Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On location in London #5

I'm covering the 2012 Summer Olympic Games from July 27 through Aug. 12 in London for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.

 
Olympic coach, new daddy
 
What would we do without Skype?
 
U.S. Virgin Islands track and field coach Charles Golphin and his wife, Trudi, welcomed the birth of their first child Wednesday night. Only problem was Golphin was in London for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games and his wife was back on St. Croix.
 
“I waited as long as I could and just flew over on August 1 because our women sprinters were racing the next day,” Charles Golphin said. “My mother and I were both born in July and we were hoping for another one but I guess it didn't work out.”
 
Weighing in at 7.5 pounds and measuring 19.5 inches, a healthy Charles Golphin III came into the world at 9:45 p.m. on Wednesday and the cameras were rolling.
 
“Oh man, I was up until about 6 a.m. on Skype,” Charles Golphin said.
 
Trudi Golphin, who has served as a USVI team leader for previous international competitions, is doing well and passed on her congratulations to the USVI athletes at the Games.
 
“We talked about this six months ago,” Charles Golphin said. “I didn't want to leave the Olympic Committee in limbo and she really encouraged me to go. If it was a girl, we were going to name her Olympia.”
 
Charles Golphin returns home to his new family on Sunday.
 
USVI Paralympic athlete visits London
 
Lee Frawley is the first-ever Paralymic athlete from the USVI and she got a sneak preview of the equestrian venue for the 2012 Paralympic Games when she caught up with the USVI Olympic contingent in London on Wednesday.
 
Frawley, an English resident, will compete in several equestrian events at the Paralympic Games, which will run from Aug. 29 through Sept. 9 in London.
 
“There seems to be a lot of walking in this city and it's much bigger than I imagined,” Frawley said. “I know there won't be as many athletes for the Paralympics but the scale is just incredible.”
 
Frawley will compete in a freestyle event where she will ride her horse, Rhapsody, in a choreographed performance to music. She played the selected song – a Caribbean steel band drum song – for USVI Olympic Committee president Hans Lawaetz from her cell phone during the visit.
 
“They loved the island music,” she said. “I think they definitely approved.”
 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

On location in London #4

I'm covering the 2012 Summer Olympic Games from July 27 through Aug. 12 in London for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.


No guns, plenty of security

Unlike the Pan American Games last October in Guadalajara, Mexico where security guards dressed in all black and walked around with high-powered machine guns, the security in London has been highly effective without the fire power.

Before the Games, there was a lot of attention on the lack of overall security and Olympic organizers summoned a few thousand military men from England to help out. They dress in camouflage fatigues while the normal London security and police forces have their own special threads.

Checking into any sports event is similar to a security check at a U.S. airport sans the show removal. The cops, security guards and military men have a constant presence in the crowd and when empty seats were visible in the early part of the Games, they turned into spectators but still kept a constant eye on the crowds.

From what I've heard from athletes, coaches and delegation officials, they all feel very safe in and around London. There have been very few – if any – security gaffes.

That was before they met me.

During the first day of track and field, I mistakenly brought a backpack and a camera bag for the full day of action. I arrived early and left my backpack in the front row of the media tribune. Then I took my camera bag and grabbed a spot near the finish line.

When I returned to my backpack hours later, two security guards grabbed me and immediately got on the radio. I'm not sure what they exactly said into the walkie talkie but it sounded like, “threat neutralized, all is well.”

Then I got a stern lecture from the men. Apparently, they took the location and random placement of my black Olympic backpack in the front row as highly suspicious. They had carefully watched it for hours, they said.

Highly embarrassed and on deadline, I apologized profusely and tried my best to get out of there quickly. Instead, they had to have a look inside.

What they thought would be a WMD turned out to be a English ham sandwich, two oranges and a folded map of the London tube trains.

“OK, you're good,” they said and patted me on the shoulder. “Cheers, mate.”


BMW capitalizes on laziness

As the eyes of the world are on London, every company out there wants to get their name involved.

BMW provided three electronic Mini MINIs to the 2012 Olympic Games. The company supplied a fleet of electronic cars for broadcasters and operational support staff to use during the games but the Mini MINIs have a far more important task.

Each Mini MINI is a 1/4 scale replica of a MINI Cooper hatchback. Picture an small electronic car with a remote control. I received a similar gift from Santa when I was nine years old.

The Mini MINIs are powered by a 10-horsepower electric motor with 35 minutes of usage time per battery pack. Grass tires, heavy duty shocks and vented disc brakes are also thrown in. They are designed to shuttle track and field projectiles like javelins, hammers, shot put and discuses back to competing athletes, saving field judges valuable time from walking back to the throwing area.

Each are expected to cover more than 30 miles of hard labor during the Games. In 2016, they are expected to compete in the marathon.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

On location in London #3

I'm covering the 2012 Summer Olympic Games from July 27 through Aug. 12 in London for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.


Coming up short at Wembley

I was with my friend Scott Hensley, a former USVI swimmer, on Wednesday and we decided to make a quick trip out to historic Wembley Stadium for a football – eh, American soccer match – between South Korea and Gabon.

Where is Gabon? Great question. I still don't really know because we spent most of the afternoon trying to explain to other spectators where the USVI is located.

Scott's friend with their tickets was running late on the tube so we wanted to grab an adult beverage and wait for the beginning of the match. The only place open for miles around was the T.G.I. Friday's across the street.

I am embarrassed to say this but yes, we went inside.

The match started and we asked the bartender to turn on the television so we could at least watch the action. No go, the bartender said. They were not allowed to turn off the U.S. corporate restaurant jargon that ran on a continuous loop. They didn't even have a cable hook-up, he said.

“You're trying to tell me that we're in the shadows of Wembley Stadium, one of the most prolific sports venues in the world, and we can't watch any sports?” Scott asked.

He wanted to leave immediately. I figured we could walk outside and at least listen to the roar of the 90,000 people who had packed the stadium to watch the Gabonese. Or was it the Gabonites? Gabalonians?

The match ended in a uneventful 0-0 draw and we didn't even get a chance to order their world-famous potato skins. For shame.

