I have been to Puerto Rico five times in the last 10 years. Each time was on business though the first time I managed to take my family with me. They enjoyed the sites while I worked in the office. However, I don’t feel I missed out on much. Frankly, I have to admit that every time I am in this US-owned territory, I feel like Anita from the movie version of West Side Story, when she sang America:
My heart’s devotion
Let it slip back in the ocean!
Always the hurricanes blowing
Always the population growing
And the money owing
And the sunlight streaming
And the natives steaming
I like the island Manhattan
Smoke on your pipe and put that in!
I like to be in America
OK by me in America
Everything free in America
Now I hate the Yankees (baseball team) too much to “like the island Manhatten” but beyond that Anita and I are on the same page. I just returned from my fifth trip. Though there has been some improvement in the last 10 years, I still hate going there. I admit that some of my issues are beyond the control of the citizens but are factors of living in an Island in the Caribbean Sea. These include, but are not limited to:
• Hurricanes. Sure Ohio has tornadoes, but the scope of these is pretty limited compared to the wide swath a hurricane can cover. They do get more warning however.
• No easy escape. You are, after all, trapped on an Island. Driving to safety is pretty much out of the question.
• Really short days. Sunset, to my surprise, came an hour earlier than I expected. The time for watching the sun go down is also incredibly shortened.
• Sand fleas. Ouch! I was going to spend a relaxing evening sitting on the beach and watching a sunset. The previous point bit me, but not as much as the sand fleas. I was one solid welt within a half an hour.
• Language. Okay, you are allowed to speak Spanish and have signs all in Spanish, including traffic directions. But this is a tourist spot. If Florida can have signs in English and Spanish, why not Puerto Rico?
• Language 2: Even when they speak to you in English (making comments to others near them in Spanish at the same time) I have difficulty understanding what they are saying. I am just accent-challenged, I guess.
However, the vast majority of my issues with the Island have more to do with its cultural environment rather than its geographical one. The first issue on the list is crime. There has been some improvement in this area since my first trip 10 years ago. The government, under threats by the cruise lines to drop San Juan as a port, made that city safer at night with an increase presence of police. They did the same in Isle Verde, the place I normally stay. Prior to that, even the natives told my wife to get out of San Juan before it was dark. When my family and I walked the streets of our resort to go to a restaurant, I was glad a very large Hawaiian co-worker was with us.
Not what I would call an ideal vacation spot. But as I said, they have made massive progress in that area, even if it was not done willingly but under duress.
However, despite this improvement, the place is still just depressing for me to visit. Though the police patrol the resort areas frequently, the rest of the island still has problems. Every house has a surrounding fence, often with barbed wire at the top. All of the windows are barred and the doors as well. A resident told me, “If we do not, they will come in.” When I asked him who would come in, he responded, “The thieves and addicts.”
So what is a gain for the visitors is a loss for the residents. When I drive through the residential areas, it reminds me of the old film footage of war zones and prisons. Even the resort hotels have guards and gates and fences that surround them with points at the top.
However, even if crime did not exist on the Island, I still do not enjoy visiting the place for the following reasons (given in no particular order):
• The culture of the Island is very libertine, even in places that children frequent. For example, the fast food places have video screens displaying gyrating women singers caressing their bodies and simulating sexual contact in ways that would embarrass Jennifer Lopez. It is one thing to have such things accessible on HBO, but putting them in the middle of the restaurant pretty much takes away my right not not to be enticed in this fashion.
• Second, speaking of fast food, Puerto Rico has the slooooowest fast food restaurants. I waited for 5 minutes at a counter in Burger King before someone even asked me what I wanted. They were too busy talking on their cell phones. Nor did this happen only once and nor did it happen only at BK.
• Every building has their air conditioning set to about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Hey, this is a tropical island! It’s supposed to be warm! Why make every building the temperature of Cleveland in the Fall? Enjoy the heat. I assume that’s why you live here in the first place!
• Why is it the heavier the woman the lower the neckline? To quote Seinfeld, “What’s up with that?” Is this some sort of Puerto Rican diet program maybe? Do these women think that if they expose enough of their breasts you won’t notice how heavy the rest of the package is? Not working, ladies. Sorry, but a fat woman who dresses like a slut just looks like a fat slut.
• What’s with the Condom shops everywhere? Don’t they sell them in drug stores? Do we really need signs with condom cartoon characters right in our faces? Is this Planned Parenthood Paradise or something?
• On the issue of crime, when I saw policemen they were literally dressed to kill. They had guns, radios, clubs (big clubs), and bullet proof vests. When I saw what they required just to patrol the streets, I wondered what chance I had in t-shirt and jeans instead of body armor.
I won’t detail how expensive it is to visit the Island. Part of it is not their fault as pretty much everything has to be imported. However, what adds to the cost is the care you have to take to make certain the restaurants themselves don’t stiff you. For my final day, I visited a newly opened Japanese Steak House. As it was just opening, you would have thought they would have treated their customers with extra concern. Instead, they shafted you at every turn. Here is how my conversation went.
Me: I’ll take the fillet.
Waitress: What do you want with that, sir?
Me: The brochure shows a baked potato with vegetables. I’ll take that.
Waitress: We don’t have potatoes.
Me: Are you out? (I was the only one in the restaurant at the time—they could not have been out of them.)
Waitress: No, we don’t offer them.
Me: They’re in the picture!
Waitress: I know, but we don’t really offer them. I can just give you the vegetables.
Me (wimping out): Alright.
It went downhill from there. I had one drink and then wanted a glass of water. Without asking, they poured a bottled water (at $6.00) into a glass before I could protest. Then they turned on a video screen with more scantily clad Spanish women singers gyrating away amid loud incomprehensible music. Great. I guess it was supposed to distract me from the fact that my filet was not a fillet! A fatty slab of beef surrounded by the sounds of singing sluts (even thin ones) does not a fillet make.
When I went to pay, it got worse. After I pulled out my company American Express, the following conversation occurred.
Waitress: Oh, we don’t take American Express.
Me: You don’t? But it’s on your brochure that you do! I checked it out before I came in.
Waitress: I know, but we don’t take it.
Me: The symbol is on your door! I can see it from here! Right there! Look!
Waitress: I know, but we don’t take it.
Bowing to the inevitable, I pulled what cash remained in my wallet to cover the bill. I then prayed I would have enough to pay the cab to take me to the airport the next morning. It was a fitting last memory for me in the Island of Puerto Rico. Or it would have been had not the brakes fallen off of my plane just as it was about to leave the gate.
Apparently the sand fleas were not the only thing ready to bite me as I left the Island.