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Kingstown, I now dub you ‘City Of Carts’

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Someone had suggested promoting Kingstown as a ‘City of Arches’. What for me has stood out most about Kingstown over the past few months is the ‘dramatic’ increase in cart traffic. So I now take it on myself to name our capital the ‘City of Carts.’ It might even do well for our tourism, because tourists like what appear to them to be exotic and they come to the Caribbean hoping to see such. In Tortola, there is a gentleman who advertises an ‘exotic’ brew that is supposed to do wonders for you on moonlight nights.{{more}} Having heard all this talk about this tourist attraction, I went past the house of this brew one moonlight night. (I must let my friends know that this was simply out of curiosity and not based on a desire to have some of the brew.) I was simply astounded. There were what appeared to have been hundreds of tourists lined up, waiting to get in to what was an old wooden shack, with tin cups and other material of a bygone era, hanging from the roof and on anything else on which something could be hanged. So you can never tell. We might be on to something.

I had been noticing this growth in cart traffic for a while, but took special interest when a friend was making the point that we have more carts today than in the 1960s. It is not only the presence of these ‘vehicles’ (for vehicles they are), but the pushers or rather drivers try to dictate. On two occasions, driving along Bay Street, a cart was moving in the other direction in the lane in which I was driving. The Cart Man without hesitation simply beckoned to me, dictating where I should go. A few weeks ago, a scene fit for the comic books presented itself, this time on Back Street near to the Old Public Library. It was about 4:15 in the afternoon and there were two streams of traffic moving along and at the same time moving in the opposite direction and along the centre line was a cart. The vehicles simply had to stop and allow the cart driver to move happily along. Despite the curses and grunts, our Cart Man had his way. In fact, he demanded the right of way, like the others do. They now travel in the middle of the road, hardly ever at the side and any vehicle moving along, has, as far as they are concerned to accept that they have the right to be wherever they are.

The names of the Carts are something else and Bassy and Dr. John will have to begin to pay some attention to them. They are even outdoing the mini-vans where names are concerned. On Tuesday, the day before writing this article I came across the following, ‘VAT HOT’, ‘DOG LOVE’, ‘SHAMI’, ‘TRY-BLOOD’, ‘HUSLA’ (sounds like a Nissan brand), ‘MY FLYER’ and ‘TRUST GOD’. A number of them seem to be paying tribute to ‘Jah’, like ‘JAH LOVE’. My favourite however is “JAH RUN THINGS AND NA YU’. This was obviously a statement pointed at someone, perhaps some driver of a motor vehicle who might have challenged his right to claim control of the road or possibly at someone with whom the Cart Driver had some contention. Of course, I remember recently the very creative way in which a horse was used to draw attention to a feud between neighbours.

I often wonder as I do with the names of mini-vans, about what influences the particular names given to the mini-vans and carts. Does it reflect something about the owner and his philosophy of life? Are they making a particular statement that has a meaning which only they know? Are they simply sending messages to all of us? The question that must also be asked is what has prompted this ‘phenomenal’ increase in cart traffic? (I call it phenomenal for within a 30 minute period a few days ago I saw what appeared to be four new carts on the road, focusing then on the characters that were pushing them.) I have travelled to most of the English-speaking Caribbean countries and cannot recall seeing anything like this. The traffic appears to be greatest on the Bay Street, from the supermarkets to the Bus stands or to the Grenadines wharf. Maybe it is something the Centre for Enterprise Development should look into for it has the hallmark of a new industry, maybe replacing the off-shore industries that will suffer from the efforts now being made to tighten regulations governing them. Obviously, there is a demand for this mode of transport and the men who man the carts, have been responding like the entrepreneurs they really are.

This calls for some reflection on the period of the 1950s and 1960s, when some colourful characters plied the cart trade. There was Popp and Porridge who would leave his cart and attempt to deal with anyone who called him by his nickname, in fact by the only name he was known. My source told me that he lived at Questelles and used to push his cart daily to and from Kingstown. He always carried stones on his cart and one day a gentleman named Joe from Camden Park, called out to him. Popp and Porridge, let the stones rain, destroying in the process a whole shelf of rum. The matter reached the Court and Popp and Porridge and Joe had to pay jointly for the rum. Percy Coals was another popular character. It is said that he was once brought before the magistrate charged with stealing a handbag. He said, your Honour, I have had 21 charges laid against me in my life time and 20 of them have been for stealing coals, none Sir for stealing handbags. Porter, whom they called “Tek Your Leg Off Ah Me”. This had its special story, of course. Then there were Crackers from Green Hill and Mount Alga. I don’t know if the modern day pushers of these carts are as colourful as their predecessors. One of them, ‘Ras Coco’, however, had a brief fling with fame when he came out with the song ‘A Kill a Snake’ that took Kingstown by storm. It didn’t appear, however, to have done much for his business. The 1960s was a period when the carts could have been easily accommodated, because the streets did not command the amount of traffic that they do today. Our modern cart pushers couldn’t care less. They are making a living and that is all that matters. They demand their place in the sun and on the roads. You better believe that!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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