Che’s Bar… - Unlike many Puerto Ricans on St. Croix, Che wasn’t native to the island and so he was suspect. His family emigrated from San Juan in 1966 when his father began work as a mid level construction manager at the Hess oil refinery. As a teenager Che had gone to St. Joseph’s High School in school in Frederiksted, but that only made him more suspect among native Crucians.
He graduated, got drafted, lucked out and did his tour of duty in Germany working as a bartender in the Officer’s club; so it was only natural that when he returned to St. Croix he would open a bar. Since he couldn’t afford anything in the higher rent tourist trap business district of Christiansted, with a bit of money he’d saved and a mortgage co-signed by his parents, Che rented the ground floor of a dilapidated building in Fredriksted…
… and opened his funky neighborhood bar with two pool tables.
David loved Che and his little bar and since there was such a heavy duty tale associated with David's introduction to the place, Che let David tell the story: It seems that during the first week after David and his wife settled into their apartment, Theresa had gone off to Christiansted for a girls night out with some of the Crucian ladies from her office. Left to his own devices on a Friday night, David took a walk through Fredriksted in search of diversion and a cold beer and found his way to Che’s Bar. There he shot some pool, drank some scotch and was feeling pretty good about his discovery when suddenly a young Puerto Rican guy came staggering through the French doors and started screaming at Che in rapid fire Spanish. One of the local denizens chuckled, “This isn’t going to be good.”
Che told the kid he was a drunk son of bitch who was talking shit and ordered him out of the bar. David caught a word here and there, but the Puerto Rican accent doesn’t translate so well into vanilla high school Spanish so he asked the local denizens what was going on. They filled him in: The drunk kid was pissed off because he’d just heard a rumor that Che had screwed his teenage sister here at the bar and he was threatening to get a gun and kill Che. Che told him he was full of shit and to get out but the drunk kid kept screaming more shit at Che.
With a signal to the troops Che and two other guys executed a coordinated sweep that took the kid out the door and unceremoniously dumped him onto the sidewalk where there was more screaming and threats in rapid fire Spanish. Blows were exchanged and Che kicked the kid’s butt and sent him on his way.
“Gracias guys,” said Che as they came back into the bar, then he apologized, “Sorry for the bullshit people but that kid is stone cold crazy. I’m buying a round for the house.”
David was hesitant to ask Che anything about the kid or his sister, but eavesdropping on the Spanglish chatter of the locals filled in the blanks: Well did he screw her? A quién le importa, ella es jodienda puta loca. Think the brother’s coming back? Nah, eles pendejo maricon. Couldn’t find his ass, much less shoot a gun.
The drunk kid was soon forgotten, and after overhearing a bit of grumbling among the locals, David took a bit off his stick and began to lose back some of the money he’d won at eight ball. It got to be after ten and he was thinking that he needed to head back to the apartment to see if Theresa was back, when the front window shattered and three gunshots exploded from the street. Everybody except Che hit the floor and crawled under the pool tables. Che just reached down under the bar and pulled out his .357 revolver, walked calmly behind a pillar where he waited and counted. When there was a long moment of silence after the sixth round echoed through the street, Che leaned against the wall next to the French doors, took aim at the kid who was standing in the street trying to reload and yelled at him to drop the gun. The dumbass kid closed the open cylinder and raised his gun. Che yelled once more to drop the gun, and then he shot him three times, center mass.
“Call the ER and the cops,” he said as he walked out into the street to kick the kid’s gun away from his fallen body, he turned around and returned to the bar where he set his gun down on a clean bar towel and took over the phone call to the police. The local patrol officer arrived in less than two minutes followed quickly by the ambulance. The cop radioed to Christiansted for a detective from CIB homicide. The EMT’s pronounced the kid dead, as the patrol officer was taping off the street and they decided to leave the body on site for the detectives and the coroner.
The next four hours were spent collecting evidence and eye witness accounts, including David’s, and at the end of the night, though the detectives bagged and tagged Che’s gun, they didn’t bother to arrest him – plain and simple self defense.
…Matinee with an Ex-Nun… - Okay, it was one afternoon. We were both bored and it happened and it was a futile and joyless disaster. I won’t go into detail because I can’t remember details except that neither of us felt very good about what transpired between us. Suffice it to say that she carried way too much baggage into her bedroom and I hadn’t been with a woman in over five months. Our encounter was at best a few stumbling steps along the short path where our journeys intersected.
… “Rainforest” & Ruins… - During his second voyage of exploration for Spain, Christopher Columbus made landfall and named St. Croix on November 14, 1493 and his party was attacked by the native Kalinago, who lived at Salt River on the north shore. Other than that Columbus wrote little about St. Croix other than the fact that he also sighted the chain of the Virgin Islands, which he named Islas de Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes, “Islands of Saint Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins.” The name was subsequently abbreviated, both on maps of the time and in common parlance, to Islas Vírgenes.
Over the next century Europeans, the Spanish in particular, visited the island for fresh water and Indian slaves. During the following one hundred years the Dutch, English, Spanish and French occupied small settlements on St. Croix for various periods of time, but it was in 1733 when the Danes bought the island from the French Crown, that the European colonists had the first real impact on the island. For the next seventy years Danish and English plantation owners stripped the forest away to make room for sugar, cotton, indigo and tobacco, but the real money proved to be in distilling sugar to rum and the slave trade.
Growing sugar and distilling rum required land, water and fuel so more and more of the forest disappeared and the daily afternoon rains disappeared as well and in the first decade of the 19th Century St. Croix experienced intermittent drought for the first time. That coupled with the end of the lucrative Slave/Rum Triangle Trade brought an end to planter prosperity.
By 1892, a succession of political upheavals, wars in Europe, economic depressions, hurricanes, earthquakes, tidal waves and labor riots had reduced much of the island to ruins. The United States bought the three islands in 1917, mainly to keep them out of the hands of the Germans during the WWI, and hopes rose high in St. Croix for better days ahead; but the island was a possession under U.S. Navy administration, a period which was satisfactory to no one. The economy began a gradual slow rise, only to be dashed again by the impact of Prohibition on rum industry.
The harvest of mahogany for lumber export began in earnest and soon so much of the forest was been stripped that seasonal drought became an annual occurrence. With the cane fields gone fallow, Americans introduced cattle ranching to the island and St. Croix continued to muddle along with an uneven economy until the mid-1950's when the influx of tourists began. – St Croix Landmarks.com/history
When I arrived a couple cattle ranches were still limping along and all that remained of that primordial ecosystem was fifteen acres of forest on private property, called the "Rain Forest." It was still thick with mahogany trees, kapok, Red Birch, Samaan (rain) trees, all kinds of ferns and vines and interspersed with wild sweet limes, mangoes, hog plums, and breadfruit trees. Lots of hummingbirds, caribs and yellow warblers too - http://www.frommers.com/destinations/st-croix-usvi/
Every day while I was there a small bank of puffy white clouds built up over the western end of the island north of Fredriksted and around three-thirty in the afternoon I’d walk up to explore the forest along Highway 76 and usually get a refreshing sprinkle of cool rain along the way.
The great centuries old mahogany trees were a wonder to behold.
But the very best explorations I enjoyed were the overgrown ruins of houses and plantation buildings.
I somehow found the overgrowth reassuring in that long after we’re all said and done, the forest will some day return. If I’d had the money or the brains, I would have bought the land, hung up a hammock and lived in those ruins for the rest of my life; but I had places to go and people to be.
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