An Aspenite overseas: Pacing the San Jose streets, attending to know the locals and ready endlessly for Ginger | Information
I learned a few things from the experience:
It was Saturday, Oct. 24, and I was hurtling through Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport — like O.J. Simpson in that famous 1970s rental-car commercial, but without the silly grin. I was trying desperately to make my flight to Costa Rica. Suddenly, I felt my phone vibrating through my jacket pocket.
Ginger Dayan, my girlfriend in San Jose, sent me a message during yet another harried moment. Throughout our 10-month history, she has tended to text or dial at almost comically inopportune times. Which doesn’t necessarily bother me.
The note was delivered in broken English, in her usual breathless manner: “Baby my son is not happy about you coming he was crying and screaming all night he does not understand our relations as we have never had a man in the house I am afraid you will have to get a hotel and I will pick you up and there are some nice hotels near the airport.”
And with that one text message, she shot down a plan that had been in the making for several months: a plan designed to further get both Ginger and her 8-year-old son Isaac on track toward a better life by reversing a monthslong string of bad decisions. A plan contingent upon my staying at her small apartment — not paying for hotel rooms and restaurant meals in the commercial district of Costa Rica’s capital city. Money saved is money that can be spent on “comida for the casa,” we had agreed.
There was no time to text back; boarding was in progress and the Boeing 737-800 was due to leave in 20 minutes. Only one thought ran through my mind: Should I stay or should I go?
At the time, Costa Rica’s government required all visitors to get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of a flight’s departure. With the added privilege of spending $200, I was lucky to get one in a Denver parking lot on a rainy Thursday morning; my flight was scheduled to depart early Saturday. I felt additionally blessed to get the result (negative, or I would not have been able to fly) on Friday morning, about 24 hours after the friendly nurse rammed cotton swabs up both nostrils.
Not only that, but I had to pay for special travel insurance — $15 per day for two weeks, also required by the government — and fill out some sort of health-history form. I also spent nearly $150 on various gifts for her and the boy, plus $50 on the baggage fee for their transport.
Now, suddenly, three hours prior to it all coming to fruition, came the message that essentially said I was not welcome in their home. There was no time for lengthy discussions between two people who communicate mostly through Google Translate. I found the gate, got the forms stamped and my temperature checked and went to my seat. Once settled, I shot her a message — for which there was no reply.
Flying over the Gulf of Mexico and thereafter the Caribbean Sea, waves of anxiety washed over me. A recurrent thought meandered through my mind: “I’m not even there and she’s changing the plan.”
Two different ‘meetings’
Baffled as I was, somehow I was able to muster up good spirits upon meeting her at the airport. Less than a month after the country reopened its borders to visitors, there seemed to be more cabbies in search of fares than arriving travelers.
A quick history: Ginger and I met mid-February during my first-ever trip to Costa Rica. She was working the desk of a hotel at the time, pre-coronavirus. It was one of her jobs in a country where most workers receive paltry wages, yet the prices for food, lodging, basic goods and services rival those in the United States. Costa Rica is one of the wealthiest nations in Latin America but is highly dependent on American tourists; the average worker makes less than $7,000 annually, in U.S. currency. With COVID-19 having shuttered tourism, the country’s economy has been shattered.
San Jose is a very old city — to me it’s the New Orleans of Central America, with its Spanish architecture, crooked sidewalks and “pura vida,” or “simple life,” philosophy. Like New Orleans, the residents are extremely friendly. But, like New Orleans, there also is a dark undertone to the city that often bubbles to the surface. I’ve lived much of my life in the former, and so San Jose feels like home.
I was immediately smitten upon meeting Ginger last winter. We locked eyes, we talked, we drank Imperial (the national beer). Soon, we were holding hands. Sappy? I was reminded of the scene in “The Godfather” in Sicily where Michael Corleone is in exile and, while walking through the dusty hills with his bodyguards, he is “hit by the thunderbolt” upon meeting the would-be love of his life, Apollonia. Most of you probably remember what happened to her.
For the next four days, Ginger and I were usually together. We joked with her friends that we were getting married; to everyone around us, there was an obvious connection. It was love, or perhaps infatuation. When I flew back to Aspen, I was melancholy but fully prepared to let the whole thing go.
Obviously, that didn’t happen.
We made contact in April, a month after COVID-19 started to dominate daily life. It started as a simple “hola” (from her) and morphed into daily and nightly phone conversations using Spanglish and smartphone apps. She kept my spirits up during tedious work days, and I did the same following her job layoff.
Small spats aside, mostly out of frustration with our respective governments’ travel restrictions, we grew to depend on each other. Whenever I called, whatever time of day, she answered. Her smile can light up a room, even through a smartphone or computer screen, and her demeanor is mostly amiable — she goes with the flow, unless she’s experiencing some sort of crisis. Unfortunately, she has had more than her fair share of crises lately.
When she picked me up at the airport, we hugged for what seemed like an eternity. For the first time in months, I was happy. And then we drove in the car she had inaccurately described days earlier as “perfecto” — “Andre, what is this you call the ‘check engine’ light?” — back to San Jose.