Lawaetz soaking up his final Games

U.S. Virgin Islands Olympic Committee president Hans Lawaetz and I spoke briefly on the phone on Thursday. Strangely enough, we have not crossed paths in London yet.

“Where are you?” he asked. “Russia?”

While I have been hiding out with the Ruskies, Lawaetz has been on an Olympic farewell tour. The long-time USVIOC president announced he will not seek re-election in September so the 2012 Summer Olympics will be his seventh and final Games after more than 40 years of service.

But just like he did in Guadalajara, Mexico for the 2011 Pan American Games – and countless other international events I can only assume – Lawaetz has been on the move.

Aside from showing his unwavering support for the USVI athletes, Lawaetz has already seen tennis star Roger Federer in action and visited with St. Thomas native Megan Hodge and the U.S. women's volleyball team when it took on Brazil.

He also made the 3 1/2-hour drive to Weymouth to support the USVI sailors on Wednesday and put in a stint at the equestrian event on Thursday.

What was on tap for Thursday night?

“Michael Phelps, of course,” said Lawaetz, was the first president of the USVI Swimming Federation. “Track and field starts tomorrow. You better be ready.”

At first, I thought the 75-year-old Crucian was challenging me to a race. I've been training with the Russians so I'm ready for you.

Bring it on, Hans.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

On location in London #2

I'm covering the 2012 Summer Olympic Games from July 27 through Aug. 12 in London for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.


What empty seats?

Photographers at the Olympics have kept their heads on a swivel the last two days. After they shoot the action on the court or in the pool, they immediately turn around and shoot the crowds taking in all the action.

Since when have the spectators at sporting events, or lack of, received more attention than the actual athletes? Seems like a streaker's dream.

Two days after the British media exploded with criticism over empty seats at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games – one local newspaper had the lead headline, “Empty Seat Saga Continues” – major sport venues like volleyball and swimming were just about at capacity on Tuesday. I dropped in on both and I thought the British fans came out in numbers.

Olympic organizers said Tuesday that a combined 2.1 million people have attended events in the first three full days of competition. They said 86 percent of ticket holders showed up Saturday, 92 percent Sunday and 88 percent Monday.

I think the local media just needs something else to talk about. As of Tuesday afternoon, the host country had won just four medals – no gold – which is only one more medal than Kazakhstan, which has tasted gold three times already.

Homer goes global

Facebook, Twitter and a plethora of other social media networks have been ablaze since athletes from around the globe arrived in London.

Just like in the States, the people of Europe have also become addicted to their cell phones along with the boundless wonders and incredible roaming charges they provide.

One athlete who has had a strong web presence even before he started his 2012 Olympic campaign is New York City resident Daryl Homer, a men's sabre fencer, who was born on St. Thomas. Check out his Facebook page – he already has more than 5,000 fans.

With such a global connection to other fencers in tact, pictures of newspaper coverage from around the world have flooded into him – via Twitter – over the last 48 hours.

On Sunday, Homer made U.S. fencing history when he advanced to the quarterfinals and finished sixth overall in the men's individual sabre event. Along the way, Homer beat Russia's Aleksei Yakimenko, a three-time consecutive European champion, who entered the Olympics with a No. 2 world ranking.

“I grew up idolizing him,” Homer said. “He’s a great fencer and a very nice person. I think he’s the best fencer in the world right now.”

It was the best finish for a U.S. men's sabre fencer since World War II. They didn't have Facebook back then so I've decided to send him an old-fashioned congratulatory letter through the mail.

Liquid Sunshine

On my way to see U.S. Virgin Islands swimmer Branden Whitehurst compete on a soggy Tuesday morning, I missed the first media bus and had to sit and wait for the next one with a few of the Olympic volunteers at the media bus stop.

Since I arrived, they have been very helpful and have always had a smile on their face. Even when the weather has not cooperated.

“Do you like our liquid sunshine?” one of the happy volunteers asked me as we huddled under a small umbrella during a brief rain shower.

“Oh, it's quite lovely,” I answered in my best British accent.

Before my visit to London, the only 'Liquid Sunshine' I had previously enjoyed was consumed at the Tap Room on St. John. Sunshine in London has been a rarity so far and guess who forgot to pack an umbrella?

Monday, July 30, 2012

On location in London #1

I'm covering the 2012 Summer Olympic Games from July 27 through Aug. 12 in London for the Virgin Islands Daily News. These notebook items and photos were published in the print edition.


Cheers, from London!

All seven of the U.S. Virgin Islands Olympians made it to London on time for an eventful Opening Ceremony on Friday night. One certain sportswriter, however, did not arrive in a timely manner and did not get a ticket to the festivities.

But on my connection flight from New York City to England – which was delayed almost three hours because of a storm over JFK airport – I still managed to mingle with other islanders.

I met a man from Antigua who helps manage and sell yachts all over the Caribbean. He's been to the Rolex Regatta on St. Thomas and then asked what I was going to do while in London.

When I told him I was headed there to cover the Olympic sailors from the USVI, he almost spilled his complimentary wine.

“The Virgin Islands has athletes in the Olympics?” he asked.

Because I wanted to settle down and watch a movie to pass the time, I simply handed him a few editions of the V.I. Daily News that featured the local sailors.

“Those are on the house,” I said before I put on my earphones and tilted my seat back.

He read the articles with intense interest and then tapped me on the shoulder to interrupt my slumber.

“How much are tickets?” he asked.

Empty seats and ticket woes

The British media has exploded in the last two days and criticized Olympic Games organizers for the amount of empty seats that have been evident at major sports like volleyball and swimming.

Premium tickets to the sold out Opening Ceremony on Friday ran as high as $2,708 a pop and more than 65,000 people jammed into Olympic Stadium for the spectacle.

But the finger-pointing has already begun about who is responsible for the vacant sections at the different venues.

Eight percent of all tickets have been given to sponsors while 75 percent have been reserved for the general public. Another 12 percent go to the different National Olympic Committees while a measly five percent get divided up between the International Olympic Committee and the trustworthy media.

IOC officials have promised to correct the problem. So far, the solution has been to ask the idle military security guards to stop looking tough at everyone and have a seat, preferably in the direct view of the television cameras.

