Friday, April 13, 2012

Left at the Purple Dumpster

I have written in the past about the difficulty of giving driving directions on an island where there are no street addresses, few street signs, and a general lack of understanding of cardinal directions.

I was born and raised in Denver, a more-or-less cardinally-oriented, grid-based city, rife with street signs and addresses. In such a navigation-friendly environment, I disdained giving directions based on landmarks, preferring instead the precise nature of, "proceed three blocks to Grape Street and turn North (right). The house will be on your right, at 412 Grape Street." What a beautiful sentence. In the perfectly-gridded world of downtown Denver, three blocks is a definite measurement. Grape Street, being named with a green and white sign at every intersection, is unmistakable. 412 means the house is on the East side of the street, between 4th and 5th avenues. Lo! Beauty!

All that changed when I moved to the BVI, where roads were built more as an afterthought to urban planning (ha!) than the basis of it. Roads here follow old donkey trails, and although some of them are named, very few residents have knowledge of these names. Again, there are no street addresses, so you can't look for "14 Nibbs Street", but at least many of the commercial buildings have names, and those names are lettered on their facades. And despite my original insistence on sticking to street names and cardinal directions, the reality of giving driving directions to tourists on a daily basis has forced me to crumble to the necessity of using landmarks.

I was recently giving some hotel guests some driving directions to get to Brewer's Bay. I'd taken them up the five switchbacks of Windy Hill, gotten them past the big green Heineken sign at Rudy's Bar, but was stuck on how to describe the final turn onto Brewer's Bay Road East. It's a tricky 270 degree left that's easy to miss, and relatively non-noteworthy. Searching my visual memory for a clue, I finally struck on it: Turn left at the giant purple dumpster!

I cringed at my reliance on a landmark that could since have been moved, but when I saw the guests the next day, they'd had a lovely day at Brewer's Bay. They knew they were headed in the right direction, they said, as soon as they saw the purple dumpster.

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