Monday, 1 June 2015
Last night, I got back from roughly 54 hours away from St. Thomas. With 2 friends, 0 spouses and 0 kids. It was, in a word, needed. People that don't live here were perplexed that we considered going to Puerto Rico to be an escape from "the island." They're like, You do realize that P.R. is an island too, right? I find myself befuddled why anyone would say such a thing! Honestly, there is a freeway and a TJMaxx and (you must read this in hushed tones with bated breath) a Nordstrom's. I rest my case.
The return to the island was odd. I was glad to get back to my family and my dog but I had mixed feelings. It still doesn't feel like home, but it sure as hell doesn't feel like vacation. I do like being here--maybe it is because I'm headed stateside for a month in 21 days. I'm kind-of in limbo. I'm looking forward to being there but I know I will be missing my house and my friends here. I interchangeably call Georgia and St. Thomas "home," yet I feel like an outsider at both.
My impression of greater San Juan (outside of the retail presence which is impressive--did I tell you that there are multiple shopping malls?) is not all that great. There is a ridiculous amount of well-paved roads. There is a lot of graffiti and multiple franchises of "Condom World". There is so much spanish spoken there that it's like the native tongue...oh yeah, it is. It's American in a lot of the distasteful ways: urban sprawl, mega-malls, conspicuous consumption, fast food, poverty, wealth disparity, lack of public transportation. It's got the typical Caribbean shabbiness factor with the color of obvious Latin influence. Old San Juan is fantastic. Eat at Al Dente. As for the rest of the city, it's good for a shopping fix and food and driving in excess of 40mph.
My brain has lost its ability to process so much visual and auditory input at once. In the first store in the mall I was unable to focus on anything because of the colors, and bright lights, and music and people. I was distracted by the cleanliness of the floor and walls. I found myself overwhelmed constantly because there was just so much--of everything! Total. Sensory. Overload. There were so many platform heels in that mall that if added together would equal the distance to my house on St. Thomas. It didn't feel real, to be honest. After just a couple of hours I was practically exhausted from the overstimulation and the paralysis that ensued from the necessity of decision-making. I have become un-accustomed to having choices.
I did enjoy the friendliness of the people there. I felt like a stupid, selfish, mainland American because I can only speak English and nearly everyone there is bilingual. But it was not a problem except when some quantity of something got lost in translation. (Confession...I ate at Taco Bell...and I didn't want 7 burritos, I wanted a 7-layer burrito.) Nobody looked at me with disdain or acted like I was ruining their day because I needed some assistance. That part of living in the USVI is still pretty annoying. Also annoying--sales tax. Seriously, pennies stink. I get the whole sales tax argument, but can't we just roll it into the prices and end up only using quarters for change? Such a hassle.
In summary, it's great to get off the little rock even if only to a bigger rock. To get metaphysical about it, every piece of land on the planet is an island. It's also great to immerse yourself into the world of retail, not only to get some stuff but also to realize how un-necessary so much of that stuff is. It's great to hang out with the island besties without the family entourage because you can actually still have full adult conversations. It's great for the spouse to have to be the "go-to" guy and to have to think about meals and homework and logistics and groceries. And it's great to experience your teenage children WANT to give you a hug and profess their love and appreciation for you--that part is pretty awesome, actually.
Disclaimer: No marijuana was consumed or inhaled on this trip. The ashtray was not purchased and is included in this blog posting purely as an example of absurdity...obviously it's a misprint and should say Coki Beach.