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.