Notes from The Road

Hard-wired Days and Unnecessary Nights on St. Croix

 

Mornings don’t always break easy over the Salt River Marina; one minute you’re gently smiling, swaying in a hammock to the rhythm of wind-jostled main sails, and then, like a German blitzkrieg, you’re snapped from your snooze by the great boom of a tropical storm.

My second, maybe third night there, I was jolted awake at about 6 a.m. in the dead dark, still wearing my $3.33 Amazon-ordered mirror shades, with the kind of severe bladder pain that heavy rains don’t tend to help.

Knowing I had to act quickly, I attempted to use the forward momentum of the hammock to slingshot myself into a crouched stance, but I mishandled the landing, and ended up crashing into the dog barricade rigged shut with a nylon cord. Clutching my right side and wincing painfully, I stumbled through the gate and sloshed barefoot to the Marina facilities around back.

It was about my eighth disoriented, chin-sprinkling stomp through the bathrooms when I heard a voice violently croak: “Mahnin’… mahnin!’”

I swung around arms extended, still adjusting to my new terrain like it was a tightrope, and squinted toward the bathroom entrance. That’s when he peered in; a crusty, weather-worn old boatman, probably 50 pushing 65. A drenched grey beard to his nipples. His rain-matted hair formed a bizarre, natural comb-over that I couldn’t help but appreciate.

“Aye, uh, tha’ head still backed up?!” he asked. I paused for a moment, but my instincts told me to bail, so I goose-stepped through the rainwater, mud and sewage, managing to slink past him.

“Hey, I’ve never seen you around here before,” he barked, his right eye rolling backward, surveying its periphery.  “Who are you?!” I contemplated his question, blinking away confusion and rainwater.

“Me? I used to write here. For the newspaper. Now I play music. Songwriting. But I’m back. Well, for a while. Memorial Day weekend. Seemed like the right thing to do.” 

He grinned jubilantly. “A writer?! You want stories?!” His right eye snapped back into place, and he clenched his teeth as he leaned closer in.

“MAN, I GOT STORIES!” 

 

I hurled out a string of profanity as I leapt violently backward into the storm, bug-eyed, nearly toppling down the soggy hill into the staircase. Fortunately I managed to catch a railing with my armpit.

“Hey, um, listen, that sounds fantastic,” I said, fumbling through my words, still unable to fully pull the situation under control. “But, I, ah, look man – I gotta go!”

He just shrugged casually, muttered something about brain damage, and shuffled away, kicking water off the grass. Well, that was technically true, I thought, lifting myself up. I did have to go.

At that point I just unzipped and leaned back into the pouring rain, tangled up in the island’s unnatural gravity. 

I scampered back to my hammock, completely storm-soaked, and curled up in my blanket, shivering from the whipping, howling wind, trying to ignore the lightning and thunderous cracks, but always taking the occasional quick, neck-jerking glance to see if the old pirate was coming from around the corner with a bloated yellow notepad full of tales. At some point, I again slipped into unconsciousness.

And then it was calm again. Through one sticky eye I could see a pink sun winking through cotton clouds. My shades were placed carefully on my chest. A cool, Caribbean breeze was rocking me gently awake this time. I looked at my salt-crusted phone. 8:30 a.m. Did that really just happen a few hours ago? Was it just some strange dream? 

Later on -- after some Heinekens and a crucial burrito, beans and rice lunch at the tavern – I was sitting with my overly gracious host, Crista, and another temporary South Carolina visitor, Christie, in a beach bar perched on a lush, cloud-wrapped hilltop overlooking the island’s overcast North Shore.

That’s when I realized that I truly had no idea how many of those weird little memories had been tucked somewhere deep within my brain from my time living on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, three or four years ago. Fine, fond memories of hard-wired days, and unnecessary nights, lost some time back.

Perhaps they slipped into the recesses of my mind simply because they became the new normality, and nothing out of the ordinary. Or I guess it could have been the rum.

