The worst thing about a vacation is having to come home. I recognize that this isn't a particularly original thought, but most essential truths turn out to not be original, for example, Love Hurts, No shoes, no shirt, no service, gravity is a rule, not a guideline. All true, all cliche, all painful if you find yourself on the wrong side of them (especially that gravity one, trust me on this as someone who falls down a lot).So I don't know why the hell I was so cheerful and optimistic when I stepped on the plane departing from San Juan heading back towards Struggledelphia. After all this time, you'd really think I would have learned that struggle dogs my every move, wouldn't you? Alas, my friends, just like the possibility of me tripping over a loud Puerto Rican family's luggage, the eventual epic failure was inevitable.
The trick with an epic failure is the build up. You can't fall from grace until you actually all up on top of grace, you know what I mean? In order for the fall, you have to have the pride goething, or it's not hubris, it's just ho hum. So as I was gently tucked into my soft, plush, fully reclinable first class seat (thank you, US Airways upgrades, you truly are amazing!), and plied with wine and warmed cookies and moist hot towels (I don't know why they do this, but I LOVE it. I want this service as part of my every day life. Note to self, marry rich...), I hummed gently with pleasure and curled up with Gogol's Dead Souls to enjoy myself. In the three and a half hours that it takes a plane to leave the Luis Munoz Memorial Airport and arrive in Philadelphia I had covered two hundred or so pages of the book, enjoyed two enormous glasses of cheap white wine, and stolen the majority of my mother's cookie. In short, I was really enjoying myself. And that's when tragedy struck.
Just as we were circling the landing strip, our valiant captain informed us that there was a storm directly over the airport. He also mentioned that the storm had come unannounced, which surprised me, as most storms send me a short email at least an hour before their arrival, but I went with it. He then mentioned that the plane didn't have enough fuel to continue circling the airport. This, frankly, terrified me. What the hell, enough fuel? What would he have done if we had been delayed in the air on the way? How was there no contingency plan? Come on, people, it's a giant metal object hurtling through the air, it's not going to propel itself! But instead of a fiery death in a heap of wreckage, instead we got the next worse thing. That's right, they decided to land us in Atlantic City.
I can't tell you anything meaningful about the Atlantic City airport because I wasn't permitted to enter it. Instead we sat on the plane for 2 hours (with nary an offer of more wine in sight) waiting for weather conditions to improve. Well, most of us did. A full 11 people actually opted to leave their baggage behind and get out in Atlantic City. I honestly didn't know you could really do that, treat a plane like a local bus line, but, hey, what do I know?
When we finally landed in Philadelphia, having been delayed for a full 3 and a half hours (for those of you playing along at home that is the exact amount of time it takes to get from Puerto Rico to Philadelphia, so it was double or nothing that night, apparently), my poor little family and I found ourselves waiting patiently at the baggage claim, dodging other passengers in their gladiator like attempts to wrestle with their luggage. Out came piece after piece after piece, but no bags marked Familia Struggle did we see. An hour later, my mother finally gave up and went to the US Airways baggage center, where they told us that our luggage was patiently waiting for us at a completely different terminal. Sure. Of course. That makes perfect sense that our bags would be seperated from those for the rest of our flight and we would need to hike through a universe of car rental stops and concrete Escher-wannabes to find it.. And there they were, waiting patiently for us to find them, and finally, FINALLY, go home.
Upside to all this? I couldn't even remember my vacation to be nostalgic and sad about it. It all felt so far away...
I'm going to be 100% honest with you here (when am I ever anything but), I really love the beach. I always have. As a wee little struggle I could be found spending my summers padding about in the water, filling my hair with sand and, this being Atlantic City where I spent the summers of my misbegotten youth, avoiding beer cans and hypodermic needles as I trotted along the shore. My father, Padre Struggle, has always shared this affinity for sun, sand and surf with me, and to this day as our paler family members shroud themselves in cover-ups and sunscreen and hide in the shade of a nearby cabana, we two wander the beaches of the world bronzing in the sun and scaring fish. So when we decided to take a weekend trip down to San Juan, Puerto Rico, finding the steamy Struggledelphia summer just a touch too cool for us, it was only natural that we would find ourselves oceanside.
