The girl in charge of the front desk is a former basketball stud from the island and she told me she's the only one working from 6-9 a.m. Basically, all the big wigs roll in around 9 and after they soak up their morning coffee, they will go to extreme measures to foil my evil plan.

So I checked out the place this morning and it's pretty legit by island standards. A gaggle of middle-aged soccer moms, fresh off their salsa dancing workout class, congregated near the front desk and each of these bored puppets stared at me during my shady entrance.

"He's new. Is he even a member? Should I tell someone? What am I going to do with the rest of my day?"

After I meandered through that sweaty mess, I looked around and saw only two other meatheads there lifting weights. It was like 9 a.m. so I was a little surprised. Where is everyone? Work? Sleeping off a Tuesday hangover?

I was doing neither so I made a promise to myself that I would come to this gym everyday at 9 a.m. and pump iron until the cows came home. Or until I was offered steroids in the locker room. Whichever happens first.

One of my college roommates was really into lifting. He took me out to his gym a couple times and really kicked my ass. And then he would inject steroids into his ass so I guess it was a fair trade.

OK. I'd love to keep writing but people in my office keep walking behind me and grabbing ganders at my computer screen.

"What is he writing? Should I tell someone? It's too hot today."

If they are not careful, I will rip off my shirt and expose my crazy muscles. Then a sudden roid rage will ensue followed by a protein shake. Better hold off on that plan for now. Wait until the muscles come and then I will take over the world.

Just like Arnold.

Monday, September 12, 2011

NFL action on island

Tropical Storm Maria was a complete tease. She was on a direct line for the USVI but passed north by about 50 miles. So the alleged day of reckoning turned out to be another sunny day in paradise.

Now what I am going to do with all the canned raviolis I bought? I'm sure I'll eat them eventually.

Moving on. So it's 12:50 p.m. on Sunday and the NFL is about to kick off its Week 1 action.

I was excited. My laptop was on the coffee table so I could monitor my fantasy teams, my stomach was full of cheesy eggs and I was still wearing my pajamas. It was shaping up to be a classic Sunday.

Then the satellite goes out.

I let out an angry yelp that was definitely rated R and frantically searched for answers. It wasn't because of a damaged signal or an approaching storm. Nope. The box literally turned itself out.

I looked at my watch. 12:57. Three minutes before kickoff? Sonofabitch.

I wasn't about to miss the opening game of the year but earlier in the week, I announced to my beautiful girlfriend that I was going to stay away from the bars this season. I wanted to preserve the girth of my cash roll, prevent the ensuing hangovers and spend some quality time with my lady while we shout at New York Giants together.

While I sat there and watched a TV screen full of static, my palms started to sweat. I considered jumping through the front window and running wind sprints until I passed out.

Brianna: "I can tell you're about to freak out. Why don't you just go to the bar?"

Sober NFL fan: "But I'm trying to save some money. We're paying for this satellite with the New York feed so we can watch all the Giants games. Did you hear that? I think I'm starting to hyperventilate."

Brianna: "The Giants game is on at 4. You didn't know that?"

My lady always knows what to say to clam me down. I kissed her on the forehead, put on my Giants jersey (no showering for this guy) and grabbed the dog leashes. She knew exactly where I was going.

The Dog Pub near downtown St. Thomas is a great spot. You can put your dogs in a large cage and let them duke it out while you sip suds at a nearby bar and watch football. The owner is a Giants fan. I knew this bar to be my one safe haven on a unpredictable football Sunday.

People always ask me if there is a big football fan base on the island and there definitely is. Despite the very lack of available sports bars, there are plenty of import fans from all across the States.

Check out my San Diego friends Chris and Maggie. Yes, that is their new baby already sporting Charger threads.

Hooter's (aka Hoots McGoots), Caribbean Saloon and Shipwreck Tavern are also wise selections when watching football on St. Thomas. The good people at Sib's open early for football but they are hardcore New England fans while just about any other drinking hole is a crapshoot.

The Giants ended up losing to the Redskins (for the first time since 2007) but I still had a great time at Dog Pub. Brianna's car got slammed into by some drunk leaving Shipwreck but that's a whole different story and I don't feel like typing anymore.