Island time, England style

What should have been a 3 1/2-hour bus trip from Weymouth in south England to London for the Opening Ceremony turned into a marathon mission as USVI sailors Cy Thompson and Mimi Roller got an extended tour of the host city.

“I'm not sure the bus drivers know what they're doing,” a frustrated Thompson said. “It's already a long trip and because they were not organized, it added another hour and a half to the trip.”

The sailors eventually made it to London for the Opening Ceremony. Barely. The way back the very next day was the same story.

“The trip back took twice as long – like six and a half hours,” Roller said. “It was sort of an ordeal.”

The USVI sailors start their competition today and they have already reached out to a local safari for a ride.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Plenty of bark, no bite

So they have these people on the island that assume prominent positions known as "barker."

It's quite an interesting endevour. You basically sit there and yell at unassuming tourists as they march by in some sort of daze. You can actually feel them try to stay pristine during their clueless saunter, but they are obvious marks walking the plank through downtown Charlotte Amalie.

My friend Blake is one of the best barkers in town and while I stood next to him today, I had trouble trying to hold down my lunch while be harassed and berated random white people and tried his best to get them to walk into this restaurant to have lunch. Pure word-of-mouth action in full effect here.

I stumbled away and drank beers with the Wolverine, who was tending bar about 50 feet away. I couldn't take it anymore. But I eventually came back to watch some more. It was like a car accident drive by, you had to give a gander. You know, the whole process of it.

Making, or trying to make, people do shit they may not have planned for is kind of hilarious. To watch people in those intermediate decision-making moments -- they are always brief -- is kind of hilarious.

My bud, Blake, was out there all day. I'm talking 9 to 5. It was almost too much to stomach.

Blake: "Bro, I make mad money doing this shit."

Me: "Really? I'm befuddled by all of this."

B: "Do you just say, 'befuddled'?"

M: "I did. Indeed, I did."

He later told me that he gets a dollar a head -- barked at or not barked at -- for the lunch shift. It's an air-conditioned place on the water front...OK, I get it. You'll snag a few here and there.

But wow, dude. You really wake up for the day, shower up and report for work everyday to do this shit?

I'm getting nauseated just thinking about it.

When I was younger, my brother and I sold weak-ass fireworks around July 4 in one of those tacky tents on the side of the road. In Virginia, nothing that actually shot in the air was legal so this was a junior-varsity fireworks stand.

But still, I was almost forced to sell, yell, and even bark at passerby's in the Walmart parking lot that we took homage in. It was horrible.

Do they even sell fireworks on St. Thomas? OK. I now have a new game plan...who's ready to listen to a new business venture?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Nooosspapa mon delivers

I remember thinking something like, "Whoa, it's like 9:30 a.m. and we're still going..."

Just then, my brothers, who were swimming in the infinity pool under a early morning sun, started to taunt what they thought was a man standing near the fence to this elaborate and gaudy property.


I sprung into action. I walked over and to see what this person wanted. Only trouble, I presumed.

Turns out, it was not a man but a fiery woman with very short hair. A neighbor. A person, she led to believe, with power.

I played it cool to begin.

Aaron: "Good evening, mam, or should I say good morning."

I still had a cocktail in my hand and I was soaking wet from my previous pool visit. She was not impressed.

Crazy woman: "Are you fucking kidding me? Good morning!? Who the fuck do you think you are?"

I was ill prepared for this encounter.

A: "I apologize mam --"

She cut me off immediately.

CW: "Listen. It's fucking 9:30 in the morning and you have the music blasting. There are good people here that have been trying to get sleep all night. We've had enough of your shit."

She held all the cards in this hand and I was ready to fold even before I walked up to her. I will not humor you with the rest of the conversation but it got ugly. Quickly. Indeed, this was no time for a showdown.

Granted, we had put down thousands of dollars to make this villa our we-don't-give-a-fuck vacation villa. But this is not 'Nam. There are rules...

The conversation ended abruptly when I proved to her that I lived here, was not some schmuck from (enter random U.S. state here), and promised to shut down the party as long as she didn't call the swine. Not that they would have come anyways, they have bigger fish to fry. So we left our encounter on even accords and the party ended with a few snaps of the finger.

*   *   *

Two weeks ago, I had approximately 25 cousins, wives, husbands, boyfriends and girlfriends of cousins (whatever, you get the point) visit me on St. Thomas for a magical Caribbean vacation they've only ever read about.


We had two monster villas under our belts, countless bottles of cheap rum and an appetite for destruction on our combined group resume.

Months earlier, I put out an open invitation to all my cousins -- I have quite a few -- to visit me for one solid, crazy week on the island. I was expecting an optimistic return of 50 percent. I didn't get a single "No" which is a testament to how awesome my family is. At the same time, it struck fear into my soul.

Living here, you always run into people that have a friend or two visit them from the States. No big deal. The revolving door on my house has been swinging in the Caribbean breeze ever since I moved here in 2010. I love visitors and I invite them from far and wide.

But 25 heads? It was a huge undertaking. No doubt. By some sort of pure luck, I was able to pull it off.

I took the week off from work, which was a necessity. Living here for over two years, I basically put down on paper all the cool things I like to do here and just threw it at them in some kind of blind itinerary. Some people may flinch at the concept but everyone involved on this trip absorbed it and prospered.

It was an amazing week. Movie night on Water Island, Festival on St. John, Megans Bay, Peterborg, Frenchtown, Sib's on the mountain, and even a ride on the Treasure Seeker. Plus, every bar we visited, we took over. It was fabulous.

Just want to thank all the family involved. You guys were great. Let's do it again next year. Why not?

Nooossspappa mon!

Thanks for all the love. See you guys again real soon.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Loose cannon on the beach

Maybe he approached me because I was the only other white guy inside a packed gymnasium. Or maybe he just needed a friend?

Professional boxers are interesting people. Less than 24 hours earlier, Adam Schwartz attacked a St. Croix boxer during the Boxing In Paradise V weigh-in at Lindbergh Bay. The spectacle sparked some excitement for an event that was sluggishly blurred for me because of too many afternoon beers.

I grabbed a photo, that was published the next day in the paper. In plain sight of random tourists walking down the beach, Schwartz said something lethal to Austin Joseph, who was about to make his pro debut. After Joseph took offense, Schwartz kissed him on his face and then the abbreviated brawl was on.


