A Punch In The Mouth

A Punch in the Mouth

9:00pm

“Two for one night at Bacchus; we should go down,” George proposed; her eyes bright with anticipation. I however, wasn’t as enthused. I was working another shift in the morning and I’d have to walk again, as I was skint.  The five quid in my pocket had to get me through the three remaining days it would take for my paycheck to arrive. Even when it did come, it was already spent- on food and my portion of the rent. In short, even if I could go, I didn’t have the budget for recreation.  This was my life since I left Trinidad.

“Can’t, I have work in the morning.”

“Again? Not a great way to spend the summer.”

“A necessary evil.”

“You can still come. Bo will be there” she added, hoping to coax me.

“She not on me,” I offered damply.

She real like yuh,” George responded.  In the year we had known each other, she made it her mission to master Trini dialect. I played along, exaggerating my natural tone.

“Ah have tings to do.”

Like what hoss?

“Just tings,” I said as I turned toward my laptop to continue my job search.

“Alright mate,” she replied in defeat, her East London drawl returning.

“Have one for me, right,” I offered in consolation.

No scene,” she replied.

Soon George left for her night of Bacchanalia and I retreated to the kitchen. There, I set about trying to make a potato, (the last edible thing I had in the cupboard), resemble an actual meal. As I cut it in half and placed it in the oven, I wondered if I had indeed gone mad.  I was on my way up: good job, nice car, parties, women- the things they say every young man wants. However, I remained unconvinced that that hollow lifestyle was for me.  Somewhere between the debauchery and my desire for meaning, came the decision to give into my film demon. Perhaps within that medium, I would find the fulfillment I sorely lacked.  Where I came from though, there were no film schools or even an industry to speak of.  I had to leave to live the dream.

London became my destination mainly because the residue of Colonialism made my academic qualifications compatible. Besides that, the independent scene of Europe held more appeal to me, than glamour of Hollywood.

“Why yuh doh try to settle down instead?” was my mother’s reaction to my plan, her desire for grandbabies overwhelming all else.

“Real girls when yuh reach over there.” was all Vic, my regular drinking partner could see.

Neither of them knew that I had spent a year preparing for my move. If I sold the car, cashed in the insurance policies, got that student loan and saved all I could, I would have enough for my ticket, student visa and two of the three years of tuition I required.  To finance my final year, I’d find a part-time job. Surely, if I worked and saved as much as humanly possible -a two year buffer would be more than enough to secure the cash I needed.  Thus far though, I had saved a grand total of zero.

My train of thought was interrupted by the smell of a burning potato.

“Shit!”

After a minor rescue operation involving precision scraping and daubs of margarine, the charcoal flavoured spud became something palatable.  “I should be grateful,” I thought. After all, there were folks in the world with nothing. At least I had a roof over my head and a morsel to quell the rage within my stomach. I still had hope. In a few years, I’d undoubtedly look back and smile at how far I had come. “Hunger is just part of the process,” I thought as I took my first bite.

My stomach rumbled in agreement.

 

3:00 AM

The loud moaning and rhythmic thuds against my wall indicated that George’s night was only just beginning. I couldn’t be too mad really- she did agree to have one for me, and I didn’t make it clear that I was talking about beer. As she asked God not to stop, I pulled my pillow tight over my head. Based on my own experience with alcohol fuelled relations though, there was equal chance of her stud lasting till the sun came up, and him falling asleep mid coitus. Maybe I’d get lucky and they would both pass out soon. Whatever the case, I had to be out of the house by seven if I was going to get to the bookshop on time.

As I lay there, I wondered if she understood the opportunity she had by way of birth. It wasn’t that government assisted tuition gave her an advantage – we had that back home. In fact, in becoming an international student I was giving up my subsidy.  What was lost in a financial sense though, was gained in the range of academic choices that were suddenly available.  I suppose that colonial wealth and social problems that didn’t include a spiraling murder rate, afforded this society time for trivial matters like film or Medieval Studies.  Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t naive enough to think that the streets of England were paved in gold, but I knew that here,  it was possible for me to at least study  what I really loved.

That was the narrative I sold myself at least; and as it circled around my head to the tune of the drunken lust, I found myself aroused-and very jealous.  I mean, if I was going to have a shitty day at work due to sleep deprivation, I might as well be having sex. Of course, I could just walk over there and ask them to keep it down – but my growing bulge would only make that awkward.  Soon my hand had found its way into my pants.

