Friday, August 19, 2011

Laughing in the rain- A night in American Samoa

"Remember running to the bar with the French guy during the hurricane? We had such great times."

     This was a recent message from my former roommate. For a fun filled year we shared a house in the jungle on a steep hillside in American Samoa. I think he said it was his first time out of Arkansas, but I might not have remembered that right. His first day on the island we walked down the road from the house to catch the bus as neither of us owned a car. I’ll never forget the perplexed look on his face when he realized that Samoans bury their dead in the yard, usually within tripping distance of the front door. I wrote about running to the bar in the storm for a book I’ve been writing. I might finish it someday, but the night he mentioned is worth repeating.

    During summer near the equator the midday sun was so intense I wondered if there even was an ozone layer. The clouds staged a weather marathon, pounding the island with rain so hard it seemed vicious. American Samoa redefined tropical from downright hot to nuclear meltdown. Merciless, scorching pavement burned through the soles of shoes on an average day. The road quickly became a steamy, raging river minutes after a downpour began. The house stood between two mountains that funneled the rain down the road as if a damn burst. Due to incomprehensible laziness and a total lack of engineering foresight the road had been built on the riverbed. Jonathan and I test drove several outrageously overpriced cars that coughed and sputtered up the first incline. We should have bought inner tubes to ride the river downhill and given up looking for a car.
     He eventually bought a jeep with countless issues from a couple who left the island knowing they got the better end of the deal. For the month it ran we cruised up and down the island looking for things to do. One evening he invited two sailors he had recently met to go dancing and we picked them up at their boat in the harbor. A night out with three handsome guys made me feel like a golden retriever going for a first car ride. Of course it started raining, normally at first until the wind picked up and buckets of rain swamped the windshield wipers. We turned down a long dark, rutted road hemmed in by jungle looking for the beach bar with a live band. Luck was not with us. With a loud thud the bottom of the jeep fell off. The drive shaft bounced down the road end over end and disappeared into the dense foliage.

     We rolled to a stop on the side of the road, which actually was lucky since the jeep no longer had any power or much steering. I assumed our fun night had crashed to a halt, but I underestimated my companions. They still wanted to go dancing. My roommate realized he had been royally screwed and still owed a lot of money for a piece of junk. We left the jeep for the pilferers on the side of the road and hitched a ride in a pickup truck. They dropped us off a little closer to the bar, but still several miles away. Suggesting we run the rest of the way they stripped their shirts off in the deluge and we took off at an even pace, but I soon lagged behind. I watched the guys up ahead moving gracefully through the howling storm. They passed in front of a store through the glow of an eerie neon light that cast rainbows across the wet pavement.
    The porch in front of the store hosted the usual cast of men from the village drinking quarts of beer. They sat with legs outstretched and their backs on the wall under the eave. Kids chased each other around the parking lot fueled by candy and soda. I heard laughter from the men on the crowded stoop as three shirtless white guys dashed by on the road in front of them. I'm not sure why that was funny, although Samoans often found foreigners amusing. I had no choice but to slog along, realizing I would appear even sillier. The laughter turned from joyous cackling to raucous, knee slapping hooting when I came into view. I could see it from their perspective. Three hot, half naked young guys bolting down the road with a drenched, middle aged woman panting along behind them.
     We made it to the funky bar
under a thatched roof, where our chairs sank into the wet sand floor. The dance floor was under a different pavilion so we dashed back and forth in the rain, shaking the water out of our hair like happy wet animals. 

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