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12/02/03 Little League Glasses
11/02/03 Capture the Flag
10/12/03 Poor Sport
09/06/03 Dominican, Part 4
08/10/03 Dominican, Part 3
07/10/03 Dominican, Part 2
06/14/03 Dominican, Part 1

Dominican, Part 1

My life is a vacation. I wake up at whenever o'clock, write all day, and watch hockey for desert. How, then, did my wife induce me to take a vacation? There is only one logical answer, and that is voodoo.

No, she wanted to show me her homeland, the Dominican Republic. That is where 62,000 members of her family reside. I met them all in 10 days.

The island seemed harmless enough from the plane: jungles and beaches and jungles. The water was a potion blue that made you think of xylophones. I couldn't make out the swarming brown clouds. Turned out to be mosquitoes; they heard I was coming.

Yahaira and I stepped off the plane and into the arms of her aunt, her godmother, two uncles, five cousins, sixteen in-laws, and most of the nation's children. They gang-tackled Yahaira and held her down so long that I thought she could use a snorkel. After they got to their feet, they did the same to me! Tons of people whose names I couldn't pronounce, all hugging me like their own.

I was going to like this place.

Dominicans are known for speaking so quickly that even they don't understand each other. Rumor has it that Dominicans have a secondary brain at the base of their tongue to boost velocity. It makes them turn r's into the less cumbersome l sound and skip the s's altogether.

"Comoetauted?" asked Tia Adelpha.

"My flight is great," I said (I only speak present tense).

She squealed with delight and gave me an island-sized embrace. Then we moved as a huddle to the parking lot, no one leading the way.

The DR comes in two parts. There is Santo Domingo, which rivals the finest capitals in the world in terms of soaring hotels, megacorporations, and streets so clean you could eat off them. Then there is the other 99% of the country, which is kind of like that minus the hotels, the corporations, and the streets.

I had little time to sightsee, however, as I was gripped by a series of near-death experiences called Driving in the DR. Back home I'm considered a bad driver. My wife demands the keys from me even when I'm sober, and the local crossing guard always shouts as I pass. He says things like "WAKE UP" and "GET A LIFE" and, most recently, "YOU BLEEP BLEEP MOTHER BLEEP." I think that's what he said; I was busy writing as I steered with my knee.

You'll consider mine a qualified opinion, then, when I say that Dominicans are the worst drivers in the universe. In their defense, the country could benefit greatly from painting lines on the road. People just don't fare well when these things are left to the imagination. No matter how narrow the path, there was some nut -- usually the one driving me around -- who felt that he could fit.

Fortunately, only half the people owned cars; the rest drove mopeds, which made gridlock smell like one big lawnmower accident. Until now I didn't appreciate how useful a moped could be. Entire households can travel by moped, grandma and Sparky included. These little bikes sputter through the DR carrying timber, flora and fauna, and, in one instance, an outhouse.

In America 90% of our decisions are made for insurance purposes. You can't say hello to the mailman without considering the legal implications. The unemployed don't look for work but wander the streets hoping to get hit by a well-insured vehicle. We are slaves to lawyers and doctors and the orders they give the President. So it goes.

Dominicans don't suffer such madness. Riding in the bed of a pickup truck is not only permitted, but the driver provides lounge chairs and lets you taste his cerveza. One day we fit 17 people into a minivan and sped away without a door. True story. We just stuffed the kids into our pockets. They call it Cram Theory: no matter what physics might suggest, there is always room for one more body.

If you can't find a taxi, you are forced to -- enter Psycho music -- take the bus.

For me buses have always been a novelty. Once in a while I find myself heavily intoxicated, traveling with strange people, and hey, what am I doing on this bus? In the DR, bussing is big business. The drivers, because they own the buses, don't see space the same as we do -- one butt per seat. They see it in terms of possibility per cubic inch. Children are placed on laps, family's and otherwise, and when they run out of seats, folding chairs go up in the aisle. Everything I had learned about fire lanes went out the door (well, it tried to go out the door but couldn't find it).

To maximize the volume of trips, buses go 100 mph even in park. Drivers don't stop at intersections but do extend the courtesy of honking to let others know they are coming. There are stop signs at selected locations, but they are intended strictly for tourists. On corners I clawed the stuffing right out of my seat, trying to prevent the bus from overturning. I always said that I wanted to retire to a tropical location...

Just as I was about to toss my dulces, a miracle appeared on the horizon: speed bumps. Not government-issue speed bumps but little ramparts erected by the locals to protect their children and other livestock. They consisted of cement and glass and leftover rice, and rose two feet high in places. We ssssscraped over the bumps at 5 mph, listening for the engine to fall.

This, of course, presented an opening for the locals to sell produce. They ran at the bus armed with all kinds of vegetables you wouldn't recognize. They were excited to see me at the window, because Caucasians are known throughout the Spanish-speaking world for their unique blend of wealth and stupidity. Even as our bus pulled away, a boy was trying sell me a rooster. I held up my hands and made the sorry face. The rooster seemed hurt.

Finally we arrived at Tia's house, where we were tackled by 100 new relatives. They were cooking and dancing and praising the Lord, all on a Monday morning. The merengue tickled my dance bone, but I was exhausted from clinging to life.

A cousin hugged me and said, "Yayson, how did you like the ride?"

I plopped down my luggage and said, "I don't."


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