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  • I was in San Juan for a conference, and I couldn't afford the cabs and the buses have no schedule and the pavement was hard and hot even after the sun went down and my feet hurt. The conference was held at a resort hotel that reminded my new friend from Sweden of Havana in one of the Godfather movies. They charged you to even breathe in the lobby. And a drink, forget it.

    Near the hotel was small liquor store and grocery with nearly nothing inside. But the beer was only 240 a bottle and it was cold. There were two other guys standing at the counter drinking so I guessed I didn't need to get the brown paper bag. I thought they were from the conference too but it turned out they were pilots on a stop-over. We started talking, especially Rolando who liked to talk and bought me a couple more beers and I stayed and talked more, or listened mostly. Because Rolando had lots of stories.

    He was born in Jersey City but raised on the island, then went into the navy, because he lived near the base and he had been thinking when he was growing up that things looked a lot better inside the base than outside where he lived. Now he lived mostly in Brooklyn, across the street from his two new twin grand-daughters -- he showed me the picture on his phone -- and sometimes in Florida. Rolando spoke seven languages partly because of growing up with a French kid in Puerto Rico, and partly from being in the navy for many years.

    These are two other things Rolando told me to help me understand the island.

    First, the light beer I was drinking was made by the India company that made the malt beverage that he pointed out in the cooler. It used to have India on the label but no more. When he was young India also made a beer called Corona, not the one from Mexico, which was premium. Medalla was good enough and it was what people drank when it was hot which was most the time. The other thing he told me was that the reason the buses never came was that there was no schedule, so the drivers could hang out at the bus station and talk instead of driving. For Rolando, this said everything you needed to know about what was wrong with Puerto Rico and why he would never move back, no matter how much he loved it. And also, once a government official hadn't taken the two minutes necessary to sign Rolando's application to the Air Force Academy and so he hadn't been able to go. He never forgave them that. And thus the buses.

    Which brings me to the picture of Carlos Manuel Rodriguez Santiago, who was beatified in 1963 by Pope John Paul in 2001. He used to say, "We live for this night." That's what my chance meeting with Rolando the pilot (who kept checking the clock to figure out when he had to stop drinking) meant to me. This night, this time.
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