Posts Tagged ‘christmas miracles’

renting a car in costa rica.

28 December 2010

before i came here i did a lot of research on driving conditions and crime. i’ve found that the warnings should be taken with a grain of salt (the pessimist in me feels the need to point out that i’m here for another week). while it’s certainly a challenge to drive on narrow roads that wind through mountains, avoiding potholes while buses and trucks speed toward you in the opposite direction, it’s not as if this is a constant concern. for the most part, the roads are in fairly good shape, the drivers are courteous, and the 4wd takes care of the rest.

my only problem has been the inadequate signage, especially in the cities, which lack street signs (except for the main road in liberia). when i arrived in alajuela i missed the turn for my hostel and circled the city for two hours trying to find the statue that was my only point of reference. later, i drove around for another two hours trying to find a secure parking lot that would allow my car to remain overnight.

a lot is written about petty theft, going so far as to recommend keeping one’s windows rolled up because thieves will reach into your car to steal the earrings out of your ears or the necklaces off your neck. it’s just like any other large city throughout the world, one needs to remain vigilant, be aware of their surroundings, and not be flashy with their wealth. i mean, even the people trying to sell me drugs are very nice.

driving on the highways, it’s as if they decided on sign placement by having a government official sit in the passenger seat while someone unfamiliar with the area drove: the inexperienced driver would indicate whenever he thought he might be lost, then the road supervisor would post a sign 5km further down the road. perseverance pays off, but, inevitably, you will get lost.

i want to single out a few people, in reverse order, who assisted me when i was lost, traveling from manuel antonio to liberia, about a six-hour drive north along the pacific coast.

1. the security guard at a plaza in playa del coco. after telling me his english was so-so he motioned for a pen and drew me the simplest map, a straight line with sardinal written at one end and coco at the other. between them were two short perpendicular lines meant to represent my destination.

2. the girl at the reception desk at the hilton garden inn across from the liberia airport. she indicated my route on a map, telling me it was easy. for some reason, whenever anybody gives directions here they use that word, exciting you at first, but then, after you find yourself lost again, making you feel even more incompetent. she chased after me, handing me the map (it’s for you). this time two-thirds of the trip was in fact easy. the last road i needed was new and not on the map.

3. the man on the bicycle in orotina. he took the map from me when i pointed to liberia so he could hold it in my headlights. he returned, sticking his arm out straight before turning his hand slightly to the right, simulating an on-ramp. he said, caldera, puntarenas then his fist went skyward as he shouted, liberia. he directed me to follow him as he jumped back on his bicycle and pedaled across a busy street, wobbling a little, as i trained my eyes on his fat little body wearing a polo shirt with stripes in muted colors. a few blocks away he pulled off the road so i could continue alone.

at times i’ve cursed the rav 4 that i rented last week as traffic sped around me on both sides, but every time i’m about to ditch it and take the bus, something wonderful happens. i stumble upon an old yellow church on the side of a hill. fifteen or so coatimundis play in the jungle foliage roadside. or i’m forced to talk to strangers and realize they’re not the people i’ve been repeatedly advised to avoid.


a screaming comes across the sky.

29 December 2008

fireworks distributors have started giving their products catchy names and more appealing packaging, betting that the same thought process that casual drinkers use when selecting a bottle of wine is relevant with their customer. so tanned blondes with camouflage bikinis seductively show off rockets on shelves beside pimped-out tanks, motorcycles driven by biker dogs, and race cars with flames issuing from the exhaust pipes. names like uncle sam’s answer, loyal to none, and cruel mistress speak to their target consumer.

i’ve noticed this progression toward better marketing and sharper graphics, as it’s become a tradition, during the holidays, to go over to a high school friend’s house and shoot fireworks. each year, on his drive from alabama, he spends more money than the previous, ensuring that the displays improve. fear, perhaps, has always compelled me to take an ancillary role, limited to standing next to a heater with a sparkler dancing in my hand, until last week when i became a more active participant in the seasonal spectacle.

he and i lined the yard with pyrotechnics, lit them quickly, and ducked for cover. our family and friends looked on from the relative safety of the driveway and delivered the requisite ooohs and aaahs as they exploded with brilliant bursts of color. ash rained down on us.

for the finale, a block the size of a car battery fired successive blasts into the sky for upwards of thirty seconds. the last few streamed toward the ground, resembling palm trees.

our show lasted from eight until nine thirty on christmas day, yet we received a complaint in a neighborhood newspaper. a man wrote to the editor to say that not only had we annoyed him, we’d also rudely awakened his children. he wondered if we were breaking any laws, but didn’t provide any details, so the editor wrote, depending on the time, the kinds of fireworks used, and the location, it was possible that we were breaking state law or could be fined for noise violations.

obviously that man reads this blog, so let me direct a few sentences to him. your children, who you put to bed at seven thirty on christmas day, woke up hearing fireworks in the distance. they went to their windows and watched for an hour and a half, mouth agape, as the sky lit up. for that time, they were the happiest people in guilford county, but i completely understand how their incessant chatter about the amazing girandoles (their word, not mine — fucking educated brats) could be particularly annoying to you.

christmas present.

