Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Changing of the seasons

In the past, when I lived in temperate climates and got a good annual dose of all four seasons, I used to be annoyed by those bastards who lived in Florida or Southern California and complained how cold they were when they visited my neck of the woods.

Now I am one of those bastards.

Sure, it's supposed to me cold in Northern Virginia during the Christmas holidays -- my last visit to the States -- but I came back to St. Thomas with the flu. It was almost inevitable.

I watched a great episode of The Simpsons this morning when the family visited an apple orchard during the autumn season.

Marge says, "Aside from fall, winter and spring are my favorites seasons."

Now this statement was funny because if you ask any person who lives north of the Mason Dixon Line which season is their favorite, I'd guess 90 percent would say summer.

I thought about this for a moment. Then I looked out the window as palm trees flapped in the light breeze and a sharp sun glare pierced through a cloudless sky.

Sometimes, I still can't believe I live here.

Put it this way: I love to hike while the leafs change color, throw snow balls at unsuspecting people and mark the first day UPS delivery men break out their poop brown shorts for spring.

But over this past year, I experienced none of those joyous moments. Those UPS monkeys don't exist here but that's beside the point. There's no seasons here. It's just hot and HOTTER. Which is not a bad thing when you think about it.

I guess I do miss the seasons changing. But living in paradise is a very small compromise.

I love that I can swim at a beach almost any hour of the day (I keep a extra bathing suit in the car) and be invited to go sailing or kayaking on the drop of a dime (I'm not embarrassed to admit I also keep motion sickness pills in the glove compartment).

Putting pants on is a struggle, sun glasses are a must and my sandals repertoire has increased three fold. These are things that would not have occurred if I still lived in the upper 48. Well, maybe in Vegas. That place is insane.

Wait, where was I going with this? Oh yeah...

I'd just like to say that the St. Thomas weather is super awesome. It's reliable and consistent. Sure, a hurricane may come by one day and completely wipe out the entire island, but if we dodge that bullet, the rest of the year is golden.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tragedy at MoJo's

It was after several happy hour beers and a celebratory round of Jager shots when it finally happened.

My sun glasses broke.

I did nothing wrong here and I wish I had a cool, snappy nickname for the glasses but I don't. As we were leaving MoJo's, I grabbed the shades to put them on my face and one of the arms (is that what they're called?) snapped off.

In response, I took the glasses and slammed them down on the pavement in a over-the-top display. The whole ordeal had cruise boat tourists slowly pulling their purses and wallets closer to their bodies and had locals rolling their eyes. I then started to stomp on the shattered shades with my foot like it owed me money.

Beer tears almost started to form in my blood-shot eyes.

The bartender received a decent tip so he didn't care about my exploits. Then my friend Frank picked up one of the heavy, wooden bar stools and finished the job by smashing the shades to pieces.

Then we left. What an exit.

Those shades stuck out in my mind because they've lasted me during my entire stint on St. Thomas thus far. I remember buying them for $8 at some stupid retail store during a blizzard that paralyzed the entire state of Maryland in 2010.

The check-out lady made some sly remark like why I would buy cheap sun glasses during one of the worst snow storms to ever come across the state. I told her that I was moving to the Caribbean in a few days and that she should mind her own business.

After reflecting about our relationship -- the one between me and the late shades -- I realized that it lasted longer than any other in my life. I was a lifeguard for seven summers in a row and hit the ski slopes for four of those years. All along, I needed sun glasses to survive and never held a single pair for longer than a month or two.

I remember one summer at the Outer Banks, when I waited tables and had way too much cash burning a hole in my cargo pockets. My friend Jeff B. and I went out and purchased very expensive Arnette polarized sun glasses. Before the summer was over, they had fallen into life's abyssal lost-and-found container and were never seen again.

To make things worse, we retired back to Frank's house for a quick session after the bar. While sitting on a bar stool near his kitchen counter, I accidentally broke a glass fixture he had received as a gift. It fell to the hard floor and shattered right before our eyes.

I guess I was just into breaking cherished artifacts that day, for whatever reason. These things come in threes so I drove home from Frank's house later that night like I was taking my driving test and the instructor was sitting shotgun. Hands on 2 and 10. Turning blinkers are over the place.

