Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sailing the Caribbean Blue

Why do scurvy sailors always have to make fun of land lovers like myself when we take Dramamine before getting on a boat (or in a kayak during rough conditions)?

I covered the 2011 International Rolex Regatta this past weekend and besides taking in all the colorful sights and foul-mouth sailor lingo, I was constantly belittled because yes, I sometimes get a little seasick. The harassment occurred in person and through facebook (I'm talking about you, Billy Haynie).

But I didn't let the yacht folk ruin a great weekend. I was on the media boat with the rest of the hired geeks for two days during the three-day regatta and got to meet some extraordinary people.

I brought the Wolverine with me for the first day. He posed as my intern/assistant/boat-savvy associate and after seeing all the sights, it just magnified his renewed passion to buy a boat and live on the water.

That first day, I also met up with Jason (last name escapes me), who I met last year during the regatta. This guy comes down from New Jersey every year, shoots his ass off, puts the photos online and hopes the 700+ sailors in action purchase enough so he can pay for the trip.

His girlfriend came with him on the boat last year but deferred this year because from time-to-time, she also gets a little sea sick. Go figure.

While on the deck after the first day, I kissed the ground and started to chug water because it was the first time all day my stomach was comfortable with fluids in it. I also met up with Ansen, who works for the V.I. Olympic Committee and he told me that the VIOC voted me as their "exclusive media person" for the upcoming Pan American Games in Mexico and the 2012 Olympics in London.

I'm not too sure but it sounds pretty good. This guy (two thumbs pointed back at me) is going to the Olympics next summer. Booyah!

On the final day, I brought along Daily News features reporter Michael Todd, who was just hired last month and also prided himself as a sailor of the seas. He doesn't get seasick, but he also did not make fun of me when I downed three Dramamine pills, chased with a cold Budweiser.

Two Italian photographers were also on this amazing Catamaran, which towed the hired geeks from one photography site to the next for the regatta. Dale was the boat captain and he was awesome. Probably going to tap him for a future charter when my no-good friends come to town next month.

Back to the Italians. They barely spoke English and I think they made fun of my equipment. I openly made fun of their accent with Mike and then we were even.

"That's a lovely accent you have. New Jersey?"

Overall, the Rolex Regatta was a fantastic experience.

It was just another moment I can freeze-frame in my mind and then ask the same questions I've inquired about for the last year: "What the hell am I doing here? How did I get so lucky?"

Monday, March 21, 2011

Island Irish power

As I recklessly rifled through four sets of NCAA brackets and sat at the Hooter's bar, an unusual couple came up to me for no reason at all.

It was the first day of the tourney and it was St. Patty's Day, which can be sort of a perfect storm for lunatics at the bar.

The lady had red hair and could not stop talking about how Irish she was -- "my father was this and that and my grandfather is buried at this random Irish graveyard that everyone is supposed to know" -- that kind of crap.

Her husband was pretty hilarious. He was decked out in Irish threads and even sported some St. Patty's Day pajama pants I was quite fond of (I later asked him if I could buy them and he declined my offer).

I got him to pose for a picture with Tiffany Reddick. When Reddick is not slinging suds at Hooter's, she's a USVI Olympic hopeful in boxing and she has a mean right overhand.

Anyways, I was trying to ignore them until they decided to buy me a shot of whiskey -- it's 12:15 p.m. and the games just tipped off mind you -- so I decided to halfway tilt my body in their direction and humor them briefly.

"Yeah, so I'm doing the Irish and black thing," the husband said to me.

"Oh yeah, how about we drink some Black and Tans," I respond. "That's a good Irish drink and I've got a decent beach complexion."

He agreed. But we were disappointed when I ordered. You would think that with such a vast array of adult beverages in stock, Hooter's would have more than enough Bass Ale to go around.

"Black and Tan ... what the hell is that?" the blond bimbo behind the bar said. "Is that like some Irish thing?"

