January 31, 2005

The Death of Pelican and The Death of The Middle Class In Trinidad

On my last visit to Trinidad, last week in fact, it finally hit me, Pelican is essentially dead and with it the beautiful mix of upper, middle and no class debauchery I used to enjoy. The death of Pelican is not only the death of an era, it’s the sounding of the last trumpet before the government and business sector complete the total destruction of the middle class in Trinidad. Now not only is the cost of living becoming restrictive to the middle class, the cost of liming is too.

It used to be that on any given night at Pelican, in the glory days, I could find myself having a rum and coke with a group of people ranging from visiting rugby players, crazy copywriters, UWI graduates trying to make it in the working world, journalists, some ole ho’ trying to pick up a few German tourists, hard core rock n roll headbangers from Curepe, millionaire businessmen, a drag queen or two, several lesbians and gay men and a few old geezers who should have been out of the game ages ago. Imagine there was once a time where I could buy a beer and lime in the same place my boss who earns ten times as much as I do, used to. We might even share a pat on the back and a drunken smile in passing each other on the way to the loo. Pelican was the place where black, white, Indian, Chinese and everything in between used to bump and grind till the wee hours of the morning. You never knew who you would meet there on any given night. Pelican was all embracing. It was the kind of place where you would find two lesbians grinding poonanies together just an arms length away from the director of Tidco and some fashion designer. Two usually hoity toity Indian princesses from Valsayn would suddenly break into a cat fight in the car park over some man, reminiscent of a brawl outside a rum shop in Barrackpore. The air was rich with the smell of greasy burgers, shark and bake, cigarettes and marijuana smoke. Pelican was perfect!! Then the sports bars came.

Typical of those that cater to the tasteless Americans’ fondness for using food and drink to replace their lacking social skills, they started to dot the social landscape and assert their insidious influence on our social scene. As an upscale family restaurant, they were not a bad place to treat yourself to a high calorie fest but soon they became something they should not have- a watering hole for the “upwardly mobile”. Suddenly the sports bar revolution was born. Prohibitive prices on drinks and food to demarcate the classes catered to our over-bloated sense of self importance and inner shame about our small island Trini self identity. What is essentially humble pub fare and cheap “family style” food devoured in ridiculous quantities by redneck Nascar dads in the USA was revered as highfalutin cuisine in our island. And we all fell for it, even I did. It was new, it was tacky and decadent. It was when it began to dawn on me that liming at a “sports bar” was starting to become popular and more importantly an indicator of social status that my red flag went up. It wasn’t about the vibe of the lime anymore it was about “being seen” at so and so’s with so and so nibbling on some loaded potato skins. Then gradually, Trinidad’s night life started to take on a very distinct hue and feel of the fake. Today, those of us that truly have the positive energy to share in a party are at the mercy of an unforgiving imitation velvet rope that is slowly strangling the beauty the multi-coloured collective soul of our nation.

You see, the truth is that even though there are rich people in our island, they all live next to poor people. On one side of the mountain, you have Morvant, and on the other, Cascade. On one side of the mountain, Goodwood Park, on the other Caranage. And even if you drive a new BMW XL you still have to drive on pot holed filled roads past garbage, slums and vagrants. The wonderful thing about Pelican was that it honoured the reality of life in Trinidad by throwing us all together, the CEO and the sexy receptionist, the Sabga and the sales clerk. At least in that way; we could all develop some depth, empathy and awareness. We were made to notice each other in a non threatening environment. The director of an ad agency could interact in a friendly environment with someone from a working class family. You got to meet foreigners, losers, big wigs, intellectuals, artists and sluts all in the same night. Today, the social scene now encourages everyone to lime with people who are either exactly like them or who desperately want to be like them or liked by them.

We have stupidly partitioned ourselves off from one another as if we didn’t rub shoulders in the office just a few hours ago. The rich tell themselves that somehow the restrictive measures taken by the new establishments have something to do with preventing undesirables and crime. Bullshit. The middle class is just as affected by crime as you are, perhaps even more so and it’s them you are excluding from your establishments, not the unemployed rasta in Beetham. In reality, the upper classes are only isolating and singling out themselves more than ever as “ostentatiously privileged” on a small island where the vast majority of the populace is becoming poorer and more frustrated. And to add insult to injury, they set the bar of price distinction so low, cheap shit is now expensive. I mean, it’s one thing not being able to afford fine French cuisine at a real restaurant, but there is nothing “special” about ribs, onion rings and frozen margaritas; it’s dressed up fast food, yet it is out of the reach of a middle class family with kids. But to be honest the high price of imitation American mediocrity is not really what bothers me, what bothers me is its triumph over our authentic Trini excellence and the decreasing alternatives as the local watering holes dry up in defeat.

We have created a new class of vapid professional socialites and their cronies along with bottom feeder wannabes. And while this structure may gel with the cutthroat New York or LA scene, where (1) classes are kept in totally self sufficient communities, demarcated by bridges, different area codes and miles and miles of hills and roads (2) there is at least the hope and opportunities for moving up (3) even the working class American has basic needs met, it will not work here. Why? Trinidad’s demographics and development cannot support such a cultural and class shift and rift without damaging the fragile bonds that hold us together as a people. We are too closely intertwined in close quarters. The demolition of our middle class due to the rising cost of living and our increasing exclusion from the limelife that is our country’s pulse and lack of other options when the Pelicans and Martins start to close down will not go unnoticed. Our access to welcoming places to blow off steam may be restricted, but come hell or high water, steam will be blown off. Just be warned.

1 comment:

McDaid said...

Spent a summer working in Trini in late 90's and have the fondest of memories of liming at the Pelican after a match or training across the road (played rugby for Northerns) with Mikey Browner and co - I even had the pleasure of sharing a drink with Brian Lara there on one occassion. So, u can imagine that i was very saddened to read about the pubs' demise today (was just surfing and remeniscing about my T&T days) and I can identify with ur feeling that a part of ur culture has died with it.... sad to read....