Tico Time: In which I debunk some stereotypes and affirm others

In preparation for my trip, I read a couple of books on Costa Rica, so I thought I had a pretty good idea what the culture would be like here. I was mistaken—not because the culture is so different from mine, but because in many ways it is more similar than I expected.

Pura Vida!

Sad to say, I have only heard the phrase “pura vida” once since I’ve been here, and it was me saying it to the taxi driver. I think this national slogan may have become such a cliché that the Ticos (Costa Rican people) avoid saying it. Que mal!

Tico Time

I had read that, as in many Latin American countries, schedules and appointments are more of a suggestion than exact rules in Costa Rica, so I was surprised to find that the buses here seem to be more punctual than in most American cities I’ve visited. Seriously, Albany, get your shit together, because Costa Rica has this dialed. Granted I’ve only been here three days, but I’ve seen no indication of this relaxed idea of time. It is true that (in smaller towns at least) a lot of businesses close in the middle of the afternoon, but they keep their posted hours.

Downtown Alajuela


I was told that Ticos are extremely friendly and welcoming, and that Americans have a reputation of being somewhat cold and antisocial (and I’m notorious even among Americans for excelling at both of these traits), so I went out of my way to greet strangers I passed in the streets with a friendly “Hola!”

Okay, first of all, not very many Ticos say “hola.” Neither do they use the standard Spanish greetings, Buenos/as Dias/Tardes/Noches. The greeting I hear most often is simply “Buenas.” Easy, right? Any time of the day, you just say “Buenas,” and you’re covered. It doesn’t make much sense, literally speaking, but then neither does saying “Morning,” to someone.

Alajuela, obviously

Second, there’s a difference between “friendly” and “outgoing,” and there’s also a difference between “friendly” and “intimate.” Ticos tend to be friendly. They aren’t necessarily outgoing, in the sense of greeting strangers on the street. Nor does striking up a conversation with a stranger on the street mean you are going to be invited back to their house for dinner that evening. A better word than friendly might be agreeable or amiable. Costa Rica is a very small, rather insular country, so there’s a feeling of everybody being in this together—and they’re well aware how much of their economy relies on tourism, so they are helpful to foreigners. Just don’t expect to become best amigos with everybody in town as soon as you arrive. People do seem fairly happy, a fact that I attribute primarily to the climate. I’m sorry, but there’s a reason that people in Buffalo and Philadelphia are grumpy.

Walking home from the corner store

That said, I honestly don’t find the people here much different from the people in Grand Rapids or anywhere else. When I was going to visit New York, I was told that New Yorkers are rude. No, they aren’t. They’re just busy and a little brusque and loud. Because they have to be. I think we love to characterize people from other places as being somehow different from us. But mostly they aren’t. Ticos are just like you and me, except shorter and browner. I took Uber home from Alajuela, and when the driver was having trouble finding me, I gave him the description “Soy el hombre mas alto en Alajuela” (“I am the tallest man in Alajuela”).


There’s a hilarious section in my Costa Rica guidebook in which the authors take great pains to neither condemn nor endorse the chauvinistic bent of Latin American cultures. In particular, they suggest that if you’re a woman and a Costa Rican man whistles at you in the street, you should try to take it as a compliment.

Words to live by

There is definitely more adherence to gender stereotypes here than in the U.S. I’ve never seen a female cab (or Uber) driver, for example, and the stores in places like Alajuela love to hire pretty young girls to hawk their wares. (And then there’s the whole legalized prostitution thing, which is a whole other topic.)

I once confronted a douchebag in New York who was making suggestive comments at a girl in the street, because cultural differences be damned, this guy was being an asshole. But–and I know this sounds a little crazy–the whistling thing here is completely different. The two times I noticed it, it was a very subtle, high-pitched whistle, almost as if the guy didn’t want the girl to know who was making the noise. The New Yorker I had words with was pretty obviously sexually propositioning the girl, but the Ticos seem to basically just be saying “You’re a pretty woman, and somebody has noticed it.” I suspect that this behavior is frowned on by the more “sophisticated” elements of Costa Rican society, but I actually thought it seemed pretty harmless and even kind of sweet. Not that I’m going to be trying it anytime soon, either in Costa Rica or anywhere else.

“What is that on your shirt?” Norma says to me as I’m leaving for Alajuela. “It looks like the end of the world.”

More to come!

Bienvenidos a Costa Rica!

By now you probably know that I’ve fled to Costa Rica for the remainder of the winter. While I like living in Grand Rapids, the winters are a bit much to take, and last year I decided there was no way I was doing another full Michigan winter. So here I am.

Gratuitous nipple shot

Why Costa Rica? Well, for starters, it’s warm. Costa Rica supposedly has the best climate on Earth; I’m three days in and I can’t complain. We’ve had highs in the low 80s with moderate humidity and a nice breeze. At night it cools off into the 60s. I’m here until March 16, but I guess the weather is pretty much like this year round. I think I can manage.

