Thursday, February 19, 2004

225 Feet

On Tuesday of this week, road crews began work to replace 225 feet of retaining wall on one of the main arteries between downtown and the north side of the island. It's expected that this work will take until the end of June to complete. Let me repeat: this is 225 FEET of work...not miles...feet. (The island's only three miles wide.) Geniuses that they are, the government scheduled this work during peak high season when we have dozens of cruise ships arriving each week. It's the road that connects downtown with Magens Bay Beach (and our neighborhood). Magens is the island's most beautiful beach and one of the cruise ship passsengers' primary destinations. That section of road will be one way for 4-1/2 months. From 9:30 am until midnight, one will only be able to travel northbound (toward the beach). Sounds smart, until you realize that taxi drivers have to get all of the cruise ship passengers back to their ships through traffice that was already horrendous before this closure. To head south (into town) one must now snake around a narrow, windy, sometimes steep detour...or better yet, clog up some of the other narrow, windy roads into town.

I wondered how a road crew could possibly work slowly enough to expand a 225-foot project over a 4-1/2 month period. But then I remembered that I live in the West Indies, where it's holiday heaven. When one takes into account weekends and government holidays between February 18 and June 30...well, I guess it makes sense. And government workers don't just take a holiday here or there--they get/take some serious time off. Let's use Easter as an example. Government workers will be given paid holidays on Good Friday and "Easter Monday." (You don't expect them to go to work the day AFTER a holiday, do you?) And I suspect many will start their little Easter break early by not showing up on the Thursday before Easter.

Then there's Carnival here on St. Thomas. (St. John has its own Carnival festivities around the 4th of July and St. Croix celebrates their Carnival activities around Christmas. Each of those begets yet more government holidays.) On St. Thomas, Carnival activities are planned for the entire month of April, culminating in Carnival Week the last week of the month and into the first few days of May. Government workers get paid holidays during Carnival Week as follows: half a day on Wednesday for "Food Fair," half a day on Thursday for "Jouvert" and a full day on Friday to attend the Children's Parade. That's the "official" holiday schedule, but here's what actually happens if you're trying to conduct business of any type with any government agency during Carnival Week: forget about getting anything done the entire last week of April and into the first few days of May. Even though workers are supposed to work the Wednesday morning of "Food Fair" and the afternoon of Thursday following "Jouvert," it's not gonna happen. And since they're gonna get Wednesday and Thursday off anyway, most of them start early and just take the whole week. Expecting them to work the half-day following "Jouvert" is particularly funny--it's an event that's supposed to start at 4 am where bands and revelers take to the street to dance and party down a parade route. Typically the bands are too hungover from their Carnival gigs the night before to start at 4 am, so it usually starts closer to 8:00. And since there's (customarily) a lot of drinking involved, you can see why you can forget getting any work done that afternoon. The Children's Parade is on Friday, followed by the Adult Parade on Saturday. Technically, that should give everyone Sunday to recover. But don't expect any work to get done the following Monday or Tuesday or even Wednesday, because it won't. Not that I'm complaining--my office closes for most government holidays, so no complaints here...except when it comes to that 225 feet of road work.

So when I factored in weekends and every possible official and unofficial holiday between now and the end of June, I came up with 87 work days. At that rate, the road crew will be blazing through their repairs at the lightning speed of 2-1/2 feet per day. God, I love living in the West Indies.


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