Before I left New York in December of 1986, I had to ship our car to Puerto Rico. This involved going to the piers in New Jersey, so I drove out there imagining that it would be simple enough to get back home to the small town where we lived in the Hudson Valley of New York. The transaction itself was not too difficult, and after filing all the appropriate papers and paying for the shipping, I found myself out on the street looking for a bus stop to get to the PATH train to New York City.
Easier said than done. The neighborhood was industrial and full of warehouses. There were no people walking on the streets to ask. The afternoon was drawing to a close, and I started getting nervous about the coming dusk. Suddenly, I noticed a ramshackle red pick-up truck that was leaving the pier area. Inside were an elderly Puerto Rican man and his teenage grandson. We had exchanged smiles at the shipping office, where they too were shipping a car to the island. They stopped the pick-up and gestured to me to hop in. I was apprehensive, but I had no other alternative that seemed even remotely safe, and I didn’t want to get caught in the dark in that inhospitable area. So I squeezed into the front seat with the two of them and asked them to drop me off at the nearest bus stop.
As we drove along to the tune of Puerto Rican Christmas music on the radio (WKAQ), they asked me where I was moving to in Puerto Rico. When I said Río Piedras, it turned out that they had family in that town. They gave me some tips about picking up the car once it arrived in Puerto Rico and talked about places on the island that I should visit. When we neared the first bus stop several miles down the road, they insisted that it wouldn’t be safe for me to wait there since the buses came very infrequently, so we proceeded on to the PATH train station. There I got out after a chorus of “Qué Dios te bendiga” (May God bless you.) and caught the next train to Penn Station in Manhattan. From there I took the subway to Grand Central Station at 42nd Street where I got the Metronorth train upstate to my parents’ home.
Three weeks later, my husband and I tried to recover our car from the piers of San Juan only to discover that while it had indeed arrived safely, it could not be moved until after the holidays. We resigned ourselves to using carros publicos(public vans that pick up people on more or less fixed routes for 50 cents) or AMA (Autoridad Metropolitana de Autobuses) buses (then 25 cents). Not too comfortable but a good way to meet people. We did all our shopping on foot in local businesses, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it forced us to learn all the local streets and get a feel for local prices and what constituted a good deal.
Finally, in mid-January, we retrieved our car after paying some mysterious arbitrios (taxes), and we were ready to roll.