The Feeling of Going Back Home

The lights turn on, and I hear the lovely voice of a woman saying, “Welcome to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The local time is 2:32 am.”  I look out through the window of the Airbus A320 only to see a dark runway, half blurred by the heavy rain. Not the weather I’m looking for.

I wait patiently on my seat as the front 18 rows of tired and over-packed passengers make their slow way out through the narrow cabin door.

Once out of the plane, I rush my way through the half-lit terminal, carrying only my blue Gregory backpack.  The only visible signs of life are those of the airport’s maintenance crew.  This is my welcoming party.

I skip baggage claim and arrive at the informal taxi stand –just a couple of taxi drivers chatting while standing next to each other on the drop-off curb outside the terminal.  I immediately feel the hot and humid air touching my skin.  This I expected; the tropical climate condition Puerto Rico is well known for –365 days a year.

“Pa’ donde va?” Where to, a taxi driver shouts to me, grabbing my attention and steering me away from his competition.

“To Valle Arriba in Carolina. How much is it?”

“$20 pesos”

Twenty dollars seem fine to me so I quickly hop in his white Ford taxi van.  I look towards the back seats and see that it easily fits 6 to 8 more passengers. But who else will want to go to Valle Arriba at 3:00 am?

It is just a mid-size open community of well-established people, most of them living there since its development in the ’60s, including my mom. I think the insular mentality commonly found on this island makes it easy for people to settle for life in a single place. But not me.

We get on the Baldorioty Expressway and I start to feel the increasing speed of the van. The taxi driver seems comfortable with the half-empty expressway. I don’t feel comfortable with the rain. But I don’t mind enough to tell him to slowdown.

Instead, I look outside the window and start to see some familiar buildings.  Caribbean Cinemas movie theatre –out of business.  Tartak Furniture store – out of business.  Font’s Tower – Unfinished.

“I expected this building to be finished by now.” I tell the taxi driver.

“Tu sabes, las cosas están malas.” Things are bad he says as he continues, “mas la corrupción.” Add to that corruption.

I knew the economy was bad, but I didn’t expect it to be this rough.  I wonder, how different will my neighborhood look?

I look through the fogged windshield, wipers distracting my tired eyes, and see we are on Monserrate Ave. –the main commercial avenue of my neighborhood. Surprisingly, it looks better than what I expected. It looks almost exactly like the last time I saw it; bright, active (even at 3:00 am on weekends), landscaped and well kept.

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