"Indeed, it is," I said. "Bass Ale mixed with a stout."

"What's a stout?" she said back.

"Unbelievable," I muttered to myself, before I swiveled my bar stool back around to face my favorite interracial St. Patty's Day couple.

Instead of a Black and Tan, I bought them back a shot of whiskey and it looked like that would be enough for the redhead for a while. They told me they had been bar hopping since the early morning and apparently, were the only two members of a non-existent bar crawl that came through the area.

I watched the early games with limited interruption from the black Leprechaun, who gave me basket-by-basket updates of the games I had the most money on.

I paid my bill, said my good byes and went back into the office to finish up a few things. Later on, I was driving to a UVI basketball game and saw them stumbling around the waterfront in a drunken haze of some sort. Only on St. Patty's Day, I thought. Only on St. Thomas.

Monday, March 14, 2011

From Jersey, with love

Some time in between smuggling champagne into a hotel with a pink suit case and getting breathed by plain-clothes cops for drinking a beer in the backseat of my cousin's car, I realized something...

I freaking love New Jersey.

Yeah, that's right. Go ahead and make all the sly remarks you want about the Garden State, but all I've experienced is greatness. I went up there last weekend for a wedding between two good friends and it turned into a three-day frenzy full of mischief, dancing and even more mischief.

On Thursday night, it rained hard on the Northeast and the rental car attendant was too lazy to find me a cheap, economy car so he threw me the keys to a Dodge Cruiser and I tore out of there like I was on the run from the law.

A 56-mile flatout burn from JFK Airport to some Italian restaurant, located in the same town I was born in. Crazy. Got to see some old college friends I haven't seen since George Bush Jr.'s first reign of terror.

Friday morning was spent drooling over Tsunami footage and filing stories for my newspaper. "Yeah coach, I'm in New Jersey. No, I will not pick you up a cheese steak. That's the wrong freaking state."

After I grabbed a cheese steak for lunch, I went to the wedding chapel to read a message about love and marriage to 200 people I didn't know. The reception was silly awesome.

My old boss from Dave's Taverna Express tried to steal my suit coat and I ate all the delicious crab craws and shrimp I could fit in my gullet. During the late-night party in the hotel suit -- security only knocked twice -- I popped not one, not two but tres bottles of bubbly. When I woke up the next day, I found a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries next to my bed and my suit had disappeared. Out of sight, out of mind.

Turns out, I was very responsible and took off my all-star wedding threads that night, carefully hung them up inside the room closet and closed the door.

The only problem was that I didn't come to the realization about the suit until Saturday afternoon, when I already had several beers in me and I was consumed inside a drunken crowd of revelers at the St. Patty's Day parade in Morristown, NJ.

I immediately thought I should jump back in the Cruiser and re-claim my suit. I was concerned I might be the same size as the cleaning lady's son and that would not be a good thing.

Instead, my NJ cousins put shots in front of me and a Burger King burger for a chaser. I called the hotel. The suit was still there! I don't trust those hotel front-desk folk so I also called the girl (who was married only 11 hours before) and asked her to grab up my suit for safe keeping.

"It don't matter," I said to myself. "Like when is the next time I'm going to need a suit on St. Thomas?"

Great timing on this one. My girlfriend's work gala is this weekend. Last time I checked, the word "gala" is not synonymous with turtle neck and elegant sandals. Have you ever over-nighted a suit? Yeah, so I got that going for me.

The run-in with the fuzz was squashed quickly. My cousin Lindsay is a NJ state trooper and before you could say the words "Drunk In Public" those rent-a-cops pulled an illegal U-turn and were off hounding other unfortunate souls.

Let's see, how do I sum up the rest of Saturday afternoon?

I heard a strange woman whisper a very crazy message into the ear of my other cousin, Andrew and I saw a girl do the worm dance move on the most disgusting pub floor imaginable. The best part was that I drank delicious draft Guinness all day -- they don't really have too many draft beers on tap on St. Thomas.