During my first acoustic show back on island – where I got to catch up with many an old cohort – I was reminded of giving a red-headed friend of mine, Kelly, a ride back to town after a grocery run to the Pueblo supermarket.

I apparently booted her into the pothole-ravaged streets of Christiansted out of my slow-moving, island-battered and mirrorless ’01 Cavalier – the heat blasting full-bore, cutting through the sweltering summer air to grapple its combative overheating issues. Just pouring sweat and barking madly about how the engine was going to explode and how she’d “better get out while she had the chance…”

 

Or screaming along at tops speeds into high seas onboard an overcrowded, thundering 47-foot Beneteau en route to Buck Island on a clear day – watching the Rock bob wildly miles off in the distance.

Sitting straight up, white-knuckled and feet pinned to the railing to avoid being pitched overboard – nearly ramming another zooming sailboat full of 20 other bellowing, laughing drunkards just like you head-on, thanks to a last-ditch maneuver from your veteran captain. So close you could almost dap the bastards.

No, no sense of self-preservation on those days.

But these were just the everyday happenings; always good for a giddy smile and a tear-blotting, stomach-clutching laugh the next day. Though, of course, there were others. More grievous, heavy-hearted memories… the kind that tend to be harder to forget.

An old friend, cut down by a stray bullet in a robbery gone mad – that same shot managing to cut through your heart like a diamond, though you were miles or worlds away. There were great friends, lost in the throes of addiction and madness.

Or sometimes it’s as simple – or complicated – as having to say “goodbye” to someone you swore by.  As Bob Dylan said on Blood on the Tracks: “Friends will arrive, friends will disappear...”

But it was worth it. It seems that every now and again, we find ourselves churning madly in a little corner of the world – wherever it may be – where we are truly content for a few moments, a few days, a few years, for some maybe it’s a lifetime. It wasn’t that we were necessarily a part of anything bigger, but we were a part of something better. There was an overwhelming sense of perpetual victory all around – that only you and a select few had it all figured out, and that we were taking part in something that the rest of the world was missing out on.

On the Sunday toward the end of my St. Croix run – after a solid workout on the Reef Jam at Rainbow Beach, my sunset show at Coconut’s, and the time-honored tradition of late-night pizza and Heineken at the Lost Dog – I found myself cruising alone in my rental Suzuki from Frederiksted back East.

A calming, barely-lit drive down the left side of Centerline Drive, past the hills jutting from behind Plaza Extra to the north, the sprawling University of the Virgin Islands where I studied abroad to the south, and the Santo Bar just off the quarter-mile stretch of open campus that we exchange students used to hike for countless nightcaps in college.

Proper reflection during another one of those hard-wired mornings on St Croix; no reason to describe it in detail, just one of those moments of true content that you have to dig into yourself to fully comprehend. To think, I used to have those constantly.

I fumbled with the warm green bottle in my cupholder, and ripped left at a red stoplight, burning down past the National Guard station, the car lots and Country Day School. Then a hard left onto North Shore Road, weaving and dodging the army of early-morning crab hunters before whipping the car back through the chain-link gates into the Marina, and pulling into my usual spot by the entrance of the long-emptied tavern.

As I wrestled my guitar case from the trunk, I caught a glimpse of the moonlight bouncing off the bald head of a weathered old seaman wandering the docks. Maybe 50 years-old, pushing 65. Grey beard and scraggly mane flailing in the wind. Just having a break from the monotonies of the boat life.

I heaved my guitar over my shoulder. Now, I bet this guy’s got some stories, I thought. I walked up the steps and plopped into my hammock, a fine breeze bringing another smile across my sun-tinged face. Once again, I let it rock me gently into some much-need sleep.

 

Comments

Rebecca
June 10, 2013 @01:21 pm
"One of those moments of true content..." I remember every one I've ever had...always waiting for the next occurrence. Your writing reminds to head back to St. Croix soon.

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