My flight was remarkably uneventful this year, except that when we landed at JFK there was only a weak smattering of applause from the Puerto Ricans on board. Generally, Puerto Ricans applaud enthusiastically when planes land, as if to salute the captain (and the fates) for delivering them safely. The relative quiet was so noticeable that one of the flight attendants, who was Puerto Rican, chided the passengers and requested that they try again. Then everybody applauded effusively, laughing at their violation of their own cultural code. Tourists on board looked around in some confusion.
To my relief, it was warm in NYC when I arrived (59 degrees Farenheit), so I didn't go through the usual physical shock of the cold. Although I was raised in NYS and loved winters as a child, never coming inside until my lips were blue and my teeth were chattering with cold, I now find that I can't tolerate temperatures lower than 60 degrees. The weather in PR is very constant, always around 84-85 degrees with some days in the 90s during late July and August and lows in the winter months in the 70s. Only in the mountain regions do the temperatures ever go below 60 degrees, and not very often at that. Aibonito reportedly holds the record for the lowest temperatures on the island--40 degrees Farenheit on March 9, 1911.
I took the bus from JFK to Grand Central Station and was immediately plunged into a frenzy of commuters and shoppers thronging the holiday crafts fair in the entry hall to the station. Stand after stand of exquisite handicrafts drew my attention, but the prices were so prohibitively high that I just satisfied myself with admiring and making mental notes for future crafts projects to do myself. One stand in particular made me laugh. It was called Beaux Arfs and was dedicated to dog-themed items. Another unusual stand featured items made of sea glass. So lovely!
Once I had my fill of the crafts, I ventured into the main hall, trying in vain to match the hyperactive pace of the commuters who streamed from all directions toward the ticket booths and train gates. Accustomed as I now am to the leisurely walking pace of Puerto Ricans on the island, I found it hard to manage, and several times I was pushed from behind by impatient commuters running for their trains. I got my ticket and found my own train and settled in for the ride up the Hudson River, always one of my favorite parts of returning to NYS.
As would be expected a couple of days before Christmas, the MetroNorth train was filled to capacity, but good humor abounded. The most entertaining part of the whole trip was the head conductor who explained repeatedly over the loudspeaker that it was important to buy tickets before boarding the train to avoid a dramatic increase in price. The weary peak-hour commuters (most of whom carry monthly passes) barely yawned in response. Then he caught everyone's attention by waxing lyrical about nefarious people who persisted in talking on cell phones on board or filling seats with coats and bags to block other passengers from access. He finished his harangue by invoking the Golden Rule and urging us all to be kind to our fellow human beings. I approved totally of his speech and thought briefly of starting a new tradition of applauding the conductor.