It was the first professional boxing weigh-in I had ever covered. I had seen enough of them on TV and of course, it's always appealing to see two guys give a free sneak peak of the bashing that many will have to pay money to see the next day.

I had to talk to this loose cannon cowboy.

During our interview, I learned that he trained at a gym in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. that was coincidentally across the street from a dive bar I had visited several times. My boy, Chico, was a veteran bar back there -- I'm talking close to a decade -- so I was very familiar with it and the lunatics who drank there.

"I don't give a fuck," Schwartz barked. "I'm going to kill that bastard tomorrow night."

I hadn't even asked a question yet. Then I had to remind him that I worked for the newspaper and that our interview was completely on the record.

Somehow, the conversation quickly shifted to where he trained and the people he hung out with in Fort Lauderdale.

"Chico? I don't know any Chico -- he sounds like a douche bag," Schwartz said.

This was an interview about boxing yet we never really talked about the fight. I couldn't stop giggling at this guy. It was like the Great White Hype but this fool was a lot more cocky.

"What, you want to buy some ecstasy? I can get you weight," he bragged.

OK, that was first. I wondered how many times Max Kellerman was offered drugs by the pro boxers he interviewed during his illustrious journalism career.

Fast forward 24 hours. As expected, Schwartz got his ass kicked...

The bruiser had a reported MMA background and it was obvious seconds after the opening bell. Joseph knocked him to the canvas three times in the first two minutes and then it was all over.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this blog post.

I sat ringside and watched the main event bouts for the rest of the night. The V.I. boxers cruised and one of them, Julius Jackson, almost sent his helpless opponent into my lap. Photographer extraordinaire Thomas Layer captured the scene...


Completely rattled and I'm sure, a little embarassed, Schwartz emerged from the locker room all cleaned up and found me in between fights. He made immediate excuses for his pitiful showing but this time, I wasn't asking any questions. I had seen it all. Everyone did.

You could tell he had no idea what he had got himself into. And now, after the fact, he had no idea what to do with himself. Schwartz asked me what I was up to that night and I balked.

The fights were actually held the night before the St. Thomas Carnival Jouvert so it was sure to be an exciting evening on the Rock but I had no capacity for this loose cannon.

Just then, the professional boxer took a quick moment to pose with me for a photo. Either he will become a champion one day and this will be a famous picture or I'll be sending it to the Fort Lauderdale police department to prove his St. Thomas alibi when his drug dealing friends get killed.


Monday, June 25, 2012

I love cops

These are tough economic times in the islands so a little league baseball team or non-profit organization selling water on the corner or at the intersection has become a mainstay on the lavish streets of St. Thomas.

Now the local swine have gotten in on the action.


While I was driving to work this morning, I was talking on the cell phone (Yes, guilty as charged) to the proprietor of a local beer-slinging establishment. I'm trying to get 20 cases of beer at cost for when 22 of my cousins visit next month...does that math add up?

Anyway, instead of declining on the exceptional offer of $1 for an ice-cold bottle of water, I came in direct eye contact with a local cop just standing on the side of the street. I think I actually switched hands with my cell phone while we shared a moment staring at each other.

His trained police response: He tapped on my car while I drove by and yelled, "Pull over!"

I contemplated a fierce getaway (I was mobile and he was just standing on the side of the road) but it was 10 in the morning on a Monday. Certainly, not the right time for a showdown.

I pulled into a nearby gas station, nonchalantly put on my seat belt and started to get my paperwork in order. But he never came. I rolled down my window and looked back for him and he motioned for me to exit the car and come to him, while still standing on the side of the road.

Right then, I knew I was dealing with a pure professional.

The following dialogue was the same interaction I've had with just about every traffic cop since I moved to St. Thomas in 2010. Almost verbatim.

Swine (while looking at my Maryland driver's license): How long have you lived here?

Ex-patriot: Only about a month, just for the season. (Even though my name has been printed up to three or four times in a daily newspaper for the last two years)

Swine: You know you're supposed to get a V.I. license after one month?

Ex-patriot: I was unaware of that, sir. I will drive to the DMV -- or whatever you guys call it down here -- right away. I will correct this problem. It's my mission in life.

(During our little exchange, about two or three different cars honk and wave at the cop)

Ex-patriot: You're pretty popular around here, huh? Do you help them sell water on the weekends?

Swine: Your court date is set for August 26. (The same day I leave for the Olympics)

Ex-patriot: Sounds good. I'll text you beforehand, maybe we can carpool?

He did not laugh, removed his sunglasses and gave me a sinister look that only a man above the law can give while standing on the side of the road.

I grabbed up the ticket, held back on my "nice doing business with you" remark and walked briskly back to my car.

Ahh, another Monday morning in the books and another traffic ticket.

I quickly called my beer-slinging accomplice back (after I was out of view of the stationary police officer of course) and closed the deal for the booze. One door closes, another one opens. Unfortunately, my credit card balance will take a hit on both ends.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Timing is everything

The summer is upon us on St. Thomas and that means only two things: sweaty morning runs and occasional 12-hour blackouts.

I was trudging up a hill near my house this morning when a co-worker pulled up aside me in his car.

Marcus Browne: What up, playa?

Sweaty, hyperventilating runner: Oh, what up, Marcus? You live around here? I live right up there...

MB: Yeah, man. Right down this road. It's a small island.

SHR: Cool, we should start hanging out. You know, outside of work.

MB: Yeah, mon. For sure. Enjoy your run.

He pulled away, I put my ear phones back in and continued my assault up the hill toward my house. When I got to the small street in front of my house, I started to walk and cool down.

Just then, a tree branch snapped about 20 feet above me and came crashing down with a huge iguana hanging on for dear life. The reptile absorbed the fall, left his defunct magic carpet (the tree branch) and quickly scurried back into the bush.

The iguana's crash landing happened about 10 strides directly in my path. If I hadn't stopped to talk to Marcus, the green bastard would have fallen right on my head.

It was an omen. Today is going to be a good day.

*   *   *

I'm in my office now and while in the process of writing this, Marcus passed by my desk and I told him the abbreviated story.

