Beautiful Sunday morning in the Caribbean. I’m toddling down a single-lane road on my little scooter. The sapphire blue of the Atlantic on my left; stretches all the way to the west coast of Africa. The sun is already high in the sky and the only folks on the road are fishermen, tardy churchgoers and competitive cyclists who ride by like schools of brightly colored Spandex fish.
It’s surprisingly easy to ride to a dive site with all my scuba gear on a scooter. The tank of air lies flat across the footboards. Have my fins, mask, regs in a net bag, wedged on top of the tank. I wear my wetsuit, booties and BCD on the bike. With my black full-face bike helmet, I look like Evel Knievel, the S&M years.
Before I moved to the Caribbean, I used to drive an SUV with lots of cargo room. You could transport racks of equipment to customer sites, buy a month’s worth of groceries, go on a road trip with six people. Four-wheel drive for the deep snow. GPS on the dash. The large vehicle becomes an extension of self; insulates you from the outside world like a mecha suit from Robotech.
Now my main form of transportation is a 100cc scooter which can take a couple of bags of groceries on the footboards, with maybe another bag bungeed in the rear basket. Although the limitations of this mode of transportation mean more trips to the grocery store, it also means that you are less tempted to buy shit that you do not need.
The things you used to own, now they own you.
Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
I move around every few years, and the ritual yard sale (to divest myself of my accumulated crapola) always makes me think of that Fight Club quote. It’s like peeling off the winter layers when you arrive home in a snowstorm. Soon there’s just you, naked, next to a pile of clothing. Are you yourself without your things? Without the external definitions of you? Or is there something inside, a hard core of self that is yours and yours alone?
The lack of cargo space does not mean that people aren’t creative about using their scooters. I’ve seen folks balance broomsticks, ladders, furniture, pets and other unlikely cargo on their scooters. One Rastafarian gentleman, helmet perched comically like a tiny fez atop his massive dreads of hair, rode by me today with 10 feet of PVC piping tucked under his arm, like the lance of a jousting knight.
And then there’s the elements. Riding a scooter in a tropical rainstorm is no picnic. You are not insulated from the outside world with bumpers and crush zones and all the buzzwords that they use to sell you a big SUV. But the maneuverability of a small vehicle means that you’ll never be stuck in a traffic jam. And this lifestyle feels cleaner, more pared down. I spend 5 bucks a week on gas.
When I get to the dock, I unload my gear onto the waiting boat, the Pumpkin. I’m diving today with six pretty mellow folks. The pilot’s a cheerful Irishman with a banzai attitude towards diving. G&T are veteran divers, slightly weatherbeaten and pickled from a lifetime of G and Ts. And a couple of younger divers that I do not see very often. One of them is emigrating next month, and the conversation turns to the high cost of relocation. She shakes her head, weighed down by the ownership of material things. She’s paring down her life to just the things she needs to keep. Life, the lite edition.
Our pilot conveys some sad news; this is to be the last ride of the Pumpkin (named for the character in Pulp Fiction). The pilot’s emigrating too, and he’s just sold the boat. Divesting himself of all his toys before he moves.
We motor out to an underwater cave in the nearby reef. The sun beats down on us and the ocean turns from turquoise to azure as the depth increases. At the dive site, we tie our boat to a deep mooring and we’re good to go. T decides to dive in his boxers. With his Ozzy tattoos and feisty bulldog jowls, he reminds me of an older Jack Black, circa Wonderboy. The rest of us laugh and tease him about hypothermia. We’re all wearing wetsuits, but the weather’s warming up so we’re down to 3 mils, and G is in a farmer john today. Over the next month, we’ll progressively strip down until we dive in bare skin. By July, I’ll be in board shorts.
We do a buddy check of all the dive equipment. Buouyancy, air, releases and extras. Similar to the philosophy that drives the accumulation of material possessions, this is the gear that we really need in order to survive a dive, plus stuff that might be useful to have handy. That is open to interpretation. T, in his boxers, looks minimalist. G, with numerous tools tied to the BCD, looks like a traveling tinker, overloaded with wares. I let myself plunge backwards over the side of the boat. And, as in a Southern river baptism, I let go of the material world above, exhale and seek absolution in the water.