Moppit and I were sitting in the golf cart near Izzy’s smoothie shop at the north end of Middle Street yesterday afternoon. We were talking about life, love, this, that and the price of bread. For a dog, she’s a very quick study. As I droned on, Moppit gave me the occasional nod and tolerant expressions before returning to her own business of observing golf cart traffic.
I have no idea where she picked up such habits so quickly.
Rose had popped into Barbara Brown’s boutique & coffee shop for some flowers, a corsage for Moppit to wear to Sandy Rigby’s memorial service at Caribbean Villas. Sandy and Moppit had been inseparable companions for nearly three years, until she passed away in late November.
Rose and I were offered Moppit on a trial basis and I can say that I’m pretty sure she has decided to keep us. A whole week now and we haven’t bungled the dog-human dynamic too badly. Moppit has even trained Rose to make dog food from scratch (heavy on the turmeric and turkey).
As we sat — me talking, Moppit tolerating — a young student from Holy Cross Anglican School walked by and shyly said, “Hello, Mr. Bob.” It was Adrian, one of my pupils in the volunteer literacy tutorial program I participate in on Wednesdays.
Adrian and I usually have way too much fun on Wednesdays. He is bright and quick and actually loves to read books, although with some difficulty. He loves sharks and race cars, too. He came up with his own game with flashcards and we play it every week. Like Moppit, he’s taught me quite a lot.
Adrian lives a ways south of San Pedro, near the end of the Marina district, and since we were headed that way I offered him a ride.
Rose practiced her Spanish with Adrian as I navigated the traffic through busy San Pedro Town. Adrian asked all about Moppit and told us a little about his own dog. We passed our exit to Caribbean Villas, where Sandy’s service was to be held and took the little guy down to the Ambergris Sausage Factory, just past the Banyan Bay Resort.
I’d noticed Adrian walking in that neighborhood once before in his gray slacks and white shirt — the Anglican school uniform.
Sometimes he gets a taxi to school but Adrian said most school days he walks, a distance of nearly three miles each way!
When he hopped off the cart, Adrian ran to the front and gave Rose a big hug. Then he ran around to my side. I thought he wanted to do a high-five or handshake. He beckoned me out of the cart with both hands and then signaled for me to stoop down a bit. He hugged me, too.
Then with that brilliant smile he always flashes in school, Adrian turned and walk down the dirt road toward home.
After our Wednesday sessions, Adrian always stops at the literacy room’s door, turns crisply, flashes that big smile and waves. He then stops at each of the four open windows to smile and wave goodbye — and once more at the turn in the walkway before disappearing for another week.
Adrian really knows how to make an exit!
Sometimes people compliment me on how nice I am to volunteer in this school which serves the poorest of the poor children on this island. As if I were making some difficult sacrifice. I think of students like Adrian and what they must go through every day just for the privilege of sitting in a classroom and I think “you don’t know the half of it.”
I am humbled every day when I see students walking long distances to school — men and women taking the long walk north toward the resorts, restaurants and construction sites to work long hours for relatively low wages. Then do it all again at the end of the day.
This morning as I drove Rose to her studio we picked up a couple of laborers in the drizzling rain and got them a little farther down the road. As I headed home I turned around and gave three more of them a lift to work.
It is crazy, I know. I can’t be turning my golf cart into a complimentary taxi service. There are stretch vans now that shuttle resort workers between the bridge and their jobs, but they seem out of reach or unavailable to the many construction workers walking north.
Even on an island (albeit 24-miles long) lack of mobility is the curse of the working class. There is no public transportation, although taxis seem a reasonable means of transportation for some. Golf carts are proliferating like rabbits and clog the roads, although not as badly as the influx of trucks, vans and SUVs.
You would think that a long and narrow island, with essentially one road extending north to south, would be the ideal spot for a public shuttle service — a mini chicken bus. Maybe the economics of such a thing aren’t there just yet.
So, those who know me from my waning newspaper days as the transportation “expert” know what’s coming, my All-Purpose Solution for Everything: Bicycles!
Lots and lots of bicycles.
For students, for construction workers, for resort staff for crusty old expats like myself who are experiencing serious and inexplicable shrinkage in the waistband of pants and cargo shorts. (A conspiracy, I tell you! Somebody has been tightening the waist on all my pants, just to get me to exercise or something. What a nasty trick!)
But, yes. Bicycles!
It makes me wish I knew a wealthy philanthropist or two who could help set up a non-profit to refurbish old bicycles and donate them to the island’s walking workers and students. I’d hire about three local bicycle mechanics, or subcontract with a local bike shop, and then scavenge the country for broken-down bicycles.
There you go: employment and recycling in one bundle.
The first bike would go to my little pal Adrian. I’ll bet a bicycle would give back to him at least two hours a day that he could use for reading or football.
The next would go to the teacher I met who walk an hour to school every day because her bicycle was stolen. The next 50 would go to workers who walk the north concrete road to the many resorts under construction and the resort and restaurant staffs who can’t afford to take the shuttle.
Oh, I know, half of them would be stolen within a week. Bikes have a way of disappearing. But I see that as a sign of the crying need for transportation for workers.
Imagine if every worker on this island had access to a commuter bicycle. They would show up fresh for work, more often and and on time; they would have more time to spend with family. Maybe we would need fewer taxis.