We are spoiled rotten. There. I said it out loud.
In April, I left the country for the first time in my life. My fiancée and I took a long-awaited vacation to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. All of the pictures we saw and reviews we read indicated it was the picture-perfect paradise. Close, but no cigar, amigo.
In the 30-minute shuttle from the airport to our resort, I was completely and totally humbled. We crowded into a packed tour bus/van/Winnebago THING with 80’s flashback neon orange curtains that were theoretically supposed to shelter our eyes from the sites of the REAL Puerto Plata. Our luggage was secured in a hitch attached to the vehicle meant to protect it from theft against the “banditos." Our journey began.
Beautiful mountains. Gorgeous palm trees. And squalor. Heart-wrenching squalor. We’re talking about people living in conditions that look like something out of a war movie. We drove past countless pits and gutted buildings that here in the U.S., homeless people wouldn’t be allowed to live in.
There were precious few cars on the road. We passed a number of other vehicles like ours, shuttling passengers back and forth to resorts. Then there were the motorized scooters – by the hundreds. I can’t tell you how many times we saw FAMILIES OF FOUR all crammed onto one bike. There they were….weaving in and out of traffic...scaring the heck out of me.
(Author’s note: I wish I had passed enough of these on the way back to the airport to scare the Montezuma’s Revenge out of my tender stomach. And thank, you, mom – it was NOT one too many margaritas.)
But what blew my mind more than anything was that in the middle of all of the squalor, we passed by several absolutely GORGEOUS car dealerships. I couldn’t believe it! Gas in the DR is more than $6.50 per gallon (USD), people can barely afford to eat, and here we are passing by brand-spanking-new Chevy’s!
A tour guide later explained to me that the car dealerships there are sustained by purchases from people that spend a portion of the year in the DR and the rest of the year in the US, along with a number of rich people that run the government and resorts (and perhaps Banditos that steal luggage?). He told me that vacationers who rent vehicles are “loco” to not take out both regular insurance and what he described as “revenge insurance.” Huh? Turns out it’s insurance that protects you from being killed by the family or friends of someone you may injure or kill in an accident. Yeah – and you were worried about the WATER...
I’m going to digress here for a moment. Last December, my car was totaled. My 2008 Pontiac G6 GT was t-boned in the driver’s door at some 60 mph. The car saved my life. I was cushioned by a giant pillow of airbags seemingly EVERYWHERE. And when I bought a 2012 Impala LT, I whined that it didn’t have heated leather seats or a 6 CD changer. I don’t even think I OWN CD’s anymore. SPOILED. We all are.
It hit me on the way out of the DR back to the airport. These dealerships aren’t about flaunting a gap between the rich and the poor. They are a symbol of hope to so many. In our country, the “American Dream” involves a gorgeous house and a white picket fence. In the Dominican Republic, so many look at the dream of owning their own car as something they may one day be able to achieve. They work incredibly hard and fight for survival in hopes of one day possessing something that so many of us take for granted in America.
FDR once said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”
As we at Carter of Manchester work on planning out our involvement in non-profit events and fundraisers for the remainder of 2012, it’s something that will stick in the back of my mind. I consider myself blessed to work for an organization that allows me to work “The American Dream” while giving back to my community and those less fortunate.
And I’ll stop whining about the heated leather seats.
Kyle S. Reyes is the Director of Marketing for Carter of Manchester.