Tag Archives: San Juan Puerto Rico

New and improved

typewriter

LOTS OF related websites are connected here. There are links in the right-side column. History has shown me that few folks pay them any mind in spite of their often being more fascinating than what you see here in the middle space.

I’ve not been happy with one of those related pages for quite some time. Newspaper Days. Recently, a nice woman clicked “like” on it, and that brought the page to my attention.

Still didn’t like it, so I zapped it.

In its place is a new and improved version of my Newspaper Days. More info, more photos, better written. Think of it as a Prius instead of a Ford Fairlane.

For folks who’ve been passing by the Moon for more than a short spell, you already know that I am a retired newspaperman. Not a journalist, a newspaperman. Having never taken a journalism course in my life, how could I be a journalist? I did work for newspapers for 30 years, however. Newspaperman.

I never had delusions of grandeur.

When I got into that now-discredited occupation, having studied journalism frequently was not a requirement. Being fairly sober and being able to stand up straight and construct a reasonably coherent sentence often was enough.

And being male. Getting hired in newsrooms if you weren’t a guy was pretty much impossible with one exception: society pages. Lots of ladies in the Society Department.

It’s called Lifestyle now. Or simply Style.

In Newspaper Days, I follow my checkered career from New Orleans to San Juan, back to New Orleans and then to Houston, Texas, where I spent the entire second half of my newspapering life. It was a good gig, so I stayed 15 years.

The best was San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was the briefest even though I worked there on two separate occasions in the early to mid-1970s for a bit under two years total.

This is a photo of where I lived the second stay:

new-image.jpg
My penthouse was just off to the left, one or two buildings. Sweet, huh?

You can see the news business was good to me. The pay was okay too. I did not get rich, but I did retire debt-free to Mexico when I was just 55 years old. Wife-free too.

Take a look at the longer version, which gets into booze, suicides, mangy bars, mangy dogs, Cuban coffee, the effects of political correctness, the effects of Watergate. And there are my mugshots on all my press passes save one. Cute!

Newspaper days

I WAS A newspaperman for about 30 years before I retired at age 55 in late 1999. I never called myself a journalist, and I’ve never taken even one journalism course.

I’ve also been a taxi driver, a loan shark and a repo man.

But it was newspapering that I was best at.

There’s a link in the right-side column that takes you to Newspaper Days, a description of my decades in that world. It was a profession I fell into, just one more path in a life that’s been almost entirely haphazard.

Take a look if you have some spare moments. It’s a quick tour through exotic places like San Juan and New Orleans, and even haircuts in the Virgin Islands.

You’ll also encounter mangy dogs, suicides, alcoholism, unionism, motorcycles, political correctness, feminist zealotry, homosexuality, paste pots and old typewriters.

Living with tourists

scene
I shot this photo on a sunny day recently.

MUCH OF MY life has been spent surrounded by tourists. There was the 18 years in New Orleans, and now the 17 years in my Mexican mountain town.

It adds up to about half my life. The rest of my adult life was spent almost entirely in Houston, Texas, which is also a swell place to live, or it was when I left.

Not too touristy though.

I also lived almost almost two years in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which is so touristy that cruise ships harbor there.

People come to tourist towns, look around, and say, boy, it must be great to live here. Guess what? It is.

I landed in New Orleans by pure happenstance. But I came to my mountain town deliberately. I will die here.

Surrounded by tourists.

Bars I’ve loved

batey
El Batey these days.

I WENT ON the wagon in 1996, but I once was a drinking man. Not a falling-down drunk, but a constant imbiber.

Every day. Without fail. For 25 years.

Not recommended. It affects relationships.

No matter. Some bars I have loved. In a recent post, I mentioned that a bartender who served me in the 1970s in New Orleans is a part-time resident here on my mountaintop.

It was one of the bars I loved. The Abbey.

My most beloved bar of all — El Batey — was in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Recently I did an internet search, wondering if El Batey still existed, and it surely does.

It’s now the oldest bar in Old San Juan, and it has its own Facebook page. But what business doesn’t?

El Batey has changed a lot over the years, but outside more than inside where the only alternations seem to be more wall graffiti. Here is a current exterior shot, just below, and a photo from when I drank there, farther below.

batey-outside-now
Today.

Note the street surface in the photo to the left. It’s blue stone that Spaniards brought to the New World as ballast in sailing ships.

So it’s said.

It was recycled into cobblestones in what is now Old San Juan, which is San Juan’s version of New Orleans’ French Quarter.

You don’t encounter blue streets very often, and they take on a particularly lovely cast when slicked with raindrops.

