You on the WRONG bus, gringo!
“No . . . NO, no, no . . .”
That was about the extent of my Spanish when I saw the ten-inch kitchen knife appear.
It’s 10:30 on a Tuesday morning. I’m en route to the San Juan airport after yet another amazing trip to Puerto Rico. It’s become an annual ritual to fly to the island, study percussion, hang with CouchSurfers and attend La Fiesta de Santiago in the town of Loiza. In addition to the festival, this year’s stay included catching a performance by Taller Tambuye, a hike through El Yunque rainforest with some new friends and my first invitation to play drums in a ‘bombazo‘ on the beach! And I can’t forget the amazing Bomba and Plena lessons with Rafa Maya and Tito Matos!
Although I had heard of people getting held-up on city buses, I never understood how that would ever be possible, and probably chuckled inwardly at their naivety. But here I am, cornered in my window seat by these two thugs . . . in broad daylight. The aging driver is the only potential witness to the robbery and, even if he did see it, he’s most likely smart enough to keep his mouth shut and keep driving. I’ll bet he sees this crap everyday.
They promptly confiscate my cell phone, along with the $20 and change in my pockets. I actually travel with an expired driver’s license and old, canceled debit card, expressly for scenarios such as these. But they’re not interested in either of those; they want electronics that can be sold. Jabbing at my backpack, they keep whispering, “camera . . . computer.” This being my second mugging experience (the first was in Minneapolis, at age 17), I’m thinking much more clearly after the initial chill of sensory overload passes. With a slight bit of assertiveness, I am able to fend them off until the bus finally stops to board more passengers, and they hastily make their exit through a rear door. Thank God I travel with only this single carry-on . . .
I’m staring out the window as we continue through the city- almost sick with the disgusting, terrifying feeling of being violated. I know that there was not much I could have done differently, and think I handled the whole thing rather intelligently. Just the wrong bus at the wrong time. But I also know for certain that I’ll be back again next year. There’s absolutely no way that I can let fear keep me from furthering my studies here. I love this music; I love this culture; I love these people. Well, not the two with the knife . . . but most of the people, anyway!
In my gigs and travels, I am extremely fortunate to continually have some of the most amazingly positive experiences that I can imagine this planet has to offer! It’s imperative that I accept the fact that, in those pursuits, I am also susceptible to some of the bad that exists in the world. It’s the yin and the yang. When I pause to compare and consider the future’s possible Good versus the possible Bad, there is no question. It’s all worth the risk.