“Well why not,” I reasoned.

 

7:30 AM

To anyone who has not had a good night’s rest, the sound of an alarm is the most annoying thing in the world. To anyone who had to work in retail after such a night, it is the most aggravating, rage inducing sound in the cosmos. It is with these things in mind that I had earlier made the decision to slap the clock off of the bedside table.  At the time, I didn’t think much of the splintery crash. Now that I was a half hour behind schedule, I was beginning to regret my impulses. My remorse came to a head when in a hurried attempt to get into my work trousers; I landed on some of the shrapnel.  As the blood began to seep through my nylon sock, I didn’t feel any pain. Instead, I remembered something my mother would always say:

“More haste, less speed.”

She was seldom wrong about these things.

A wet wipe, a bandage and ten minutes later, I was limping toward the front door.  It was there that I saw George’s stud attempting to make a stealthy exit. As he tugged and tugged at the handle, he did not seem to realize that he needed a key. Although that in itself was disturbing, I understood his urge to leave. In the not too distant past, (but perhaps less awkwardly), I too had done the navy seal- get in, conquer and get out, never to be seen again.  Not something I was particularly proud of in truth.

“You alright there pal?” I asked.

He spun around with a start as I raised a judgmental eyebrow.

“Er…sorry blud. I’m George’s mate… didn’t want to wake her as I left,” he explained nervously as he stepped on some mail that had been gathering beneath the slot in the door.  The way the envelopes lay strewn about the hallway, one might conclude that George and I were building some kind of a nest.

“I’m sure.” I replied as I held up my keys.

His face lit up.

“You’re a legend, mate.”

“So are you from what I’ve heard,” I mumbled, as I opened the locks.

“What was that?”

“Nothing, just thinking aloud.”

A few seconds of awkward silence followed as I released the locks and pushed open the door, offering him the freedom he craved.

“You off to work?”

His fraudulent interest in my life made me dislike him just a little bit more.

“Yup.”

“Not a great way to spend the Summer.”

“That’s what they tell me.”

With that, he jumped into his waiting car and sped off, leaving a wake of exhaust and obnoxious music behind. Meanwhile, my attention turned toward the trampled mail at my feet. Amongst the solicitous junk, there was one envelope that seemed important, the words “Date Sensitive Material” stamped on it in red ink.  I broke the seal to reveal a letter from the University.

 

2:15 PM

When charged with collecting, counting and dispensing tender, one can see just how much money the business makes during the hours one spends working.  With a few simple calculations, if one were so inclined, one could then extrapolate just how much the business has made from one’s labour in a week, a month, a year and so on. Thusly, as one stands at the till, one cannot help but feel, quite literally, short changed.  It is for this reason I reckon, that of all the jobs in the overworked and underpaid world of retail, cashing, is most akin to hell. Today, after receiving that correspondence from the University, hell was particularly hot.

Three pound twenty?”  The frumpy middle aged woman asked incredulously, her seasoned frown mirroring a salted prune.

“Yes ma’am” I responded, blankly confirming what she already knew.

“Can’t believe that price,” she muttered as she handed me a fiver.

“I can’t believe it either,” I thought, as I took the bill to make change.  Of course, I was not referring to the price of stationery, but to the whopping fifty percent increase in tuition that I was suddenly faced with.  The news had reduced my long walk to work to a desperate exercise in number crunching. Regardless of how I spun the figures though, it was painfully obvious that I would not be able to continue my education.  In one move, my plan had been derailed.

And yet here I was…

facing these customers…

holding on…

to the fading embers of my dream…

As the absurdity of it hit me, I froze, dropping the fiver on the counter.

“Are you alright?” the frumpy woman asked, undoubtedly disturbed by my sudden change in demeanour.

“Hoss, I real good,” I replied with finality, before making my way to the door.

The look of shock on the Manager’s face as I limped out onto the street did not matter.  The only thing that was of consequence was the epiphany that I was having- that in my search for meaning, I had ended up trading one shitstem for another.  While they were both different, they were also the same, demanding me to know and take my place. Maybe over the last year some kind of inferiority complex had allowed me to reconcile the hunger, the debt and the shifting goalposts I faced by being here – but now my eyes were wide open. Unlike Lord Kitchener, London was not the place for me.