Another late night led to a very early wake-up call -- I think I actually grabbed 90 minutes of sleep -- before another high-speed cruise in the Cruiser to JFK for a 7 a.m. flight back to paradise.

The random chatter with random idiots during my flight back home was very much like the valued conversations I had in Jersey with friends, family and other associates.

I guess the shock people get when they learn where I live will never really dissipate. It almost gets overwhelming at times.

"Yes, I live on St. Thomas. Yes, the weather is fantastic. Yes..."

Sometimes, I feel like I should just wear a sign so I can skip all the banter when I meet new people. And at the same time, I always find myself inviting people to come visit me. Even people I don't even know.

"But you just met me, I'm friends with your cousin," one girl said to me.

"Buy me a shot and we'll call it even," I replied.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ass-backwards

I'm sitting here inside a cumbersome newsroom waiting for these morons to call me back. Instead of eating dinner with my girlfriend, I might as well rant about something.

So many things are ass-backwards on St. Thomas.

QUICK HIT: High school softball teams do hitting drills on the football field (with no backstop and people running around the nearby track). I'm not joking, I saw it happen yesterday.

I just shook my head, walked away and moved my car to behind the gym.

ONE OF MY FAVORITES: Local basketball coaches who answer their cell phone while in the middle of a basketball game. It happened to me moments ago.

"Hello."

"Hey coach, I was wondering if I could get the results from the tournament (that ended almost three days ago)?"

"Oh yeah, I got your other voicemails. I can't talk now because I'm in the middle of coaching a game."


"Then why did you pick up the phone?"

"I don't know."


MORONS PLAYING THE PART: Varsity football coaches getting into fisticuffs moments after breaking up a post-game fight between players. I tell this one to anyone that will listen.

One of the idiots actually got promoted to head coach recently and I had the beloved joy of interviewing him on the phone. After listening to him describe his majestic and extensive football upbringing, I finally dropped it on him:

"So I have to have to ask -- why did you start swinging on coach Jarvis after last season's championship?"

"Aaron, I have to be honest. There's a lot about that situation."

"Let me stop you right there, coach. You and I both know that if you pulled that crap anywhere in the States, you would have be fired on the spot. And yet, here we are, talking about how you've been appointed to take over the program. I don't know. Maybe it's just me but doesn't that sound a little backwards?"

"I don't know."

"Great answer. You may be the best coach of your generation."


Rant over. Sanity preserved for the moment.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hitting the town

Light wallets on St. Thomas today and for many of us, it will be another Sunday afternoon spent lying near the water re-analyzing life's decisions.

Indeed. Had a few drinks yesterday.

It started at Magens Bay to celebrate a birthday for Mike, one of the owners of Epernay Wine Bar and Bistro.

Had dinner at Rancho Latino, a great Dominican cuisine joint. It was my very first visit there but will not be my last.

Stumbled over to the grand opening party for Senor Frogs in Havensight. The place just opened and I heard they charge $23 for chicken fingers. We had VIP passes so drinks and food were free last night and we all took advantage, in excess.

Around 10 p.m., we were on a ferry boat to St. John to go to the Madri Gras party at the Parrot Club. I gambled a little bit, had some spirits and made it out of there barely alive. About five of us entered the club during the party -- two of us were thrown out early (separate incidents).

Then we caught the end of a reggae-jam out band we saw the night before on St. John. Yes, I went to St. John two nights in a row. I am special.

Boarded the 1 a.m. ferry back to St. Thomas that attracted a security guard because my friend "Punchy" was running his mouth and licking his wounds.

When we got back to Red Hook, we sort of floated over the Caribbean Saloon, a great late-night spot. Cheese steak sandwiches and chicken wings went down the hatch and the food did not really get along with the J├Ągermeister, which had crashed the party in my stomach hours earlier.