Indeed, her son was not going to give me a chance. I witnessed the situation firsthand in a video call. He was losing it.
“I used to be a teacher. I have like 30 nieces and nephews. I’m pretty good with kids,” I said, hopefully.
But Ginger was steadfast.
“I feel like I will be a bad mother for Isaac if you come. If you stay with us, he will scream and throw a fit. It is better for you to be in the hotel,” she replied.
Meanwhile, she was driving way too slow on the highway from the airport to the city and nearly sideswiped a few diesel trucks.
“You should have prepared Isaac for me,” I told her. “We had a plan. As flexible as I am, this is a bad start for the trip. Esto no está bien.” I was proud of myself for making a sentence in Spanish.
“No entiendo,” she said with a laugh. I knew full well she understood me. Then she added, “No hay problema. Everything is OK.”
My other idea was to rent a car to take her and Isaac to the Pacific coast beach, at Jaco. Had my intuition been working and my judgment unclouded, I would have made the decision to go to Jaco alone. There, I could have fished, mellowed on the beach, sipped beers and enjoyed solitude without any aggravation whatsoever.
Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.
Waiting for Ginger
We had a few hours together on that first day, and it was nice. We gambled at the casino connected to the Sleep Inn and turned 10,000 colones into 30,000 colones on the rapid roulette game. That’s not a lot of money, but we were hitting lots of numbers and having fun. She cashed out at the equivalent of $45.
The night ended promptly by 9 p.m., per the nationwide coronavirus curfew, but Ginger promised to be back the next day. I didn’t want to ruin the good vibe by talking about the botched plans, so I bid her good night. She did come back on Sunday, which was our best time together. We drank wine and had a nice dinner and hung out in the room. She showed off her Moonwalk as we danced to old Michael Jackson songs, and I taught her about “the great rock band Van Halen” (Eddie had just passed away) and showed her some music videos from my younger days. She thought “Hot for Teacher” was funny but preferred “Thriller.” I thought she might like Al Green’s music but maybe it was too old for her. We watched a few movies and, for a change, she did not bounce. It would be the only night we had together and it was “perfecto.”
We took Monday off, as we were both tired. That Tuesday, Oct. 27, was my birthday, and it started well enough around 1 p.m. when she brought me a cake. After it got dark, there was a problem at home; her mother was having an issue with the kid, who wasn’t feeling well. Understandable, but it kicked off some bad vibes leading into midweek.
A few times she would say she was “on the way” and never showed up. She’s never been punctual: “10 minutos” in her world can be two hours. But for all of Wednesday and Thursday, I did not see the woman who was the lone impetus behind my trip.
Bored in my comfortable but Americanized room at the Sleep Inn, I switched to a nearby hotel, the Little Havana, at half the price. Online, the cheaper hotel touted hot water and air conditioning. With those two amenities and a bed, I would be reasonably happy. Once I switched, I realized the Havana was a party hotel, and I was glad for the change.
There was a bar and a cafe and a middle-aged lady named Hazel who is the sort of the matriarch of the place. She reminded me of “Miss Kitty” on the old TV series “Gunsmoke” in that she listens to everyone’s problems and tries to help out. She talked me through some rough spots when I was down in the dumps. Hazel was cool.
I spent two days roaming the streets, talking to local residents and tourists alike. There was some fascinating stuff, like the old woman in the city plaza with no legs who sat in a wheelchair and beat on a metal pot and wailed about all the problems in her life and all the death in her family. Like Ginger, she needed money.
Without my friend, I was aimless, in a quandary, but it seemed too late to switch gears and head to the beach. Plus, it was the rainy season and I wasn’t necessarily inspired about making the trip to Jaco.
One afternoon, I went to a sports bar that turned out to be a place where — unknown to me at the time — “ladies of the night” plied their trade. I wasn’t interested, but I did have beers with some pretty young girls. One of them asked me if I would like “to kiss her on the veranda.” I borrowed an old line from Chevy Chase and told her, “No, the lips will be just fine.” They thought I was funny, I guess. We watched raccoons chase a couple of uptight policemen. I wish I had caught that on video.
I watched a lot of CNN election coverage and got tired of the same old stories about how Biden was going to destroy Trump and how Trump was holding “super-spreader” campaign events where people weren’t wearing masks and supporters were later testing positive for COVID-19. I was hopeful that Trump would lose but bored with it all. I left the United States partly to get away from the political rhetoric, and there I was, caught up in it again.
I had some interesting times hanging out in the city, but it was clear to me that the trip had gone awry. Where was Ginger? Was she safe? Was Isaac OK? If she was not going to spend time with me, why didn’t she just cut me loose? Why, for several weeks, did she keep repeating to me how it was “necessario for you to be here.” The more I thought about things, the more stressed out I got.
Friday, Oct. 30, the seventh day of my trip, came quickly. I had no idea if I’d be seeing Ginger. As noon rolled around, “Bella Durmiente” (“Sleeping Beauty,” my nickname for her) had yet to call or text.
