For two months, I resided at the Condado Plaza Hilton in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Typically, after a ten-hour workday, I would end the evening by sitting on the balcony of my room and watching the ocean.
In my humble opinion, one cannot simply observe Caribbean waters without rum, and no one in search of introspection should drink rum without a suitable cigar. I’d pour a glass of Ron del Barrilito. Neat. Since I didn’t care to find the ice machine on my floor.
I’d sit on the 7thfloor balcony, beholding the dark blue waves, aglow from moonlight, smash against boulders and reefs before the hotel lawn, below. The ocean formed another foamy crest, a quarter of a mile off shore. I was told that came from other shallow reefs, outward. I would light my cigar before stepping into the night air, because the wind felt so strong and briny that it became difficult to sustain a suitable flame.
Most nights, the ocean sounded like an aquatic lion in slumber. During stormy nights, the lion awoke; though I never experienced it at full rage, like September 2017.
Thought I was not a traditional smoker, I allowed myself to sample a variety of flavors: sweet, mild, or robust. I smoked El Cabron, Royal Challenge, Gurkhas, or Gurkha Cellar Reserve. Each a hand-rolled masterpiece, wrapped with a silver or golden label. I found myself particularly fond of the house-blend cigarillos provided by the Kuros Smoke Lounge of the Condado neighborhood.
The smoke and rum relaxed my mind and the dark blue waves freed my heart after a full day in a cramped, bureaucratic, obtuse office, where creativity was discouraged and inclusive planning became taboo.
I sat on the balcony chair, barefoot and in my pajamas, thinking about the people I met while having dinner in a restaurant or the bellhops who greeted me at the elevator. If strangers beyond the hotel asked whom I worked for, I would be vague but pleasant. If a bellhop asked whom I worked for, I would always tell the truth, because I knew it wouldn’t take much for a Puerto-Rican bellhop to ask a desk manager about a guest who leaves for work 6:45 in the morning for six mornings a week.
It didn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to surmise what Federal agencies set up shop on the island. I’m sure you would know which agencies, without me having to spell it.
So to take the weariness from my soul, I’d finish a cigar that lasted about 30 minutes, and polish off rum that lasted less.
When it was time for bed, I slept with the curtains drawn open. The lights of a cruise ship would pass by on the edge of night; its lights became jewels on a black ocean. I’d rise before the sun arrived in the eastern waters. But just before I’d leave for work, I’d experience its warm harbingers: colors of orange, and yellow bleeding into a dark blue horizon.
“Goodbye,” I’d say to the ocean. “See you in about 11 hours.”