For two weeks following my beautiful winter wedding, I painstakingly gathered my finest, most fashionable resort apparel, shoes, accessories and toiletries in preparation for my 8-day honeymoon in the Caribbean. All the garments were wrapped neatly between sheets of white tissue paper or hung on velvet hangers, footwear was carefully stored in felt shoe bags, jewelry was individually packaged in tiny suede containers and toiletries were sealed in sturdy plastic pouches to prevent against leakage. My meticulous effort would have had Martha Stewart green with envy.
My new husband and I were eagerly looking forward to spending four carefree days in Puerto Rico followed by four on the beautiful island of St. Thomas. Spring had not yet arrived in the Northeast; the first hyacinths lay hidden beneath the hardened earth. Thoughts of lounging on the golden sand while a warm, gentle breeze blew softly through my hair seduced me. This was going to be a fantastic honeymoon!
On the day of our trip, the airport limousine arrived a little early which had me rushing to collect some last minute belongings. Grabbing a coat and my overflowing winter handbag, out the door I dashed. My two suitcases had already been loaded into the trunk. I hadn’t had time however to switch everything into my favorite smaller summer purse so I just threw it into the larger grey leather satchel and carried them both on board. Everything could be sorted out later in our hotel room, I figured.
Touchdown was smooth and once we collected our luggage, we waited by the customs counter to be processed. Unfortunately, we were one of the last people to be inspected. I noticed only a couple of taxi drivers waiting for a fare; one in particular had gone out and come back in twice within several minutes. At the time, I didn’t think too much of it, as my new husband was busy informing the customs official that I “had almost as many pairs of shoes as Imelda Marcos.” I’m not too sure the officer understood the joke. Once we finished the paperwork, the taxi driver came up to us and asked us where we were headed. His English was very good, he was very polite and since he had a bona fide livery license, we accepted his offer of a ride to our hotel.
The journey from the San Juan airport to our resort hotel along the beach took us through a questionable neighborhood. My husband and I sat in the back of the cab with his carry-on in between us on the seat and my large grey bag on the floor by my feet. Here’s where we were innocently caught off guard. The windows were open although other cars we passed had theirs closed. I assumed our taxi didn’t have air conditioning. It was around 5:30 pm and we were stuck in what we assumed was rush hour traffic in the right lane closest to the sidewalk (there was no on-the-street parking permitted). Ahead of us was a parade – a St. Patrick’s Day parade, of all things! Here we are in Puerto Rico on March 13th (not even the 17th) and they’re having a St. Patrick’s Day parade…go figure.
While we were stopped in bumper-to-bumper traffic with nowhere to go, our driver proceeded to show us his New York license and tell us the story of how he was originally from the Bronx. He moved to Puerto Rico with his family several months earlier when his father-in-law died. All at once, he abruptly halted his conversation and shouted “watch out!” What the heck did that mean? In an instant, two teens came up to the right side of the cab. One waved a gun around through the front passenger window while the second stuck a knife in the rear passenger window where I was seated. My husband had turned to his left when the driver shouted so he did not see the thugs right away. I leaned over toward my husband to avoid the knife. Actually it wasn’t the knife that really frightened me; it was the gun pointing inches away from my face. As my husband turned back toward me and reached over to pull me near him, the kid with the knife bent down and yanked the grey bag that was at my feet. My foot was caught in the strap and he had a difficult time pulling it up from around my ankle and out of the window. I noticed the hands of both thieves shaking. The driver did nothing the whole time, which probably only lasted a minute. The kids took off through an opening in the steel bars surrounding the housing project and were gone in a flash.
As my husband was trying to calm me down, the idiotic cab driver whipped out a box cutter from under his seat, saying he would have used it if it had not been for the gun. Really? Meanwhile, nobody around us either saw what had happened, which seems highly unlikely, or didn’t want to get involved; more likely. We demanded the cab driver take us to the police station but he took us to our hotel instead. Upon arrival, my husband called over two hotel security guards and asked that they hold onto the cab driver for questioning until he got me safely inside the lobby.
That night was a disaster. The bag the teens stole had our airline tickets, Travelers’ Cheques, my wallet, camera, curling iron, brand new cosmetics and my favorite little summer bag in it but all those things could be replaced. I was so grateful we weren’t physically hurt. The most upsetting thing about the whole incident wasn’t the stolen items or frightening ordeal; it was that the last picture taken of my mom before she passed away was in my wallet; the one they stole. That was the only copy I had and it was one of my favorites.
Needless to say, the next few days were spent trying to replace our airline tickets and Travelers Cheques. The Tourist Police were completely useless; most of them either didn’t speak English or refused to and were of no help in finding the thieves. They acknowledged our belief that the cab driver set us up, although they couldn’t prove it. He had plenty of time to make a phone call from outside the customs office. I despised all of Puerto Rico at that point only because I felt so violated. Robberies happen everywhere, especially in tourist locations. Fortunately, the beautiful weather and the fact that both my husband and I were safe helped heal the wounds more quickly than anticipated. By the time we arrived in St. Thomas, we were relaxed enough to salvage the remainder of our honeymoon.
The incident took place almost 25 years ago. My husband and I talk about it now and again and realize how lucky we were. It taught us to be vigilant without being neurotic. I’ve known others who were in similar situations who weren’t as fortunate as we were. Praying for those who commit these crimes is difficult, but it helps ease the anger. There are many people in society who can’t see any way out of poverty or despair except through crime and violence. For many, drugs fuel their evil ambition. The only thing we can do as a civilized society is try and teach a better way, hoping our words will reach the multitudes and not simply a few. For some, luck is not enough.
“It is vain for the coward to flee; death follows close behind; it is only by defying it that the brave escape.” ~ Voltaire