And just before Punchy and I retired back to the homestead, I found $40 in my back pocket. So the night wasn't a total waste. Just another blurry roller-coaster ride in the Caribbean. Salud.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Running on empty

This is a photo I took of Theresa Hodge, who is the high school track and field commissioner on St. Thomas. Moments before, she delicately poured baking flour on the track to mark the finish line for an island meet held Thursday at Charlotte Amalie High School.

When I asked her if that was indeed baking flour, she sort of gave me a sly look and snickered.

"Yup, it's come to this," she said.

Just two days earlier, she held an elementary school track meet on a grass field and it took her two days to mark the lanes in different colors with spray paint.

"It's kind of hard to have a track meet when you don't have a track to run on," she said. "Some people wouldn't even consider this a track. What do you think?"

The track at CAHS -- the only one that exists on St. Thomas -- has been decaying for years. They can't even use Lane 1 because of all the divots. I wrote a story in the Daily News about it in August but the athletic director, who went off on the government during our interview, almost got fired.

Quote from the story:

"We are America's paradise and we don't look like it. We don't look like it at all. The facilities around here make us look like third world."

He had a very good point but to save his job, he scheduled a press telephone conference the day after the story was published and he apologized for his remarks.

And so it goes. The track still looks like shit and athletes still hold back because they don't want to get hurt.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hitch? Or not to hitch?

There were close to 1,000 runners at the start line, hundreds of volunteers and many on-lookers gathered in Cruz Bay for the start of the 8 Tuff Miles road race.

A helicopter flew overhead during the National Anthem, they had this guy yell into a microphone while people cheered, clapped and carried on. I was there to take pictures of all the commotion because that's what I get paid to do.

And then less than seven minutes later, I was sitting there absolutely alone and the scene was eerily quiet.

The runners had taken off into the hills and the fans left. The two people that promised me a ride to the finish line ditched me in confusion.

I didn't have many options left at that point. I had to get to the finish before the race winner so I could take his picture for the newspaper.

At first, I considered to just quit, walk into a nearby bar and start drinking but it was only 7:23 a.m. Only the wackos would be putting them back at this ridiculous hour.

I didn't quit. I took action.

I did the only thing I could do. I started to walk down the road and I hitched.

Thankfully, a lady I met earlier in the morning's commotion saw me and stopped to pick me up. She knew where I was headed.

Hitch hiking is actually very common on St. John, which is a good thing. All good people on that island. But around here, instead of throwing your thumb out, you just sort of point in the direction you're headed as motorists pass by.

I try to pick up hitch hikers on St. Thomas but it's hard.

Two years ago, a young law clerk who just moved to the island picked up two young drifters on St. Thomas and a few hours later, he was dead. Shot execution style and stuffed into the trunk of his own car.

Pretty gruesome, huh? You think I'm making it up?
The defendants are on trial right now.

It's crazy stuff. You know, hitch hiking and all that jazz. When I was hiking the Appalachian Trail, I relied on people picking me up when I got into town.

When I first moved here, I picked up a few guys walking toward Red Hook and became good friends with one of them, Bill Haynie, who is now a sea captain cruising around the Caribbean. I wonder what the hitch hiker equivalent is out on the water?

Profiling inevitably comes into play here. I hate to say it -- and we all do it -- but I always size up people hitch hiking:

1. Do they look dangerous?
2. Could I beat them in a foot race?
3. Ketchup or mustard on their hot dog? Or both?

I've given my girlfriend strict orders not to pick up hitch hikers unless they are female. I think she told me she had picked up a few of her students one time on the side of the road because if she had not, they would have been late for her class. And we can't have that. No sir.

But it's a tricky thing. I don't have an official stance on it.

On one hand, I don't want to die. On the other, I like to make friends.

Anyway, to finish my 8 Tuff Miles story: the lady who picked me up got me to Coral Bay just in time to take the winner's shot. It didn't run in the paper anyway so in retrospect, I should have gotten drunk.

What a great ending to an uneventful story.