Mi casa

Costa Rica is also relatively inexpensive. I’m paying $750 per month for a bungalow that is essentially a detached studio apartment, in an absolutely beautiful location not far from the capital, San Jose. (I stole the picture below from Norma’s website. My room looks pretty much like that except that it’s got my stuff all over the place.) Costa Rica is also known for being safe and politically stable, and the people are known for being friendly and happy.

A reasonable facsimile of my room

The one obvious barrier to an American such as myself is that the predominant language here is—obviously—Spanish. Fortunately, English is now taught in schools, so most younger people and many older people speak at least some English. I did spend about an hour a day for three months prior to my trip brushing up on my Spanish; I think I probably speak almost as well as the average Costa Rican three-year-old. I can ask for directions to the bus stop, but if the answer is more complicated than “100 meters down the road, on the corner,” then I’m probably going to get lost. (That’s how Costa Ricans give directions, by the way. There are apparently no proper addresses and few street signs. The “address” of the place I’m staying is literally “300 meters west of the soccer field.”)

Walking into Atenas

I arrived around 3pm on January 17. I was supposed to have arrived the night before, but Spirit Airlines decided to cancel my flight without telling me, which was neat. They got me on a flight leaving the next morning, and thanks to ridiculously long check-in lines at the Ft. Lauderdale airport, I almost missed the plane. Then we sat on the runway for an hour and a half for one reason or another, so we didn’t arrive at the San Jose airport until mid-afternoon. I was starving, having not had any time to get something to eat before the flight. I retrieved my bag, withdrew 50,000 Colones (about $100) from an ATM, and went outside, where I was immediately accosted by roughly 50,000 taxi drivers (about 100 American drivers), all asking if I needed a ride. I replied to one of them at random, asking how much to La Garita (“Cuanto hacia La Garita?”). He said $25. I blame my hunger for my decision to agree to this probably exorbitant price; La Garita is only 20 minutes away. I bought a hot dog at a vendor outside the airport (Spanish for “hot dog,” by the way, is “hotdog”) and got in the taxi.

One of the three pools

I had a really nice conversation with the taxi driver on the way to La Garita. He was more than happy to entertain my efforts to converse in Spanish, and would switch to English when I got stuck. He dropped me off at the gate to Villas Normas, and I was met by Norma herself, a very sweet older Costa Rican woman who is the grandmother of the woman whom I made the reservation with on Airbnb.com. She showed me around the grounds of Villas Normas, including the three (!) swimming pools, outside bar area, laundry facilities, etc. Then I settled into my room.

The view out my front door

The bungalow is perfect for a single guy like me, although I have some questions about the quality of the construction. All the light switches are in the wrong places, and I find the heated shower head mildly terrifying, especially considering the “wrap some black tape around the wire nuts and call it bueno” installation; I have to assure myself every morning that the odds of electrocution are probably quite low. Apparently these devices are fairly common in Costa Rica. Another cool feature is the lock on the front door, which you can’t open from the inside without the key. Fire? I hope you remember where you left the key!

Nothing wakes you up quite like the imminent threat of electrocution.

My favorite part of the bungalow, though, is the label inside the freezer door that reads: OPRIMA BOTON ROJO CADA TRES DIAS / PRESS THE BUTTON AT LEAST TWICE A WEEK.

Don’t ask questions.

Setting aside the facts that (1) the translation isn’t quite right, and (2) the red button appears to be missing, I am left with the question: What did the red button do? And if it’s so important that it be pressed on a regular basis, why isn’t it on some kind of timer? How am I to prepare for the pressing of the button? Am I on LOST?

Enjoying my coffee

More to come!

Thoughts on Rey after seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens a third time

Spoilers ahead, obviously.
Just saw SW: TFA for the third time, and I’ve been thinking about the character of Rey. There’s definitely some Rey back story we haven’t seen yet. It’s tempting to think she has some force training that’s been repressed, but I think the explanation is more subtle than that. There are a few clues to this:
  1. When Rey picks up Luke’s lightsaber, she has a vision of events, some of which have already happened, but some of which occur in the future.
  2. When Maz says she “sees the same eyes in different people”, it hints at a sort of reincarnation, and shortly after this scene, she says to Rey: “I see it in your eyes.” This seems to imply that Rey has some mystical connection to past and/or future persons. Then Maz says what Rey is looking for is ahead of her not behind her, indicating that her future is more important than her past.
  3. When Rey is being interrogated by Kylo Ren, he says, “At night, desperate to sleep, you imagine an ocean. I see it. I see the island.” This is pretty clearly a reference to Luke’s location. Again, she’s seeing the future.
  4. When she successfully escapes the TIE fighters in the Falcon, Finn asks her “How did you do that?” and she says “I don’t know!” It seems pretty unlikely she’s ever flown the Falcon before, but has an immediate intuitive feel for it. This isn’t repressed force training, and it isn’t past experience. It’s something else.
  5. Rey’s intuition for all things mechanical is obviously meant to parallel Anakin Skywalker, and like Anakin, the first character she interacts with is a droid. But unlike Anakin, she is also personable and has a knack for the “softer” side of the force, e.g. influencing people. I suspect the filmmakers are going to do something with this contrast in the future. Also, given what we know about R2-D2 and C-3PO, what is BB-8’s origin? It there an explanation for Rey’s almost immediate affinity for him?
  6. When Kylo Ren first finds out about Rey, he literally pulls a dude across the room towards him and growls “WHAT GIRL?!!” This is a bit of an overreaction unless KR knows/suspects something about Rey. The scene ends immediately after this question, so we never hear the rest of the exchange.