"That's crazy, man," he said. "You owe me."

*   *   *  

You think iguanas are nasty? Well, what do you think they taste like? Thanks to our friends over in Puerto Rico, you may already eaten it before and not known it. Check out this story.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Naughty by nature, not cause I hate ya

I don't really remember when I acquired the shirt.

I want to say it was in 1995 and I think I accidentally stole it from my best friend growing up, Travis Castleman, who is now married and the proud father of two.

As for me, no kids yet. I just brag about shirts that have been in the rotation for more than 17 years.


This was the scene on Saturday before a boat trip to Jost with Capt. Morgan and Ms. Carrie. Surrounded by beautiful women is just half of what I adore living on these fine islands.

I also love it when my continental friends send me photos and messages that bring me back to the States. It happened early Saturday as I was buying cheap beer and beef jerky at a neighborhood grocery store.

My good friends Dana and Doug, their daughter Kate, and Dana's father (who is one of the best hikers on the trail these days), who goes by the name Baltimore Bob, send me this photo while they were driving to a family retreat for the weekend.

Anything associated with a family retreat brings me joy. When you throw in some hard-core rappers from the 1990's, it just makes my day...


I immediately put on my favorite shirt. They had inspired me. Via facebook.

Who doesn't like Naughty By Nature? Everyone with their hands raised, please stop reading now and log on to weirdo.com. Never heard of them -- I do have some late bloomers reading these days -- then go ahead and get your google on.

My friend, the Hersh, told me they performed at the BVI Music Festival earlier this month. And I wasn't there? For shame.

OK. Kind of forgot what I was writing about or the point I was trying to make. But please take this away: I love my friends, they literally dictate my fashion choices for the day and I'm down with O.P.P. Yeah, you know me.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

St. John shenanigans

Do you remember that last scene in The Hangover when they find the digital camera with all the images that shed light on the previous night's debachery?

Well, that happened to me on St. John a few weeks back. Just replace the digital camera with a big, clunky action sports camera and swap Zach Galifianakis and Ed Helms with my island mates the Wolverine and Trish the Dish.

Here's the scenario: So I was having a few lunch-time brews at the Caribbean Saloon and in walked Wolverine and Trish. I tell them that I have to go to St. John that afternoon to shoot the final of a high school softball tourney and then decide to accompany me on this mission.

The game wasn't supposed to start until 8 p.m. That left several hours of trouble in between.

*   *   *

After finishing what I thought would be my final drink at Woody's, I decided it was time to put my game face on and go to work. The bar is about 75 feet from the ballpark so I started to pack up my gear before I heard a familiar moniker.

"Hey, newspapa mon?"

I turned around and the entire Kean High softball team was standing in front of Woody's. They were in full uniform and stared right at me.

"What's this?" I muttered and gave a quick look at my watch. "Did I miss the game?"

Nope. It had started to rain -- I didn't even notice -- so they postponed the championship until the next day. So you're telling me that I've been hangining around Cruz Bay, drinking all day for no reason at all?

"Yes, that's exactly what I'm telling you," the Wolverine said.

So as you can imagine, we made a full assault on the local pubs and it got a little hazzy after that. These are some of the photos I found on my camera the next day...











Other island mates Marcus, Moose and Ms. Jodie are also featured here. Did you see the really tan woman that looks like Carmen Diaz' roommate from There's Something About Mary? Yikes.

Also, the Dominicans on the ferry ride home were hilarious. When one of their buddies totally collapsed with his ass hanging out, they all just laughed. Thank goodness Ms. Jodie is an ER nurse.

Good times, for sure.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

He's back, baby!

OK, let me start off by saying I'm sorry. It's been nearly two months since my last post and there is only one reason for my absence.

Those of you who know me well understand what consumed my free time. It's been a tough run but I feel like I've finally turned a corner and I'm ready to write again.

Alright, it's time to come out with it.

I took a part-time job as a top secret agent and my first and only assignment was to infiltrate a group of rum-guzzling land pirates who roam the island countryside on motorcycles and wear black leather vests.

I know what you're thinking...HST's Hell's Angels. Yes, it was something like that but these guys were called the Caribe Riders and they don't brake for anyone.

The only problem was I got too close. I even got an over-sized tattoo on my back that looks like Queen Elizabeth riding on the handle bars of a motorcycle operated by Mitt Romney. The other Caribe riders didn't understand the joke -- neither did I -- but they let me in their gang anyway.

So, yeah. Now I got that going for me. Booyah!

And we now return you to your regularly scheduled program already in progress...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Real World heckling

So I was chilling on a boat with the rest of the hired geeks and something caught my eye during a lull in the high-powered sailing action.

We were taking photos of the International Rolex Regatta and we were right next to Hassle Island during the town races. That's the portion of the regatta when million-dollar sail boats have their spinnakers flapping in the wind inside the harbor while overweight tourists gawk at the colorful spectacle.

One of the mindless sight seers was a member of the MTV reality show The Real World -- yes, they are filming the show on St. Thomas -- and he and two cameramen were on the edge of the small island taking in the action.

I had to yell at him.

"Seven strangers, picked to live in a house and have their lives changed..."

The cast member looked over to me and smiled.

"You don't look like Puck, where's my boy, Dominic?" I yelled.

"So you just make fun of them right to their face like that?" one of the USVI Tourism executives asked me. She was on the boat for unknown reasons. I wasted three Dramamine pills on her friend, who continuously chundered below deck.

"I fuck with them constantly," I said. "It's one of my favorite things to do here."

Honestly, I've seen them out and about St. Thomas for a few weeks now. They hit all the places you would assume: Duffy's, Starz, Shipwreck, Carib Saloon, etc.

When I saw them for the first time, I actually felt bad for them. It was a few weeks ago and Spring Break was in full effect, so every move they made, they were followed by a gaggle of MTV pimple-popping groupies.

Who would have thought playing Twister would draw such a large crowd?

I've heard some hilarious stories from friends describing encounters with the MTV ass clowns. One friend held the redhead chick's hair back so she could throw up after drinking too much. Like everyone, she declined to sign the release form.

"They'll probably just blur out your face," the fire crotch cast member later told my friend. "Getting us on film throwing up is their favorite shit."