When I moved to San Juan the first time in the early 1970s — I was there twice, once for five months and a second stint of 11 months — I had a black BSA motorcycle shipped down from New Orleans in the hold of a Sealand freighter.

old-days
When I drank there.

A decade ago I wrote El Morro Sunrise about a late night in El Batey while the black BSA leaned on the cobblestones.

My two spells in San Juan were separated only by a year or so. When I returned for the final time I brought a record from New Orleans. It was one of Jimmy Buffett’s lesser-known ditties, titled Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?

The owner put it on the jukebox.

El Batey was owned by Davey Jones. In the early years, while I was there, he had a business partner named Norman, a spectacularly delightful man.

My second ex-wife and I visited Puerto Rico in the early 1990s, about 20 years after I lived there, and the only time I’ve returned. We went to El Batey, and Jones told me that Norman had died. Far too young.

norman
Norman
jones
Davey

If memory serves, Davey was one of those mail-order ministers with the legal right to perform marriages.

I was smitten at the time with an Argentine floozy who’d overstayed her visa. I decided to marry her so she could stay in San Juan, and Davey agreed to perform the ceremony. But it never happened, thank God.

Which is why you shouldn’t drink, boys and girls.

During that 1990s visit, I checked the jukebox for my Jimmy Buffett record, but it was not there.

One of Davey’s daughters, Maria, told me on Facebook that he died last year. He was in his early 80s. R.I.P.

* * * *

The Abbey

abbey

Both fore and aft of my times in San Juan, I favored a bar on Decatur Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, a city where I lived off and on — mostly on — for 18 years.

For a time after my first divorce, my ex-wife tended bar there, and it’s where she met her second husband, the guy who jumped bond on a marijuana charge and hightailed it to Canada with my ex-wife and my daughter.

The Mounties nabbed them three years later, and they were returned to New Orleans where everything eventually got straightened out, and both ex-wife, second husband and daughter are now upstanding citizens.

The Abbey is one of a handful of New Orleans bars that never close, a characteristic that suited me wonderfully.

On Sundays, back when I was a patron, the owner laid out a spectacular free spread of snacks that negated your having to buy your own main meal that day.

Between the two, I favored El Batey, but I’ve spent far more nights in The Abbey.

If you stumble out of The Abbey at dawn, lurch right a couple of blocks to Jackson Square, look left and you’ll see the levee that holds back the Mighty Mississippi.

You’ll spot freighters passing above the levee’s crest because the river is higher than the city.

It’s like watching ships sailing in the sky.

* * * *

(Note: El Batey is a plaza for community events, a word that comes from the Caribbean Taino people.)

 

The haircut

AS A YOUNG boy, I spent summers with my grandparents in southwest Georgia, and I got haircuts in town in a spot that could have served as a Norman Rockwell poster.

Zipping forward to the 1970s, I lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on two almost abutting occasions. One lasted 11 months, and the other lasted five. During the fiver, I didn’t get a haircut. It was the ’70s, so nobody noticed my shagginess.

But during the 11-month stay, I did get one haircut. I didn’t speak Spanish at the time, so I was hesitant to use a Puerto Rican joint. So I caught a plane to the Virgins.

GrumanGooseBWTitleIt was an old Grumman Goose seaplane that skimmed the seas between San Juan and St. Thomas. I knew I’d find an English-speaking barber shop in Charlotte Amalie.

I have no memory of where I got my haircut in the Virgins nor how much it cost. Those were my drinking days.

Before and after I lived in San Juan, I lived in New Orleans where I got haircuts on Magazine Street at an old-timey place that could have been a Norman Rockwell poster too, though you rarely spotted kids in there.

Rockwell was fond of children.

It was next door to Casamento’s Restaurant (Oysters). Some Italian guy cut my black locks, and he always finished with a head massage using one of those vibrating hand things.

That was nice.

That barber shop doesn’t exist anymore. I know this because Google Street View shows “Uptown Costume and Dancewear” in the same location. I guess the Italian died.

In Houston, a middle-aged divorcée who ran a one-woman shop in the basement of an office building on Richmond Avenue cut my hair, but in emergencies I’d use Supercuts.

poleWhen I moved over the Rio Bravo 16 years back I first lived 40 minutes down the mountainside in the state capital. I got my first Mexican haircut near the language school I attended. It was more of a ladies’ place.

But I didn’t care.

I got a haircut yesterday, which is what brought haircuts to mind. In recent years my hair’s been cut in an all-woman collective on Calle La Paz. If you exit and walk uphill about a block, you run into a church. If you walk downhill about two blocks you also run into a church.

