Island Driving

Inside my Caribbean blue Crocs the ball of my clutch foot presses on the tiny nubs of soft polymer. I can feel the friction as I press the pedal down with my hot left foot and nudge the stick shift into second gear. Shifting down, I feel three thousand straining rpm’s drop and the car continues to climb, careening to the left.

The odor of hydrocarbons and hot antifreeze swirl around me for just a moment. A blistering easterly tailwind carries exhaust into my jeep. I am driving up from Coral Bay on the island’s east side, rounding curves and churning uphill at the recklessly insane speed of thirty five miles an hour. My jeep has only a roof, half-doors and a windshield. The air rushing through feels like a hair dryer on high as I climb, the acceleration pressing my back against the sticky vinyl seat. The sun has been cooking the east side since dawn. Now I’m heading west.

I grind up Centerline to the top of King Hill. At the aqua green Smoothie stand, I turn right nearly 160 degrees, then drop down onto The North Shore Road. From the turn it’s all down hill and north to the beach at Francis Bay. I’m hot and going for a swim, negotiating the mountainous roads of St. John in the Virgin Islands.

As soon as I have turned north I feel gravity sucking me seaward. I can feel the tall shadows of the north side vegetation cool the air. I test my brakes and they squeak but hold. The temperature feels like it has dropped ten degrees. I roll northward down the narrow zig-zag miles to the beach.

Sometimes, if I’m feeling really reckless or exuberant, I depress the clutch and coast here, schussing. It’s a dangerous sport. Last year a fully loaded dump truck missed the first hairpin, broke through a three foot high stone wall, mowed down full grown trees, tumbled over, and came to rest upside down on its sky blue cab. The truck looked like a huge overturned beetle, six wheels facing skyward. The driver got lucky and walked away. He was probably going thirty miles an hour.

Wisps of irritating hair escape the elastic of my thick black scrunchie meant to avoid exactly that. My unruly graying hair is pulled back out of my face but finds its way between my sunglasses and my eyes. It sticks to the drying sweat on my cheek, tickling me mercilessly. If I’m parched, I live dangerously, driving with only one hand so I can take a drink. It’s not a good thing to do here where the speed limit is twenty five, where going thirty feels like sixty. My hair blows into my mouth and starts to slide down my throat with the quenching swig of water, but there is no place where I can pull off and fix it.

I used to manage a resort. It was on the southeast side, fourteen grueling miles from Cruz Bay where visitors arrive by ferry. One night a man checked in as I was locking up. He said, “My wife is up there lying on the ground by the car. She’s puked so much she can’t stand up.” He must have seen me raise my eyebrows and added, “She says she would rather die right there on the road in the dark than ride another inch.”

That’s how it is here where you have to drive fourteen miles to go eight and it takes forty five minutes. You can’t go anywhere here without being hurled from side to side.

© 2010, All Rights Reserved, Jennifer M. Pierce

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