Suddenly, she rang and said she had lined up a babysitter. She planned to be at my room around 3 p.m. I replied, “cool,” not really believing it would happen.
But she arrived, and as always when we are actually in the same place, things were great. A day-early Halloween party was set to start around 4 p.m. and promised to be a little wild.
For starters, there were about 20 good-looking women at the party, all in heavy makeup and costumed. I was the only male in the room who was not a hotel employee. I was getting a lot of attention and enjoyed the hell out of it.
Ginger shrieked and ran toward a woman she knew but had not seen in years. A familiar face, Natalie, was dressed as Snow White in a self-made costume. They embraced. A DJ played electronica music from the corner — not my style, but it fit the occasion. Things were looking up.
Everyone was masked but having fun nonetheless, dirty dancing and taking shots of guaro. It’s a clear, sugarcane-based alcohol, as popular as tequila to some people, and it will definitely get you going. Others were drinking the house vodka with cranberry juice. For about two or three hours, the three of us had a fantastic time. Others joined our party, as we were the group having the most fun.
Unbeknownst to me, some in our circle were putting drinks on my tab, and as the party wound down, I was told I owed around $150. It wasn’t too terrible, as the same bill in Aspen would have been four times that.
At 8 p.m., the babysitter called, upset that Ginger had not paid her in advance. I then passed some funds to her via PayPal. For whatever reason, the transaction went through on my end but not hers. To this day, we have no idea what happened, but it ruined our night.
The babysitter told Ginger she must pick up the boy right away. The 9 p.m. public health curfew loomed fast. Moving toward the door, Ginger told me to hang out with Natalie, adding that “all is good” but that she must go home.
I pleaded that she was too drunk to drive. She said there was nothing else she could do; the text message from the babysitter was harsh (I saw it) and she feared for Isaac’s welfare.
She left abruptly, and I went over to our table where Natalie was almost passed out with her head in her arms. I told Natalie she could stay in my room as she also was too drunk to drive (that was Ginger’s plan for her friend anyway).
As it turned out, she and I ended up having a great time — platonically, of course.
Her English was good. She took delight in singing classic rock songs, all of which were out of key and horrifically loud. She butchered lyrics at every opportunity.
“American woman! Stay away from here!” she bellowed.
She then opened the Beatles songbook inside her head.
“JoJo was a woman lived in Arizona! Get back! Get back! Get back to where you once was wrong!”
“Andre, you are such a good man. And very intelligent. Tell me about this story of JoJo, the woman in the Beatles song.”
At this point, Ginger’s absence began to take its toll on my mood.
“‘JoJo was a man who thought he was a loner.’ That’s how the song really goes, Natalie. JoJo was not a woman. And, it’s ‘get back to where you once belonged.’”
“I need more drink. Why you have nothing to drink in the room?”
“It’s 3 o’clock, Natalie. There’s no alcohol anywhere. Everything is closed. There is a curfew. And the security guard does not want to be bothered. You should go to sleep. It’s late and I am tired,” I said.
“I’ll be right ba-a-a-ack,” she retorted, somewhat devilishly.
Sure enough, one hour later, she returned with three bottles of some kind of vodka-juice concoction. Natalie drank half a bottle of whatever it was and passed out in her Snow White costume. She snored like an old sailor. I liked it. There was no mystery to Natalie.
And while she slept, as the sun rose on Saturday, I called Expedia and changed my departing flight to Sunday. I had salvaged some fun out of a messy and disappointing trip but was ready to return home, a full week early. It was clear that Ginger was having problems and didn’t want my input or involvement. Maybe she had good reasons, maybe not. She wasn’t very good at explanations.
It was time to wave the white flag of surrender.
I slept most of Saturday, well into the next morning. A private shuttle driver got me to the airport on Sunday afternoon with lightning speed during a steady rain. It was all for naught, though, as the flight to Houston was delayed two hours due to the bad weather.
I had a big lump in my throat as I boarded the plane. I had been disrespected by the woman I loved and wasn’t even sure what happened. It was sad. The rain hit the window hard as the 737 lifted off the runway. I asked for, and received, two mini bottles of bourbon and downed them quickly.
Coincidentally, the first song that came on the radio when I started my car at midnight in Denver was “Get Back!” by the Beatles. I laughed and thought of Natalie and her crazy brand of fun.
I didn’t communicate with Ginger for almost two weeks. She texted me in mid-November, with an apology for all that had happened. “I am a stupid girl,” she said. “I have problems.” I was cordial and told her she was not stupid but maybe hard-headed, with a penchant for making unnecessary trouble for herself and others.
“I think we have bad luck sometimes,” I said. “Mala suerte.”
We have spoken a couple of times since, and occasionally it’s pleasant and other times not so much. Being that she’s the first woman I have seriously pursued in several years, I am having a hard time writing her off. But I don’t think I have the patience for all the tardiness and poor decisions.
We would need a minor miracle to move forward. Should I play the lottery? If $100,000 were to drop out of the sky, would I consider giving it another go, as it seems a lot of our issues relate to government red tape and lack of money?
She still thinks of us as a “couple.” To me, we are “star-crossed.”