After this most recent visit to Puerto Rico, I think I finally figured that culture out, and fortunately for you dear reader, there is one simple singular reality that captures the essence of how Puerto Rican culture is different than ours here in New England.
There are no soccer moms in Puerto Rico.
Strang but true. Try to imagine an entire society completely devoid of soccer moms. Take away the ubiquitious New England Mini-van, the SUV with the electrostatic hockey puck smashing it's imaginary self through the back window, the helicopter parents barking orders at their pack of children at the grocery store and DVD players dangling from the head liner or strapped to the back of a headrest. Utopia? Close...
Five visits. 33 days total. 300+ miles in the saddle back and forth across the island and not one single soccer mom in sight.
There are moms there for sure. Lots of 'em. Young and old, rich and poor. The thing is that they don't look like, act like, or seem like moms in any way. Except that they have kids. Those kids play sports, go to the mall, listen to ipods and tote around hand held video games. You'd think that the soccer mom would be close by, but no such luck. So what gives?
Simply put, Puerto Ricans know how to enjoy themselves better than we do.
Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm going to guess that being a soccer mom (or dad) isn't a whole lot of fun... al least less fun than it was when you were single or just married without kids. I know you love your kids, but before they were around you did pretty much whatever you wanted and your principle motivation was self enjoyment. Having kids changed all that. You sold the 3 series BMW coupe and got the Accord or Oddesy. The margueritas and loud music were replaced with red wine and NPR. Relaxing dinners out on the town became family night at the local pizza place.
Puerto Ricans never got that memo. They do what they want, when they want, and the best part is that that doesn't seem to bother or concern anyone. Want to play loud music with the house wide open or from speakers mounted to the top of their car? Sounds good to me. Couple of beers with breakfast? Why not. Want a $45,000 Lexus? Don't let the fact that you are a stock clerk at Marshalls stop you. Trash not picked up today? Well... maybe they'll come tomorrow. If you think I'm tooling on these people, think again.
We could learn something fro a culture that is so laid back and relaxed. And not relaxed in a tropical island lay around the beach all day drinking mojitos kind of relaxed, but relaxed about the little things that seem to drive us crazy. There is no road rage even though traffic, parking and driving is completely insane. No where to park, narrow roads and tons of cars, yet everyone is cool. We were in a Panaderia (which is a bakery, but runs much more like a deli with people making their way in and out, some staying to eat and along line of customers waiting service) and this guy was saying "Toyota negro" in a calm voice for a few minutes. This was a weekday and I could see that his car, parked precariously up on the side walk, was blocked in by a black corolla parked even more interestngly with the ass end sticking out into traffic. Scanning the restaurant, no one was moving. After a few minutes, a woman stands up, wipes off her mouth, drops off her trash and walks past the man indicating that she'll move her car. "Gracis" he says, and follows her out.
The cyclist's experience in Puerto Rico is difficult to quantify. Traffic controls are more of a suggestion than anything, and the roads are narrow and in terrible condition. Cars whiz by with inches to spare and interval sprint work is dictated by the appearance of stray dogs rather than the approaching town line. Despite this, I feel safer there on the road than here. Drivers are patient and attentive in a way that New England cyclists could only dream of. Drivers tolerate two abreast riding for extended periods, wait patiently behind as you ascend the steep and curvy roads across the mountains (no snow there, so sensible pitches and guardrails are hard to find), and you never get the yahoo in the pickup with the gun rack gassing it and cutting you off as they drive by. The slow and twisty roads make patience a pre-requisite for sure, but these people are also used to sharing their roads with cows, scooters, tractors and the like. Cyclists and drivers perform this high speed ballet with a mutual degree of precision, respect and fear. It is organized chaos.
That culture creates an environment where you can be yourself. No one judges you by your career, how you are dressed, or if you are rich or poor. Everyone is friendly and strangers greet strangers with a hug and a genuine smile. If you are willing to sit with the locals and eat and drink the native cuisine and take a stab at communicating in spanish, then you are family.
Maybe the "do what makes me happy" attitude has lead to problems with crime and infrastructure, but on an individual level it is nice to be accepted for who you are as a person rather than being judged by the projection you have to create and maintain of yourself.