I had another friend, who works at a certain Red Hook establishment (in a parking lot), that told me about the cast member with big ass holes in his ears. Apparently, all the cameras following him around was a little too much to handle so he locked himself in the bathroom to cry.

That's the same bathroom I've chundered in on more than one occasion. And every time it happened, no one had to hold back my luxurious locks.

From what I heard from most people is that when the cameras are on, these cast members have to put on a performance. Basically, be something they're not. When that little glow from the camera spotlight starts to simmer, they fall back on their normal persona and really aren't that interesting. Not that they were interesting in the first place.

One bartender told me the production crew is a lot cooler than the actual cast members. How does that work? I want to shoot a reality show about the people who shoot reality shows. Shit, that's a better idea than Khole and the talentless Lamar.

I've already contacted friends about taking a small boat across the harbor and infiltrating the Real World compound. Nothing too crazy. Maybe some eggs thrown at the house and toilet paper in the trees. You know, your basic middle school shenanigans.

It's time to stop being polite and get real.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Getting my hair did

I'm about to plan my exit strategy on another long day at the office to watch the NCAA men's basketball final. For the second year in a row, I'm leading my office pool and yes, for a second year in a row, everyone in the office is accusing me of cheating.

After all, I do organize the pool. And I am the sports writer. C'mon, those other office hacks didn't stand a chance.

But it reminded of that blissful day in March when the tournament started up and the Madness took hold. I coincidentally had the day off and there was a full slate of basketball to watch on TV. Naturally, I made my way to the bar just before noon for tip-off.

But this wasn't your typical drink-and-watch-sports-all-day extravaganza. I brought my part-time hair stylist with me and she got to work on my dome piece. No scissors needed. Just a few small rubber bands and a little patience.

The good people at the Dog House Pub let me get my hair did while watching the games and this was the final product.

I don't think the lovely Jenna knew what she was getting into. Apparently, you're not supposed to wash your hair before it gets twisted up and she said that made the job harder. I think she did a good job and I paid for her services with a burrito and a few beers.

I haven't cut my hair in over a year. The barber shops on St. Thomas are comical and I've been holding out in protest ever since I was forced to point at a picture on a poster so the Dominican barber (who barely spoke English) could figure out how I wanted it cut.

Unfortunately, all the pictures on the poster were of black gentlemen. So there may have been a conflict in communication between us. He butchered me and I haven't let anyone touch my hair since.

Eventually, I have to get my hair cut. But not after shaving a fake bald spot on the top of my head and then styling a mullet for a few weeks. These hair modifications would only play out for the simple reason of hilarity.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Feel(ing) good story

Among a huge heap of scattered papers, empty energy drink bottles and a random baseball on my desk, I came across a letter from one of our valued V.I. Daily News readers.

Usually, people just leave crazy, F-bomb-riddled voice mail messages on my office phone to let me know I'm doing such a wonderful job covering sports in the territory.

Well, this reader ignored the phone book and typed out a lovely letter for me. It was in response to an article I wrote about a high school football player who found success amid early struggles.

The people who call the shots at the paper liked it so much, they put it on the front page and it was one of those true journalistic moments when sports transcends into news.

Or they just had nothing else to go with that day.

Please don't laugh too hard at our website design and check out the story at this LINK.

The only reason I found the buried letter is because the lady who wrote it just dropped in to discuss the article further with me. She did not know him personally, but if you read the article, I think everyone on island knew of his antics.

We talked for a while and she pleaded that I write more stories like it because there are plenty of young people that are trying to turn their lives around.

"And if you keep writing about them, the kids will read about it and try to do the same with their lives," she said, while holding my hand and trying to hold back tears.

"Wait, let me get this straight, high school kids are actually reading the newspaper?" I asked to break the tension. I think she wanted a hug.

Apparently, they do. Which is why this newspaper somehow still turns a profit. And that's probably why we haven't updated our website layout since 1990. Hmm, interesting.

Running into appreciative readers is always a breath of fresh air.

Like I said before, it does not happen often. When it does, it's pretty awesome. Especially when it comes in the form of a random grandmother with soft hands and kind words.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My dogs are limin' hard

I was texting with my girlfriend the other day about normal midday bullshit. How was your day? What time do you want to do dinner? All that stuff.

I had to go cover a basketball game so to end the conversation, I threw out this matzo ball:

Ok. Fish for dinner sounds delicious. By the way, the dogs have Lyme Disease. Both of them. Have a good afternoon.

For some odd reason, she immediately halted our text dialogue and my phone started to ring. Who could it be? Ahh, she elevated it to a voice correspondence.

Aaron (with jackass sarcasm): Hey, so what's on your mind?

Brianna: What? Lyme disease? Are you serious?

Aaron: Yeah, no biggie. Doc thinks they got it in the States and brought it over here but it had been dormant for the last two years. I told him I wanted my money back from the previous two years' worth of blood tests. He's not playing ball.

Brianna: Stop messing around. This is serious.

Aaron: I am serious. And my wallet is almost $500 lighter now. He gave me some pills and he thinks the meds will knock it out.

Brianna (while looking up the disease online): This is scary. I'm calling my mom.

That fine lady is such a worrier. But it's a good thing. Who else is going to step up and pop a blood blister under my toe nail to prevent infection or allow me access to her protein supplements? And that, among many other reasons, is why I love her.

But I'm also in love with two other sexy ladies on this island and I just learned they had the same disease as that chick from the Real World. Remember her? That black dude slapped her in the face when she was in a car. Ahh, good times.

That reminds me, the freaking Real World is filming on St. Thomas right now, but that's a hilarious story for later in the week. Spoiler alert: They are all Douchebags with a capital "D."

Back to my beloved dogs. Doc said he was 99 percent certain they got Lyme Disease in the States. He's been in the vet game on island for the last six years and only three dogs have ever test positive for Lyme Disease. Hunter was No. 2 and Sydney was No. 3. It's actually very rare on St. Thomas.

I had to feed them these horse pills twice a day for about three weeks. I started to hide the pills in cheese but they became very hip to that.

Then I attempted to crush up the pills and sprinkle it on their food. It took forever.

