I’ve been traveling to Costa Rica on a regular basis since 1991 when my mom bought a little vacation home in Nosara. The kids were little and we enjoyed our annual trip to the jungle-beach town on the Pacific side of the Nicoya peninsula. The rule of thumb was to get the heck out of San José as soon as possible!
The bustling city with its cacophony of overcrowded buses, a buncha honking horns of drivers navigating the narrow laneless streets, and vendors of all types hawking their wares. Unlike our home state, California, pedestrians do not have the right of way and crossing the street is like running a gauntlet.
It wasn’t until I moved to Costa Rica several years ago, intending to live out my days in the tropical paradise, writing my memoirs, that I discovered there is more to the capital city than meets the eye. I started hanging out with writers, editors, and book publishers who lived in the city. I discovered museums, theaters, and fancy restaurants which were attended by sophisticated people who lived in fancy high-rise apartments. This aspect of Costa Rica is a world apart from the surfer-beach crowd which avoids the city at all costs.
As the saying goes: “Wherever you go, there you are.” I have always been comfortable in both worlds and go easily from bikini to business suit depending on the activity. A couple of years ago I was in San José for the launching of a book by one of my writing associates from the Costa Rica Writing Club. We celebrated at an upscale restaurant and were headed back to our hotel, The Hemingway Inn. Yes, Hemingway—where else would writers stay?
As our taxi pulled up to the front of the Inn, some of our group were standing out front chatting. I suddenly realized the night was young, and there was still more fun to be had. I was in the back seat next to my good friend and editor, Bob, when I whacked him on the arm, “Hey! Let’s go have a drink at the Del Rey!” which was only a few blocks away.
“The Delray?! YOU want to go to the Del Rey? Really?”
Instead of answering I leaned out the window and shouted to our friends, “Come on! We’re going for drinks at the Del Rey!”
The wife of the hotel proprietor ( a fellow writer), a proper Tica (Costa Rican lady) scrunched up her face and said, “The Del Rey! No, we are not going there. You shouldn’t go there either.”
I looked at Bob and cocked my head. “Fine by me,” he smiled.
The other passenger, a filmmaker from Hollywood, who happened to be visiting and was working on a movie script, said, “Ah, the Del Rey. I was there last night. He turned toward me and said, “You sure?”
“Yes! Let’s go!” and the taxi driver pulled away from the curb.
I had heard about this place for years and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I had seen my share of hookers in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. Hell, I had once been accused of being one while sitting at a bar in Las Vegas with my girlfriends. I remember laughing in the face of some guy who sat next to me and asked, “How much?” In retrospect, I can see his point. I mean really, we were dressed in sexy outfits for our night out on the town. How was he to know? I just happened to be on the end so he approached me. We still crack up to this day when we get together for Vegas outings. All I have to do is waggle my eyebrows, sidle up to my friend, Lynn, and say, “How much?” and we crack up!
As our threesome threaded our way through the lobby and the casino, we were led to a table in the bar which was situated near a sofa where some of the girls were draped over the cozy cushions. After ordering drinks, I turned to study the girls. I caught the eye of one of the gorgeous sexpots and my knee-jerk reaction was to say, “¡Hola! ¿Qué tal? (Hi! how’s it going?)
The young lady’s face lit up—I’m sure she was surprised I spoke Spanish—and she replied, “¡Todo bién!” (all is well). And we pursued a conversation about business and how it worked with the rooms upstairs, etc. I was having a wonderful time chatting with the girls while Bob and Hollywood filmmaker (forgot his name) were talking shop when two studly guys walked in and sat at the bar. They looked like athletes with bulging biceps, backward baseball caps, form-fitting T-shirts, and tight jeans. One white, one black, they screamed California to me.
So, up I went to say hey to the stud-muffins at the bar. Mind you, we had already had a ton of drinks earlier in the evening and I was just getting warmed up. Next thing you know we were laughing and scratching at the bar, me and my new friends who were indeed from California and were on a “boys” fishing trip. They were buying drinks and we were getting louder and louder, laughing ourselves silly over who-knows-what. Two more of their friends joined us and the party grew. The working girls tried to wiggle their way in but were waved off by the guys while their eyes shot daggers at me.
Next thing I know I look over to our table where Bob and Mr. Hollywood were having an animated discussion with the armed security guard. All three were looking in my direction and I got a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. I looked away pretending I didn’t see it. Next thing I know Bob is tapping me on the shoulder.
“We have to go now,” he said through clenched teeth. “Say goodbye to your buddies and come back to the table.”
“What? I’m not ready to go! We’re having fun.”
Bob leaned in and whispered, “Get your ass back to the table now,” and he smiled as he gripped my arm and eased me off the barstool.
“We’re leaving. Or should I say we’ve been invited to leave?”
He whipped out his credit card and handed it to the waiter hovering over the table, hand outstretched. He whispered to me, “You, young lady, are disrupting business.”
I started to protest and he shushed me. “Wait until we get outside. Don’t say a word.” Bob turned to Mr. Hollywood, “Take her outside—I’ll be right there after I pay the bill.”
When the three of us were safely in the taxi, Bob relaxed and said, “I don’t believe this—you got us thrown out of the Del Rey! Nobody gets thrown out of the Del Rey!” And we howled with laughter.
We could hardly wait to get back to the Hemingway to tell our friends. I’ve been thrown out of better places.