8:30 PM

The crowd at Bacchus was thin, even for a weeknight. I didn’t mind though, it gave me a chance to actually check out the place I had heard so many stories about. It was a bit of a dive in truth- but amidst the chatter, punk rock and cigarette smoke, I found a strange calm. I began to understand why she liked coming here.

“This is where you met him?” I asked, perplexed that the high strung stud would frequent such a place.

“Nah, found him at The Mill,” George explained.

“You should have left him there too,” I insisted.

“So you don’t think he will call then?”  She responded, the irony in her voice unmistakable.

“If he does, run- run like the swiftest wind,” I advised in my best Shakespearean tone.

Our laughter soon dissipated into a somber silence. After a moment of deliberation, George broke the deadlock.

“So when do you leave?”

“Dunno, maybe the end of the month,” I replied.

“Honestly, I don’t blame you. This place kinda sucks.”

“I had a plan though,” I offered meekly.

“Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth” She offered in return.

“Who said that?” I asked, amused at the crude but incredibly apt philosophy.

“Mike Tyson,” she laughed.

“Well, he eh lie.” I concluded, as I raised my pint to hers.

Only A Fool

A few months ago I was approached by one of my ongoing collaborators detnator, to script, shoot and direct a short film en lieu of a new EP he was producing with fellow artiste a_phake. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to do something musical but more importantly to challenge the status quo of the Trinidad and Tobago film and music video landscape. After a whole lot of fun and a whole lot of hard work,our motley crew of talent managed to forge something that we can all be proud of. A special “big up” to the leads Arnaldo and Tavia (our leads), for their time and patience, to Kit Joseph for his fantastic art, to the Kelly Family for allowing us into their home and to M, whose help was extremely valuable during all this.

OK I’ll stop being self-congratulatory now. Check out the video after the jump. The music featured is available here.

UNSUNG JEWEL

I had only met her once before, briefly, but even in that moment, it was clear that Jewel was a charismatic individual with a deep social conscience. Between that single meeting and the stories I had heard about her from my S.O., I had the idea to film a conversation with her. Even then, I thought it would just be an exercise in posterity – something to post on my YouTube Channel, but it soon became more than that. In talking to her, (special thanks to M for helping out btw), I was inspired to find other people who are trying to improve the communities within which they live. Thus, UNSUNG was born.

I’m not doing it for any fee or anything like that. But simply because I believe that there are people doing positive things out there who should, IMHO, be heard. In telling their stories, maybe others will be inspired to work for social justice. That can only be a good thing.

Check out the very inspirational Jewel Singh-Bhairo, after the jump.

Superman is Selfish

That scene always bothered me. You know the one in Richard Donner’s Superman (1978), where the titular character flies around the Earth at what is presumably light speed in order to reverse the rotation of the planet. Somehow this impressive (read nonsensical) feat has the effect of turning back time and bringing Lane, who had previously been killed in a catastrophic disaster, back to life.

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Superman Cries Super Tears.

It is not the scientific lunacy of this sequence of events that bothered me, After all, the story of Superman is that of a solar powered humanoid alien with super strength, super speed, flight, invulnerability, X-Ray vision, heat vision, ice breath, super hearing and numerous other abilities writers have found reason to give him over the years. Rather, it is that Superman, (despite a warning from his father), did not spare a thought for the repercussions his actions might have on the lives of others.

Superman 1978

Superman Reverses Time, Somehow…

Consider for instance, the man who had in that moment completed a particularly hard shift at work. He is happy that the day is finally over and he can go have a beer to relieve himself of the traumatic effects of the meeting with that incredibly obtuse client. Then all of a sudden, he’s returned to the start of said meeting.  How would that man feel, knowing it was all Superman’s doing?  In a more abstract sense, what about the young couple who had been undergoing fertility treatments in an ongoing attempt to have children? What if in that moment they had managed to conceive their first offspring, only to have Superman undo the deed. What of the homeless man planted atop a bridge making the right decision not to end his existence but to try to stage the mother of all comebacks? What of the police detective who had just made a major breakthrough in a case, or of a scientist who had just experienced a eureka moment? What if one of these erased things completely changed the course of their history and indeed the history of the planet?  Did their goals, ambitions, dreams and decisions deserve to be erased so that Superman could continue his co-dependent relationship with Lois Lane? How incredibly selfish is that?!