Maybe I'll swing by Dog Pub for one on my way home? Perhaps. Wouldn't you want to know? Good day to you, sir.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Get my glide on

The name of this bloggy blog is "Living In Paradise" but I tend to makes moves to different parts of the world. From time to time, I need a vacation away from my vacation, you know what I mean?

The fat Creole guy from The Waterboy said, "Home is where you make it." I think that's what he said. Well, I believe you can attach the idea of paradise to the same statement.

Last month, I spent two weeks in the States and was able to visit family in the Outer Banks, NC. I used to live there during some insane college summers so those barrier islands have seen me at me best ... and at my worse.

During my post-recent trip, I tried some hang gliding for the first time. Went there with a fellow thrill-seeker, otherwise known as The Hersh. Just another decent soul frolicking around the earth.

If you have a shred of athletic ability, then hang gliding is for you. It's like skydiving but not as crazy and similar to wind surfing but without the sand in your mouth. If you have the right people around you and a decent hill or cliff, it's very easy to pick up on your first try.

I had those elements around me at Jockeys Ridge in Nags Head and Mike, the instructor, was a cool guy. Therefore, I strongly endorse their company so check out their web site.

I've spent $100 on much worse things.

Now ladies and gentlemen, it's time to fire up some YouTube and watch me fall on my face. Check out instructor Mike, who actually laughed at me when I did a nosedive into the sand.

The second attempt was a little better because I grabbed some decent air. I almost landed it, over-committed at the end and ultimately, fell on my ass.

My goal was to stop eating sand.

On the last attempt, I finally landed the sonofabitch. At the time, I thought I did it all by myself but after The Hersh sent me these videos, I saw that Mike helped me at the very end. What a letdown. It was like when my dad got drunk, forgot to put a dollar under my pillow and the tooth was still there in the morning.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Flying under the grid

I am a huge fan of mockery. I like to do it in my own little ways.

My Maryland state license expired in May. My passport became defunct last February. Do I care? Not really.

I actually don't have a single accurate photo ID of myself except for my scuba diving certification card. The picture was taken in 2003. I look like a jackass. Less of a jackass than I am now though.

So as I walked through the St. Thomas airport two weeks ago ready to spend a little R&R in the States, none of these ID shortcomings really concerned me at all. Before I left, the customs agent checked my expired Md. license, didn't see the expiration date and asked the same questions I get every time.

"Take off your sun glasses ... What do you do on island, Mr. Gray?"

"I'm a writer," I always answer with a grin.

"What do you write?"

"For the Daily News, if you count that as writing. I'm the sports guy."

Usually after that exchange, the customs agent has heard enough, stamps what he has to stamp and sends me on my way. Getting off this island is extremely easy. Think Elian Gonzalez here.

I'm not in D.C. more than a day before I get an email from the good people at the V.I. Olympic Committee, who informed me that my passport status had expired and I needed to renew it pronto. I'm going to the Pan American Games in Mexico in October and they need the paperwork in like two weeks.

Two weeks? I just started my two-week vacation.

OK. I need to get a passport. What do I need for that? A driver's license. Preferably from a U.S. state or territory that I reside in. I live in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I've been there for almost two years. Do I have a V.I. license? No. Who likes the whole question-and-answer-myself technique? I do sometimes. But it's getting old.

You're supposed to get a V.I. license within 2 months of moving here. I know this because it's what every police officer has told me after they pulled me over and I handed them my expired Maryland license.

My rebuttal: "Sorry officer, I just moved here. I'll be sure to do it tomorrow. Please ignore last year's car registration sticker on my wind shield." Dumbass.

Moral of the story: the police and customs agents on this island are lazy. I like to exploit that. I like to mock them and their haphazard laws.

They are stupid. I am smart. Sort of.

Oh yeah, I went to the Lt. Governor's office yesterday, waited in a few lines, paid about $200 and renewed my passport. It will be here next week. !Viva la Mexico!

I love this country.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hurricane hilarity

Dark clouds mounted over St. Thomas on Sunday morning and you could hear the tree branches next to my house rub against the roof because of the strong winds.

Coincidentally, I was sitting on the couch watching Karate Kid II. You remember the part when the big storm is about to crush Mr. Miyagi's home in Japan? Stellar cinema, indeed.

Then my phone rang.

Scottie H: “Yo, so what's up with this chili cookoff? Is it going to happen?