25 December 2008

we helped my mom downstairs to the couch in front of the tree, so she could directly participate in opening gifts. due to her declining motor skills and her decreased ability to concentrate, she’s relying less on writing, and instead using charades to communicate. our comprehension of her messages have suffered only slightly as we’ve become quite adept at understanding this sign language that isn’t sign language.

there remain deficiences, however, as evidenced earlier today as she pantomimed something we were unable to discern. after finally convincing her to write it down, we made a joke out of it, telling her she was overthinking and that gestural dialogue was simple, even if one didn’t graduate with a degree in kinesics. we produced hand signals, in turn, to prove our theory. i went first, pointing to her, then motioning like i was driving a car, then pointing at myself, and finishing by going, well, insane. you drive me crazy, i exclaimed in artificial exasperation.

my sister went next, turning her fingers into scissors, pointing with her index finger, and closing her hand into a fist with an upright thumb, which she thrust like an umpire calling a baserunner out or a superstitious person throwing salt over their shoulder to keep the devil at bay. we spoke in unison, cut it out, to emphasize the simplicity of the procedure.

my dad took no time to produce his phrase, pointing at his eye, then heart, then wife.

see, mom, you don’t need to complicate things, and then urged her on, now that we’ve shown you how it’s done, you try. as we stared at her, she lifted both hands, middle fingers waving at the three of us.

nil per os.

20 December 2008

while writing yesterday’s post i had two memories which didn’t fit within its constraints. i’ll list them now.

1. after sleeping most of the day, my mom got out of bed and wandered downstairs without our knowing (my aunt and i had gone into the other room). when we went to look for her, she was at the bottom of the stairs, carrying a tray with three glasses of orange juice and fighting off my dad who wanted to help her back up to bed. we hesitated and gave her space, watching her take each step gingerly, trembling like an autumn leaf. she relinquished the tray only after sitting on the edge of the bed. it took all her strength, and, once she finished chiding us for not believing in her, fell back asleep.

2. about a week ago, my mom broke her almost yearlong sobriety with a rum and coke. when i went to toast her with my own glass, i noticed hers was empty, then realized that she tipped her glass toward mine only because she wanted a refill. she put her hand to her mouth as if to conceal giggling.

the santacon diaries.

17 December 2008

my sister and i have been frequenting a bar that serves half-priced wine on wednesdays on account of her knowing, if you catch my drift, one of the bartenders. they have even named two drinks after her, one, our last name, and, two, something more commonly ordered by its acronym nwar (or, for those more disgusting daring, my sister’s first name followed by wet and ready). the introduction of these drinks to the menu came after my sister, somehow always unsure of any specific ingredients that she enjoys, continued to ask for something delicious.

on one of the first of these nights spent together drinking we met a guy wearing a black leather jacket who emphatically told us about santacon (for information specific to greensboro or another city’s preparations, instead look here). we promised him that we would attend. on subsequent visits, every time the guy walked by we reassured him, even when his passion become more frightening than intoxicating.

after almost a two month courtship we searched for him in a sea of santas on the second floor of a downtown brewery. when we found him, wearing a leather jacket and matching pants, trimmed with white fur, and a belt with bells hanging from the buckle, he voiced disappointment with our costumes. as santa-on-vacation, i wore a white long-sleeved shirt, a navy tie adorned with tennis players, a tennis vest, tennis shorts, red tights, and carried a tennis racket. my sister, an unholy combination of snowflake and elf, went overboard on the glitter as often is the case.

there was a full day of activities planned so, arriving, as we did, in the evening, we missed the snowball fight, trips to the mall, to liberate santa from his post at macy’s, and strip club, to liberate santa’s candy cane, if you catch my drift, and hours of drinking. i refused to participate in the naughty christmas carols (regardless of my disguise, i can’t justify interrupting a family of four at dinner with suck my balls and lick my asshole fa la la la la la la la la). thankfully, after the first bar, where we exited right before we were likely going to be kicked out, the santas collectively become more demure to match my sensibilities.

forty plus santas (and elves and angels and jesus) canvassed the city, sometimes searching for a bar that could accomodate our numbers. along the way we handed out assorted baubles. cars stopped to shout encouragement or stare in bewilderment. a band watched as the venue suddenly filled with red. on a dance floor, girls in halter tops urged me to smack their asses with my tennis racket. in short, we spread christmas cheer and filled sleeping heads with visions of sugar plums.

after the festivities, eight tiny reindeer navigated our miniature sleigh back to the north pole where i nestled beside mrs. claus, or a very tall elf, as the case may be, who whispered that the stockings were not the only things hung with care, if you catch my drift.

lighted christmas balls.

15 December 2008

upon hearing about my mother, the man who popularized lighted christmas balls (watch the video embedded in the post on january three; at about the seven minute, thirty second mark he talks about us) and his son arrived at my parents’ house. using a potato gun and a fishing pole, thirteen balls composed of chicken wire and lights were hoisted into the trees outside the house. four were visible from the bedroom window. once their work was completed, they came inside to share stories and compare wounds.

for a few years their greensboro neighborhood has decorated their trees with these lights and nightly traffic through the area is slowed as drivers and passengers are drawn to the spectacle. recently they’ve set up a donation site to collect food for the hungry.

i wasn’t here to meet them, but i have been marveling at the hanging orbs in the front yard ever since. i want to thank them, especially for making my dad so inexplicably happy. he escorts visitors into the street to get the best view of the trees. every night, when the automatic timer is triggered, he runs through the house, like a child on a sugar bender (well, and with chronic back pain), shouting, the lights are on.

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