09 May 2007

Hilton's Plaza

It was an odd night, at least for Me. I wasn't exactly tired, or bored, or upset or angry: I was just...off.

Now many of My Jenial Friends will say I'm off more often than not, that in fact, I'm the living definition of off. But even if that were true, there are times when even My alleged offness is...off. This was one of those times.

I drove the few minutes to the town plaza. Unlike most town plazas in Puerto Rico, the Cabo Rojo plaza is alive and well in its role as a family-gathering place. Central to this success is the coffee-and-candy kiosk tucked to one side, a small haven for rich brews and excellent snacks. Its owner, a beret-wearing cultural force named Hilton, has spent the past 9 years fomenting a wide range of activites in the plaza, from poetry readings and artisan fairs to classical music concerts and film showings.

He does this by sheer force of will sometimes, battering past silly government red tape and often-indifferent residents. But in the end, Hilton has not only created a successful small business, he has been the catalyst of social change.

The Cabo Rojo plaza is usually filled with people and activity until well past 11:00 p.m. A typical night might have 3-4 handcraft tables displaying wares, a group of teenagers practicing a dance routine upon the acoustic stage, dozens of couples in animated conversation, several strollers, toddlers and kids with parents in tow, college students discussing those things only college students seem to do and senior citizens strolling and sipping coffee amidst a glow of nostalgia.

People come from several towns away to buy coffee and take in the plaza's ambiance. So successful is Hilton's little shop that other towns have tried to emulate his formula. It hasn't worked, for it's not the shop that makes the difference, it's the man inside it. Sadly, We don't really support the development of men and women like Hilton: We seem to do everything in Our power to beat them away with trifles and bureaucracy. What made Hilton a success was his simple refusal--time and again--to take no for an answer. What makes the Cabo Rojo plaza a success is largely Hilton's efforts. In that sense, it can be said We are blessed with Hilton's Plaza.

So I sat and sipped, watched and commented (to Myself, My best audience) and after an hour or so, I got back into My car and drove home. I'd spent some time in Hilton's Plaza, on My own terms, in My own quiet way and could now go back to My regular--or not-so-regular--life. Thanks to a man who set out to make a difference and used coffee, milk, candies, sandwiches and an indomitable will, I and so many others have the chance to sit, sip and reconnect. Drop by if you're in the area, for it can be said without reservation that Hilton's Plaza is your place, too.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

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