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Superman Doesn’t Care About Your Problems Right Now

In truth, I should blame Richard Donner and his team for this fiasco. For some reason (read movie executives), they didn’t see it fit to have Superman actually fail. Clearly, in 1978, heroes, least of all Superman, were not allowed this relatable characteristic. They were perfect, and even if they do not manage to save the day, they could simply press the reset button. Or maybe they had just written themselves into a corner and someone asked “Can we have Superman reverse time? That would fix it.” – And the rest is history.

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Some guy dressed like this asked, “Can we have Superman reverse time?”

*Please note that I am not being entirely serious here.

Unfinished Stories Episode 1 : The Littlest Hobo

Social interaction had always been a mystery to me. The fact that my family was constantly relocating made me see friendship as a transient thing I suppose.  I mean, what was the point of bonding with the neighbourhood children if you knew your presence was only temporary.  Back then, there was a TV show about a surprisingly well groomed German Shepherd who wandered around helping people in bad situations. He always left them at the end of the episode, never even sticking around for a pat on the head. I could relate.

 That isn’t to say that I never tried to make friends; I did once. In Primary School, Mario De Souza, Leslie Phillips and I had this weird thing where we would duck out of class and go running around the block. “Flickin’ Daily Exercise” we called it- and it was grand. I have no idea which one of us started it, or how we decided that that was the name for it but we did it faithfully – until some parent or other saw us on the streets and called the Principal. That was the end of that. Soon afterward, my friends turned on me. Maybe it was the lack of exercise, or maybe it was the fact that I started wearing glasses- but Instead of daily workouts, there was daily abuse. Initially, I would return their insults, but my resistance only fuelled their trolling. I would end up in tears mostly.

By the time I was in secondary school, I had learned not to cry-not to show emotion.  Silence became my weapon for coping with abuse- and it was effective- to a point. There were some days where I wanted to lash out. 

Today was one of those days.

Dexter slapped the Physics textbook out of my hands and of course it landed face down on its pages. Predictably, he made a point of stepping on it-slowly grinding it into the classroom floor. It didn’t help that this was the rainy season and the old tiles were covered with muddy footprints.

“Waays, you takin’ that,” Bobby barked.

“You is a real bobolee dread,”  Rishi chimed in.

Dexter seemed inspired by Rishi’s comment and took the opportunity to slap me across the back of the head, my glasses almost coming off with the blow.

“Leave me alone nah,” I pleaded as I put my specs back into place. The lenses were covered with my fingerprints now, the result of me scrambling to catch them before they fell.

“Wha’ yuh go do?”  Dexter challenged, kicking my book across the floor and slapping me a second time behind the head.

By now a small crowd of boys had gathered around and a chorus of oohs started as my physics text skidded to a halt. My patience was now at its limit.

“Ask yuh mudda,” I replied.

Instinctively I stood up, pushed Dexter out of the way and moved to retrieve my book. The sudden burst of laughter clued me in to the fact that he had fallen on his ass. That everyone had seen me embarrass him like that enraged him.  His fists clenched even before he got to his feet.

I knew what was coming.

 

 

Picture Credit: http://www.brainpowerlearning.com/TheBullyAroundtheCorner.html

Cause and Effect

One story from what I hope will be a compilation of short stories. More on that later ;) See more of my scribblings on scribd.

He had done a pretty good paint job; the gun looked real – real enough to fool Mr. Wong and the three customers by the register. Wong didn’t recognize him, the mask ensured that- and as the old shopkeeper took the cash and placed it into a black plastic bag, Johnny felt a certain amount of remorse. The old man had always been kind, letting him take a few items on credit- even giving his daughter free snacks whenever they came to the grocery together.  But today that didn’t matter.  Johnny was four months behind on his rent and had to pay by Friday. A few snacks couldn’t change that.  Items taken on trust wouldn’t help him to sell his art or get a “real job” like his mother wanted. Things had been salty for a year now- not because he wasn’t trying. A combination of unsuccessful interviews and people offering to pay him with “exposure” had crushed his spirit. For all his promise, all his talent- by society’s standards he had become a thirty year old nobody.

