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GENTLY RIDE THE BRAKE, BUT BEWARE THE SCORPION IN THE FOOTWELL

by

James Hughes



This account took place in Mal Pais (virtually untouched beach land) & San Jose (a central city). Both areas are located in Costa Rica, the gorgeous jewel of Central America that is now inhabited by the mudsliding Lollapalooza crowd from mid-1992. These events, scattered as they may be, occurred between March 10-19th, 2003.

Here's where the problem begins: you offer a ride to a buck-toothed bumbler from Nantucket who, in return, offers you and your fellow riders a shortcut, a very exclusive shortcut, one that cuts straight through the riverbeds that have dried to a crust in the summer air and formed roads (somewhat) suitable for driving. The drive speedbumps over camel humps, the kind of jumps that loosen ovaries and jackhammer molar cavities, and, throughout it all, you enjoy the silence - that is, the silence you can filter out over the rumble of the only automatic engine currently available on the entire peninsula. The silence is broken when Nantucket sighs fuck-it and asks for you to flip on the radio. Shotgun says "Sure," but can't quite figure out the buttons, so you reach over and fumble with the dial while trying to maintain ten-and-two-o'clock, all the while grinding radial tracks into the dried camel humps like forks creasing through a lump of mashed potatoes. The radio crackles and then settles. Then you laugh - first to yourself, then along with Backseat and Shotgun - when McCartney honey-drips the opening line of "The Loooong and Winding Road..." Appropriate indeed, considering you've just skimmed an uphill curve and swerved from a shirtless bike rider whose slamming the brakes while casually shouldering the sweat from his bronzed earlobe. Laughter ripples through the rental, but Nantucket clearly doesn't get it so you decide to sod it and not ramble on about Spector's slapped-on schoolgirl choir during the bridge - as if the original Preston solo shouldn't-ah-been pressed into THAT vinyl. Nantucket joins the laugh late and chalks the chuckle up to everyone pinpointing yet another sappy piano ballad from the 60's, though the only Liver spilled in this Pool is merely part of a delicious recipe, one that this passenger's pudgy palette will never be able to taste.

Nervous moments pass as the rental begins to dip between the road's dusty grooves like a waiter trying to scurry a tray of pina coladas down the hull of a sinking cruise-liner. Remember, the only Cruise liner notes for this trip are "don't spill your Cocktail."

So the rental braves along and you soak in the sounds of the shortcut, managing somehow to tune out the Hootie tunes that are now leaking in through the car's speakers. The track fades and the next one slinks in - and at this point you know it's socially acceptable to draw the line. You've avoided scorpions slipping into your Jack Purcells thus far on the trip, but clearly you can't avoid Scorpions infiltrating the rental's shoddy sound system. The whistle intro of "Wings of Change" creeps in through the crackle and you'd put your foot down if only you weren't gingerly riding the brake pedal with the toe of your sneaker. How could you not speak out against such a mismatched soundtrack? Backseat and Shotgun, lulled by the slipping sites of turquoise cabinas and the pimpled tree bark that resembles unwrapped Hershey Kisses, have completely forgotten about the Video Music Awards and Scorpions' unprecedented scoop (they DID win, didn't they? Maybe I'm wrong, it could've been Best German).

For four solid minutes you drive in silence through the high-fret guitar solos and lonesome West whistling - that's Berlin, not Barstow - and at last, the road dissolves into beach and you can finally kill the engine and escape the long, drawn-out outro, ("Taaa-aaaake me, to the magic of the moment, on a glorrrry night-!")

You part ways with Nantucket and grease a bucket of 30 sun block onto your lobstered wrists and prepare to missile through the ocean, praying that the waves will speedbag your eardrums and flush the metal ballad melodies now swirling around in your head.


Days passed and the blisters continued to blimp across my flip-flopped toes and a scroll of pink skin slowly unfurled from my pasty, Euro-mutt forehead, (should've used the 50), but otherwise the trip is wonderful. When we tire of retiring in hammocks still damp from the morning rain (the ropes smell of wet library books) me and my trusty Calgarian decide to hitch a ride to the main inland city and take photos of the type-o'd typography above the shanty storefronts. Once we fill our waterproof disposables with ample examples, we hightail to the nearest bar and proceed to drain a cluster of brown bottles down to the foam. As we offer a bundle of bills for a check that merely requires coins, we decide it's time to shell out the $5 gringo fee and check out the exhibit of pre-Columbian gold artifacts at the city's top history museum. She really wants to go, this lovely Calgarian, for she has a soft spot for Play-Doh gold. So I offer no complaints and stand T-shaped while a museum guard with a buzzing paddle checks my midsection for metal. We pass the checkpoint with ease and the Calgarian resists the urge to breeze through the mouse pads at the gift shop, which is located - taa-dah! - right up front. No, no, dear, that thumbing-through will have to wait until AFTER the grazing is complete.

So we slink down the stairs and everyone stares when they see the bumbling whites trying to make light of the archeological sights. Those models huts are one step from exposed Lincoln Log guts, my friend, please don't tell me this is what we paid for.

The trip to the bar has made me tipsy, enough so that the Calgarian leads me to a darkened room off in the wings where we sit on thinly-cushioned fold-up chairs and sober up while watching a translated documentary about Costa Rican burial rituals and gold-plated Tucans. As the credits roll and we scurry out of the darkened crescent, I realize I need to regain my bearings and stop teasing the stuffed tigers with pipe-cleaner for whiskers or the tour group barreling in on us will become suspicious and the museum guards will surely dismiss us and diss us in Spanish. The lovely Calgarian digs her nails into my arm, further browning the bruise she left last week during a particularly wobbly wave of whiteknuckle turbulence.

"Slow down" she mouths and I quickly fill it with a secret kiss, though the secret is out and the observant museum guard to my left is wagging the antenna of his walkie-talkie in a very deliberate, schoolyard tsk-tsk. I nod politely and force a marble-mouthed smile.

"Si," I offer. Anything beyond this brief exchange requires a crash course in pocket phrase books.

"Get a hold of yourself," the Calgarian laughs. "Seriously."

"Right, right," I reply. "You're right."

So quickly I scroll through the Rolodex in my mind, hoping to find a suitable distraction - some kind of mantra that I can mumble to humble myself and refrain from conversing further with the stuffed howler monkeys, (they're friendlier than you'd think). And wouldn't you know it, the Rolo rolls on "S" and God bless, this new mantra has hopes of becoming a success. I can't whistle but the hum of that haunting Scorpions lick does the trick and yes indeed these winds are changing...







ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Hughes is based in Chicago and is the Editor of Broken Wrist Project. As a kid, he was obsessed with the rankings of three. In fact, he admits that it still governs his thought process.




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