17 October 2017

Puerto Rico nostalgia

by Barb Goffman

This blog is running the Tuesday after this year's Bouchercon convention in Toronto. Since I won't return home until that Monday night (last night as you read this), I'm writing this post in advance. With the trip to Canada looming, and with the struggles of the people of Puerto Rico still in the news after the recent devastating hurricane, I've been thinking about travel lately, and especially trips my family took in the 1970s and early '80s to Puerto Rico. I hope the island and its residents recover sooner than later from the storm damage. And I hope you won't mind me indulging in a moment of nostalgia now. I'm fortunate that I created a scrapbook as a kid of some of our vacations, and my dad saved it. It's helped jog some memories, as well as provided the source of some of the photos.

I was four years old the first time I went with my family to Puerto Rico. (My dad did business there, so he went somewhat often.) We flew on a Pan Am double-decker plane. Granted my perspective is skewed since I was so small then, but I remember the jet being huge. The top level was set up with a bunch of booth-sized tables, surrounded by four comfy chairs, where you could hang out and play backgammon and other games. Flying back then was, in a way, luxurious--in sharp contrast to the way we fly these days like sardines. That plane made going to Puerto Rico seem glamorous.

These were the types of cards we had back then.
So did the hotel casinos. Each hotel always had a casino, which I was never able to see because they were super strict about not letting kids in. I remember the adults all went there at night after dinner (especially in the '70s), and everyone got really dressed up to do it.

The hotels typically ran Bingo games by the pool for probably a half hour every afternoon. I won the very first hand I played. When I called out Bingo, my mom admonished me, reminding me that you can't just yell out Bingo, you actually have it. Imagine her surprise when I did. I won forty bucks -- a huge amount of money for a four-year-old, especially in 1973.

Back then hotels also had actual keys for their doors. I know this because, apparently, I took a key from every hotel room we stayed in when I was a kid (and put them in my scrapbook). The hotels might have rightly called me a thief had they known, but I'll prefer to think of those keys as mementos.

On one of our trips we found and fell in love with the Oasis restaurant. It was billed as a Cuban restaurant, and they served a fried plantain appetizer that we loved. I've looked for fried plantains elsewhere over the years, but I've never found a place that makes them as this restaurant did. Most places serve you mushy plantains when you order fried plantains. The Oasis served them crispy and thin, like potato chips. And they were hot, too (temperature-wise). A few years ago I asked a friend who was born in Cuba if she knew a restaurant near where we both lived in the DC area where I could find fried plantains like these. She laughed and said that the Oasis restaurant might have been Cuban, but those were Puerto Rican fried plantains. Alas, there are no Puerto Rican restaurants near me. I wonder if there are any in Toronto.

And on that note, I should pack for my trip to Bouchercon. I'd love to hear about any favorite memories of trips you've taken to exotic places, especially (just to keep this on point for the blog) any places that you've used or might use for a mystery setting.


  1. Hi Barb, I hope you had a fantastic time in Toronto. I used to live in D.C. & there was a good Cuban restaurant on Columbia Road. I don't remember the name of it. Anyway you can buy frozen sliced plantains & fry them in butter, or 1/2 butter & 1/2 vegetable oil, until they're a darker brown color. Serve with sour cream or fruit jam.

  2. Oh, my heart breaks for Puerto Rico. The ex is Puerto Rican and our daughter is half. True story: long after we divorced, a legal seminar was scheduled for his 60th birthday. I offered to take him and our daughter to the island while I went to the seminar. Shortly before our trip, he canceled saying he was too sick to fly. (Puerto Rico is a long way away from Alaska.) So my daughter and I went, attended the seminar, visited Old San Juan and had a lovely time. The following summer, the ex used the airplane ticket I bought for him to go on a vacation with his new girlfriend.

  3. A key thief! Well!

    Plantains and a number of Puerto Rican and Cuban vegetables are ubiquitous here in Florida. Elizabeth may be on the right track, especially if you can deep-fry thin plantains. I also recommend mashed yucca, which turns out so similar to mashed potatoes, it's hard to tell the difference.

    Keenan, you have my permission to smack him!

  4. Thanks for the tips, Elizabeth and Leigh. And Keenan, that's such a nice story about an apparently great guy. Let's hope that karma does exist.

  5. Thanks for this, Barb, I enjoyed it. I've been fortunate to have traveled a good deal in my life and am very grateful for the experience. I even got to live for three and a half years in Germany courtesy of Uncle Sam. Nearly every place I've lived or visited (for any length of time, that is) has spawned a story or book. Some inspired several. I got to thinking about which were the most productive and found that Mexico (Yucatan in particular) topped the list for foreign locations, with Ireland bringing up a close second. As for the more mundane locales, New Jersey is definitely number one with a bullet (Ha, ha...I kill myself). Oddly, Germany, for all the time I spent there, has only resulted in a single (unpublished) novel.

    I hope you had a great time in Toronto.

  6. Thanks for commenting, David. Toronto was fun. And I'm so glad I got to see Niagara Falls. Now that's a place you could set a murder, if only you could figure out how to not be noticed by all the tourists while you do the deed.

  7. Hey Barb--great post! Like others here, I've set stories in many of the places I've traveled on business: Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, Alaska, etc. (But I've also cheated and set a lot of stories in places I've not been to. Thank you, Google Maps.)

    1. Thanks for stopping by, John. I've found Google Maps helpful too.


Welcome. Please feel free to comment.

Our corporate secretary is notoriously lax when it comes to comments trapped in the spam folder. It may take Velma a few days to notice, usually after digging in a bottom drawer for a packet of seamed hose, a .38, her flask, or a cigarette.

She’s also sarcastically flip-lipped, but where else can a P.I. find a gal who can wield a candlestick phone, a typewriter, and a gat all at the same time? So bear with us, we value your comment. Once she finishes her Fatima Long Gold.

You can format HTML codes of <b>bold</b>, <i>italics</i>, and links: <a href="https://about.me/SleuthSayers">SleuthSayers</a>