The cake and chocolate ripple ice cream were a welcome change from the depression of sardines and rice that had become the norm- and although Johnny couldn’t afford the bike his daughter wanted for her birthday, he knew how to improvise.  A rusty frame Ms Ragbeer down the road didn’t want, some used tyres, black spray paint (Cherisse loved black), a few stickers and voila! Soon the nine year old was zipping around the two room apartment trying her best not to knock over her father’s collection of “junk”- old boxes filled with spare parts, toys, masks and other things of interest that Johnny thought might be useful in his artistic endeavours.  On the other side of the room next to the small TV, some of the paintings and sculptures he hadn’t sold leaned against a wall.  In another corner, encased in a plastic sheath, hung the clothes he wore to his last interview- the clothes he would wear to his next one.  Trying to re-insert himself into the Matrix had proven to be problematic.

“Daddy, can we go outside with it?”

“No, never!”

Cherisse recognized her father’s ironic tone and giggled as she moved towards the door. Before she could open it, there was a knock. A bailiff had arrived.

Wong’s old hands quaked as he packed the last of the cash at Johnny’s urging. It wasn’t a lot in truth- a thousand at most. Not enough for rent. Johnny wondered how people even survived on petty robberies, the idea of marking the store foreign to him.

“Doh stick old man!”

“Alright, just stay calm.”

As he grabbed the bag, Johnny took his eyes of the convex mirror mounted above the register. He didn’t notice Mr. Wong’s son approaching from behind with a bat. In a split second of violence the old man was ducking behind the counter and the customers were running for the door. With the first strike, Johnny’s arm went limp. The toy gun hit the terrazzo and broke into two pieces, each skidding in different directions. The plastic bag slid towards the exit. As more blows and curse words fell, Johnny willed himself to move. In a blur of blood and adrenaline, he grabbed the money and sprinted until his lungs burned.

Soon he was cradling his arm by the river near his daughter’s school. The spot was fairly secluded, and he had often gone there when seeking inspiration. As he sat catching his breath, he could hear the voices of playing children in the distance. School was over. His phone rang.

“Yes Miss Ragbeer, thanks so much for picking her up”

“Yes, that’s fine.”

“I’ll come get her in about an hour- running a little late.”

“Thanks again. Bye”

An hour would be enough to clean up and figure out how to hide his swollen and possibly broken arm. In the meantime, he rationalized that the money he now had could buy him another month. Enough time to sell some work online or on the streets and maybe secure another interview. Things were going to be alright.  He reached for the change of clothes he had hidden in some nearby bushes.

It was only then that he realized he had lost his mask.

The General Manager seemed more interested in whom he knew than in his portfolio. Johnny knew then, that this was a dead end. As he entered the apartment the patronizing interview replayed in his head. He slumped to the floor trying not to break down. 

“How the ass he go ask me dat!”

Angrily he ripped off his tie only to be bombarded by thoughts of the bailiff. The enforcer at least had a conscience that could be activated by a blue note- the last one in Johnny’s name.

 “I only started working this week. I need more time.”

“Not my problem boss”

Johnny looked into the big man’s very dark shades. He only saw his own reflection.

Please…”

He looked at the bailiff’s nametag.

“Please George, ah beggin’. Ease meh up.”

George thought about it for a long second. He scratched his face.

“Gimme something and we could talk after that.”

Johnny reached into his pocket and produced the bill. The bailiff scoffed but grabbed it anyway.

“Dat only givin’ yuh until Friday.”

Both conversations cycled through Johnny’s mind and he grew more and more frustrated with each pass. He thought about asking his family for help but he had relied on their charity enough over the last year. He couldn’t do it anymore. He could only take so much emasculation.  Besides which, the “real job” talk would come up again. He definitely didn’t want to endure that. The apartment began spinning around him. His artwork, remnants of the birthday party, Cherisse’s bike all became annoyances. On the millionth spin, his eyes settled on his collection of junk- a toy gun, a gorilla mask and the rest of the black spray paint he had used on his daughter’s gift suddenly stood out.

