On our small island – eighty square miles in area – we rarely find ourselves far from home. Google Earth shows our house as an L-shaped white roof a mile south of town along the coast road, in a cul-de-sac off to the left. Linda and I each have a car – each seventeen years old, whose first five years were spent in Japan.
Such cars are popularly called “deportees”; they’re cheap to buy, and very reliable. There are probably 20,000 of them on Grand Cayman, and 20,000 other cars, mostly American. Traffic problems in general aren’t as bad as in most places, and are mostly confined to the morning and evening rush-hours.
I have no occasion to go downtown these days, but Linda drives through it along Hog Sty Bay (George Town Harbour, excuse me) on her way to work and back. It’s a pleasant drive, except when four or five cruise-liners are at anchor and their passengers take over the streets. They use the designated pedestrian crossings as often as not, which is nice, though they’re usually looking the wrong way. As a British colony, we drive on the left, and that confuses them.
Half our vehicles have the steering wheels on the left, too – just like back home in the USA – and that’s confusing. Who the hell knows what’s coming from where? The Japanese cars are like English cars: drivers sit on the right. When tourists rent cars here, they don’t always manage to remember all the possibilities.
We residents are commendably patient with them. When we see a car coming towards us on the wrong side of the road, we just slow right down until the penny drops. No cussing, no rude gestures, just that super-patient look that is more insulting than both of those.
We have five sets of traffic lights on the Island, plus a few red-light flashers at zebra crossings. The most fun to be had is at the four-way-stop junction up by the Hospital. There’s always some idiot who sneaks through in the slipstream of the car ahead of him, too impatient to allow the rest of us to exercise our democratic entitlement to move off in the exact order we arrived. Democracy is imperilled whenever a close finish occurs. It usually is, isn’t it?
What a virtuous feeling, to concede priority to a rival who may or may not have come to a complete halt a tenth of a second before us. What indignation, when the concession is not acknowledged with a pip of the horn or a wave. And what fury, when a wretched pedestrian crosses the junction and makes all the cars wait. Oh, the agony when the wretch is on crutches, or hobbling pathetically on his or her way to the Hospital to get crutches.
By the time the fool finally makes his crippled way across, we’ve all forgotten whose turn it is to move first. What tentative movements there are then, for the first four vehicles, all being urged on by reminders from the drivers behind them.
On mornings when I have my nine o’clock directors’ meetings, the traffic is a bit dodgy on Smith Road up beside the Prep School. Young kids are jumping out of cars and running across the road, parents are turning into or out of the designated drop-off spots, and the rest of us feel sorely put upon. It’s only a two-lane street, and two stopped SUVs half-parked on opposite sides of it reduce that to a single lane.
We childless cars squeeze past as best we can, and we resent the delay. After all, the lights by the cricket field are only a hundred yards away, and thirty seconds’ delay might cost us a green light. Cayman’s drivers are courteous, yes, and patient within reason; but there are limits. We are human. If you prick us, we bleed.
I always stop to pick up a coffee at the supermarket, where two hundred cars are angle-parked in banks of two (one on the left, one on the right), and where there are no designated trolley-paths. Again, pedestrians are saved from mass slaughter by drivers’ courtesy and patience. We give way to every shopping cart – “Go ahead, darlin’!” – never mind the dozen cars behind us backed up into the main road, and the three trying to back out in front of us. Ah well; it’s what we do.
It’s bad manners to stop and chat to a friend one hasn’t seen in a while, though, so there’s not much of that. Most of the time.