Now, the beaches of Puerto Rico are famous not without reason. Apart from the fact that the waters of the Carribean are so insanely clear that you can see far more of your fellow bathers then you might actually want to (plus, you know, animals, and whatever), they provide a welcome respite from the more, shall we say, colorful aspects of my fellow Islanders. In a culture with more hand gestures then an interpretive dance group and more deep-fried objects then a McDonald's test kitchen it can be nice to get away from el tapon (while a literal translation of this might give you plug, the denizens of Boriquen know it best as traffic jam) and spend some time relaxing with the sound of the ocean trilling in your ears. Of course, as it happens, in the months between May and September, you might not be the only person with that idea in mind.
For example, when we strolled up to our favorite beach, El Escambron, a scant twenty minute walk from Viejo San Juan, ready to spend a little time getting to know skin cancer intimately, we realized somethings very quickly. Number one, every single other person who lives in the general area of San Juan had arrived there before us. And number two? They had brought the entire contents of their homes.
It must be said that my family and I do indeed bring quite a few things on any excursions we take ourselves. I personally am capable of packing a small suitcase for a less then 24-hour trip. And that's when I'm restraining myself. So I understand that when you take a beach trip you need sunscreen, towels, your sarong, your sunglasses, a book, another book if you think you might get bored with the first book, a notebook, a camera, a snack, a second snack because you burn so many calories burning in the sun, and a chair. At the very least. But compared to almost everyone I observed on Saturday afternoon, I'm like one of those Tibetan monks with 5 possessions.
Walking around, I noticed the following, none of which would have ever occurred to me to bring with me, well, anywhere: Multiple charcoal grills, a gas grill, several shopping carts filled with food, at least five full-scale infant play pens, tents, family sized coolers, three kitchen tables, and last, but in no way least, a sofa. Yes, that's write, a real living room sofa. Right there. On the beach. Because beach chairs? Just don't cut it any more, I suppose.
Now look, I'm all for comfort and convenience. I mean, as I currently type this I'm debating whether it's worth it to climb a total of two flights of stairs go get food (glorious food!) or to stay in this comfortable spot, and I can honestly say I have no idea which impulse will win. But bringing your living room and kitchen with you for a trip to the ocean? That's just crazy.
They did look comfortable, though. Maybe if I got a pick up truck? With some reggeton blasting and some bumperstickers on the back, I might fit right in!
And, finally, after much back and forth and several tearful ice-cream eating sessions with my cats, I can present you call with a conversation between myself, struggle extraordinaire, and my friend Ben, of E. Plurbus Moron, gentleman, statesman, lover, documentor of our insanely strugglesome nation. I can only hope that you enjoy our little cross-blog pollination attempt as much as we did. Who am I kidding, of course you will, because YOU, like both of us, continue to embrace the struggle!
Ben: Well Leah it is hot as Satan’s taint in D.C. now and we all know what that means: The Real Housewives of New Jersey are back! What’s fun is that most of the women in that show are filing bankruptcy. Now Leah, pretend for a second you’re a normal 22 year old and watch something other than 1980s British crime dramas on PBS, and tell us your thoughts on the Real Housewives. Do they deserve to be punished for their capitalist ways? Power to the reality TV proliteriate!
Leah: First of all, Benjamin, D.C. doesn’t corner the market on hot humid summers, Philly is the mid-Atlantic too, remember? As I write this my shirt is sticking to my skin so deeply that I’m concerned the two might fuse into some kind of shirt-skin hybrid, and isn’t THAT just the crappiest superpower ever? Second of all, I’ll have you know that I also watch the Disney channel, ABC Family, AND Law and Order reruns on USA, so how is that for hip? (Hep? How are the kids saying it these days?). But about this “Real” housewives business, honestly, can’t these ladies just defy convention and get a job? I just want to go hit them in the face with the Feminist Mystique. Of course, knowing them, they might think that was a feminine hygiene product….