Plenty of places to pray in Mexico.

Liliana gives me the best haircuts of my life, and she charges me the peso equivalent of about two bucks, but I tip her an extra quarter because I’m a giving sort of guy.

There’s a barber pole outside the door.

My hair has done an amazing thing. It started completely black, and now it’s totally white. Incredible!

Gray hair is God’s graffiti.

— Bill Cosby.

Memory Lane

WELL, THAT’S enough about you. Let’s focus on everyone’s favorite topic: Numero Uno, themselves.

Here are four of my favorite photos of my own true self. Sure, some have been posted here before. So what? When one focuses on oneself, overdoing is not an issue.

I was young once, but I’m not anymore. I like to look back and think, Gee, is that me?  And it always is.

My life up to this point has been a bit more varied than most. I did not choose that road. It just happened. Some was fun. Some was decidedly not. Booze played a role for a long spell.

But I’ve been a teetotaler now for 16 years, and I’m having an even better time than before. What does that tell you?

With no further ado:

OneSitting in a San Francisco streetcar in 1963. I was 19 and in the Air Force.

I had dropped out of Vanderbilt University about a year earlier — women troubles — and enlisted. Women have long been a curse for me.

It was only when I latched onto a Mexican woman late in life that the curse was cracked at last. Heed this, young men.

twoFlash forward about 15 years, and here I am sitting in a Cessna 172 in New Orleans. The cap was a gag item. I used to fly small planes.

I never mixed booze with planes because I am not totally stupid. I did, however, mix booze with motorcycles on a regular basis, indicating I am somewhat stupid.

Roundabouts the same year, someone took the next photo, likely my second wife. That’s my daughter on the back.

She’s cute, and considerably older now. Pushing 50.

fourOver the last couple of years, I’ve developed a real hankering to buy another motorcycle. I’m not going to,  however, for a number of reasons. My bones won’t mend so easily, and Mexican roads are full of potholes and maniacs.

The previous photos are in time sequence, but we’ll have to back up a bit — about five years — for the following.

threeI love this shot. I’ve even used it as an avatar online.

Note the cigarette and, if you’re sharp, the apron. I like to cook, or I used to. Now I just prefer to be served.

And I used to smoke — cigarettes, cigars, pipes — but I stopped that stupidity about 25 years ago.

The photo was snapped by my Argentine girlfriend atop our penthouse apartment in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Now I’m 71 with a child bride. And feeling fine.

And that ends today’s stroll down Memory Lane. Feel free to post your own old photos in the comments.

San Miguel Holiday

MANY YEARS AGO in Puerto Rico, the early 1970s, I was visiting a friend in her Old San Juan apartment. Another woman was there, a visitor from the United States. I did not know her.

For some reason, she asked if I’d ever been in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and I told her no. She then asked if I was gay, and I gave her the same response. Why would she ask that?

Flash forward 40 years or so till last weekend. We paid San Miguel a visit, scarcely for the first time. The official purpose was to attend the Food Fest — or, as San Miguel calls it, the Gastronomic Festival — but we really just wanted to get off the mountaintop for a spell.

For years our favorite hotel was the Siesta on the outskirts of downtown. It was an old, sprawling, single-story place consisting mostly of connected rock cabins. The rooms were big, and you parked right outside your door. I loved it. But they tore it down. There’s just a weedy lot there now.

So we met Gerardo Ruíz online and stayed in a room at his house. His place is part of the Fabrica La Aurora, an old cloth factory of days gone by that has been turned into a huge complex of art galleries and related stuff.

And Gerardo Ruiz is an artist of considerable renown, it seems. His work, not surprisingly, was all over the walls of his house and studio.

2Our room had a high ceiling. It was painted white. There were two twin beds that were very comfortable. The connecting bathroom had a large counter by the sink. The shower worked well. The toilet flushed fantastically. We found a scorpion in there the first night, and I stomped him dead.

OneThere was a huge, screened window in the bedroom that opened to a long-neglected garden with tall trees, cacti and bushes where crickets crooned us to sleep every night. We slept the sleep of angels and little children.

We ate at the Food Festival Saturday afternoon, but we also dined at two of the three restaurants in La Aurora. One was a fancy burger joint and the other was a coffee shop slash restaurant where we enjoyed vanilla ice cream atop brownies one afternoon and breakfast Sunday morning.

You don’t get that sort of stuff here on the mountaintop where we live.

Sometimes you gotta get out of town and see how other people live.