So I guess I'm in the market for new sun glasses. Maybe I will hit up K-Mart after work.

Unlike my college years, I no longer have cash billowing out of my pockets thanks to yuppie tourists. Now, I just try to avoid them while I run the streets of St. Thomas and snicker at their painful sun burns.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Getting ripped

A recent picture posted on facebook by a friend caught me in some bad light. The old midsection was starting to swell so after immediately removing the tag from the picture, I went out and ran like 8 miles.

Running is fun and it will keep me spry when the cops try to ruin my fun but this old boy needs to get back in a weight room. After I came to that conclusion, it hit me. I haven't lifted weights since I moved to this fair island almost a year ago.

So I've done my research and the three finalists are the University of VI weight room, some place in Paradise Point that a co-worker goes to or the gym at Antilles School where my lady works.

Decisions, decisions...

Two days ago, I gave UVI a visit because I wrote a story in the Daily News when it opened two months ago. The athletic director there is a friend and a University of Maryland graduate. Not sure why that is of any relevance, the whole Maryland thing, so let's move on.

I pumped the chest and pectoral muscles (See, I know what I'm talking about) before a weight-lifting class from the school walked in and consumed the entire place. I'm cool with that but the few white students there kept looking at me and whispering to themselves, "Who's that guy, I haven't seen him around campus?" Like they were keeping a running tally on other clueless Caucasians.

The workout was solid and I've been sour for the last 48 hours. No pain, no gain.

As I walked out, the desk attendant, on instructions from the friendly AD, gave me a sign-up package with gym hours, classes offered and all that mumbo jumbo. It came out to $50 a month, which I guess is not that bad but this lazy guy would have to drive across the island for every workout. Not happening.

The Paradise Point joint is close to the house and I could actually run there from my house, which is a huge plus. I'm all about the environment and not trying to burn those fossil fuels, considering I have not had an emissions check on my automobile since '07.

The gym at my girl's school is supposed to be big time. Haven't seen it yet. If they have a dodge ball league or if they let me get my Presidential Fitness badge (remember those things?), then I might be sold.

Ahh, the Presidential Fitness badge. Remember the shuttle run with the blackboard erasers? The stupid V-sit always ruined me. It wasn't my fault I was a long, lengthy character whit short arms. I was always the best athlete in all my PE classes but I never could snag that badge.

My dodge ball skills, on the other hand, were among elite status. Maybe I should start a dodge ball league on St. Thomas? Let me try to get Vince Vaughn on the phone.

My man hasn't made a decent movie since Swingers and I bet I can bench more than him. Baby, that was so money!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Customer Disservice

One thing I really miss from the States is customer service. The whole concept of fast food escapes the people of the Virgin Islands and patience is your only friend while standing in line at that grocery store.

Island time, baby.

I haven't been yet (and I don't plan to visit) the DMV here. I heard the ladies behind the desk put desperate patrons on hold so they can answer their iPhone and talk with their girlfriends about the political crisis in Egypt.

Sarcasm is fun but let's go straight to my rant.

The back window on my Ford Explorer has been disconnected from my whip for almost a month now. It's no big deal, really. The two little hinges that connect the window wore down and the actual window is fine. In the States, it could be repaired in the time it takes to wait for a Big Mac in the drive-thru.

So I've had hilarious plastic garbage bags covering the back window so A) the dogs don't jump out the window and B) the rain doesn't make the inside of my car moldy. I've already gone through two rolls of duct tape.

It looks very ghetto. I snapped this shot during a day trip to St. John...

Does it give me local street credit? It surely does not. I have taken my whip to the Ford dealership on St. Thomas three separate times, yet garbage bags still dance in the wind while I drive and my buddies still bust my balls.

Let me come out and put it this way (just in case some helpless soul searched the dealership on google or something and innocently clicked on the blog): METRO FORD DEALERSHIP on ST. THOMAS is the ABSOLUTE WORST PLACE EVER!

Regardless of what the job is, don't take your automobile there. Trust me, it's the worst place ever and it's only because pure morons are running the operation. They have allegedly sent away for the parts my car needed two times now. Last week, they said the parts were in so we scheduled an appointment to fix the car. That was last Monday. It took them eight days to find room in their schedule for me. I showed up before they opened this morning -- they were 35 minutes late -- and sat in their waiting room for 95 minutes.

