This is part eight in my ongoing Friday feature to regale the story of how I came to live here and why I decided to stay. If you've just joined us, I've posted seven links to the previous seven parts below if you'd like to catch up. I have been asked if this is a true story or if there've been any embellishments, and I'd like to make it very clear that every part of this story is in fact true with the exception of some of the names.
I called Gary to give him the good news and to let him know how much of a coward the attorney he was paying for was during the court proceedings. He congratulated me on having the charges dismissed, and asked when I could get a flight down there. It was pretty easy getting my passport, and I had actually started the process a couple months before, just in case. So I was pretty much ready to leave at any time, and at this point pretty eager because I couldn't shake the feeling that I needed to get out of there before someone in the legal system changed their mind. I told Gary that I would be on the next flight that I could book, but I had no idea about living arrangements as I didn't really get chance to go apartment shopping online. He told me not to worry about it and that he already had an apartment arranged for me and that his Russian lawyer was going to give me a call about the details.
Pretty cool, I thought, I didn't even have to live in a hotel for a bit which was what I thought was going to be the case. This was all starting to come together pretty nice, actually. I got a call that night from a girl named Katya with a velvety voice and a thick accent who asked me some questions like my passport number, how many bedrooms I would need, and how many people would be living with me. Feeling in a joking mood, I asked my own questions to her.
"Are you really Russian?", I asked her.
"Yes I am, why?", she responded confusedly.
"Say 'moose and squirrel' for me real quick," I commanded assertively.
"Mous eend skvuhrl", she responded.
"Yeah, that's how I thought you'd say it...you pass"
I opted for a two-bedroom with the intention of my son Joshua coming down to visit me often. In fact, every house or apartment I had owned since he was three years old has had a room specifically for him, even if I only saw him once a month. She told me to my place would have a beautiful view of San Jose, and that I would be right next door to the British school of Costa Rica.
After the business part of the conversation was over, we talked for a little bit and I even got to practice a little Russian with her with some pretty embarrassing results. I was obviously pretty rusty... She told me that Gary had a picture of my mug shot printed out and sent around the office down there and that some of the girls were asking about me. I told her that I was single, but not really looking, and didn't go into detail as to why. But I told her that I was looking forward to meeting her and everyone else, and I was sure we would all work well together.
I got a flight with the Dutch Airlines out of Miami to San Jose, and my sister Paula and I took a long drive to the airport early in the morning. Having grown up in Fort Lauderdale, I felt as though I were taking some kind of backwards moving tour of my life in Florida. At the time, I was positive that I would not miss the place. My family moved to South Florida in the mid-70s and I had watched it grow from a laid-back beach environment where not many people lived, to an overcrowded smog filled metropolis that stretched from South Miami all the way to West Palm Beach like a concrete scar. The state parks that I once ran around and swam in were replaced with an overkill of shopping malls and overpriced subdivisions. I wasn't going to miss this place at all.
Due to my sister's work schedule, I ended up hanging out in the airport for about six hours before my flight was supposed to leave. I spent that time people watching and taking in as much of the sights, sounds and smells of America before I left it for a long time. The more I observed, the more comfortable in this huge life decision I felt. But as I write this now, I do say that I miss my home country often. For all of its faults, it is my home, and I look forward to visiting there again soon.
Being me, and given that I had six hours to work with, of course I almost missed my flight. An unnecessarily large combo meal from Burger King put me to sleep for about two hours on a bench in the terminal. But I made it with about 40 seconds to spare before they closed off the terminal. And as I watched both Florida and the United States of America shrink below the plane, I felt something that I was told that I had all of my life, but didn't really experience and appreciate it until that very moment.
