In case you haven’t already guessed, there are lots of absentee homeowners on Vieques.
These folks come from all over, but most seem to hail from the East Coast of the U.S., with a particularly large contingent from the greater Boston, New York and D.C. areas.
But through the years we’ve gotten to know quite a few of them almost by accident.
Some of them we’ve met into simply by going about our business in the coffee bar…
…at the hardware store…
…or at dinner.
Others were introduced to us by mutual friends.
And, believe it or not, we’ve met quite a few in D.C.
The first of these, of course, was Michael’s gym acquaintance who had introduced us to Daniel, the property manager who’d “broken up” with us when we confronted him about painting our house the wrong color.
Stan (as we’ll call the gym guy) was friendly enough when we’d run into him but his partner decidedly wasn’t, and soon we found ourselves ducking behind columns when our paths crossed at the San Juan airport.
Then there was the woman I met through work.
I was making small talk one day with the staff of a small non-profit in D.C. when the subject of Puerto Rico came up.
“Don’t you have a house down there?” prompted one of my colleagues.
A staff member of the host organization politely took the bait. Where’s your house?”
“Oh my god, one of our staffers has a house there too,” she gasped, picking up the phone and dialing an extension.
“Diane, could you swing by the small conference room? I have someone you need to meet.”
A puzzled-looking woman with curly blonde hair poked her head around the door thirty seconds later. “Yes?” she said, her eyes scanning our small group.
“Diane, meet Patrick. He has a house on Vieques.”
I stood up and shook her hand. She looked stunned, to say the least. “Pretty soon,” she remarked wryly, “it’ll be unusual to meet someone in D.C. who doesn’t have a house down there.”
A few months later I heard about a fellow homeowner from the guy who cuts my hair.
Getting a trim one day, I mentioned that we’d bought a place in Vieques.
“I’ve heard of that place,” he said.
The island had gotten lots of coverage in the wake of the Navy’s departure so this didn’t strike me as particularly strange.
“Did you see the article in the Times?” I asked.
He caught my eye in the mirror. “I’m not much of a newspaper reader,” he laughed. “No, someone mentioned it to me. One of my customers.” He thought for a moment. “Actually, he said he and his partner had bought a house down there.”
By now I probably shouldn’t have been shocked, but I was. “On Vieques?”
“A little island off the coast of Puerto Rico, right?”
“I think they’re going to open a restaurant on the island…Something like that.”
“Good god.” I tried to imagine what it would be like to buy a house and open a restaurant in Vieques at the same time.
Others simply called us up and introduced themselves. This included the Conleys, our neighbors up the hill.
Through Jane, we knew the basics about this youngish couple from Philadelphia.
He was a hedge fund manager, she was a physician. They had three teenage children. On more than one occasion they had very kindly referred guests to us when they had a party too big for their house.
The second or third time this happened, I got Mrs. Conley’s email address from Jane and sent her a thank you note.
A few weeks later she called. “Jane took us down to see your beautiful house,” she said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
I couldn’t help laughing. “Not a bit. She brought us up to see your house several months ago. I assume all her owners have seen each others’ houses.”
She laughed too. “Anyway, come use our pool anytime the house is empty.”
This was very gracious too—so gracious I decided not to tell her we’d already had a dip or two.