STUPID LADY: "Mr. Gray, I'm sorry but we don't have the parts. At least, that's what the technician is telling me."

IRRATE CONSUMER: "Wait a second, this has been going on for a month now. Why did you schedule an appointment if you don't have the parts? Why are you messing with my emotions?"

SL: "I don't know what to say. The last shipment comes in at 4 p.m. You can call back then."

IC: "On the slim chance that the right parts will arrive today?"

SL: "I guess you can call Dan -- he comes back tomorrow."

IC: "That's even better, let's pawn this off on someone else. Are you reading from the playbook for morons?"

SL: "We apologize again. I know this has been an inconvenience."

IC: "Do I at least get a free bowl of soup?"

SL: "What? I don't understand."

IC: "Nevermind."

The only thing I can do now is call Ford myself, ask them to mail the parts and fix the window myself.

I have zero car skills so I will enlist my buddy, Jerry, otherwise known as The Wolverine, to help me. He's the same guy that re-charged my A/C unit and he also cooks a mean pork chop.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Sunday

While a record number of people from across the world tuned into the Super Bowl -- 111 million viewers, which made it the most-viewed thing on television ever -- I joined friends at Havana Blue for a beach party.

It was a simple equation I never seem to understand:

open bar + thirst + football = inevitable and incredibly horrific hangover.

Some of the office ladies even commented on my miserable state earlier today when I scurried into the newsroom for some paperwork.

The party was great. I went swimming at halftime because who really cares about Fergie? Brianna made three plates of cookies and they were demolished.

On the drive over, my old college roommate Jeff B. asked me what happens on the island during the Super Bowl. Good food, booze, and weather can be had just about any day. But on Super Bowl Sunday, a special 3-on-3 flag football tournament was held for charity and all the island yahoos showed up.

And since all the lunatics were in attendance, I felt the sporting press should be included as well.

Actually, I should have entered a team. The winner got Super Bowl tickets for next year. Which explained why tempers flared and the referee feared a post-game beat down.

Every call was contested, spectators complained that bribes were had and the championship was fixed. "They been holding all game like that! How much did he give you before the game? You're an ass hole cheater!"

When I heard it, I thought it was a joke. No, this random lady was dead serious.

Then I watched as one of the players broke away for a touchdown and instead of running across the goal line, he stopped right before and stood there to gloat. Yeah, he is also a local high school's head baseball coach. The sight gave me with a warm feeling in my heart. Because of spectacles like that, I now know the island's very best is in charge of teaching children the value of sportsmanship.

His team later won the final and I had the joy of interviewing him.

Flag Football player: "This was the hardest game I have ever played."

AG: "Now you're going to the Super Bowl -- how does that feel?"

FFP: "I'll probably sell the tickets."

AG: "You are a gentleman and a scholar. Not to mention an inspiration to everyone you come in contact with."

FFP: "What?"

AG: "Nevermind."

So for me, I saw the very best and very worst football on Super Bowl Sunday. Who won the big game? I had to watch SportsCenter earlier this morning to find out for sure. Go Giants.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

British battle scars

So another Virgin Islands cherry was popped over the weekend.

I finally made it to England -- actually, it was the small island of Jost Van Dyke -- for the first time and upon telling this to my cohorts, shots of vodka suddenly appeared.

I also met one of the most interesting people, in my opinion, from around these parts.

Foxy, the proprietor of Foxy's Beach Bar, is legendary. Thousands of people venture out to his bar on Jost (which is the British Virgin Islands) every New Year's Eve for a huge party. I already asked him to save me a seat for 2012.

When our boat crew came ashore about 11 a.m. last Saturday, a few people on board decided to pay him a visit and he did not disappoint. First of all, he's been knighted by the Queen of England -- no joke. And word has it he was the first and only person to enter the Royal Palace barefoot.

He wasn't wearing any shoes Saturday and within minutes of meeting him, he started to belt out rhymes that described just about any city in the U.S. All you had to do what name it: Dallas, Camden, NJ, Compton -- he had a descriptive and well-thought out rhyme for each.

After doing a shot of fire water with Foxy, we moved on to other popular watering holes on Water Bay. Everyone always talks about The Soggy Dollar and their pain killers. It was cool but my favorite spot was One Love. It was 3 p.m., they had live music and I could barely keep myself from falling off the bar stool.

