Here’s an off-the-same-‘ol-road topic we don’t see in the cruising magazines. On the road less travelled, other side of the fence, horse of a different color, flip-side of the coin. Not yet another beautiful sunset. Fun nonetheless. I first read of the fitting term Island Cars in a book called Bucking The Tide, by David Buckman. So, I’ll give David his due credit, where he points out the condition of Downeaster automobiles. The smaller and more remote the island, the more specialized are the cars. Most Island Cars appear to lack basic respect, with their shattered headlights, duct-taped, spider-cracked windows, incorporated components of dubious integrity, or otherwise lack of parts in general. Or is it their owners who have limited self-respect? I don’t know. Or maybe we have it wrong… cherished possessions attempting to survive in a difficult environment?
Sidebar: Fayaway has visited several small islands in Downeast Maine.
Any well-equipped and resourceful Mainer maintains one of those “freebee” gas station ice scrapers for the inside of his windshield, perhaps stabbed intentionally into a crevice (for handy storage) of the flaking, pitted, sun-bleached vinyl-covered foam dashboard. Every Mainer’s windshield, while cracked (Flying gravel? Disgruntled neighbors?) is probably otherwise intact. Mainers, especially Maine Islanders, tend to take their sweet time on the road. A subconscious fear of potholes? No need to hurry in any case.
Have you ever driven in a taxi on any island in the Caribbean? I’m amazed to live through each experience! Impatient locals tend to briskly navigate the pot-holed, muddy-puddled narrow roadways. But they are courteous to us walkers who, mixed with locals, have no sidewalk. I’m not sure why they drive so fast, maybe they have the common affliction of their electronic clocks, having been cooked too long by the tropical sun, always run fast? That’s my theory, as every other task here runs the speediness of cold molasses. Another term we call island time.
Caribbean Island Cars vary from those in, say, Isle au Haut, Maine. They may suffer breakage of most other glass in addition to the windshield, and exude every cosmetic malady (except rust). But it doesn’t need an ice scraper, nor the windshield for that matter! Faded UV-fried paint resembles the surface of old red bricks. Everything rattles, especially the undercarriage.
Island cars are immune from larger mainland-based safety concerns, but may boast a peeling inspection sticker remaining from showroom days, still marginally clinging years later to whatever remains of a shattered windscreen.
While internal heating is of little concern to a Mainer traveling a frozen mile or two (where’s that ice scraper?), air conditioning is an utterly critical necessity on any southern island, even if windows (or a door) are completely missing. Lost that sunroof? No worries mon, just strap this old dinghy over the roof to keep the rain out. Now if the air conditioning were to break, that car really is no good! What!? No AC Mon!?, You Betta junk dat thang! Please save me dem doors.
Defying Island Car norms, are rental cars. Usually driven by tourists, you can easily spot them move uncharacteristically slowly from afar, as they still have their fenders and matching shiny paint. Occasionally there are fancier European cars, such as BMW, perhaps owned by a prosperous real estate developer. Of course there’ll be a few flaunting affluence, maneuvering an even rarer gas-guzzling HumVee or RangeRover. (Gas is currently more than $7/gal here on Dutch Sint Maarten, and will always cost more to be brought into any smaller island).
One last type of Island car worth mentioning are those death mobiles, as our friend Buddy on St Kitts would call them. Four wheelers, and the lesser dangerous golf carts. We saw the following while recently walking to the post office.
In my late teens I happened to own a couple prime examples. A 1971 Datsun pickup truck with faded olive green paint, and red vinyl bench seat. It had less rusty sheet metal remaining in its bed than that which remained. Shortly thereafter I purchased a 1973 Superbeetle. It was a harlequin car that Fred Flintstone would appreciate, as a driver (and passengers) could use feet to propel through the rotted floorboards. Not being Island Cars, these fine automobiles contained all their glass. But oh the stories about them are yet to be told!
Make the most of your day! And drive safely.
Bucking The Tide, by David Buckman. Thoroughly enjoyable, colorfully-written travel adventure aboard a 19ft Lightening sailboat, from Rhode Island all the way to Canada. You’ll enjoy this one!