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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Day 4: 27th December 2007

We woke up to a wet floor, evidence that an storm had blown through over the night and our open balcony could be a liability as well as an asset. We had heard one of the cleaning ladies tell a hotel resident not to leave their balconies open.

We had a late day, with Lisa getting her massage in the morning and I doing laundry and setting up a kayak trip for the next morning. While doing laundry, I met a retired IT manager named Steven. Steven worked for AT&T for 30 years, going from a technician to becoming a manager of about a dozen folks or so. He was probably one of the last folks to retire with a pension from AT&T and he knew it. After retiring, he spent a year playing around and went back to work for ABC News. But after just 2 years, he said he couldn't stand working for the man anymore and retired. My EEE PC interested him, and we chatted quite a bit about technology. He told me that at one time he too, was interested in SCUBA and all that but now he felt too old and just wanted to do nothing. I bit my tongue and didn't say anything, for the owner of Dive Experience, Michelle Pugh, was in her 60s and still diving at least once a week. I asked Steven how he afforded to stay in St. Croix for a whole month on a fixed income. The story, it turned out was that a few years ago the Hotel on the Cay was in financial trouble and was fearing bankruptcy. He happened to stay there at the time, and they offered him a week long timeshare for $900. That was an incredible deal, so he took it. When he got home, they called him again, and offered him an additional two weeks for another $900. They returned the next year and liked it so much that they bought another week. Being from New York, having a warm place to escape to in winter for his retirement appealed very much to him.

Lisa & I then had lunch at the new restaurant at the end of the boardwalk called Angry Nates. They had impressively fast service, and I was very pleased with the meal. We then met up with Gary in the afternoon for the drive to Frederiksted Pier for our pier dive. I picked this dive partly so that I could get a chance to see a different town, and partly because Lisa was getting leery of boat dives for the obvious reasons.

Gary was a transplant from Austin Texas, where he worked for IBM. When choosing a place to retire, he and his wife settled on St. Croix because of the climate, the US dollar economy, and the availability of dive-related jobs. The negative, he said was that they had to give up cycling on St. Croix --- there weren't that many good roads, and the roads were narrow and had no shoulder. For me, that would be an unacceptable compromise, but I guess most people aren't cycling fanatics.

Gary was quite clearly frustrated by the politics on St. Croix --- the situation was such that corruption was rampant, so improvement to infrastructure, education, and even economic development was stunted at a colonial level, which he was unhappy about. As we drove to Fredericksted he talked about how the cruise ship industry passed by St. Croix in favor of other destinations such as St. Thomas, Road Town in the BVI, or San Martin. As a result, the downtown was gutted, and the dive shop where he used to work had closed.

The dive off the pier was fascinating. It's not very deep, so air lasted a good long time. The amount of diversity and natural life was great. We saw sea cucumbers, urchin, shrimp, crab, and many other fish that I couldn't identify. Gary was a great guide, pointing out the fish, coral, and naming them. We then exited through a challenging rock bound area behind a gate.

Dinner that night was once again at Angry Nates, where the food was fabulous and the service slower than at lunch but still astonishingly fast by island standards. What cinched the evening for me was, however, a theft. The table outside ours had four island residents sitting down to a dinner. Midway through their dinner, I saw a blur followed by "Stop!" Someone had ran by their table and swiped the cell phone and ran off. A policeman came by surprisingly fast, but from listening to the after-action conversation it was quite obvious that the residents thought that the policeman might have been in cahoots with the thief. All thoughts of a retirement in the Virgin Islands disappeared from my mind with the witnessing of this incident --- while there are many libertarians and republicans who argue that rising inequality is not of a concern, here was proof that given sufficient inequality, even the system itself would become corrupt and untrustworthy, for middle-class individuals who couldn't afford their own security or private cooks.

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