You were conceived in the middle of a San José rush hour.
All right, that’s a lie. (Did I make you throw up a little there? I’m sorry.) But even if you weren’t, someone must have been. Think about it. This is a city where an enterprising, or perhaps very bored, reporter wandered around on foot last year during the hora pico, as this daily ordeal is known, interviewing exasperated drivers through their car windows. When he came back around the block and recognized the same drivers, he did some quick calculations and realized that they were moving at a rate of one kilometer per hour. That’s right: one kilometer per hour. In urban sludge that thick, people do lots of things to pass the time. They straighten their hair, buy the cell-phone covers and roses proffered by strolling salesmen and women, watch movies on the DVD players they have installed on their windscreens in a special affront to road safety, perform root canals, make five-course dinners on dashboard hot plates. It stands to reason that people must be taking advantage of the proximity of a totally immobile back seat, plus a spouse, or carpool member, or perhaps a passing pedestrian who, compared to the cars, is moving at the speed of LIGHT and therefore seems inordinately powerful and attractive and worthy of a spontaneous shag.
This post is not particularly appropriate for my little daughter’s innocent ears, and it’s not going to improve; better save this one until you’re fifty or so. Because I have to tell you that my definition of a San José resident is a person who fantasizes about urban planning instead of sex. I am absolutely serious. It’s worse during the rainy season, when your bus or taxi is like a sauna because the windows have to stay up, and your pants or skirt or socks or all of the above are sopping wet, and you’re going the wrong way up a steep one-way street the width of a bike lane because it’s the only way your taxista can figure to get around this one nasty spot, but you’re at a standstill anyway because fifty other cars and an 18-wheeler had the same idea, and you would rather rip your eyeballs out with your fingers than sit in the traffic for one more minute.
I could write multiple epic novels about San José traffic – they could be read aloud during mealtimes in Hell – but suffice it to say that at times like this, a gorgeous figure leaps into my mind. He resembles Gandhi, but is wearing fatigues (bear with me here) and is extremely buff. He has to be, because he is hoisting Wile E. Coyote-style barrels of TNT above both shoulders. That’s just how I picture the benevolent despot who would have to seize power in Costa Rica in order to fix the traffic situation, but who, after sorting things out, would hand power back over and allow democracy to resume. He stares at me and addresses me in the voice of Barry White.
Me: What are you going to do for me first?
Gandhi/Barry: Baby, first I’m gonna dynamite the Outlet Mall and the surrounding three blocks and build an East-side terminal to reduce bus traffic in San José.
Me: Ooh, that’s right. Right there. And can a shard from the blast kill the guy who is in charge of keeping the buses lined up on the other side of the street to block the intersection for no reason so people can’t make a right turn?
Gandhi/Barry: Absolutely. I’ll name my cross-town elevated bullet train after him. Then I’ll vaporize everyone who texts while driving, thereby reducing the population by approximately 72%, and turn all the roundabouts into four-way intersections with proper computerized traffic lights.
Me: Oh, God. Yes. Don’t stop.
And so forth.
Fortunately, the Spanish language is full of delightful words for messes, turning disasters into poetry. French may be the language of love and English the language of business, but Spanish is the language to turn to when you’re screwed, disorganized, pissed off, or ass over tincups. There’s desmadre, despelote, despiche, lío, and the eloquent cagada, a big ol’ crap, just to name a few. I still remember how overjoyed I was when I first heard the phrase “cagar en la olla de leche,” to crap in the pot of milk, a description so vivid that it makes me want to screw up just so I can say it. My favorite, though, is furris. I don’t know where this comes from, but I find that estar furris – to be up Shit Creek without a paddle, as your grandfather has been known to say – is a satisfying phrase. It makes me think of a happy, furry little puppy, which is reassuring, but also captures the feel of the giant, hairy, horrible mess that is crossing this city at five o’clock on a Friday. Not to mention a Friday that’s also a pay day. Or a Friday close to Mother’s Day. Or a Friday when it’s raining, or when it might rain, or when there is a soccer game sometime in the next month. You know how it is. Estamos furris.
My dear, I so fervently hope that, should you live in this city when you’re bigger, it will have found a way to a less furry existence. Your beloved Chepe and lovely Costa Rica deserve so much better. But I fear that you, too, will someday hear Barry White’s voice in your ear as you sit in the back of a taxi. Unless taxis fly by the time you read this. In which case, I sincerely hope I’m already dead.
I like to end these little essays with something positive. It’s been hard to come up with anything in this case, since the spectacular gridlock is certainly the worst thing about living here. The one good thing I can say about it is that it led me to motherhood. The only way I could think of to get myself out of all these godawful traffic jams was to procreate so I’d be forced to work from home. I did, and it changed my life. I’ve only been in three or four really terrible traffic jams in the past couple years, and that’s all because of you. So thanks. You were born for the sole purpose of saving your mother from the hora pico.