My friend Josh was also enjoying a rare day off and together, we decided to get weird.

JOSH: "Let's just keep drinking Jager."

ME: "Are you crazy? I have a wife and kids. I can't get all wasted in the middle of the day."

JOSH: "Sounds like you've already had too many."

ME: "Bartender! We'll take two shots of Jager, please."

The day continued on that pace until I realized I hadn't eaten any food yet. I fell back to our boat and bulldozed into our group's snack bag. The captain was no where to be found but the beers on board were ice cold and the party location shifted.

My beautiful girlfriend and her bikini-clad lady friends decided to lay out on the boat. My friend Jerry would call it 'Deck Candy' and I kept fumbling around looking for my camera. He took a picture of his girlfriend on a boat once, sent it into a boating magazine and now she is a magazine cover model.

The day wore on and my alcohol level remained heightened. Right before we left, I held two bottled beers (one in each hand) and tried to negotiate a big floated thing that was on the front of the boat. My boating terminology is grand. My obstacle course skills were impaired and I fell flat on my face but I managed to keep the beers upright so it was a minor victory.

No one saw the spectacle except for the boat captain, who did not laugh and just said, "I've seen so many people do that before..."

Falling on your face can be hilarious. But there was a rusty screw that stuck out where my exposed torso majestically glided across the boat surface. It was not cool. It left a bloody streak that started near my left nipple and ended in my armpit hair. Good thing I have such a muscular chest.

I was embarassed and my girlfriend was ashamed. What would Foxy think of my exploits? I wonder if he showed the Queen any of his drunken battle wounds?

I hope I don't get hepatitis or Mad Cow Disease. You can never trust the British.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hospital grub

So it finally happened.

I got my courage up, tried not to think about sick people on crutches and stuff like that and ventured to the hospital to grub some lunch.

Word on the street is that the eatery at the Schneider Regional Medical Center is the best on island and I found that out for myself when my friend Genevieve and I blew up the spot.

The hospital is right across the street from the Daily News office and a short walk away from my shanty pad. I've lived here almost a year and never knew about the fabulous cuisine.

Genevieve had been there a couple times and like many in the know, raved about it. She led the way as we entered through the Emergency Exit, which immediately had me sketched out.

It was just like the club entrance scene from GoodFellas, only we didn't say hello to all the cooks and club promoter types as we scurried inside. In our situation, those people were replaced by know-it-all doctors and nurses wearing scrubs who paid no attention to us.

We had to go through a few heavy-duty doors, down a couple flights of concrete staircases and then we arrived in front of another door that had a simple sign on it that read "Dining Area."

Once inside, I was taken aback. First of all, there were throngs of people waiting in line at the different food stations and because most were medical staff, they all seemed like they were in a hurry.

Then I saw a few people from my office in line and they gave me a look like "OK, he's in on our little secret -- he better know how to keep his mouth shut."

The place reminded of a dining hall from college where the food selection was abundant. When it comes to eating out on St. Thomas, one thing I've always noticed is the miserable lack of options.

There's no $5 foot long at Subway unless you first buy a 25 oz. drink and good luck finding a place that is still open after 8 p.m. Bar food reigns supreme and despite a huge Indian population here -- they control the island's jewelry racket -- I have yet to see a single Indian food restaurant.

No Fuddruckers. No Taco Hell. I can't even get some cotton candy up in this joint.

The hospital, however, had it all. Four daily specials (mostly Caribbean food) drew the biggest lines but there was also a sandwich deli, a make-your-own salad station, and a grill place that had fish sandwiches and onion rings!

And best of all: the food was pretty cheap. I had a golden ticket burning a hole in my pocket since my last hospital visit, so I got a loaded sandwich, chips and soda for like seven bucks. No exorbitant tourist prices here. This hospital eatery is for the good people -- the hard-working stiffs of St. Thomas.

When I paid the cashier lady, I asked if I could get some sort of meal plan discount card so I could swipe every visit just like college. Back then, those ladies were so friendly and I knew them by their first names.

Random hospital cashier lady: "I don't know what you're talking about."

Hungry, smiling patron: "If you don't know, then you better ask somebody."