I screamed out of the bus terminal to the line of identical red taxis waiting for arrivals. Immediately they all started calling to me in one, incomprehensible Spanish chatter. I yelled to them, obviously in distress, “Does anyone speak English? I need help! Ayudarme!”
I had only been in Costa Rica for a week. I was still getting my bearings, reaching into the depths of my memory for what Spanish I could muster in daily conversation. Until then, I had been feeling spry, fresh, and unbeatable.
Traveling by bus from Playa Del Coco to San Jose for an interview, I hoped to land a teaching gig in the capital. It was a three-hour ride on a decent bus, which wasn’t unlike the greyhounds we have in the States. As we neared the capital, the traffic piled up and we were almost at a standstill on a narrow road in the smoggy, humid heat. Children were huddled together on the cluttered sidewalks, and one threw a melting ice cream at the bus. It hit directly behind my open window. Then, just like that, we pulled into the bus station, which could very easily have been mistaken for a chop-shop back at home—kind of disguised and misleading for a bus station that connects to the entire country.
When I called the school, the recruiter had suggested we set up our interview at a McDonalds restaurant near his home. Ironic—seeing how I didn’t frequent McDonalds in the States, and it took going to Costa Rica to get me there. All the same, maybe neutral ground was best. McDonalds’ are like termites—where there is one, there are probably a million more. San Jose is no exception, and I had to find this one particular McDonalds located in the north end.
I brought my computer with me, planning to share some of my lesson plans from teaching in South Korea. I figured it was a great way to prove my competence and ability as an experienced teacher/traveler. Boy, had I made a rookie mistake.
The interview went well. I basically hung out with the owner of an English-for-business company, and we hit it off. He told me I’d be perfect for the job, but pay was relatively low. I told him I’d think about it and get back to him by the end of the week. Boom! We exchanged business cards, shook hands, and off he went. Perfect, I thought. I still had time to make it to the bus station and back to Playa Del Coco for a proper celebration with beer, babes, and the beach.
I made it back to the bus station a half hour before the bus was to depart, and decided to change out of my classiest shoes (hiking boots) and into my sandals. I sat on a curb in the open-air bus terminal and untied my laces. I flipped my daypack off my shoulders and it felt, light, very light, as if…almost empty! I ripped it open. Where is my ****ing laptop? It flashed before my eyes—like things do in this situation—and I pictured it sitting in the chair where I had been sitting at McDonalds.
I needed to get to a McDonalds on the other side of town, fast. Thankfully one of the taxi drivers I was screaming at had lived in Orlando, Fla., for eight years and spoke English pretty well. I kid you not, his name was Jesus. We jumped in his taxi and peeled off, squealing tires down the road. I told him not to worry about the meter, that I’d pay him more than it was worth to get me there fast—and did he ever. With reggaeton screaming from the radio and my heart matching the beat, the car cringed as he jerked it back and forth between traffic. Taxis normally drive like crazy in San Jose but this dude was gunning it around corners, bursting through red lights, and driving on the wrong side of the road to get me there. We almost got in multiple wrecks in about a ten-minute trip. He was my hero.
The whole time I was freaking out, calling myself every name I could think of, basically banging my head against the passenger window. Jesus just kept calm, repeating, “Pura Vida, man, Pura Vida,” as he smiled and patted me on the shoulder, all the while racing around San Jose like a bootlegger on the run.
He parked the car, basically in the middle of the road, and we both jumped out. We ran into McDonalds and he shoved his way to the front of all the hungry customers. He asked the young girl behind the counter about it, as I frantically looked around the restaurant, as if I’d magically find it sitting neatly in the corner. After a long minute, he turned around grinning ear to ear. “They have it!” he said, “It is safe in the office. They will bring it now.”
Relief, oh what sweet relief. In that moment, all my charming Spanish phrases came back, and I said to the girl behind the counter, “Mi amor, mi corozon, te amo!”
I took my laptop and, just like that, we were off again. Jesus started the car and we bolted. Again, he ran red lights and passed chicken buses, honking his horn at everyone like we just robbed a bank. Meanwhile, I sang the words, “Pura Vida,” as I jammed to Raggaeton. After a minute of rejoicing with my new best friend, I told him it was okay now, that we didn’t need to hurry. He looked to me and said, “You need the bus. It will leave in ten minutes!”
And wouldn’t you know it, he made it back in time for the bus, just as it started to pull off! I told him he saved my career, my life’s work, and me from a complete Costa Rican failure. I gave him a well-deserved tip—basically enough for him to need not work for a day or two—and we shook hands. I ran to the bus and flashed my little paper ticket to the driver. Before the bus pulled away, I yelled to him, “Pura Vida, Jesus!” To the beach I soared, laptop in hand.