This past weekend I took a "guys trip" to Puerto Rico to celebrate the impending fatherhood of an old friend of mine, Nick. Most of our usual "guys night out" crowd bailed on the trip, due to budget reasons, work conflicts, or in some cases extreme lame weak sauce "look at me I can't do anything fun so everyone treat me like a martyr"-itis. But Nick and I and his friend from New York (who also went to law school with us, though I didn't know him too well then) were able to make it. Let's call this friend "Death Wish" because it is quite clear that he lives by the motto "Safety Last".
DW is evidently a very intelligent person--former Fullbright scholar, Wharton and Georgetown Law grad, and has devoted his career to public interest projects. What makes him different is this hard charging devotion to experiencing what it's like to live in poverty. He has lived in the shanties of Nigeria, and evidently spent a year of law school living in a van. Ever read the book "Into the Wild" about that kid who graduated Emory, gave up all his stuff and went roughing it in the deserts and finally Alaska without adequate equipment? That's sort of like DW.
We meet at the San Juan airport and learn that DW very nearly missed his flight out of JFK (Idlewild Airport for those of you who refuse to accept the hard-on that society seems to have for the Kennedys). What could it be that caused the delay? Traffic tie-up? Bomb scare? Trying to bring a bag of switchblades on the flight?
Nope--it turns out there was a dispute with the cab driver over the proper fare to the airport. The cabbie insisted that the flight would cost $45 flat fee, DW argued that it is supposed to be on the meter--which would have run about $32. They called the police to resolve this dispute.
The policeman agreed with DW, but apparently the delay over a $13 difference was enough to cut it very close. However, he did catch his flight and we were soon checked into the hotel and hitting the beach.
And what a beach it was! The weather was solid--90 degrees and sunny each day; the waves were high and the water was as warm as a bath. Unlike a lot of beaches, drinking was allowed on these so we stocked up on Medalla beer and did what we do best--drunken swimming. Did I find myself wiping out in many of the waves? Indeed! Did I get massive sunburn? And how!
DW for his part tried on a few occasions to use the offer of beer to strike up a conversation with some local girls, and by "girls" I mean he really should have asked for ID because they didn't look old enough to buy cigarettes. Still, nothing came of it and I don't think Puerto Rico has a law against attempted statutory rape. After all, they don't give out Nobel Prizes for Attempted Chemistry, do they? (Granted, they just gave out a Nobel Prize for Attempted Peace....)
The real fun began when some guy walked by with about six dogs on leashes. The biggest dog decided to start using the smallest dog as a chew toy, and the owner was having a go of it smacking the big dog to make it stop. DW, being a man who can't stand to see an oppressed beagle, had to run across the beach and insert himself between the two dogs. Or more accurately, insert his hand between the jaws of the big dog.
So now he had to run back to the hotel to get his hand disinfected and bandaged, while Nick and I asked the owner whether his dogs had been vaccinated. Because frankly, there's a very good chance the dogs could catch rabies from biting DW. I mean, this guy lived in Nigeria and had just gotten back from Thailand!
Fortunately, he was mended quick, and drinking beer on the beach with us in no time. At night we managed to find some nice local cuisine--Mafongos at a Puerto Rican place one night, and some Italian the next. During this time DW told us of his trip to Thailand and expressed surprise that neither Nick or I had ever used a prostitute, pretty much the same way I'd have reacted if someone told me they'd never drank a soda. But after hearing some of what went down in Bangkok I'm more sure than ever that I will never use a prostitute!
We also made it into Old San Juan, which is a neighborhood of restored old-style buildings and cobblestone, more European-seeming than Latin American. This is also where a number of bars and clubs were, and we visited a few. One thing they all have in common is they're much louder than bars back in the States--music blares well into the streets. Another thing? Every single woman on the streets had very high stiletto heels on. And mind you these were cobblestone streets. Impressivo!
Our third night we tried to find a Mexican place that was recommended by our hotel, but we got a bit lost. Lost in a rather ghetto-ized section of San Juan! At this point, I was ready to turn back, regroup and maybe hit one of the restaurants we'd been to the night before or at least find a McDonalds so we might get the quick energy calories to survive the walk back. But then, DW was in his element! (I mentioned he has a thing for poverty?) He saw an over the counter chicken joint, and made his case for why we should eat there. This rather greasy chicken joint was "authentic" and "what the Puerto Ricans eat". I tried to point out that real Puerto Ricans are different from us in that if they have the money to not eat in places like this they wouldn't. Nick tried to point out that there wasn't adequate seating, but DW was having none of it--he asked the joint owner for an extra chair and we were soon sitting down. He also picked out some generic soda that was a cross between toothpaste and death. Thirsty as I was from the chicken, I couldn't get more than a couple sips down. But some good came out of it--DW got his poverty fix! I suppose from having his hand maimed by the dogs earlier he had earned it.
All in all, though, it was a fun trip--Nick keeping us in stitches and some eclectic characters and stories throughout. Now as I nurse my peeling sunburn, I can say I can't wait to make it back to that island. But this time no greasy chicken shacks!