It all seemed unreal.
I was the only occupant in a multi-story hotel, being accompanied to my room by a cheerful young man who seemed delighted to have someone to help.
Our steps echoed in the empty hall, and along with my trepidation I was acutely aware that this was the weirdest Christmas Eve I had ever had.
I looked out the 12th floor window at a beautiful white beach, deserted, on this late afternoon, and I wondered, “What the hell am I doing here?”
‘Here’ was Puerto Rico, and the year was 1968, maybe 1969.
This wild adventure began when I boarded a plane on the pretext of greeting a business associate. Suddenly my mother shoved something into my hands as she wished me a ‘Merry Christmas’, and the plane door slammed shut leaving me inside, alone and bewildered.
The ‘stewardess’, as they were called back in the day, smiled, led me to my seat, and brought me a glass of champagne.
“What is going on?”
“You are going to Puerto Rico.”
“Where the hell is Puerto Rico? And, why am I going there?”
This little surprise was a special ‘gift’ from my Mother, who thought it a grand idea to send me to an island in the middle of a vast body of water where I could spend the next 4-5 days enjoying the sun and surf…by myself. It made no difference that I was hosting a party for some 75 people at my apartment that night. I’m using the term ‘hosting’ liberally, since, obviously, I was not going to be anywhere near that gathering.
A friend, who knew about this misguided escapade, had made sure there were several bottles of sparkling spirits on board hoping to numb my senses before I attempted to hijack the plane and return to Dallas.
It worked. By the time I reached Miami, my well lubricated brain had decided, all on its own, ‘what the heck, I’ve never been to Puerto Rico before, why not go!’
As the cab deposited me at the front door of this high-rise hotel, I was well on my way to being ice-cold sober, questioning my sanity and sending unkind, but deeply felt, thoughts to my mother.
But the good news still awaited me.
I made my way to the reception desk, not a difficult task since I was the only person there not wearing the hotel’s uniform of brown pants, shirts, socks, shoes, and a company name tag. The young man behind the counter explained that the hotel wasn’t open yet, and wouldn’t open until the day after Christmas…but, my room was ready and they were expecting me. I would have the entire facility all to myself. The bar wasn’t open, the dining room not serving, but the air conditioning was on, and they were delighted to have me.
Thus, the walk down the eerie, dark, and spooky corridor knowing I could yell my head off, but no one was going to hear. Aside from that, I was perfectly fine!
Now what’s a girl to do? Sit in a room, in an empty hotel, overlooking a beautiful beach, no room service, no alcohol, and no company? What was worse, staying there with the dresser blocking the door, or trying to get from the room to the elevator and down to the street without being accosted?
The call of food and drink won out.
I packed my purse with anything I could find that was heavy and lethal looking. A roll of toilet paper and a couple of hangers were my weapons of choice.
I found the nearest bar open across the street and perched myself on a bar stool of my picking. Again, I was the only person there, but at least I could get something hot and cold to ease the pain of forlornness .
Apparently in those days folks didn’t come to this isle of paradise until AFTER Christmas, not before. Lucky me, my mother got a great bargain by having me arrive before anyone else showed up. Made for lots of friend making.
However, the stars aligned themselves just as I was going to walk into the surf and not return. I thought I could swim back to the shores of Florida, not understanding exactly where I was.
As the warm water touched my toes, I heard voices, and they seemed to be talking to me. Probably a mirage, but it was worth a look-see. And yes, there were two guys, speaking English wondering what I was doing. I explained I was about to drown myself, but they convinced me to come have dinner with them before I took that final action.
They seemed nice enough, so we broke bread, talked about the empty island, and laughed about the vast crowds we did not see. We spent the evening walking, talking, exploring, and enjoying the companionship of other souls who found themselves adrift in a Christmas Eve nightmare.
These guys, who apparently had come to PR for a bit of R and R, were appalled when they learned that I was in an empty hotel, and took Good Samaritan pity on my plight. One of them had an American friend who lived on this island in the sun, and promptly called her to see if she and her husband had a spare bedroom or couch. Sure they did, and my new best friends helped me gather my things from the spook capital of world and head to a warm and cozy home, occupied by living bodies who welcomed me with not only open arms, but with the promise of a wonderful Christmas celebration–Puerto Rico style.
Sure enough, the next day a roasted pig was unearthed, along with a huge container of a mystery brew that had been buried sometime in the past 12 months, just waiting for the dawn of Christmas. Dozens of people began to gather, and by mid-day the place was filled with laughter, great food, and plenty of drink.
You may be wondering, looking at this adventure through today’s glasses, why I would ‘take up’ with two men, invite myself into a stranger’s home, and not be fearful for my life and body. I too wonder about that. But, remember,this was in the 60’s. Hippies, free love, VW buses, drugs, and more free love. It was a different time, a different mindset. And the nation was not ruled by fear and mistrust. Obviously, my tolerance for new adventures outweighed my naiveté and good sense.
This turned out to be a remarkable Christmas. I’m not certain it was the type of holiday my mother envisioned, but it was an adventure I would have missed without her belief I could manage whatever might come up.
Did I want another holiday like this? No.
Did I mention this fact to her upon my return? Yes.
Did I suggest she pay more attention to what she packed the next time she had a like-minded idea? Yes, I did.
You see, she failed to include my birth control pills. So much for free love.