Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cruise Control - Part 23: The Grove of Questionable Fruit

Click Here to read the previous entry in this series…

  Luckily, the tour bus driver did not immediately make us become drug-trafficking terrorists, so that part was good. Instead, the bus simply began rolling along a two-lane highway, working its way up into the lush green hills of this part of the island. During this part of the trip, which took a bit, we managed to learn a few more interesting things about Jamaicans and how they roll.

  Speaking of rolling, it soon became abundantly clear why so many of the local citizenry were red-eyed and laid back. With the way folks drove their questionable cars around here, it was obvious that sooner or later everyone was going to be involved in a fiery crash, so you might as well be relaxed and having fun when this happened. And if your herb selection was especially fine, you might not even feel any pain when they used the jaws of life to cut you out of your crushed, vintage moped-car.

  Those modified and rusty contraptions were everywhere, darting madly to and fro, with absolutely no regard for lane markings, pedestrians, or chances of survival. At first, ensconced in the behemoth tour bus like we were, I wasn’t too concerned. Surely those gnat-mobiles would steer clear of our gas-belching supertanker, chastely and quickly getting out of the way.

  Nope. They came flying at us from all directions, little Davids frontin’ some tude with Goliath, performing feats of automotive gymnastics that made Nascar drivers look like two-year-olds in a sack race. Our driver, apparently quite skilled in the art of not killing anybody unless he really had to, managed to avoid major carnage and kept the casualty count to a minimum.

  When I wasn’t watching the continual game of chicken, with my sphincter permanently clenched, I was perusing the mountainside and the hundreds of homes that we were winding through in our quest to reach the heavens. This review was also eye-opening, presenting a weird mix of “I’m not sure what happened here”.

  There would be a beautiful mansion, older but still quite fine, and right next to it would be a complete hovel, some sagging, door-less hut that would probably fall over if you sneezed in that direction. Then another mansion, another hut, some goats, a pristine swimming pool, a shiny convertible that probably cost more than Alaska, two more huts, mansion, hut, pack of shoeless kids throwing rocks at each other, a possible dead body, mansion, and a beauty parlor that, if I understood the sign correctly, offered treatments that somehow involved the skinned animals that were hanging just inside the busy door.

  The dichotomy increased the higher the bus climbed, with some of the mansions getting turbo-swanky and some of the huts consisting of mere paper and discarded drinking straws, even leaning against the swanky ones in a tired and dispirited manner. Wow, was this a true patchwork of society, with all income-levels living together, literally, in a harmonious fashion? Or was it more of the reefer madness, with folks so hydro-planed that nobody cared who lived where or why? (Biff: “Muffy, I do believe I spy a family moving into the cardboard box we threw out after we bought the 75” plasma TV.” Muffy: “That’s really sweet. Do we have any bean dip left?”)

  Then, as the bus paused in the middle of the road so another daredevil gnat-car that had hit the failblog could be dragged out of the way, I got a closer look at a few of those mansions. Some of them truly were pristine, with finery and huge bank accounts clearly evident.

  But many of them had seen far better days, with peeling paint and even busted windows. Then I realized that some of the huts were actually attached to the mansions (intentionally, and not in one of those “hey, crazy things can happen during an earthquake” kind of way). This created a warren of accommodation, with rambling housing that fluctuated from high-end to friends in low places.

  What was going on here? It was obvious that this area, terraced and layered on the steep hills, had been a ritzy enclave at one point, with the fine houses and the stunning ocean views. But things had apparently happened, going in a direction that hadn’t been foreseen, and I was fascinated, wanting to know the history. How did this come about?

  I glanced at the bus driver, wondering if he might have some tales to tell, but he appeared to be completely invested in simply getting the damn bus up to higher elevations, forcing the groaning vehicle to navigate the twisty, ever-climbing tiny lanes that led to our destination. It was probably best that I not distract him at this point, as we were still in peril from those kamikaze makeshift vehicles which had little regard for things like public safety and physics, darting about and making people scream.

  I turned to my niece Tara, who was currently engaged in a conversation with two other bus-riders, a duo that I would later learn had the quaint monikers of “Cricket” and “Danny”. Tara was being polite and all, nodding at appropriate moments as Cricket and Danny rambled on about who knows what. But as soon as she spied me spying on her, Tara began to make subtle facial and hand gestures that I really should check out this Danny person.

  I really didn’t care. If Tara had been enough of a slacker to allow herself to become involved in a dialogue with complete strangers, then she was on her own. If she had willfully chosen to ignore the teachings of my famous document, “Uncle Brian’s Ten Reasons Why You Never Speak To Strangers In Public”, she would have to work her own way out of the mess. Little did I know that my brazen disregard for the details of her current predicament would lead to a future moment of humiliation and shame.

  Besides, we had more important things to worry about at the moment. Namely, our bus driver had decided that it was super important that we suddenly turn off the main highway (okay, the main, tiny, one-and-a-half-lane road peppered with chickens running amok and stoned people buying beef jerky at questionable establishments), and proceed down another road that really wasn’t a road at all. It was this rutted, dusty pathway, something that Boy Scouts would build to earn a vague merit badge, and then nobody would use the path again. Ever.

