That’s how our quartet described itself after we’d spent the day together. We’d been corralled together by one person’s inconsideration and neglect and would remain tethered to one another for…God knows how long? Individually we’d imagined a long time.
“Last night I told Cagney that you two better be our friends after this!” chuckled Lacey. “We like you!”
I responded that Adj and I felt the same way. Cagney and Lacey were too cool for school. We really enjoyed hanging out with them. And that was the general feeling shared between us for the first ten hours of the day – before the Great Piss Off. There three groups of people I try not to have particular conversations with: White people about racism; Black men about feminist issues; and what I call the U-Haul Krewe – the ones who insist that you “move on” in the face of injustice. Little did I know, I was frolicking and feasting in the midst of the latter-most group. We’ll get to that later. I promised to tell you about Monica.
We had concluded that the only way to defeat The Island was to plan around it; to mitigate for as many unforeseen events as possible; to have an actionable plan! The itinerary for Day 3 was simple:
-Meet at the Plaza del Mercado de Rio Piedras (Farmer’s Market)
-Get some lunch
-Spend the day at the beach or lagoon in Caribe
-Pray that Nicole was fibbing about the closure of La Terrazza or get some decently priced dinner elsewhere.
Adj and I took the lead to the Farmer’s Market where again, the heavens pissed their sheen upon us. Fortunately the market was indoors, so we were protected from the elements. Using Google Translate (I owe Google a tip!), we were able to order food from a number of the vendors. I ordered sopas de carne, arroz and amarillo (beef soup, rice and ripe plantain). The beef was green in the middle, but the soup was tasty. A few bites into our meal and Cagney and Lacey came strolling into the dimly lit food court and ordering food of their own.
“Girl, Charles is full of shit,” said Lacey, speaking around a chicken empanadilla. “Talmbout he ‘knows all the most important people wherever he goes’.”
“Talkinbout ‘You look like you need a drink,’ when he sees we have a table full of drinks…”
“…and refuses to buy any for us.”
“Talking about how he doesn’t ‘sponsor drugs or alcohol for other people.'”
“Talmbout how he don’t take shit from nobody and only demands the best with respect.”
Which led us to a debrief of the conclusion of the previous night’s events.
In his gallant effort to solve our accommodation issues, the Charles led the charge to the second floor where we encountered Monica, the “manager”. With raven colored hair and a general aura of bewilderment, she reminded me of MTV’s Dara, if she was 50 lbs heavier. She couldn’t be more than 23 years old.
“Hi, Monica,” Charles drawled. “We are having an issue with one of our rooms. Now we are all traveling together (makes a grand gesture around the room) so we want to ensure we’re having the best experience. Can you send someone to take care of these items, or possibly put these two guests in a different room?”
Now, I should mention here that I do not like to describe women as hysterical. I think it’s sexist and a word that men, in particular, use to dismiss the passionately expressed ideas and observations of women. But yeah…Monica is a hysterical woman.
“We can send someone to clean the mold and change the sheets. We have a chemical that can do that,” Monica said calmly. Then her voice began to rise in timbre, her anger/frustration/irritation mounting with each syllable. “But no…no! We cannot put you in another room. WE. DO. NOT. HAVE. ANY. OTHER. ROOMS. We are full to capacity. All over San Juan we are full, full, full! Even the spare room we are supposed to keep as a back up, I cannot give you because the door doesn’t lock. I don’t know what you want…”
“Okay, sweetie. I need you to calm down and take three breaths…okay? One…”
Monica inhaled as Charles kept count.
“That was only two,” soothed Charles. “I need you to take one more…”
Monica leaned against the wall for support and took one more breath. She had composed herself.
“We will get someone to come and clean up tonight,” she promised.
“Thank you,” said Charles. “I also spoke to the housekeeping manager – the tall guy? – He said he would look into it to.”
I think you know by the way I’ve described the Costa Bahia Hotel that no one showed up at our door at any point in time that night or the next morning.
The Plaza del Mercado de Rio Piedras was not what I was expecting out of a farmer’s market (I prefer the colorful outdoor versions of South Africa), but it was a good experience, if only to get some perspective of how race and economics collide. After I had snapped all the pictures of plantain and peppers that one could ever want, our quartet ventured outside the confines of the concrete structure. The sun was out now, high and hot, and the day was young. Why not go for a stroll and see the sights?
We were in Paseo de Diego, a decidedly un-touristy part of the city, which may explain several of the microaggressions we were treated to, like when a shopped owner irksomely waved me away like vermin when I timidly asked for gafas de sol (sunglasses), or when the attendant at a bigger (slightly nicer) depot gave us personal shoppers’ benefits by hawking within three feet of us at all times. Feral cats slumbered in shady alcoves and a starving dog pleaded for scraps from anyone who made eye contact. There was a Rainbow Apparel store on the corner, which I encouraged Lacey to visit since she’d mentioned its name four times at least and was eyeing it hungrily. After waiting 45 minutes in the heat outside the crowded store, Adj and I encouraged Cagney & Lacey to continue shopping – there was no rush, really – and meet us for lunch and then off to the public beach.
As we’d established by then, options were limited for dining out in our area, so back to Mojito’s it was – which I didn’t mind after having been treated like a nuisance to be tolerated by virtually every vendor or shopkeeper. (Except for the numbers guy who helped me get my hot chocolate at the market. He was SO sweet!) Adj and I made quick work of our burger and jerk chicken and were nearly done when Cagney & Lacey arrived at our table looking beach babe ready. Cagney produced her phone and shared a fascinating article she had found about race and Blackness in Puerto Rico. Written by Hilda Llorens, ‘Racialization works differently here in Puerto Rico, do not bring your U.S.-centric ideas about race here!’ is an absolute must read for anyone who wants to understand the dynamics of race, class and identity on the island. I read it aloud to the group, every few sentences punctuated by a guttural oomf! or a disbelieving uh-uh! Cagney muttered the word ‘disgusting’ or more than one occasion. So we were NOT crazy. We had not imagined what we knew we were experiencing.
Oddly soothed by this knowledge, we set off for the beach where we played and laughed and took pictures like grown women who’d earned a vacation. (That is to say, like 15 year old girls) Cagney found a coconut which she named Cyril or something, and we all took delight in the joy of her find. We couldn’t have planned a better vibe. Providence had smiled on us at last! As the sun began to set, the locals scurried out of the water with haste…and you know Black people don’t ask questions. If everyone else is running, we’re running to. But where to? We could go to the lagoon by the hotel and then maybe get some dinner from one of the sketchy spots nearby.
“Why don’t we all put our stuff in the Storage Unit in the meantime,” said Adj.
We all agreed, virtually skipping back to the Costa Bahia Hotel, its ominous edifice looming in the distance. It was supposed to be really simple. Drop bags off > Lagoon > Dinner > Fond farewells.
But the hotel and its staff had other plans in store.