The people and random events that shape our lives (Part 7)

Few people in Trinidad had washing machines – hence the existence of the Hop Wo Steam Laundry. The laundry had depots in several towns but all the laundry was done at 39 Green Street in Arima so a car was needed to move laundry to and from 39 Green Street.

Because of this, Raymond Choo Kong had a very nice car. A bunch of us would pile into his car most Sundays to go to the beach. He also had a lot friends and in Trinidad if you were a friend of a friend that was having a party, you were also invited – so often we were heading out to a party on a Friday or Saturday night.

Raymond Choo Kong
Marilyn drinking coconut water at the beach

Sometimes we went to a movie. Going to a movie was interesting because Raymond always waited beyond the last minute. If the movie was at 7 pm. and it normally took 35 minutes to get from Arima to Port of Spain, Raymond would wait until around 6:45 to head out. Then he would drive down the highway like a maniac and arrive at around 7:10. You could never get Trinidadians to form a line and the doors of the movie theatre were quite wide so in order to force them to come into the movie theatre one at a time, they would close the doors down to a narrow slot with just enough room for one person to get in. The result would be this mass of people trying to funnel through the narrow opening. I usually held onto Marilyn’s hand trying to drag her in through the opening with people pushing from all sides. All the pushing and shoving gave you the impression that maybe the theatre was full but when you finally got in you usually found that the theatre was mostly empty. Because of the time it took for people to struggle through to get in, the movie never started on time.

What was interesting about this is that the whole process never changed. Raymond was always late, he always drove like a maniac, we always went through the same struggle to get in and when we got in the theatre was always half empty and late to start.

One night after a movie we decided to pick up shark on a bun from a street vendor. I specifically asked for no hot sauce – but maybe some lingering hot sauce was still on the knife. I spent all the time going back to Arima with my mouth out the window trying to cool it down.

Eventually I decided to get my own transportation. I had my eye on a BMW motorbike so I went to the bank for a loan. I was getting local salary which in those days was $250/month Trinidadian ($125 Canadian). To put that in perspective, a starting teacher in Canada was maybe getting $500/month. The bank manager said I couldn’t afford it but he knew someone who collected motorbikes. In the end I bought a 1956 Velocette.

The Velocette looked like a bike from an old WWII movie. It was direct drive and water cooled with a radiator in front. Unlike most motorbikes it was less noisy than a car.

Before picking the bike up, I had to get a motorcycle driver’s license so I went down to the license bureau, showed them my Canadian driver’s license and told them it was good for motorcycles as well. They bought it and gave my a license to drive the motorcycle.

The problem was that when I went down to pick up the bike and drive it back from Port of Spain to Arima for the first time, I had never been on a motorbike before, let alone driven one.

Luckily the bike had hand gears like a car. In fact it had hand everything – hand start, hand clutch, hand gears, hand brake and hand signals. If I’d only had more hands.

The back half of the seat was higher than the front seat, so if you had a passenger, they sat a few inches higher than you did. If I did have a passenger (usually Marilyn) I gave them instructions to do hand signals as I turned the corner.

I found Mrs Barnes boarding too expensive. She also insisted on surprising me with local delicacies like pig’s ears that I wasn’t too keen on so I moved in with another CUSO volunteer who lived in Port of Spain. That meant I had to drive my motorcycle to work each day and it often rained – sometimes more than once. Usually it was a short torrential downpour; I would get soaked but then dry off before I arrived at the school yard. Only once did I get soaked just as I was entering school.

The first half a dozen times that I arrived at the school yard, the students cheered because the bike was so unusual. What they particularly liked was the starter. Instead of a key, there had been a knob which had fallen off leaving just a slot so I would pull out a penny from my pocket to turn it and pull the starter lever. The bike was so unusual, that there was no possibility that anyone would steal it – so I never locked it up.

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