  But we were using it now, so we had to assume that it actually led to somewhere, other than our mystifying disappearance and an episode on that TV show “Cruise Excursions Gone Terribly Wrong”. Magically, this turn of events managed to get everyone on the bus to finally stop talking, even the chatty Cricket and Danny, a silence that thrilled Tara, allowing her to sigh and slump in her seat, praising Jesus for the momentary release.

  We were now barreling through what appeared to be a fruit grove of some kind. There were trees, and they had fruit hanging from them. Lots of trees and lots of fruit. What we didn’t have so much of was the actual nature of this fruit. The hanging things were green, that much we understood. Beyond that, who knows. (I somehow felt moved to announce that they must be lime trees, a declaration that caused at least 7 passengers to turn and glare at my obvious idiocy. This is why I wrote the pamphlet about never socializing with strangers, can you hear me now?)

  Then the bus driver finally spoke up, uttering his first words, or at least the first words that I remember. (There was a lot of drinking on this cruise, let’s just leave it at that.) “Those are orange trees.”

  Orange trees? Then why the hell is the fruit green? I should have taken that right there as a warning sign that something was wrong on this island and we were doomed to have an unpleasant experience whilst our asses were being hurled across a zip-line. If fruits are not the right color, ain’t nobody gonna be happy at the end of the day.

  But I kept my mouth shut, mainly because opening it would allow the clouds of billowing dirt from the primitive road-path to shut down my lungs. I was fairly certain that I did not want to be treated for respiratory ailments in this particular setting.

  Then we left behind the jacked-up, wrong-colored fruit trees and plunged into some serious jungle action. The dirt path continued, at least the wisps of it that we could see, deep into the leafy darkness that one can only describe as “this is the scene where everybody who isn’t listed in the opening credits of a slasher movie will meet their untimely demise courtesy of a random farm implement”.

  Of course, no one else seemed to be bothered by the fact that our innocent bus ride was one stabbing away from becoming a terror fest. After all, they were just trying to relax and have an exciting adventure, babbling about stupid touristy things and whether or not the gear we would have to wear on the zip-line would be uncomfortably binding. I was the only one noticing the fact that we seemed to be traveling on a road that wasn’t a road at all.

  Then it suddenly became very evident that the road was a total sham when we hit a particularly evil bump that had everyone bouncing off the ceiling of the bus and landing in awkward positions that would have been deemed sexual on “Cinemax After Dark”. Now the crowd was paying attention, with startled gasping and whatnot. Then everyone got very quiet. Which was a blessing, actually, because I’m not a fan of people who talk for no reason, but it was a little sad that it took the possibility of death to make them shut up.

  The driver remained stoic and disinterested in our possible anxiety attacks, maneuvering the bus deeper into the jungle and further away from any news-photographer people who might capture our travails for public consumption, with our tragic story sandwiched in between commercials for miracle laundry detergents that could remove blood stains from just about any fabric.

  Then the lethargic bus driver became somewhat animated, slamming on the brakes and hurling our bodies into another round of impromptu acrobatics. It seems we had encountered another bus, heading down the mountain from the Zip-Line Extravaganza, and since the dusty road was only one lane (and barely that) we were at something of an impasse.

  I looked around for a flight attendant so that I could order a stiff drink. One did not immediately appear.

  Instead, our driver did something grinding with the gears, and we were suddenly going backwards. This did nothing to increase my supply of happy thoughts, as our adventure had been eye-opening enough rolling in a forward direction. Now we were thundering in reverse, probably blindly, because I was fairly certain that the only thing the driver could see in his rearview mirror was me clawing my face.

  Who planned this stupid road? Geez.

  Then we took an abrupt turn and the bus was now shunting its way (backwards) down one of several little road offshoots that I had noticed on our way up. (I had just assumed that these tiny secondary paths led to places where they buried the corpses of tourists who hadn’t tipped adequately.) Instead, these obscure byways had been planned for the exact predicament we were now facing, with two busloads of manic tourists facing off. How clever. But still annoying.

  The other bus shot past. (I’m not sure that they ever slowed down at any point, the hags.) Then our vehicle lurched back out onto the road and we continued the climb heavenward.

  Some time later, hours, weeks, who knows, we pulled into a little encampment that appeared to be our destination. The driver threw open the bus door and gestured for us to get the hell out of his ride. We complied post haste, yearning to be some place that was stationary and not life-threatening.

  As our party reassembled off-bus, a representative of this zip-line thing came moseying out of what might be the main headquarters. (Think awkward, questionable hut in the middle of nowhere.) She welcomed us with the enthusiasm of someone who has just discovered that the light bill is overdue, then she launched into a well-worn speech about the delights to be had at Camp Zip. (The gift shop was mentioned at least 47 times.)

  In her closing remarks, this woman mentioned something along the lines of “And if you need to tinkle before screaming your ass off 300 feet off the ground, we have facilities located just over there.”

  I didn’t even have a chance to look where she was pointing. I was suddenly knocked to the ground by a determined individual who clearly relished the tinkling opportunity, a person with urgent needs that caused her to relinquish all societal protocol. As I lumbered back to my feet, I caught a whiff of the perfume trail left by the dashing damsel.

  It was Tiffany.

  Apparently she had some very urgent business to address. Little did we know that it would turn out to be a very good idea that she did so…

Click Here to Read the Next Entry in this Series.

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