In Puerto Rico, A Couple Of Hours Of 'Normal' During The World Series

Nov 2, 2017
Originally published on November 2, 2017 4:17 pm

At the end of a dark pitted street in the center of San Juan, the light from the flat screen beckons. Locals flock toward it like a lighthouse, following the siren song of a rattling diesel generator. Six weeks into the nationwide blackout after Hurricane Maria, the final game of the World Series is playing at a popular dive bar called Esquina Watusi.

In the top of the first inning the gas runs out, and the screen on the outside wall of the bar goes black; by the time the barkeep gets it running again and reboots the satellite TV, the Astros are ahead 2-0, and dozens of Puerto Ricans from all walks of life pull up lawn chairs and stools in the middle of the street.

In reality, the Astros had a 3-1 lead before their first pitch: Three Puerto Rican nationals play for Houston, while the Dodgers have to get by with only one boriqua: Enrique "Kiké" Hernández.

"I'm going for the team with the Puerto Ricans," says Liz Cruz, who points out that Hernández hasn't appeared yet for the Dodgers.

She is sitting with two of her girlfriends, Tahiri Berrios and Camilla Axtmayer. None of them are big Houston fans, but that's not the real the reason they are here.

"I haven't been going out because you know other people are in misery. This is the week that I first went out, socializing and seeing people. It brings your hopes up a little bit," says Axtmayer. She then passionately announces she is supporting the Dodgers. Kiké Hernández has emerged from the dugout and Axtmayer proclaims her undying love for him.

The crowd is varied: a luxury car salesman, a marine biologist, a hardware store manager, a day laborer. None of them has city power at home though some have their own generators. Some still don't have running water. Many lost their jobs since the storm. Others have been working nonstop.

Jose Trujillo is still wearing his dark blue shirt with his name on the breast pocket. He's a generator repairman, and it is his first chance to relax in six weeks.

"First and last," he jokes, mentioning that he will be at work again early in the morning.

Next to him, his friend Hugo Clivilles hasn't found work since the storm, or even a place of his own.

"I can't watch the game at home because, well, I lost everything in Hurricane Maria," Clivilles says.

It is his last night out in San Juan as well — he is leaving for Florida, probably for good. Puerto Rico's government estimates as much as 15 percent of the population has left the island since the storm.

At the seventh inning there is a rain delay — not in Los Angeles where the game is being played, but in San Jaun.

"Ay! That's a big cloud," says one fan looking up into the inscrutable night sky. Moments later, water pelts the tin roof like a snare drum. The Dodgers score a run, and the downpour stops. The bartender carries the flat-screen back out to the street and people sit back down on their wet chairs to watch the final innings.

As the Dodgers suffer through the last two innings, Jose Abelardo shouts at them from the back of the bar, "Échalo a la sopa!" — "Throw him in the soup!"

Asking about what the expression means leads to a lecture on how no one else out tonight is a real Houston fan — they know shortstop Carlos Correa, but have they ever heard of outfielder José "Cheo" Cruz?

As Abelardo holds forth, the last Dodger strikes out and Houston wins its first ever World Series. The bar erupts. Everyone is an Astros fan now.

It feels good to cheer.

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