Aaron G: “It says 'rain or shine.' What do you think?”

Scottie H: “The forecast says a huge storm is coming.”

Aaron G: “Let's get some beer. I'll pick you up in 20. I do not have the fear.”

Scottie H: “Neither do I. Maybe that's why we hang out together...”

I couldn't get Brianna to come because she is blessed with common sense. I put on a bathing suit, slipped on sandals and grabbed the cooler. Three ingredients to a good time.

I picked up Scottie and we drove straight to Brewer's Beach for the Texas Society Chili Cookoff. I was surprised by the early turnout considering the Apocalypse was right around Crown Mountain and it was heading toward the party.

As we pulled up to the parking lot, we saw a fat black lady walking down the street with a plastic, yellow grocery bag on her head to protect the weave.

“That's how you know this shit is serious,” I said to Scottie.

The plan was simple. Emerge from the car with just our bathing suits, a T-shirt and sandals. Leave all electronics in the car. When it rained, get in the water and bring the beer. Relax in the water. Turn around and witness the carnage.

Innocent chilli cookers and eaters tried to have fun but the weather was unrelenting. We stood there and watched as people frantically lunged to secure poles so the tents didn't fly away in the tropical winds. The rain started to pour so the guy on the stage gently talked into the microphone like it was Woodstock.

“Everyone, just hug the person next to you. We can get through this...”

We laughed out loud at people's misfortunes. We pointed at their miserable attempts to close up shop. You've heard of good Samaritans, right? We were the exact opposite.

Eventually, the good people that ran the cookoff called it quits before the storm really got nasty. We frolicked back to my car and sat on my leather seats soaking wet.

I didn't have to make any phone calls. Hurricane Party plans had already been made.

Now one of the coolest thing about living on an island vulnerable to Hurricanes is Hurricane Parties. The key is to gather with a good group before the power goes out, the charcoals cool off and the beer gets warm.

At this particular Hurricane Party, we feasted on delicious shrimp sewers, sausages and cookies. We threw down cold beer, shots of dark Cruzan and I even learned how to play dominoes.

Many thanks to the Wolverine, chef Julie, cookie master Bobbi, the landlord, the lanlord's roommate Sean and the others who made it a memorable night. I couldn't think of a better crew to hunker down with.

The powers that be put an 8 p.m. curfew in place, which made me snicker.

Before I returned home (and before the island turned upside down), I had to drive Scottie and Bobbi back home. He lived almost on top of Crown Mountain – the perfect place you want to be for a Hurricane – and as for Bobbi, she lived back in town.

We were one of the only cars on the road except for the swine. On three separate occasions, they somehow managed to pull up next to me and inform me of the 8 p.m. curfew.

The latest encounter came at 10:23 p.m.

“I didn't know, officer. I figured I could play the dumb car until at least midnight. Thanks for your concern, though.”

And then I would drive off. It was that simple. The next day, my boss gave me a Hurricane Curfew ID so now big URN is finally above the law! (Kingpin quote)

The eye of the storm actually went across St. Croix (45 miles south of St. Thomas) but the damage was very minimal. I've spent the last two days making fun of friends who had called to see if I was alive or OK.

The latest idiot, ehh, I mean good-natured friend was my boy Chico. He even posted something on my facebook page inquiring my whereabouts while I watched the Giants beat up on the Bears at Hooter's on Monday.

I called him back this morning and was surprised he picked up.

Hurricane survivor: “Chico, it's absolute chaos over here. Our house is completely gone and we're holed up in a refugee shelter. This jackal just stabbed me for the last piece of bread so I fashioned a piece of dirty wood into a spear. I'm about to run amok in this place...”

Chico: “C'mon, Urn. Tell me some truth.”

Hurricane survivor: “I'm serious, bro. Pay one of our rich yacht friends from Florida to come pick me up. It's pure anarchy. The carnage is unbearable.”

Chico: “I'm hanging up.”

Now I'm sure there are natural disasters that occur all the time on this planet and many lives are lost. Just like a devastating earthquake in Virginia. So I shouldn't make fun. But I was already warmed up and I couldn't help myself.

From a facebook post earlier this afternoon: Our Hurricane/Tropical Storm will kick your Earthquake's ass any day of the week.