“It’s so beautiful here,” I said into the phone as I sat overlooking a harbor in southern Puerto Rico. My legs were slung over the edge of a stone wall near the water’s edge.
“Where even are you?” my friend Chelsea asked. I had flown to San Juan for her upcoming wedding and had arrived to the island a few days early to explore and relax before the festivities.
“I don’t know, some town called Ponce that I picked out the map.”
She was laughing on the other end of the phone. “You’re insane.”
Little did we know that the insanity of my excursion hadn’t even started. The road trip from the island’s capital was the product of a spontaneous online reservation that I had made the night before from the rickety mattress that took up over 90 percent of the room I'd rented in San Juan.
“Two old-fashioned glaze!”
The woman said it as if it were my name.
“Hi! Yes, two old-fashioned glaze please,” I said, smiling. I eyed the only other patron sitting in the small donut shop. He was skillfully dismantling a crueler and flipping through yesterday’s Examiner.
“You sure you don’t want third?” she asked.
“No, no, two is great, thanks.”
I could have eaten the whole damn shop. I was tempted to hand her my credit card, instruct her to fill as many boxes with as many donuts as possible, and tell her that she might as well go home for the day.
“You put your phone away.” I glanced up to see the man speaking to me. “No one puts their phone away in this city.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t like to have it out when I’m walking around,” I said, securing my phone in my chest pocket and pulling my coat tightly around me.
The man gave me a hard stare.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked.
I looked at him. He was short and slightly hunched over at his shoulders. My initial thought was that he was homeless; yet, he seemed sufficiently dressed for the elements: a warm coat, clean jeans, solid boots, and a pair of insulated gloves. A black, woven cap concealed wisps of gray hair.
“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t recognize you.”
“You don’t know who I am?”
Being born and raised in Pittsburgh, a love for Heinz was instilled in me at an early age. My favorite food growing up was ketchup (spoiler alert, it still is). Tortilla chips, French fries, pretzels, grilled cheese sandwiches, pickles, sardines, you name it, chances are, I’ve used it as a vehicle to consume that sweet, red gold.
Even though it’s been a number of years since I’ve lived in the ketchup capital of the world, Heinz still pops up unexpectedly in my life and surprises me. For instance, I once stumbled upon a couple of bottles of Heinz ketchup in the middle of a dry goods store in northern Cameroon. After doing a double take at the Arabic labels, I peed just a little before scooping them up, giving them a hug, and buying them all.
Who knows, maybe in the future they’ll say Hemingway had his alcohol, Browning had her opium, and Downing had his ketchup. Stranger things have happened.