It was late in the evening when we landed in San Jose, and Gary was waiting inside the terminal for me. I hadn't seen him in a few months, and he had lost a lot of weight and was dressed in a slick Cuban looking shirt with cargo pants and sandals. Katya, the Russian lawyer who I spoke with was there with him and I was taken a little aback when she greeted me with a kiss on the cheek as opposed to a handshake. She was every bit as cute as she sounded, but I'm one of those people that doesn't really like their personal space invaded unless it's somebody I am very close with. But apparently this was the customary greeting down here, and I didn't really expect any kind of culture shock so soon after just stepping out of the damn plane.
I grabbed my luggage which consisted of three normal sized suitcases. One was for my clothes, the other for books, photos, and mementos. The third suitcase contained my trusty desktop computer that I've had and upgraded since 2002, completely disassembled with both hard drives backed up onto about 50 DVDs. All in all, pretty light packing for someone moving their entire life. The four carloads of stuff that I had moved from the apartment Megan I shared was now in storage in Leesburg.
As I walked out of the terminal and into the night air, the cool and cleanly fragrant breeze welcomed me to my new home. I couldn't believe how clear the night was over the airport, there weren't enough lights even there to block out a clear view of the stars. I was right outside of a major international airport, and yet it smelled and felt like I had just climbed out of a tent and into a campground. There were scattered lights on the many mountains in the background, and you could see some light coming from San Jose. But the lack of streetlights, illuminated billboards, and neon signs to mask the stars with light pollution made every star in the sky look as clear as an evening in the Smokey Mountains.
I saw two cat sized iguanas scurry around underneath the parked cars of the lot on our way to Gary's car and thought it was about the coolest thing I had ever seen. We left the airport and got on the highway which had very few cars and no illumination whatsoever. On our way to my new apartment building, I took in as much of the sites as I could. None of the streets had any names, and there was no apparent grid system of streets and avenues inasmuch as there were meandering paths through neighborhoods that just so happened to be paved.
My apartment building / place of work was in the section of San Jose that was sanctioned off as the embassy district. I was going to be living only a few hundred meters from the president of Costa Rica himself. And it was a very swank neighborhood with stately homes, and the flag of a different nation flying in front of the small office buildings that separated them. At the end of the main boulevard stood my complex, and it was a four story flamingo pink square that stuck out like a sore thumb even in the darkness of night. I think I knew then why Gary got such a deal on the place as we pulled in. It looked like somebody took some strawberry milk powder and made a sand castle out of it with a lunch box. Oh well...at least I worked right down stairs.
Gary told me I had the next two days to get settled in before I was to start working again. The server still had to be installed and all of the workstations had to be networked and configured, but he wasn't in a rush. He was really legitimately happy to see me and was really giddy at the prospect of the earning potential down here. We made plans to meet up for lunch the next day at his place, and he handed me the keys to my new apartment. The security guy, an American named Darrell who looked like Martin Lawrence's head on Mr. T's body helped me out with my luggage and showed me how to use the intercom system.
The apartment was huge. It was bigger than some of the houses I had grown up in with giant windows that gave an almost uninterrupted view of the city from anywhere you could sit. It was already stocked with some really nice hardwood furniture and a fairly large TV in both the living room and the master bedroom. I spent almost a half hour just wandering around the place saying "Well, damn.." and "Ok then.."over and over again. My bed was enormous and had a down mattress with equally fluffy pillows, and I had more closet space than some people I knew had living space. The bathroom had a really big shower area that was set in stone, and there was even toilet paper already stocked in the closet. It really didn't sink in that this was MY place for quite a few days.
Even though there was a really nice bed, there were no sheets and blankets, so I spent my first night there sleeping under a pile of my clothes. It was alot chillier than I expected, but that was probably due to the altitude. I was tired, but sleep didn't come easy as I couldn't get my mind to shut up. I didn't want to affirm to myself that my life had turned around, and that luck had finally come my way. There was a part of me that was scared that if I did that, it would signal God to play another one of his twisted pranks on me. But I did eventually slip into sleep, and I dreamed of new worlds and new opportunities that may have finally been mine...