Touch the Wire (Part Two) – San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose is a dirty, miserable, little city. It is everything that you think is bad about Central America. Nobody lives there. All of the people live in the suburbs. After a few days pounding the streets and examining things, I felt acquainted with San Jose.

Living at the beach for seven months in seclusion made living in San Jose feel like being back in The United States. There was McDonald’s and the mall and movie theaters. Almost a year had passed, and I now considered myself officially an expatriate. In San Jose, most ex-pats hang out at places like Bar Nashville South. The Nashville is a perfect example of a Gringo bar where retired American men (pensionados) and young, nubile prostitutes congregate to the sound of classic rock in order to solve the equation of supply and demand. It is a pathetic, disturbing sight when the coarse hands grate across the delicate skin of one of those 18-year-old girls.

The Nashville is in an area of town called “Gringo Gulch.” The Gulch got its name because it draws all of the Gringos (in Costa Rica, a ‘Gringo’ is anybody from The United States), both tourists and locals alike, to its central location for booze, dope, prostitution, and gambling.

The Nashville was a favorite haunt of my friend, Jon Robert “Lee” Denton, convicted felon, current resident of Ashland Federal Correctional Institution and former fugitive from justice.

Lee and I taught English to business executives for The Pro-English Academy of Costa Rica – a budget operation if there ever was one. Anybody with an IQ over 75 can make a living teaching English in Costa Rica. The majority of the English schools in San Jose will hire anybody as long as they are native speakers. The Academy was no different. The pay is above scale, but the hours are few and the travelling is far.

The collection of hacks, weirdos, pseudo-intellectuals, and college girls “taking some time away” was more than I could stomach. I would get drunk as a loon in Bar Los Condes along with all of the other businessmen getting straightened out at six o’clock on a Monday morning, and then go jabber at my class for two hours. It was great until I got caught. But, Lee had a bigger problem than looking sober at eight in the morning.

Lee was convicted of drug and weapons charges around Gatlinburg, Tennessee. He served some time, but managed to escape. He went underground until he gathered enough money to flee The United States. It seems odd to me that he even told me this story, but he did. I hadn’t known the man for more than two months when he blurted it all out one afternoon when he was drunk at, appropriately, Bar Nashville South. You can’t blame him for being drunk because that is the only way anybody can tolerate San Jose. You can, however, blame him for being stupid. He was apprehended by U.S. and Costa Rican authorities whilst sitting at his favorite table in front of the picture window at The Nashville. I know because I saw it on the evening news.

I continually found myself creeping around The Gulch trying to find a bridge between the degenerate ex-pat set and the few foreigners that were legitimately trying to make a life in this country. I wanted to create a balance. Getting drunk, gambling, and ogling hookers was my source of entertainment. I couldn’t look at anything in a normal way ever again. Avoiding hassles with police was becoming a necessity because I had been deported twice already, at least in theory. Furthering my pursuits as a writer also gave me pause. I needed to get something accomplished. I was supposed to be writing a book that would draw heavily from this experience.

I had been fired from teaching English for habitually showing up to class drunk or ditching class altogether. I was running out of money and about to be thrown out of my hotel. A few days before the bill came due and the ax descended, Shay Addams gave me freelance work for his internet magazine.

He and I would hold the first of many editorial meetings in The Casino Tropical at Hotel Morazon in the very heart of Gringo Gulch. Beer was 2 for 500 colones on weekday afternoons. You can’t beat that for spurring the creative process. I banged out an article on casinos in San Jose, a subject on which I had extensive knowledge, and managed to keep a roof over my head.

In order to get a good idea of Costa Rican business culture, you have to imagine The United States 45 years ago. It did not matter what sort of background you had, as long as you could produce. Working for anybody meant that you might do a host of different things. I wrote for Shay and sold advertising for the site on the side. Then, I would write the feature review about the place to which I had just sold advertising – devious, but effective.

Shay would pay me for the articles that I had written or advertising that I had sold for him and invariably I would end up perched on the corner of the craps table in The Casino Club Colonial. I would enter the casino and all of the regulars around the craps table would yell: SHOOTER! Most of them were Ticos with heavy accents in English so it would come out more like: CHUTER! I am a hard-core craps player, and the table at The Colonial is the most heavily trafficked in the city. A bad night would have me drunk, belligerent, and viciously cursing the mathematical incompetence of the dealers, but a good run would have me making eight or ten points and rolling numbers all night.

After a strong roll, my pockets would bulge with chips, dollars, and colones. There would be plenty of money to scoot over to “Lucy’s,” one of the premier Tico whorehouses in the City. My orthodox hedonism knows no bounds. I always got a charge out of walking into Lucy’s and having a room full of beautiful girls immediately stand up and pose. One hundred and ten pounds of lithe, supple, quivering flesh hidden only by lingerie.

Shay and I were VIPs at Lucy’s. He was a VIP because he had been a client for so long, and I was because of my association with him. We always entered the place under the guise that we had just come back from Cuba. At any rate, all of the girls knew that we were to be treated specially. It pleased me to know that every one of my sexual whims, just short of acts involving knives or fire, would be indulged.

Paradise cannot last forever. They turned off the juice to my wire in late January 2002. I was in Quepos to meet Shay and to do research on a sportfishing article on Captain Jesse Baletti. Shay had already left by the time I arrived, and I hurriedly gathered the information that I needed and I resolved myself to return to San Jose on an early bus.

I was walking by the Quepos Police Station on my way to the Quepos bus station to return to San Jose when a policeman stepped out and asked me to show my papers. I barely ever saw the police when I lived in Quepos. But, by law, I should have been carrying my passport or a copy with me at all times. This had been the root of my first two deportations. I never carried my passport or a copy because I have a tendency to disregard authority. I could have eliminated this problem with a �10.000 (US$30) “contribution” to the police station. I didn’t have that much money on me at the time. Hell, I’d had to borrow �2500 from Jesse to get back. The point is that corruption is rampant. Anybody can be bought.

I spent the next 12 days in a Costa Rican jail (immigration holding) being treated like a fugitive and living on a an unsteady diet of rice, beans, and kool-aid. Don’t ever count on the U.S. Embassy to do anything but look at you like you are a criminal. They are worthless.

Early on the morning of day 12, 8 February 2002, Immigration Officials escorted me out of the country. By 3pm EST, I was sipping a Budweiser in an airport bar at Miami International contemplating how to get my hand wrapped back around the wire.

Touch the Wire, Part One