Friday, August 14, 2009

Texas Jim - San Isidro, Costa Rica




The border between Panama and Costa Rica was chaotic, jammed with travelers wandering around dazed in the heat and dust. I followed the others from my bus, not knowing where I was going. The bus driver was no help, a cranky little bastard from the get-go.

We trudged into a building where immigration officers checked our luggage, packed up and moved off to another building to get a stamp in our passport, then stood in another sweaty line-up to pay a ten-dollar fee for entry into Costa Rica. We returned, exhausted by the stifling heat, to the bus and waited while the engine was torn apart and put back together by immigration officers, who then strode up and down the bus for a final check of our stamps and visas.

After four hours of standing in line-ups and being checked and double-checked, we were finally on the road, but within the hour our journey to San Isidro was delayed by a bridge washed out by floods. The bus driver, cursing and muttering, almost stripped the gears as he pulled over. Gingerly we stepped down into the muddy road and wandered off to wait. Haphazard shacks made from faded billboards and lean-tos housing sweaty, dark vendors sold food and household goods and kiosks were set up for refreshments. White plastic tables and chairs were scattered around the uneven ground.

San Isidro Costa Rica

I walked around for a while then returned and surveyed the tables and chairs, wondering where to sit. An old fellow waved me over.
'Have a seat,' he said, pointing to the chair opposite him. 'I'm Jim.' I shook his hand. As we talked he told me he was 75 years old and had eight kids, two of whom, he said, were multi-millionaires. I ordered a beer.

As we drank he told me that he had worked at Enron in Houston as an engineer for twenty years. Now he was divorced and retired and living in Guatemala in a house that only cost him $150 a month, with maid, and that's where he was headed. 'If that bus ever gets back on the goddamned road.'

He had thick white hair and bushy blonde eyebrows and fidgeted on his seat, and although he was a shipwreck that had been underwater for ten years now, he was still a good-looking man. His hands shook as he drank his beer.

'You having another?' he asked before tottering off to buy two more.

'Is that your beer?' He looked surprised at the unopened beer on the table when he returned.
'Nope, that’s yours,' I said.
'Is it?' He pretended he didn’t remember buying it for me earlier and popped it open. 'Oh well, I’ve only had four beers now so one more won’t hurt.'
'No you haven’t. You've had at least six.' I looked down at all the empty beer tins on the table.
'Oh, you’re counting. You sound like my ex-wife.'
'Right.'
'You know what Rodney Dangerfield said. He said, me and my wife were very happy, and then we met each other.'
'That’s funny.'
'And what was that other one. You know.  My wife and I never argued the whole time we were married. I didn’t want to interrupt.'
'That's really funny.'
'Why do men die before their wives?'
'I don't know.'
'Well, guess.'
'I can't.'
'Because they bloody well want to.'

He told joke after joke about marriage, swigging his beer and yelping yippee every now and again.
'Ya know, I could just stay right here and get a hotel room. Wouldn’t bother me a bit.'
'I don't think there's a hotel around here,' I said, looking around.
'Well, that's a damned shame. I'm starting to enjoy myself.'
'I think we’re getting back on the bus soon, and there's no bathroom on the bus.'
'Well I just had four beers and I’ve pissed out two so I should be okay.'

We got back on the bus and as a result of the bridge not being fixed, we took a scenic detour down by the Pacific and then back up to San Isidro. I wondered about Jim in the back and his bladder and how he was doing. I was glad I didn’t drink much because the cranky little bastard from the get-go would never have stopped to let me out if I'd had to go. But soon enough we were pulling into the bus station at San Isidro. Everybody was collecting their stuff from the overhead compartments when I heard Jim's voice from the back.

'Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Let me pass!' He was frantically pushing his way through the bus.
'I gotta piss! I’m gonna piss my pants if I don’t get offa this bus! Lemme through!'
He charged out of the bus and galloped over to the bathroom on his bad legs. A burly fellow stopped him, wanting payment before letting him into the washroom, but Jim pushed him back and said he was gonna piss all over him if he didn't get through - Now!

I walked down to the hotel that he had recommended and as I looked at it I wondered why I had taken him even remotely seriously.   But there I was. A complete dive, it was on the main strip right across from a local bus station. My dark, stuffy room smelled like a freight-train of dirty shorts and home-rolled cigarettes. But I was too hot and exhausted to look for something else. I took a shower and rested before going out for a walk, only to bump into Jim coming out of a tavern. He was carrying a plastic bag.
'Why don't you join me for a few drinks later?' He held up the bag and burped.
'Thanks. Maybe later,' I said.

I ate a brilliant seafood dinner in town, had a few drinks, talked with some people, then walked back to the hotel, but before going to my room I told the woman behind the desk not to give out my room number to anybody, for any reason. I read my book for a while before dozing off, but it didn't seem like too long before I was awoken by someone shouting and banging in the hallway below as they wrestled with all the doorknobs. I sat up on my elbows and thought I must have been dreaming, because along with all the banging I kept hearing a name echoing throughout the building.
'Naaaaaancy! Naaaaaaancy! Where you at? Naaaanceeee!'

I lay in my bed with my eyes open, not moving, waiting for the echo of his voice to fade when I heard a thump, a door hit a wall, another thump and then a door slamming. And that was the last I ever heard from Texas Jim.