Ben: Haha do you mean the “Feminine Mystique” or “Feminist Mystique”, Countess Luann De Lesseps line of erotic body jewelry?
Leah: What makes body jewelry erotic? Oh, god, please don’t answer that.
Ben: Speaking of famous ghouls with really bad debt problems, this past weekend was the first anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death. Where were you when this news broke, Leah?
Leah: Jesus, I don’t even remember, I think I blocked that out in a shame spiral of whiskey and one-woman reenactment’s of Bad. But then, who didn’t?
Ben: Certainly not me! But now that we have a little perspective on his death I have to say that the whole idea that his death was shocking is kind of ridiculous, no? I mean when Elvis died it was the first time people realized that a Rock music icons were mortal enough to die on the toilet and not in just in a freak accident/overdose. But Michael Jackson? People were weeping over the death of a man who weighed like 40 pounds and didn’t have a face. Was it sad? Yes. Was it the most shocking thing MJ’s every done? God no.
Leah: I know! What about the baby on the balcony? The Surgeries? The marriage to a (wait for it) POSSIBLE female! Honestly, in this case death is probably one of the most vanilla things he could have done. Ben: That’s not to say Michael Jackson didn’t change lives. Leah his music taught you how to dance and be yourself. And he taught me a little game he ~sob~ used to like to call ~sob~ “Naked tickle fun time” ~sobs hysterically as Leah slowly finishes her coffee ignoring Ben’s weeping~
Leah: Yeaaaahhhhh, can we not wander down the memory lane that was your time at Neverland Ranch? It gets awkward for everyone else when you talk about the toys and the outfits and the totally consensual non-sexual acts that totally didn’t happen not even one time.
But seriously, think about this for a second, Michael Jackson is dead, Madonnna may secretly be the Incredible Hulk if her arms are any indication, everyone else is reduced to making fun of themselves on VH1, what happened to that generation of music? And they wonder why we like this indie-rock business so much, unwashed and pretentious it might be, but at least the artists don’t seem quite so mentally unstable. I say that, of course, but then you have GaGa….
Ben: Leah…please….you’re overloading me on pop culture references. I’m not strong enough. Can we please discuss politics?!?
Ben: I guess I was wondering if you had heard that Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona who totally isn’t a racist who hates Hispanics, said that “Most immigrants from Mexico come over as drug mules.” As a Mexican, how do you feel about this Leah?
Leah: Wow, Ben, I’m just going to breeze straight past your racist ignorance of geography and just remind you that Puerto Rico is actually not a part of Mexico. ANYway, I couldn’t agree with her more! It’s just like how most Chinese immigrants strolled in all “please, for the love of god, let us build your railroads and, eventually, populate your universities!”
Ben: Right. It’s like saying that Jewish immigrants came to this country to run our banks/media and add vigor to our meat sandwich culture.
Leah: Wait, isn’t that true, though? I mean, my ancestors, the non-drug mule ones, obviously, escaped a pogrom and crawled into Ellis Island with a copy of Adam Smith in one hand and an entire pastrami in the other. Didn’t yours?
Ben: This country was founded on the idea of freedom from drug mules and fatty beef sandwiches! And I will be damned ~sob~ if these Socialists ~sob~ try to stop Jan Brewer from ~sob~ keeping America White, er, constitutionally grounded. Wow if I’m turning into Glenn Beck I think it might be time to shut this conversation down.
Leah: Yes, I’m feeling a little dirty right now just from listening to you. Well, there you have it folks, reality television, 80′s pop stars, blatant racism, Ben crying twice. Happy 4th of July. This is just how the founding fathers must have spent it!
Leah Franqui is a fairly interesting person/director/writer/reader/eater/drinker. She likes ugly dogs and dislikes her hair in the morning. She's a sucker for environmental causes and plays hardball with deals on chewing gum. She is a struggle.