5/07/2009

“Good Morning! I love you!” and a Bermuda Shorts’ Moment …


Johnny Barnes - Bermuda's Icon

Kindness is Everywhere.
 
Eugene, the taxi driver, was late. Sitting in a hotel lobby, the delay in his coming gave me a moment to complete my post-card writing intended for “my enemies” [with an ‘I wish you were here, too’-type of a message]. Michael Levon got a call from Eugene to take me to the airport. Michael, in his 50s, I guess, is an old-timer among the taxi drivers in Hamilton. On the way to the airport I got a 20-minute detailed culturally rich expose about the island.

“If you fall down, somebody will pick you up,” he stated in a plain Bermudian-English. “They teach us to say ‘Good morning’ the moment we are in school. When we are this high …” He moved his hand from a steering wheel and showed me how high the children are when they learn to say ‘Good morning.’ It was OK with a 20-miles-per-hour speed limit, I thought. “It stays with us for later,” he added.

“We always greet each other. Even when we just passed somebody. It’s ‘Good morning! Good morning! Good morning!’. We know that it’s the Smith’s or Jones’s boy or girl that greeted us. We know where they live. We know their family. When they get in trouble, an accident or something, we know they need help and we help them.”

In Bermuda, if you fall down, someone will pick you up. …

Three is an illustration to support Michael Levon’s excitement about Bermuda’s milieu of friendliness. When I asked Michael about Johnny Barnes, he went on another lengthy monologue, this time about the Bermuda’s living Mister PR is. “He is our icon. He is special,” Michael smiled as he explained who Mr. Barnes is.

Johnny Barnes has a 45-year run as a “Good Morning! I love you,” and exemplifies the Spirit of Bermuda [check out his statue] near the Crown Lane roundabout when he greets motorists every morning (rain or shine) and solidifies Bermuda’s friendliness.

On June 23 this year Johnny will be 86. Before he retired he was a diesel mechanic and a driver. “My mother told me to never pass a day without recognizing someone; making someone’s life brighter,” Johnny told me when I met him on the first Tuesday in May. “I’ve been doing this for 45 years.” He said that this is a blessing for him and a calling. It’s easier to pass a day when someone is there to tell you that you are being loved, Johnny seemed to be saying. Bermuda is an island where kindness is practiced.

When I went back to see Johnny next morning, I saw his head bowed in prayer. He was in a circle and holding hands with three women. They were praying. He, a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, and the three women… Who knows?  Does it really matter? This was his moment of silence with three Bermudian women who moments ago came to promote their cause. The cars were passing by the roundabout.

“When someone wants to promote something, they go to Johnny Barnes’ roundabout,” Michael, the taxi driver, told me. Mr. Barnes is the selling point.

My taxi driver was right. I saw it in detail that morning.

“I am sure someone is going to take up that baton,” Michael, my taxi driver said emphatically. “Someone will step in after he is gone.”

Bermuda [Bright-Pink] Shorts. 

Yes, I bought my very own bright-pink Bermuda shorts. I already own the other elements of the Bermudian business attire for men, including a blazer. Formality and tradition is something you cannot miss when in Bermuda.

Being the last vestige of the British Empire’s colonial interests, Bermuda puts on display their version of the traditions of formality a la British governance. Propriety of behavior in public is part of that package. The islanders added a sense of pragmatism given the hot weather and the near-steaming humidity of summer months.

So, even today a visitor can spot Bermuda businessmen in their blazer-and-tie attire that includes … bright-pink shorts. Though today the business lifestyle of the island is slowly being replaced by a liberal tendency to wear a less fashionable formal business attire, one expects to see many a native displaying allegiance to tradition.

So, pink is everywhere and is Bermuda’s trademark color – an assortment of perfumes are called Pink; a gentle pastel-like pink tint of the sands; many of the cottages are pink or are painted with other pastel shades; or the bright-pink shorts as a business fashion for men. Honestly, that’s the way I like it, too. With some sensitivity to my own color preferences, I wore a pink shirt and a pink tie. “You fit in,” said one of my hospitable hosts as he continued to greet every passer-by.

Bermuda is a land where kindness is a rule of the day, and life seems gentler. Bermuda is also a land where color pink is a choice. Add the azure color of water and all of a sudden you note that it’s not bad to have a country distinguished by colors. It beats a black & white existence elsewhere.