by Joy Kamani
Pan Am Juniors — Two Days before (Wednesday)
There are three of us here, all close friends and operatives in the NSSF: Joy Kamani, photographer, Paul Limmer, videographer and me (Jim Spier) who will be writing the stories.
We all arrived at different times, Paul getting in on a direct flight from JFK in New York and arriving at 1:30pm, Joy on a direct flight from Houston (owing to the Houston-Trinidad oil connection — oil is Trinidad's largest industry) arriving at 7:30pm, and me connecting in Miami from Raleigh-Durham. I had a four hour layover in Miami, which turned into 5 hours due to weather problems.
I finally arrived at about 11:30pm. It took about an hour to get through customs. After clearing customs, I looked for a taxi. I heard "Jim, Jim!". It was Wayne Davis, Sr., the great young hurdler's father. We have known each other for several years. Wayne has been an official for many years at the Nike Outdoor Nationals. Wayne is a Trinidad native as is his wife, so he was "home". He was trying to track down Dylan Ferris' mother, the 800 meter runner from Stanford. I'm not sure of his success in finding her.
I grabbed a cab and had a nice chat with the driver. We spoke about Hasely Crawford and World Youth 100 meter record-holder Darrel Brown. Though he was not a track fan, he knew these (and other Trinidad track athletes) very well.
I arrived at about 1:00am and went to bed.
Pan Am Juniors — The Day before (Thursday)
We all met for breakfast, then decided to walk to the Meet HQ, the Hyatt Regency, about a mile away. There was intermittent rain (when it rains in Trinidad, it rains!!) so we "bagged" the walking idea and decided to hunt down a cab.
We found one quite easily on the freeway, negotiated a price ($20 Trinidadian - about $3.25 US — there's about a 6:1 ratio). The car was tiny and at least 20 years old. Paul asked to have the driver turn on the air conditioner. The driver replied, "Open the window". No seatbelts, no pollution control, but a very accommodating and friendly driver.
We got to the Hyatt and received our credentials without any problems (Well almost. The credentials were all correct except for the fact that Paul and I were made citizens of Barbados, Joy's home country. But we eventually got it right).
We decided to wander around the city and find lunch. Some very friendly people directed us to Ariapita Street, an area full of restaurants. We had a nice traditional lunch at The Sweet Lime.
From there we walked to the stadium where we got the "lay of the land". We heard some activity from outside the stadium and decided to investigate.
There was a rededication of the stadium going on, commemorating its upgrade and refurbishing. Present were the usual dignitaries as well as the stadium's namesake, the 1976 Olympic 100 meter gold medalist, Hasely Crawford. After the ceremony, Paul and I introduced ourselves and noted that we were present for his great victory in Montreal in 1976. I think he appreciated our comments.
We retired to the hotel at about 7pm, and vowed to meet in the lobby at 8pm to find a place for dinner.
Paul and Joy were prompt. I was late, checking my e-mail, arriving at 8:30. This time, it was a good thing. (I'll explain further down).
We got a real cab this time, through the hotel, and it was $10 instead of $3. We arrived at the restaurant on Ariapita Street, but it was closed on Thursday! So we wandered up and down the street, and settled on Melange. We walked in (after having the door unlocked for us) and were told that we were not dressed properly. Yet there were only two people in the restaurant!
So out we went looking for food. Let's go to "Mango's", a restaurant we had seen earlier. After taking a dozen strides, we hear "Joy, Joy!!!". Who could possibly know us here except for, perhaps, one of the U.S. Coaches?
It was Margaret Ottley. Margaret, is a Trinidad native and professor at West Chester State (PA) . Margaret has acted as our Sports Psychologist for the last two Caribbean Scholastic Invitationals (CSI), a meet co-sponsored by the NSSF. She is really a terrific teacher and a better person. Margaret was accompanied by her sister Evline and friend Allison.
"We're headed to Queens Park. They're having a celebration of Emancipation Day. There are plenty of food booths and lots of entertainment." "Great", we said, "but there not enough room in your car!" "Don't worry, we'll all squeeze in". And squeeze in we did. It was great to see Margaret and equally as great to know that we would be eating soon.
Queens Park in Port of Spain in equivalent to Central Park in New York City. A large part of it was set up similar to a carnival, with food booths, vendor booths and entertainment tents.
We sampled "Shark and Bake", chunks of fried shark on a soft roll. There are toppings to put on it besides catsup or mustard. I selected Vidalia onion dressing and tamarind sauce (tamarind is a tropical fruit). We also had mauby, a drink made from the bark of a tree.
We wandered around the booths and tents. There were loads of local craftsmen and clothing sellers.
We finally settled in the entertainment area. There were several 20x20 tents where the steel bands were playing. Each of the bands had their own tents and each took turns playing.
I'm not sure if you've ever had the experience of hearing a steel band other than, say, a trio or quartet. But this was special. Really special because we were in the actual home of the steel bands.
Each band was comprised of at least forty musicians, playing a variety of pans, meaning tenor, alto, soprano, bass, etc. It was riveting and exciting. (We were told later that these were scaled down bands; most bands, at full strength, have about 100 members). The fact that there is no sheet music really took me aback. These were complicated tunes and these bands were as "tight" as any band I've ever heard - forty musicians totally in synch.
We first saw the Desperados, who put on about a 40 minute show with music ranging from jazz, to Broadway tunes to classical. Next was the Renegades, followed finally by Phase II Pan Groove.
What we did not realize was that there were the best steel bands in the world! The Renegades, for example, will be performing at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC in August. And they have a two month tour of Europe in the fall. Phase II Pan Groove is led by, perhaps, the most famous player in the world, Len "Boogsie" Sharpe.
It was a special evening, and would not have happened if I was on time this night.