The simple approach actually worked best. I would give them big bowls of wet Alpo and just stuck the pills into the Grade D beef. They devoured that stuff so fast, they barely even saw the pills.

Later on, I went to a 3-week check up, they drew blood and said they would call me later. I wanted to wait for the results but they said it may take 20 minutes. I was fine with that. Then they said maybe 30 minutes. I was still game.

They obviously wanted me to leave, which was a little strange.

"I promise, we'll call you with the results in about an hour," the untrustworthy receptionist said to me.

OK. I understand. But as I walked to the car, I wondered if that was protocol in case dogs are still sick and they don't want owners flipping out in their office. Yeah, that was probably it.

Well, I dropped off the ladies and went to work for the day. Four hours passed. Five. These bastards really knew how to build the suspense.

Finally, the head doctor called me at 5:15 p.m. I guess it was quitting time for him and he had to knock out a few minor tasks before he left for the day. Meanwhile, an insecure dog owner has been biting his finger nails all freaking day.

He told me the girls were OK and the medicine worked. I was so happy to hear the news, I drew a blank on asking him follow-up questions. I had just spent the previous six hours prodding regatta boat captains with questions, pressing a chess professor on the legitimacy of his job and trying to make 15-year-old high school basketball players say something longer that three words.

Yet, I couldn't get a single question in for this guy. And he knew it. He hung up with me instantly and then he was gone.

Could it all have been a hoax? A trick? A mean ploy to make some broke sports writer even more broke? Maybe they had a bad month? Maybe they had to get some funds up?

They thought, he's some chump with two dogs. Two dogs! Let's tell him they have Lyme Disease, charge him for the tests, charge him for this expensive medicine (which was just estrogen pills) and see if he falls for it. What a sucker.

That person was me. They're always out to get me, right? Either that, or I have a real fucked up way of playing devil's advocate. Whatever. The dogs are good. My bank account is meager and everything else is splendid in paradise.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Iced, Iced, Baby

I was cranking hard on some Ice, Ice, Baby on the way to work today and as a standard on St. Thomas, the island locals gave me the "crazy white boy stare."

Then I saw a girl I knew walking along the road, pulled over to give her a lift and quickly turned down the volume as to disguise my inept musical taste.

She got in the car and smelled like a brewery. As a standard on St. Thomas, she had been out late the night before and passed out at somebody's house.

I dropped her off but the sassy sounds of Vanilla Ice were still in my head. Then I came across this little picture.

Urban Dictionary defines the verb getting iced as the act of drinking a Smirnoff Ice on one knee as fast as you can, following the presentation of the 'ice' in a clever manner.

I think the first time I saw someone get iced was in college but on the islands, it's actually making a steady comeback. Just like drinking Jager. Sure, we poured that crap down our throats with little remorse at the university then we shunned it forever, right?

Not on St. Thomas.

Maybe it has something to do with the sailing but Jager is a go-to poison at the local bars.

Anyway, back to getting iced. That photo was taken moments after my friend Carrie strategically placed a Smirnoff Ice inside a cooler and asked me to grab it right before a boat trip. While captain Morgan fueled up the Black Pearl, I took a knee and reluctantly paid homage to the Smirnoff gods.

Remember back in the day when you drank Zimas with Jolly Ranchers inside them? No, you don't remember that? Well, I guess my childhood was more messed up than yours.

* * *

So I was sitting inside The Rock and working out a algebra formula on a cocktail napkin. I asked my amazing neighbor Emily to let my dogs out so they could pee and so I could keep wasting time in bars.

I asked Mr. Goldman how many bottles of wine I should get her for all the times she has let my dogs out. He started to formulate the equation and I immediately lost interest and watched Linsanity on TV instead. Not sure what he came up but that's not why I have him on the payroll.

Moments later, a phone call came in and Mr. Goldman sprung to life.

"As your attorney, I advise you to buy some beer, hop in my car and drive with me to Neltjeberg for a bonfire. This needs to happen right now."

I always take the advise of a trained lawyer. Before we knew it, we had three Spring Break girls in the back seat and we're headed to the north side. Before we hit the climb, we stopped at Race Track gas station (every gas station on this island sells booze) and I pulled out my credit card.

"What? 12 dollars for a six-pack of Smirnoff?" I barked at the gas attendant. "That's more than my 12-pack of beer. This is highway robbery. I'll get you for this."

The gas attendant was not scared and even snickered when he swiped my credit card. I tried to ice his ass but I didn't want to waste the two bucks.

When we got to the bonfire, a girl that was already there tricked her friend and coincidentally iced her hard. It was kind of hilarious. Then I remembered what was inside our booze bag and was instantly embarrassed. I quickly handed the bag to the Spring Breakers and ran toward the beach.

You can't get iced while in the water. Can you? Where's Vanilla Ice when you need him most? I subscribe to him on Facebook. I wonder if he likes Smirnoff Ice?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Running 8 Tuff Miles


I've been on the sideline and covered the St. John 8 Tuff Miles Road Race the last two years with the other hired geeks. This year, the race director talked me into running the event and once the boss heard of this, a first-person column was in the works.

My man Thomas Layer took some killer photos. All I had to do was run the bastard.

Much easier said then done. For those people not living here, let me try my best to describe this very unique race: It's freaking hard. Five miles of all uphill -- about 1,400 feet of total elevation is climbed in the race -- then the last three miles is mostly downhill.

This race is not for the phony tough. Only the crazy brave. The day after it was all over, I could barely walk but I sauntered into my office and tried to make sense of it all.

An excerpt from my column about the race: "I thought there's no way I would be able to watch Zuber finish (unless I cheat - an idea I momentarily contemplated), but if I finish before Zuber's girlfriend, then I can still be a champion.

She didn't know it then, but Michelle became my racing rival at that exact moment. Lots of people listen to music to get focused, some meditate. For me, I just chase other people's girlfriends up and down treacherous hills for 8.375 miles."

Here are the links to my column and the official race story.

If any of you runners out there want a Caribbean challenge, this would be a great time to make a visit. If you just like to sit around and drink beer, of course this place is good for that, too. Cheers.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

You can't make this shit up

Got this photo from a friend and she claims it was taken on St. Thomas. I don't know whether to laugh or cry...


