Wednesday, July 9, 2008


We were driving to the only really nice restaurant in St John USVI, around sunset. St John is mostly a national park, and the roads are mostly dark and windy and narrow. You're best off renting a jeep, if you visit. One stretch of cliffhanger passes above the little shack where Robert Oppenheimer passed his last days. It belongs to the people of St John now, and apparently a good number of them had just finished a loud party there (I know, because we'd tried to snorkel the bay in front of the shack earlier, and the music was so loud the fish had fled the coral). As we passed the exit a busload of kids flew past us, showering us with frozen drinks. Followed by cars, jeeps and pickup trucks full of overly cheerful folks barely navigating the barely two-lane road, its left shoulder the mountain, its right the cliffs overlooking Gibney Beach. If you look at the photo in this last link you can see the cut in the trees made by this little road.

We lost our sense of humor about their careening escapades at about the fourth hairpin turn, when a red pickup truck passed us, forcing Mr. Nomist to a near stop in the middle of traffic, followed by a leapfrogging little white jeep.

I've been a little leery of my stepdaughter's, um, focus skills, especially now that she's old enough to drive. Wanting to make sure she understands how dangerous driving can be, and how to drive defensively, I turned to both our teenagers and said, "This is the time when you need to slow down and let the other drivers get ahead of you as much as they want, because they're about to cause an accident."

My son agreed. He mentioned a previous incident we'd seen on a highway in Vermont that had ended with the driver being ticketed. The jeep and the truck were playing the same game, a weaving race through traffic, only this time it was dark, and there weren't many places to dodge.

By the time I turned back around, the little white jeep had gone over the cliff and gotten caught in a tree. She'd hit another car, bounced across oncoming traffic, and flipped sideways, fortunately stopped by a dense stand of trees. All the former party goers were now standing in (and blocking) the road, staring at the wreck, doing nothing. Or doing things, just in that unbearably slow post-wreck time speed that feels like nothing.

My husband, knowing me, tells me over and over, don't get out of the car, don't get out of the car. At first I listen, trying to accept his logic. Then I realize everyone else out on the street is at least half drunk or injured in the wreck. There is no cop, no ambulance. No lucky doctor in the crowd, just me with first aid training. So my hand opens the door and I hop out in my nice dress and over to the embankment.

She's young, slender, wide eyed, standing next to her rotated car, her arms folded over her pristine white and gold Cleopatra pantsuit. She's fine. Just a little chilly. "Is there anyone else in the car?" I ask her. No. "Do you want help getting out?" No. I take that to mean, not from me, anyway, and it's all I need to hear. I get back in the car.

I turn to my stepdaughter. "You notice how we all saw what those drivers were doing, and said to back off because they were going to cause an accident?"

"No," she said, "I wasn't paying attention."

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