Wheels up, Ponce.
The pace on our last day is no different. Freddie and Heri are hard at work. Ricardo has given his exhausted crew of electricians the day off, but comes by himself to do a walk-through review of the final items that need work after we’re gone. The plumbing team is back, attending to a list of plumbing needs. Most are fixed, but not all, when they finally leave at the end of the day.
Several of the crews worked on the basis of agreed-upon prices for their jobs, and we are keenly aware that their labors have gone well beyond the scope of the original estimates. (At home in Boston, I’m certain some of this work would have cost at least three or four times as much.) We have decided to compensate them with bonuses. When I hand Ricardo the extra cash for his crew, as Allysen explains in Spanish why, he first looks surprised, and then he struggles to fight back tears as he embraces both of us. He has had to go after people and businesses for payment before—he’s told us of the money the government owes him for work done a year ago—but this might be the first time anyone has voluntarily handed him more than the agreed upon amount. We’re glad to do it. They have done a great job, without a word of complaint about the unexpected difficulties.
Michael the tree guy comes by late in the afternoon to cut us some slices of mahogany tree trunk to take home as souvenirs. His chain saw should make short work of that. Braaaaa-a-a-p-p-p! Well, it takes longer for the first piece than he thought. But it’s mahogany, after all. What do you expect? Braaaaa-a-a-p-p-p! Second slice. Braaaaa-a-a—! Wait, why is the chain hanging limply off his chain saw? Have we just killed his saw? Michael trudges off unhappily to his car for parts. Eventually the noise starts up again. And in the end we have our four slices: one for Allysen’s mom, one for her brother, one for us, and a smaller one for me to keep in my office. Someday I’ll sand it down and finish it with oil or varnish. Michael, too, receives his bonus with surprise and gratitude. “If you need me again, just call!” he says to Allysen—not in English—as he leaves.
Finally, one last errand to Home Depot, and a trip back to the Plaza del Caribe, to return the car to Avis—somewhat the worse for wear from the streets of Ponce. We never did get to the roof-sealing job. We will leave that for Heri to work on.
For a blessed hour, we enjoy wine and cheese with our neighbors Frances and Che, above the once-more-sparkling pool. We say our good-byes, and then, in a weary frenzy, throw ourselves into packing and final cleanup. (How, exactly, do you pack several slices of mahogany tree trunk in your suitcase, anyway?) We only have until 1:30 a.m., when Freddie will pick us up and take us to the airport! Laundry to do. (What? The water’s gone off on the hill again??) Construction debris to clean up. Tools to pack for return to Boston. Sipping rum punch (Allysen’s dad’s recipe), we somehow manage—and tumble into the car for our late-night ride to Mercedita (Ponce) Airport.
This may not the most unwelcoming waiting room in the Western world, but it’s in the running. And as always, it’s packed. Flights to and from Puerto Rico are always packed. With so many people flying these routes, why can’t they fly them at civilized hours?
Onto the plane! They embark and disembark from both the nose and the tail of the aircraft. With seats closer to the tail, we get to haul our carry-ons up the outdoor stairs. I find myself remembering a line from a very funny song, Cheap Flights (“If you didn’t pay to take the stairs, you’ll have to feckin’ jump!) Settling into our seats, surrounded by masses of moving people, I suddenly realize I’ve left my winter coat in the waiting room! I fight my way back to the tail exit and tell the flight attendant. With a little twinkle, she says, “You’re the second one!” And she gets on the phone to ask someone to bring me my coat.
Finally, all buckled in, we rumble down the runway and off into the night.
(Coming in our final installment, stepping from another dimension.)[To read The Ponce Chronicles in order, start here.]