I called the corporation phone number and it didn't connect. Sounds Filet-O-Fish fishy...

I was going to blog about how pathetic the McDonald's restaurants here are. The whole concept of fast food escapes the employees on island. Sitting in the drive-thru (even if there's just one or two cars ahead of you) is a death sentence.

Pick-up orders can be worse because you can actually look over the counter and witness the morons in action.

When it comes down to it, I shouldn't eat that crap anyway. But for a deadline writer on an island known for convenience, it's either Mickey D's or cardboard pizza from a gas station. You make the call.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Super Bowl in paradise

It's been three weeks since the New York Giants won the Super Bowl and I'm still riding that wave.

I ordered the Sports Illustrated subscription with the free Giants swag, reluctantly removed the Giants logo as my facebook profile picture and now a guy named Jeremy Lin has quickly become the new king of New York.

Funny how fast things can happen.

But before I turn my Sunday sports attention toward PBA Bowling, I wanted to put a few photos up that documented that glorious February night in the Caribbean.

First, it all started out with a pig roast at the Dog House Pub. Check out what the cook wrote near the pig's ass. (From the Simpsons: the best meat is in the rump).

They set up some projector screens at the pub and of course the party started early. I started to grab random rastas. Usually, that is not a smart move but my team was in the Super Bowl, bitch. Just like Big Ern McCracken, I was finally above the law.

Then Eli Manning did what he does best and rallied the G-Men back in the fourth quarter. It was a great moment in sports and definitely something I will remember for years to come (even though I had to watch SportsCenter the next day to confirm it actually happened).

The week leading into the big game, lots of people knew of my allegiance to Big Blue and wondered where I would watch the big game.

On a small island, this can be a tough decision. Few options.

I considered locking myself in a dark room with just a chair and a television. Then Brianna suggested we have people over and have a small party -- nothing serious.

I was cool with the idea until I realized my potential for disaster. This wasn't just your typical Super Bowl. For Christ sakes, my team was in it, so this was serious. Very serious. Not sure if I could handle the emotional ups and downs of my team in the Super Bowl with house guests just watching my every move. Nope, not going to happen.

Met a guy who was running a boat trip to Jost and watching the game with a projector on the beach. I've been to Jost many times. I actually got kicked off of Jost once. Yeah, I'm sure I blogged about that little excursion. This plan seemed like pouring gasoline on the fire.

My only retreat was a local bar. And not just any bar...

Pedro (upper right corner) is the owner of the DHP and a solid Giants fan. I knew I could find refuge there regardless of the score. Later on, when Pedro was dancing on the bar, he hurt his knee and was on crutches the next day. Small price to pay, my friend.

The Giants brought us together and the Eli Manning rasta knew how to keep the celebration party going.

Somehow, I found my way to Betsy's Bar for a nightcap and the Super Bowl party continued. There may not be a lot of Giants fans on the Rock, but that didn't stop me.

So for the rest of you football fans on island or across the globe, you can suck it. Giants are the Super Bowl champions. And that is my Super Bowl blog post. Did you have a good time? I sure did.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Eating kangaroo

I had to work late on Valentine's Day so I decided to step out with my lady the night before and we wanted to go big.

I heard the Old Stone Farmhouse, which is in between Mahoghany Golf Course and Magens Bay, was the top-ranked restaurant out of 120 restaurants reviewed on St. Thomas. This, according to the good people at Trip Adviser so I guess we were still rolling the dice.

It was quite grand. I almost spent about half my paycheck there but it was worth it and I will be back again.

My lady ordered elk, lamb and get this: kangaroo. Her carnivore appetite spiked when we walked into the kitchen -- think very fine dining here, not grease monkey bar food -- and were given a mini tour of what was on the grill that night...

I took on one of their Thai curry bowls with tofu. Pretty weak, I know. But I figured I could pick off my lady's plate and that way, we could get the best of both worlds.

They had complimentary valet service, which was one of many nice touches and they encouraged people to tag the walls in the kitchen with Sharpie markers.

We ordered a nice Malbec from Argentina and we soaked up some hot sauce-dipped frog legs (also a first for me) and seasoned scallops before the hammer came down.

The meat was cooked to perfection and the kangaroo was the best piece of animal flesh I've ever consumed. The curry sauce opened my sinuses and I couldn't hide the sweat beads on my forehead (which means it was damn good).


Had some apple cinnamon flan for desert but the caffeine from my Bailey's and coffee kept me up watching Teen Mom 2 until 2:46 a.m. Clearly, the only sad part of the evening.

Overall Review: It may be the best restaurant on this island. Bring a full wallet, a lust for flesh and you'll have a very memorable night.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Beauty unscathed

I was talking with a colleague the other day and as journalists do, we were having a conversation about what we're doing or what we'd like to do after our job at the VI Daily News.

It's a natural vibe to talk about the future and what we can offer. My co-worker is very skilled and he had big plans. As do I. He's a good guy and for a good reason, I feel utterly comfortable to open up to him about what is happening in the journalism world and what we can bring to the table. But later in the day while driving, I reflected on what we said and I pulled over for an impromptu and seemingly brief moment of clarity.

I realized -- well not not exactly -- but came to a stumbling conclusion that I need to soak up this moment and appreciate that I was (am) in this particular part of the world at this time in my life.

I feel that at times, people around me and that associate with me really don't value what we have and the extreme pleasure we have in just making a living on this island.

When I look back on college, high school, taking the JOBO test in elementary school (sidenote: I literally asked my teacher what a disc jockey was because that was the No. 1 profession that matched up with my "test" results back in 1989) -- I never even assumed, predicted, even associated the U.S. Virgin Islands with my future, much less a stepping stone to my transgression through professional life.

I (we) live in one of the most beautiful places in the world and no matter how many times my water doesn't work, I sit in remedial traffic on a two-lane road or talk to sun-burned tourists, it shouldn't get old. It just keeps getting amazing. And I (should) appreciate every single moment of it.

Sorry for being preachy but I had to lay this down. I love living here and for the rest of my days, I will always look back on my time here in the Caribbean as a time I did not take for granted.

This is what it looks like when it rains when the sun is shining in paradise:

Peace be with you and good night.