Island Cars

Anyone who has ever lived on an island, anywhere, knows that island cars are different. They can be hard to come by; island conditions wreak havoc on fabric, metals, wiring, you name it; you're likely to have things dinged and/or stolen; potholes will realign your wheel chassis; steep hills will wear out your brakes; parts for vehicles can be difficult to find and are usually expensive; and there may or may not be a mechanic that can fix them. So you make do. And you improvise.

ok, so maybe not this old, but you get the idea. Photo credit:  grownfolkstalking.wordpress.com

ok, so maybe not this old, but you get the idea. Photo credit:  grownfolkstalking.wordpress.com

When I was a kid, I used to go with family to Block Island, a small island off of New York. People can bring their cars to the island by ferry, or they can grab a cab as ancient as most island cars, driven by equally old and weird Block Island natives. Most residents of the island keep an old clunker of a car which they station permanently on the island. When they go off island, they park it in the ferry parking lot and have it waiting for them when they return.  

One Thanksgiving, after a busy day of grocery shopping, our old car started coughing and steaming. We pulled over and raised the hood only to realize that the radiator had overheated and more water was required immediately before the engine blew up. But how to do it? We had no water and nothing to put water into. We had a stroke of genius when we remembered that one of our purchases was an 11x17 aluminum pan for the turkey. We retrieved it from the shopping bag, and as luck would have it, there was a stream nearby. So we dipped our pan in, poured the water into the radiator, and voila! - immediate relief. With the cooled engine now purring softly, we packed the pan back into its bag, resumed out trek over the hill……and the turkey was no wiser. (That's a mom story handed down.)

Every time I petsit for island friends, I get one of their cars to drive. It always comes with a bunch of warnings - the tire goes flat, so there's a pump in the trunk; the water in the radiator needs to be topped up every other day; ignore the bright red engine light (every island car's engine light is blinking); use a rubber band to keep the glove box closed; the car overheats on the hill, but you should still be able to get up there; ignore the smell, etc.

         Not the car, but it could have been.

         Not the car, but it could have been.

Before we bought our car on Virgin Gorda, we borrowed one from a friend who'd knocked out their rear view window while reversing one day.  No problem, considering most island cars don't have working a/c. We've hitched lifts in cars with rotted out floorboards, so you could see the road passing by underneath.

When we finally found a car to buy, Michael was late coming home one rainy day. It turned out the rear tires were so bald, he couldn't get up the hill from the ferry when the roads were wet, so he had to find another, less steep, route back. A few months later, my visiting mom was in the car when my brakes went out, and we went plowing backwards into a concrete wall. Not thrilled, but not surprised either, I simply added brake fluid and got back in, trying to pretend I didn't notice my mom's shocked and concerned face - to her credit, she still got in. She didn't even mind (much) that the passenger windows don't go down, and sometimes the doors don't open. Yep, island car.

Now that I'm here on St. Kitts, I've borrowed a car from a friend. When he handed me the keys, I settled in for the laundry list of issues I knew it would have and wasn't disappointed. I can ignore the 4 blinking warning lights in the dashboard, the gas gauge does't work, I need to top up the transmission fluid weekly, and he had to show me how to work the seatbelt. 

This is michael using a beer bottle to fill his work vehicle up with gas.

Ok, got it. So one day, I was driving home after a rain, and I flipped on the windshield wipers. Nothing happened. Flip... Flip... Flip. Sigh. I just drove faster to get the windshield to dry. Once I got home though, I texted my friend and asked him what was up with that. He told me to turn them on and off again. Well, I did that - duh. He said, no, the car. Turn the car on and off again. Um, I was driving...  Sure enough though, the next morning when I turned the car back on - swish, swish, swish. Alrighty then.

.

 

Photo Credit: TheOdysseyOnline.com

Photo Credit: TheOdysseyOnline.com

Island cars are like boats in that they're money pits, but they're also like computers and phones - you can't live without them. And if you've got one, whatever its condition, you're going to be the most popular person in the neighborhood.

Anyone out there have an island car? Let's see 'em!