DREAMSCAPES WINTER/SPRING 2022
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SLOWING DOWN IN MONTSERRAT
 
(2022 - Winter/Spring Issue)

Writer: LAURA BYRNE PAQUET



After arriving on the small Caribbean island of Montserrat, I discovered I’d mistakenly booked a manual-shift rental car, and no automatics were available. Briefly, I considered doing without a vehicle, but I’m too much of a Type A to shy away from a challenge. I smiled and said the car would be fine.

I mean, I do know how to drive stick. Theoretically.

The few times I’d done so before, it hadn’t gone well. Yet, somehow, I convinced myself that driving along Montserrat’s narrow, steep roads, replete with hairpin turns and wandering goats, would be a piece of cake.

CHALLENGE ONE

On my first outing, I immediately stalled the ancient Toyota Starlet on a hilltop. Remember the steps, I told myself. Parking brake on. Clutch down. Re-start the car. Check for traffic. Release the parking brake. Ease off the clutch and give it some gas.

The engine caught, and I eased the Starlet into traffic. You can drive stick, I reassured myself.

A few evenings later, I changed my mind.

CHALLENGE TWO

I was driving around an uphill corner in pitch darkness. Foot on the accelerator so I wouldn’t stall, I completed the blind turn—and gasped. Up ahead, sickeningly close to my car, dozens of laughing children were crossing the road after their calypso band’s rehearsal.

I hit the brakes. The Starlet jerked to a stop. And in that moment, I confessed defeat. For many people, driving stick is easy, but it’s something I will likely never do well.

LIFE LESSONS

The next morning, I rented an automatic Jeep from a different agency. I’d finally realized that just because I can do something—like drive a standard, theoretically—doesn’t mean I should.

Later in my trip, an American living on Montserrat told me she and her husband loved the island’s languid pace. “Here, we have time to have a life,” she said.

The phrase stuck in my head.

I’d arrived on Montserrat burned out and weary. For years, I’d been working 50 hours a week or more. People told me they admired my stamina, even as I stumbled through my days exhausted.

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

On the flight home, I decided to try to ease away from my stick-shift life—working until midnight, juggling a dozen projects—before something important wandered across my path and I couldn’t put on the brakes. I decided to give myself time to have a life.

Years after my Montserrat trip, I’m still working on it. I’m not hurtling around metaphorical corners quite so often, and I’m taking the odd weekend off. I may not be a Type B quite yet, but I’m making more time to have a life.

 
 
 
 
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