Monday, September 9, 2013

Heart Attacks in Trinidad

As a kid growing up in the middle of Virginia, I told myself I would one day see the world. Now in my late 20s, I am happy to report that I am doing a decent job of fulfilling that kid’s dream, though I had envisioned more glamour in the travel and less cramming my shoulders in a coach seat for 12 hours at a time and trying not to fall asleep at my morning meeting in the middle of Africa or Europe or wherever. When the opportunity to take an actual vacation abroad instead of going for work or school came along, I went for it. I’ve always been one to make random decisions, and randomly decided the random country of Trinidad would be my random destination. I booked the ticket and painted the decision as a brilliant move few people would understand.

And indeed it was a brilliant decision few people understood! My career may not be good for things like obtaining health care benefits or, you know, progressing in life, but my God, it is really good for assessing the vacation quality of a country in under 20 minutes! Not only is Trinidad not bombarded with the average, annoying selection of Caribbean tourists – including the mid-life crisis population of Canada, Americans who can’t bring themselves to leave North America, and every law student ever – it has a brilliant landscape, a rich history, a number of cultural and architectural monuments, and solid public transportation, all of which I knew about before going.

Thanks to the auspices of Couchsurfers and friends of friends, I am happy to say I took advantage of a number of these things. But. Let’s be honest. As intellectually curious as I can be, at some point my trip to Trinidad really was a summer vacation, and all I wanted to do was fall asleep in the sand of a pretty beach while listening to the same mediocre song on repeat because I am too lazy to make a playlist on my iPod. So I decided to go to Tobago.

Even though taking the bus to the airport instead of a taxi required waking up 3 hours earlier, walking 2.5 miles in the blazing hot sun, enduring a bumpy ride along some beaten paths, and…riding the bus (I hate buses), I decided paying 1/30th of the price was well worth the effort. Those of you who know me have probably realized that I assume it takes 30 minutes to get anywhere, regardless of the distance, time of day, traffic patterns, whatever. Ergo, in predictable fashion, I left myself 30 minutes to walk to the bus station even though I had done the same thing the two previous days and knew it would definitely take 40 minutes.

So I missed the bus. To kill time before the next one came, I decided to go to the Trinidadian equivalent of Starbucks and get a donut the size of my head. Nothing like loading up on sugar right before you take pictures of yourself in a swimsuit. Of course whereas the first bus I tried to catch left precisely on time, the second bus came 15 minutes late, putting me 45 minutes behind the arbitrary schedule I had calculated in my head. But no matter, after successfully appropriating an entire row of seats to myself, I determined I still had 30 minutes of leeway.

Riding the subway in New York is an Olympic sport. Between hauling all of your things up and down staircases meant to accommodate a fraction of the people underground, nauseating performers demanding money for their ridiculous songs, and tourists who fail to understand why the city does not stop because they think they’re going the wrong direction, riding the train requires a good amount of physical agility. That’s why old people rarely ride the subway; they take the bus. New York City buses are certainly more forgiving than the subway, but buses in this fair concrete jungle still require a lot of flexibility. Are you handicapped? Too bad, you still might have to stand. Forgot your metro card? Too bad, you have to go buy another one and wait for the next bus. Missed your stop? Too bad, get down and ride the return bus back. There are simply too many people in New York for anyone to make special accommodations because you or the driver screwed up

Apparently this is not the case in Trinidad. Not 20 minutes after I settled into my row of seats with my head-sized donut did I hear a woman start screaming for bloody mercy.

            “You missed my stop! You didn’t STOP!! YOU HAVE TO GO BACK!!!”

But the driver kept going, arguing that the stop she so vehemently demanded was only an actual stop going in the other direction. So the screaming continued for another five minutes, with each second finding a new bus passenger echoing the concern. My happy little picture of Trinidadians as a peaceful people was abruptly spoiled with a full out screaming match between the other passengers and the driver. I, on the other hand, was a happy New Yorker with a giant donut, and could care less if this woman missed her stop. It happens all the damn time in New York – take the next bus back! Missing a stop is so not a big deal. Besides, I thought, I now only had 25 minutes of leeway and that driver continuing on was saving me time. Right? Ha.

A few hundred feet from the next stop, the screaming woman began walking down the aisle to jump straight off as the bus doors opened. As I was about to go in for the next bite of donut, I heard a loud thud right next to me. Looking down, I saw the woman was not in her mid-30s as I had guessed from her voice, but was much older – like 60. She was also face down in the aisle. I know by now that my first reaction to these situations is to freeze, so as I sat there stupidly with sugar crumbs all over my face, I heard a set of panicked passengers crowd around her and begin to pull her tight grip from the row of seats I had appropriated for myself.

From my cardiologist father, I know all of the heart buzzwords; it wasn’t until someone plopped the woman down in a seat and she muttered “nitroglycerin” that I realized what had happened – this woman had had a f**king heart attack! Suddenly my donut was not so delicious.[1] By then, one other passenger in particular had made tormenting the bus driver her personal vendetta. Somewhere in the middle of her threatening to pull out a knife and cut off his testicles, the driver fortunately had the clarity to call an ambulance.

I have to hand it to Trinidad – though the ambulance and all of its equipment were positively filthy, the EMTs made it to the bus in under 15 minutes. Sadly, they worked as fast as a blind monkey. After ten minutes to finally get the gross oxygen tank out and operating, it was clear that the woman who had the heart attack would be fine. She was breathing almost normally, was talking and moving, and I knew she could easily make it to a hospital to rest. Unfortunately, the second woman had returned to her “batshit crazy” mode and had resumed making death threats against the driver. I did my best to curl up into a ball and stare out the window, but could not completely avoid the scary moments of eye contact this woman made with me. On the third of such occasion, she looked straight at me said,

“This bus driver should die! This bus is for the people, it is not his bus! Yes!?”

Of course in my head, I was thinking something like,

“Why me?! I’m going to miss my flight! Sand! iPod! Beeeeaaaaach!”

But all I said was a garbled, 


Thankfully, Trinidadian Indians have some common characteristics with us American Indians, namely – work before all else. After the other EMTs had finished fumbling with the oxygen tank, the Indian origin EMT took one look at the other passengers and forced the heart attack woman off the bus, explaining,

            “These people need to get to work.”

Normally I would have been in full echo of the EMT’s concerns, though I could really only think about one thing:


Very happily, crazy woman decided to go with heart attack woman to the hospital, leaving the bus driver with his testicles intact to take us to the rest of the stops, and finally, the airport! I had planned to save half of my head donut for the plane, but the unnecessary drama of the incident forced me to eat the rest. That is not a logical statement. But shut up. Beeeeaaaaaaaaaaaccccccccccchhhhhh!

As we pulled into the airport terminal, it was my turn to shove my way to the front of the bus, though I managed to avoid having a heart attack in the process. It turns out the flights to Tobago from Trinidad have their own little dingy security area, so showing up a full two minutes before check-in was scheduled to close was 30 minutes earlier than absolutely necessary. The (Indian origin) airline employee even gave me a slight pat on the shoulder of reassurance before handing me a napkin to wipe off the sugar crumbs. So sweet, literally.

In case you’re curious about whether I had an amazing time that day once I got to Tobago – the answer is no. Five minutes after I got to the beeeeeaaaaccch, it started raining like crazy, like batshit crazy. But the next day was amazing! Look at the picture I got below!

[1] Who am I kidding? It totally was.

No comments: