Day of the Iguana: Puerto Rican Road Thrills and Kills
At first, my business trip to Puerto Rico had all of the hallmarks of a roaring disaster. To start, the only airline that could deliver me to the Isla Del Encanto in a reasonable time frame was the redoubtable AirTran Airways, whose precursor company, ValueJet, in 1996, managed to auger a plane into the Everglades with 110 people aboard. So poisoned was the brand name that ValueJet was forced to merge with the smaller AirTran just so passengers would cross the jet way to unknowingly throw the dice one more time.
Passengers flock to AirTran for their “affordable” airfares; of course when one factors in the chiropractic costs required to uncoil one’s spine after flying four hours with the head of the moron in front of you shoved so close to your face you can tell the brand name of the jeans his head lice are sporting … well, maybe paying full ticket for business class ain’t so bad.
Then, there is the blustery reminder that Hurricane Season is not just the University of Miami’s football schedule; Puerto Rico is dead center of the Caribbean’s hurricane incubator, and when the unimaginatively-named Hurricane David passed just southwest of the island, its 175 MPH winds propelled coconuts faster than the cannonballs shot at pirate ships from Fort San Cristobal.
Lastly, although the roads in Puerto Rico are among the most modern in the Caribbean, largely due to the influx of U.S.-based businesses and, therefore, dollars, people forget that Puerto Rico is largely uninhabited in the center parts of the island due to the craggy mountains bulging upwards and pushing the population down into the valleys between them. Therefore, with only a few basic exceptions, most roads squirrel around, up and down with almost the same pitch as Disney’s Thunder Mountain Railroad.
After a brutal AirTran connecting flight from Atlanta deposited me in San Juan, I grabbed my rental car and hurtled into a blinding rainstorm with windshield wipers blazing. When I white-knuckled into the beautiful coastal town of Fajardo, I took refuge from the pounding rain under a thatch-covered bar at the El Conquistador, with a fresh mojito parked in front of me.
I began to seek out a hotel address to load into my GPS for the drive to the southern part of the island. Unfortunately, many businesses in Puerto Rico list just the highway number as an address, and you are left to wonder where exactly on a particular highway your destination might be. I did find the address I sought, but the GPS had no knowledge of the exact street name, which had no less than five words in it.
Let’s backtrack. Many years ago I rented a car with a GPS while I was in San Jose. My first test was to load a highly recommended Chinese restaurant into the unit. Fifteen minutes later it dutifully deposited me in the parking lot. Excellent, but I had a much bigger test in mind: I hadn’t seen an old friend lived who somewhere close to Redwood City in a while, so I tapped in his address. About an hour later, I found myself snaking through a residential area finally stopping fifty feet from his front porch. “Outstanding!” I said to myself.
So, from then on, car purchases were driven by onboard GPS availability. But to be honest, the unit delivered in my wife’s BMW had a ridiculously poor design in stark contrast to the otherwise excellent engineering of the German beast of a car. My SUV has a serviceable unit, but the dealership, which I won’t mention (but rhymes with nexus), charges about $250 to update the GPS maps—a process that can’t take more than ten minutes.
I purchased a portable unit that I take on any business trip where I’ll be renting a car. It’s an older device—Jurassic by today’s GPS standards, but decent.
This is the unit I had with me in Puerto Rico.
Still trying to solve the GPS enigma, I tried finding a street with part of the name of the city I was traveling to in the title, and succeeded. I pointed my car south out of Fajardo, and off I went.
There are a couple of indigenous curiosities regarding driving in Puerto Rico. First, Puerto Ricans do not honor the “slow cars stay to the right lane” tradition of the mainland U.S. It is nothing to be screeching along a Puerto Rican highway at 75 MPH only to find that you are rapidly closing on a car moseying along at 40 MPH; the driver seemingly oblivious to the high speed slalom course he/she has created. While such behavior would invite obscene gestures, road-rage induced cut-off moves or a twinkling of high beam lights here in the U.S, it is all accepted as de rigueur on the Enchanted Isle.
But the true distinguishing characteristic that reaffirmed I was not on I-70 any longer was the spectacular road kill incident I witnessed. About 200 yards ahead, I saw a car swerve violently, skid for a few seconds and then punch the gas, continuing on. As I approached the site, blood was stretched in the shape of a thin ribbon of red carpet about twenty feet long. At the end of the stain, I saw the culprits: two huge, very dead iguanas.
An hour later, I mindlessly followed the GPS into Caguas but started to become concerned when the neighborhood the GPS was leading me into seemed incongruous with the environs typically associated with a touristy resort hotel with a casino. Better stated, I was in a dangerous ghetto where the bars on the small houses, trash-strewn alleys and the icy stare of every person walking on the streets was accompanied by, in my imagination, a reach for a concealed weapon.
The GPS cheerfully blurted “you have reached your destination; your route guidance is now ended.” So, it appeared, was my life. The narrow streets would have been picked by any motion picture location scout as being perfect for an ambush. A heavily tattooed man approached my car—was that a pistol in his hand?
No, it appeared to be some sort of rearview mirror ripped from a car by its roots, wires still dangling.
“Senior?” He seemed as surprised I was tooling though his neighborhood as I was.
“Hola. I’m guessing there’s not a Four Points Hotel around here?”
“Do you know where it might be?”
“No. But it is not here. There is no hotel here.” He shrugged, turned, and retreated to his house. I pulled up my iPhone and tapped in the address. There is a GPS function in the iPhone, but I only use it as a fallback application. I was falling back. The blinking little blue dot led me out of the neighborhood and onto increasingly larger streets until I found myself back on the very highway I’d left about twenty minutes earlier. Soon, I was parked in front of my hotel.
We’ve come to love our cell phones for a number of good reasons. We have turned into a nation of data hogs and our relentless thirst for bandwidth and speed increases with the technological arc of the devices available. Although the iPhone I have utilizes the AT&T 3G network, I do have a Verizon wireless network hub I use instead of paying for wireless in hotels and airports. Its LTE network is smoking fast; faster even than the DSL I have at home. Early test marketing in Houston reports that the new AT&T LTE 4G network has cheetah like speeds twenty times faster than many home DSL modems. Of course, once deployed, expect the onramp to the data superhighway to slow down from the astounding 65 Mbps to maybe 30 or less, but still, my DSL lumbers along at only 3.3 Mbps.
We may pay dearly for that technology when it becomes widely available, but expect music downloads in a couple of seconds, smooth video streaming and, oh yes, business applications that can move massive data and image files in the blink of an eye.
In the informatics industry, cellular-enabled tablets will join smart phones as tools that can be used to view complex data in mere ticks of a clock. I can envision more than a few uses for such toys, and we all will want them—whatever the cost.
Ah, well, perhaps we’ll fund our gluttonous desire for speed any way we can. “Come on, honey, the kids don’t really need new clothes. If you look at those shrunken Levis just the right way, they could be trendsetting denim Capri pants for middle schoolers!”
Randy Hice is Director, Strategic Consulting at STARLIMS. He may be reached at editor@ScientificComputing.com.