We were lucky in that we had time for a quick lunch at the airport before boarding for our lengthy second flight due to the layover in Charlotte. Of course, we landed at one concourse and had to make our way to the end of another. The people traffic was reasonable which made it easier to navigate and work around the people treadmill.
You may not know this, but airlines new move is to not only charge for the class of assigned seats but they now charge for boarding times! I think for $14 we could board before others, and we passed on that just because it seemed so stupid and mean! Thus we boarded near the last and overhead bins were getting full, and it was harder to get around large knees in the aisle, and stewards and stewardesses were cheering us on to get seated as fast as possible, etc.
We had an aisle and a middle seat. I almost always get stuck in the middle. The window seat had not been filled, but we put our stuff away and sat. I reset the air fan and turned on the reading light and thumbed through the airline magazine (pretending it was not full of germs) which contained articles on local restaurants, local tourist sights interspersed with full-page ads for plastic surgeons (had they had surgery ?) and executive love-matching facilitators who looked a lot like our President's liaisons. It is so hard to make a love connection when you are rich and busy, I guess.
After a short time, our seatmate was coming down the aisle. She was a stocky woman in her 50s-60s of Latina heritage with very close-cropped hair and drawn on eyebrows. Someone commented that there was no room for her hand luggage and she responded that she was not allowed to lift over her head anyway and she would tuck it under her seat. We did the get-out-into- the-aisle dance while she moved in. As she reached below while next to me I noticed she had a compression stocking on her arm, and realized she could not lift probably due to some circulatory or surgery issue.
I was not in a talking mood, but she was. She was flying back to New York, her home. She asked where we were from and what we had been doing. I keep my responses polite but short. Then, my mistake, I asked what she had been doing in San Juan. I learned the following over the next hour or so:
She was on 30-day treatments for 4th stage breast cancer, but doctors felt she was in good remission and able to make this trip. She was thankful to God and felt that her future looked bright. I felt guilty about thinking her drawn on eyebrows were overkill and was impressed by her optimism and energy.
She was born in New York but lived in Puerto Rico for about 20 years of her younger life. She had traveled various places following her husband who was in the Army. She had taken this trip because she had to take care of her parents' house. Her parents had passed on years ago, but neighbors had informed her that a wall and a fence had need of repair due to the recent hurricane. This house was in a town outside of San Juan and most of the town had taken on substantial damage, so it was complicated getting there.
While there she visited with a friend of hers, a teacher in her 60s. This woman was living in a house owned by another and it had been pretty much destroyed. The teacher has been living in the basement without water or electricity since the hurricane. The owner was in no hurry to repair the house and the teacher had no friends or relatives that could take her in. Imagine living in a basement without water or electricity for months! My new friend on the plane said she got her parent's house somewhat repaired and convinced the teacher to move in and watch it for her for at least a couple of years. There was still some contracting work to be done and she told the woman that she would have oversight to see that it was done correctly and she left her some cash for that.
All of the blue in the photo above covers roofs that have yet to be repaired on one of the Caribbean islands we toured.
I am sure this was just a smidgeon of the many stories that could have been told in that town. I read an article the other day that said Puerto Rico had been set back at least a decade in development and infrastructure. And of course, a new hurricane season is just a few months away.