The other day, I called up Ralph the taxi driver to take me to Walgreens, and it was perhaps the most depressing 5 minutes of my life. However, I think the convo highlights the strange double edge sword-ness of Puerto Rico. When you think of living on an island, you think beach and slow living and how nice it would be to live on an island. But when you know you can't leave, because you have no money to leave, it's a whole different story.
My conversation with Ralph, a Newyorican who now drives taxi in Mayaguez:
“Hey Jessi, how you been girl?”
“You wasn’t waitin’ long for me, was you?”
“Nope. What about you? How have you been? Doing anything exciting lately”?
“Nah. Anything exciting costs money, and I ain’t got it.”
“God, how true.”
“If I had even a million dollars, it could change my life. But I ain’t going to find it here.”
“No, probably not.”
“Really, Jessi. If I had a million dollars, my life would be happy."
I wanted to say something about money not being able to buy happiness, but even I am not that naïve anymore, and don’t think I truly believe it myself at this point. I mean, I don't think rich people are happier people, but I do think financial strains can do a number on you, even if you are generally happy person with no money. Green paper makes the world go round, afterall. And if you can't be part of the world, then what are you good for?
“If I had a million dollars, I’d take you on a cruise Jessi. We could go on a cruise in the Caribbean”
“I would be available for that”
“Mira, Jessi…you want to know what I would do with a million dollars? This is just talk, but I’m gonna tell ya”
“First, I would move. Maybe not off the island…but I would move to San Juan, definitely. Definitely need to get outta Mayaguez.”
“I know exactly what you mean.”
“But the thing is, Jessi, if I stay in Puerto Rico, my million dollars would go farther. Right? Things ain’t as expensive as over there in the states. So, Jessi, what I would do next is I would find a comfortable condominium in San Juan. Nothing huge, but something for like 100 grand. Maybe that wouldn’t pay it all off, but at least a good chunk of it. Then, I would have 900,000 left, right?”
“Okay, Jessi, so then the next thing I would do is I would go to the biggest Mercedes Benz dealer in San Juan, and I would buy me one of the nicest cars that have there in the lot…maybe that would cost me like $125,000. I wouldn’t lease it or nothin’, I would just pay cash for it. So then I would have about 800,000 left. I have 2 daughters, and I would give them each $50,000 each.
“That’s nice of you”
“Alright Jessi, but then I’ll still have 700,000. So, I would take 50,000 and upgrade my wardrobe. Buy some new suits, shoes…maybe a little ring – nothin’ big. This is just talk, of course, but there ain’t nothing wrong with talking.
"Alright, mira, check this out: So then, I would take 100,000 and invest it in a business. If you don’t invest some of it, you’ll just spend it all. You won’t be making anything back. Maybe I would just buy a couple taxis and rent them out. Then, I would take 100,000 and put it in one of those CD accounts at the bank, so it grows some interest.
So, Jessi, I still have about $500,000 left, and probably I would buy another house somewhere and rent it out. You’ll never lose money that, owning property.
And I would keep out about $150,000 to use as spending money. You gotta have a plan though, otherwise a million dollars won’t last you long…it’ll burn a hole right through your pocket. But if I ever got a million, I would live happy for the rest of my life with it.“
By the time we got to Walgreens, Ralph had spent his million, and I wanted to ask him how he planned on living for the rest of his life on a million dollars when he has just spent it all in a 5 minute drive.