Hurrying along to where?
By Sharon Philogene
The last time I checked, Dominica was 289.5 square miles, 29 miles long and 16 miles wide. I have been trying to figure out if by some stroke of luck, it got longer or wider. Everyone seem to be in a hurry these days and they are going no where fast. Most of the roads on island are wound around a mountain or hill A daily drive from one part of the island to the other often includes a gradual climb to a peak or a dip into a valley, and I am certain that if one drives undeterred by social stops, one can get to his/ her destination by the end of the day and in one piece. Today, more than ever, driving in Dominica requires one to be super alert and in a committed, monogamous relationship with the brake of the vehicle in his/her control. Treat your brake like the man or woman you are enamoured with-give it tender loving care because you will need it to reciprocate that love once you get behind the wheel of your vehicle because driving on the island for many means speed records to be broken, men and women to impress and egos to inflate.
Obtaining a driving license for several persons on the island is the registration for the DA 500. There is no set date, time and venue for this race series. If you are a driver on Dominica's roads, you are deemed a participant. Have you ever been coasting along under the Canefield cliff at maybe 45 kmph when you suddenly realize that someone is tailgating you? You step on the gas pedal a bit to create some space between your vehicle and the other when the sound in the background and a look in your rearview mirror alerts you to the fact that somehow you are part of a race. You slow down a bit to signal that you either missed the gun at the start, you are not interested because you never registered as the prize money was not attractive enough, but the challenger will not leave you alone. You slow down again to ensure he gets the message and frustration sets in because you are not responding to his challenge, so he drives right up to the rear of your vehicle, pulls out from behind you at the last minute and heads off to challenge another, but not before throwing you a glance as if to say, 'what are doing on the road?". Should the driver of the vehicle now being challenged be a bone fide registered participant in the DA500, a chase ensues and it may be from the Old Mill to Minya's where one of the two will maybe stop to do some shopping, but whoever had the advantage for that brief moment would have declared himself a winner and sound satisfied sleep will follow at the end of the day in preparation for the next day on the race course.
Having a Dominican driver's license also seem to spur the desire for visibility in several drivers. The is no worse feeling than knowing you exist and yet no one sees you. I am often forced to chuckle at the drivers who zoom past in their bid to get to their destinations, destinations which often end as soon as they zoom past, sometimes a mere ten meters ahead, and if your eye is not peeled to the road, your reflexes sharp, and your brake well cared for, a collision is likely. I often say, 'yes bro man, or sister, I saw you". Seeing them alive, unaffected is one thing, seeing them affected in some way is another. Sometimes, after the vehicle zooms past and comes to a standstill because there was more flash than skill, you hear "man, mister pass me with a fire". At that time, the visibility you sought was to your detriment and you might not even be alert enough to know that you were seen or that might be the last time you will be seen. Do not be surprised, therefore, if someone zooms past you on the road only to stop 25 meters ahead or to then dip into the lane immediately after going past because there is nowhere else to go as the line of traffic is oozing along. That speed, though brief, served its purpose. Overtaking is a natural part of driving when the road is free and safe enough to allow it, overtaking in unsafe areas might bring the desired visibility but not always a sense of satisfaction.
The sad reality in all of this is the fact that these drivers whose egos need that little puff of air that speed and visibility bring them often put the lives of other drivers and pedestrians at risk. Have you ever been walking across a street in Roseau knowing fully that you are not crossing a highway and have to make a dash for the finish line because the sound in the distance and vehicle barrelling towards you suggests otherwise? Then there are drivers whose fingers seem to be connected to the horns of their vehicles when in Roseau, so the moment they realize that the traffic is backed up, the tooting begins. I often wonder why they are tooting. I often wonder if common sense evades them, if their eyes don't send the correct message to their brain.
I wonder if when they see the vehicles ahead, they see wings on them, and that they are using their horns to suggest to the drivers of said vehicles that they should engage their wings so that the road will be cleared. To make matters worse, with egos so puffed up, these PhD drivers know they will be in the right were they to be involved in any mishap. They are so sure they are in the right that when they emerge from their race cars, it is not to check whether the other driver is alive or unharmed but to let 'that offending driver' know that there is a cutlass or something of the like in the vehicle harmed, or that they had just spent so much to upgrade the look of the vehicle that a decision should quickly be made about how fast the racer's vehicle can again be road worthy.
Finally, with the court system moving at a snail's pace, should you decide to ignore the bullying often involved, choose to face the court rather than negotiate, you will be in for a long haul. So, whether or not you are a driver registered for the DA 500, you will find yourself reluctantly, a participant in the daily race to nowhere so become enamoured with the brake of your vehicle, work on your reflexes, and if possible, paste your eyes on the road if you do not wish to join the happy throng hurrying along to ...only God knows.