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  1. PURA VIDA!*

    Saturday, August 10, 2013

    By Lisa Harmon

    A long time ago, I went to Costa Rica to live for a while. I lived alone but I had co-workers from home that I saw daily. I was single and it was an exciting adventure - going to central America on the boss' dime, making good money and having living expenses that were at best a quarter of what they were in New York.

    I had a good time down there but I think the guys had more fun. Prostitution is legal there and everybody had a girlfriend of sorts. For me, there was nothing doing. The men down there didn't interest me. I really wasn't looking for anything except maybe just someone to hang around with after work.

    Then I met Jake. He worked in another office down the hall, and he was American, and single. He was about my age and he had nothing to do after work either.

    Jake and I would meet up after our shifts ended at 6 P.M. We'd usually grab a bite then hit the casino. There wasn't that much else to do in San Jose. All the beaches are at least a good two hour drive. We were stuck in the city six days a week because of our jobs.

    There was a movie theater, and a fancy concert hall too, but we went to the casinos. There were tons of them, all over town, some a short or long walk, others a quick and cheap taxi ride away.

    We'd grab a bite, usually at either the Pizza Hut or the Lebanese place, because they were close to the office. Then we'd pick a casino and go. We almost always ended up at the Hilton. It was my favorite casino. The entire top floor of a downtown skyscraper, it offered three hundred and sixty degree views of San Jose and the surrounding mountains, and it was beautiful.

    While you played table games they brought over hot ham and cheese sandwiches, and the atmosphere was fun. It was tiny compared to the casinos in Vegas and that made me like it even more.

    Throw in blackjack for about a dollar fifty a hand, and I was in heaven. I could play all night, not get killed, and do it all again the next night. I noticed that Jake did pretty well playing blackjack. Jake was a Vegas blackjack dealer and card counter.

    Jake was a pretty mellow guy, and now that I think of it, I don't know why he hung out with me instead of joining the blow and hooker fest most of the guys were probably indulging in. Jake and I never hooked up, never even kissed, but for the sixteen weeks I was down there, we did everything together.

    On rare days off we'd go look at apartments. One thing about making an American salary in San Jose is that you can live anywhere. Luxury apartments were all within our reach and we kept looking to see if we could find a place where we could be roommates.

    I had a nice apartment of my own, but Jake was living in a rooming house. My apartment was on the shitty side of town, as I found out when a Costa Rican co-worker named Nita came over one night. We must have taken too long to say our goodnights in front of the house. Nita started to panic. I thought my apartment was safe because it was right across from the police station. A couple of weeks later a guy was murdered right up the block, also across from the police station. Honestly, I was never even mugged. I never had a bad experience there.

    Jake and I looked at all kinds of apartments, from the very upscale Rohrmoser neighborhood, to farmhouses on the outskirts of town.

    We never did get a place. I guess I really didn't want to. I loved my apartment and didn't want to leave it. It was a huge, furnished, two bedroom apartment with a sunken living room. Totally tropical with white tile floors, and wicker furniture with bright cushions. My dream apartment! I was sad to leave that place when my time there was done.

    I went back to San Jose for a visit with my husband once, in 2009, I believe it was. When I went by my old apartment and rang the bell, no one was home. That night, we went to the Hilton Casino. It was gone. While we waited in the lobby for the elevator, the woman at the front desk told me the casino had been closed down. I also didn't see Jake on that trip. Apparently he was out of town on business.

    The San Jose that I lived in was gone. I really wanted to show these places to my husband, and I wanted him to meet my friend. None of that was to be. But forever there will be in my memory the months I lived in Central America by myself, just working, and mangling the Spanish language, and apartment hunting, and playing blackjack with Jake. I was glad to have him as a friend all that time. I'm sure wherever he is, he is having fun, and counting cards and giving those casinos a run for their money.




    *Pura Vida is a Costa Rican expression. It literally means “pure life” but in usage it means something like “Life is great!” and also can be used as hello or goodbye or any time you want to say something generally positive.
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  2. 3 comments:

    1. favorite line: I was never even mugged.

    2. She So Funny said...

      Everyone should have a stage of their lives where they have an experience like yours. I suspect mine will occur when I'm about 60. Great blog! ~S

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