Cherisse lay on the floor next to her bike. She had her English textbook open and was working on some sentence correction. This was her preferred homework position for today and Johnny didn’t challenge her on it. Once she got it done, it was fine by him. He sat nearby on the old couch, attempting to extend his injured arm. It wasn’t as swollen now, but moving it was agonizing. As he reached his pain threshold, he hoped he would never have to tell his daughter what he had done. For now, a long sleeved jersey concealed his shame.

The Police had been around -but as of yet, nobody had knocked on Johnny’s door. It was an uneasy peace.  Was his face on camera? Were they just waiting for the right moment?  Was it some procedural glitch that had granted him a temporary reprieve? Whatever the case, he planned to avoid the grocery indefinitely. The trek to the one in the town would be inconvenient-but he was fine with that. That was better than the guilt and fear he felt every time he thought about what he did. It was all for naught as well- after everything he had been through, another payment was due in a week. George wasn’t as sympathetic as he thought.  The room began to spin again. Cherisse interrupted his daze.

“Daddy?”

“Yes baby”

“Is it cause and affect or cause and effect?”

Effect is correct.”

“Just making sure. Thanks.”

“No problem.”

She put her head down and continued with her work, while the fear of the inevitable continued to torment her father.

 

The Greens

The day came and I put on my shorts and a nice t-shirt and headed to the venue to meet the crew. As a novice, I didn’t expect to see the stampede I found at the gates. Channa Bottle Syndrome* came to mind as fifteen million (not actual figure) people tried to filter into the enclosed area via a few very narrow channels. Up to now I don’t know which line I was in but after a few minutes of claustrophobia I was suddenly inside. All around me were tents, buckets, coolers, women and- mud, lots and lots of mud. “Shouldn’t have worn those white sneakers, idiot”, I said to myself as the faces I was looking for came into view.  After greeting my “peeps”, we stood near the entrance for a while, waiting for the rest of the lime to show up- simple enough. I’d get to gape a little bit- nothing wrong with that.

My pleasant thought was interrupted by the severely intoxicated man that bumped into me. He was apologetic though, offering me a “bounce” in apology.  I was game; extending my closed fist to him. The touch was never made though. He started falling backward in what appeared to be slow motion. Soon he was on his back and his crew, all dressed in blue chose to laugh at him; one even gyrated on his face as he struggled to get up, you know- as (male) friends do. The most amazing part about it was that not a rice grain from the plate of pelau our inebriated partner was holding fell during all this.

The last of the crew soon arrived and the afternoon/evening turned into a session of walking around, watching soca acts, some good, some not so good- “tiefin” a wine or three on a female coworker and on other sexy women whom  I happened to know -or pretended to know in the crowd. There was not a note of pan though- as happens during pan related events.  As is customary during these things, I got separated from the group at one point- and finding my way back to where everyone was proved exceedingly difficult. It might have been because I am directionally challenged, OR because by then I had consumed a half of Black Label.

Unable to find anyone for a while, I decided to make my way to the portable toilets which were of course overflowing. I mean, why would an event with so many people gathered in a small area have toilets that were actually clean and functional? That would be ridiculous!  As I walked along the plywood stained with brownish liquid that led to the toilets, I remember thinking“this is not mud”. Quickly I made a retreat as the fragrance of the broth began to hit me hard.  I left use of the portables to the ladies behind me, unlucky for them, they had no choice- but as a man,the world is my urinal!

Soon I was in an area that was the border of “greenstown”. The plywood walls that kept the stormers out had been turned into a bathroom. I mean- it was bound to happen. With the police vehicles nearby and the large number of young men with spread legs present, there was a certain irony to the scene. As I pulled up to join the tinkle crew, I noticed one woman squatting between the police vehicles. For that moment, she was one of the boys…or something.

A short while later, I found my friends again- had some more drinks and some more wine (not the same thing). By then, I had decided that this would be my first and only greens experience.  From now on, bonding with my colleagues could happen by the bar after work.  “The Greens”, I’m afraid- was a toilet.

I’m glad they didn’t have a pool that year.

*Channa bottle syndrome: 

If you open a full bottle of channa and turn it upside down,none exit out because of the crowding that occurs as they try to  escape from the small hole.  This analogy was used in the (Ministry of Transportproduced?) 80s Trinidad TV series “Nice Folks on the Street” to describe how traffic jams are created by drivers illegally using the shoulder as a lane.