St. Johnians, you ever get a crazy tourist question like how to get to Highway 104?
Finding your way around can be rough. I was trying to find an agricultural center one time and was told something like, go until the road turns then take a left at the big tree where Mrs. Scatliff used to live.
On my first day in St. Thomas, I was upset the taxi man didn’t know the way to 2307 Commandant Gade. The fact that there even was a number address had given me some false assurance. My official Road Town address had been Lower Main Street, Above The Old Labour Centre.
Street addresses in our islands are rare, rarely useful, and very rarely make sense. It doesn’t have to be this way but we mostly know where we’re going. So we go with it. It pays off too. A British tabloid once gave me a silly amount of money to help some paparazzi find a Tabor and Harmony address — if I remember right. It took two days but I found it.
How many St. Thomians know where Maude Proudfoot Drive is? Theodore Boschulte Drive? I bet you don’t yet call the road up Raphune Hill by its new name: Dorothy “Dotsy” Lockhart Elskoe Drive. And even if you did, if I gave you a number on these streets, do you think you could find it?
In our ninth report on what you thought could be done better in the territory and what’s going just fine, we get into semiotics and cartography — signs and maps.
One of the first pieces of reader feedback we got for this series was how nice it would be to know where public toilets were. Well, I am very happy to say such a map now exists. It’s in its infancy and only covers parts of St. Thomas so far. With a little crowdsourcing, we could get all the U.S. and British Virgin Islands mapped in no time.
There are a bunch of toilet apps out there with names like Flush, Lulu, Bathroom City, and The Poop. But like souvenirs and pepper sauce, local made is always better. So I tip my hat to the St. Thomas reader who made the Google Map. Well done.
Another reader asked why we couldn’t take this digital miracle to the streets.
“How about signs identifying the estates, at least on the highway. Where are we, Carlton? Whim? Wouldn’t it be great to add a small sign just like was done along South Shore Road to Slob, Grapetree, and Turners Hole? Modest yet specific. Centerline, North Shore, North Side, Hams Bluff Roads. Imagine a tourist being able to tell where they are as they drive around!”
Marking the local, common names for these parts of the island will give ourselves and our guests a sporting chance. I honestly didn’t know there was an area of St. Croix known as Slob. And now I want to visit.
Grenada does this if I remember right. Neighborhoods decorate their power poles with some combination of the national colors and hang a hand-painted sign. I suspect it’s a holdover from the revolution where “Education Is A Right Not A Privilege” and “Forward Ever!! Backward Never!” were common billboards. Say what you may about Maurice Bishop and company; they had great signage. I’m glad it didn’t stop with the U.S. invasion and their tired “Communism Stops Here” slogan. The modern Grenada neighborhood street art gets a little garish for my taste, however. Piles of green and yellow tires stacked up roadside don’t inspire much in me other than an automatic fear of mosquito propagation.
I like the reader’s suggestion of “modest yet specific” better.
You might want to check with WAPA before you start painting their poles but I’m pretty sure a little blue and yellow plywood “Welcome to Gifft Hill” sign would be OK. That’s Highway 104, by the way. You knew that, right? And 2307 Commandant Gade is Bunker Hill Hotel. You knew that too.
It doesn’t have to stop there.
One reader asked that a custom map, maybe like the toilet tracker, be made up identifying vegan restaurants, ital eateries, and sites of historical interest.
Several readers wrote asking for plaques near these historical sites. We have some of these but there could be more. Visitors and our young people should know why there is a statue of a man blowing a conch. They should know why there are busts in Post Office Square. They should know why this baobab tree is called the Mother Tree. Road Town’s Sunday Morning Well used to be the center of social activity. The last time I was there it had more litter than madras and gossip. Maybe little historical markers at important sites on all our islands will help foster some upkeep.
Do we think most people know the history of Charlotte Amalie’s Market Square? It’s some pretty astounding history.
We talk a lot about promoting Virgin Islands culture. V.I. pride and all that. There are some pretty easy ways to show it beyond waving a three-fingered V.I. salute now and then.
If you missed any of our “local tourist” experiment, the links are below. We were off last week, dedicating this space instead to the deeply troubling decisions of the Supreme Court. They haven’t stopped, most recently limiting the federal government’s ability to curb greenhouse gas emissions — ensuring when we’re all underwater we’ll have our freedoms and methane intact. But I’m getting off-topic. Have a lovely holiday weekend.