We Don’t Live Quietly

My boss is from North Carolina, and has been living on Vieques and running a fine dining restaurant for six years. During service, she is all business–strict, tense and ubiquitous– but before and after work she is just a Southern gal on a strange Puerto Rican island who has a great sense of humor.

“In the North, y’all keep your crazy people behind closed doors,” she says. “In the South, we put our crazy people on the front porch. On Vieques, we crazy people run the show.”

She is referring to herself and the other bar and restaurant owners, mostly expats from the US and Europe, but also to some of the less prestigious local color.

Take for example Manny, who I met four years ago on my first trip to Vieques. When he’s on his meds, Manny is sweet, if a little slow and creepy to those who don’t realize he’s harmless. When he’s off his meds, Manny is a bit sketchier, has a bit of the crazy eye, and has an obsessive habit of relocating random things from one end of the main street to the other. PVC piping, light fixtures, wheel barrows, potted palm trees, tourists’ shoes– one can never predict. But Manny is not a thief.

“He’s harmless,” Kate says, her mama hen persona coming out. “He’s not stealing, he’s just relocating things. When it gets real bad we’ll all call each other in the morning and say ‘Hey, I’ve got a palm tree and a wheel barrow in my back yard. Any chance you’ve got my cooler?”

Manny is protected– from the law and from unknowing outsiders who would misjudge his intentions– by a posse of Viequenses, both native and expats, who consider him one of their own. If he’s acting out, the owner or bartender or cook from whatever the nearest restaurant or bar is will step in and make sure he doesn’t get arrested or get in a fight.

That’s one of the things I love the most about Vieques: you can let your freak flag fly high on this island and it will only mean that you belong that much more. What a misfit crew we are, but we’re also a tribe; a family. It takes a certain mindset to feel comfortable here, and to fit in here.

No one who chooses to live on an island is normal. Take any island you’ve ever visited for an example. But this island– a remote, mostly undeveloped paradise where the ferries run sporadically and the term “island time” takes on a new meaning when you’re waiting in line at the pharmacy for the oldest and slowest cashier on the planet to ring you up, attracts a particularly odd breed of weirdos. Individually, we are freaks–some a heck of a lot freakish than others–but together we are a tribe. You can laugh all night sometimes just listening to a friend describe their day.

We don’t live quietly.

~ by saltgirlspeaks on 27 March, 2012.

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