That’s all I’ve got for now. There’s definitely a lot going on in this movie, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where the filmmakers go with all these threads next.

34 completely nonsensical things in Spectre (spoilers, obviously)

I saw Spectre, the latest James Bond movie, last night. I was already underwhelmed walking out of the theater, and Spectre is one of those moves where the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. Here’s a chronological list of plot holes and other problems I came up with in the shower this morning. Spoilers ahead.

  1. Why did M tell Bond to kill that bad guy in the beginning? What was so important about him? He was apparently just a cog in Spectre, who was later replaced by a guy whose greatest talent seems to be gouging people’s eyes out.
  2. If that bad guy was important, why wasn’t the rest of 00 section informed? Because M suspected Spectre had connections to the guy who would be taking over British intelligence? But that was true of the bad guys in the last 3 movies too, because they all worked for Spectre. If Spectre had the power to stop 00 section from interfering in their operations, they would have done it before now.
  3. Why did the building explode after Bond shot those dudes? Maybe I missed something. I thought maybe somebody else was also trying to assassinate this guy, but that never comes up.
  4. What did M mean by “don’t miss the funeral”? Was that her way to get Bond to meet the villain’s ex-wife? And if so, seriouslyThat’s the best guidance you can give our hero, who is trying to save the damn world? Is that her cheeky way of saying, “Dude, Monica Bellucci will be there. You’ll know what to do.”?
  5. How did M know that Spectre would wait until after the funeral to kill Monica Bellucci? The movie would have ended pretty quickly if they had taken her out on the way to the funeral. And what are the odds that the assassins show up at exactly the same time as Bond?
  6. Um, James Bond and Monica Bellucci are having sex now, I guess? WTF happened?
  7. “BTW James, a meeting of the super secret evil organization you’re after happens to be taking place in 20 minutes just across town. There’s literally no reason for them to be in this city at all, but that’s what the plot requires. Oh, and they don’t check ID, but remember your magic Spectre ring, because that will get you in even though they know one of those rings is missing.”
  8. “All the leaders of the most evil organization in the world, all in one place? Probably not a good time to call in an airstrike. I’ll just sniff around a bit.”
  9. [In Italian] “Does anybody know why we’re speaking Italian? Oh, we just switch to the language of whatever country we happen to be in? Ugh. Better brush up on my Mandarin for next week.”
  10. “Does anybody want to challenge Italian Dennis Leary’s claim on the vacant leadership position? Ah, I see a very large man has stood up. What are your qualifications, sir? Oh, you can gouge a guy’s eyes out! Good show! That’s the one talent that our organization lacks!”
  11. “Hey, James Bond is here! How do I know? Uhhh… surveillance, I guess? Maybe I let him in or something, just to toy with him. Anyway, stop him! No, not all of you. Just one guy, preferably the new guy who can gouge people’s eyes out.”
  12. So James Bond was injected with nanoblood that allows him to be tracked across continents, but they didn’t LoJack the $6 million car?
  13. I can totally see why that car was worth $6 million. It was bullet proof and had an ejector seat.
  14. The “Pale King” was mentioned in the very first scene in the movie. Why didn’t Bond have Moneypenny look him up then? And if they know who he is, why isn’t he in custody, rather than sitting at home in his basement?
  15. Thallium poisoning: when you want your victim to have plenty of time to betray you before he finally dies weeks later.
  16. Why would anybody think “L’American” was a person? The first thing I would do is Google it, find the hotel and cut out the middleman. But then the middleman is a cute young blonde, so maybe not.
  17. “I’m super good at surviving, so I’ll hide in this glass cage at the top of a mountain.”
  18. “Hi, remember me? I’m Q, who has no particular reason to help you. In fact, you’ve always been kind of an asshole to me, like that time you stole that $6 million car from me right after I risked my job to help you, which, as we’ve established, I had no reason to do in the first place. Anyway, I’m here to help you some more.”
  19. “Fortunately for you, I’ve brought my laptop and USB Spectre ring analyzer, and… OMG you were right, James Bond! This ring proves all of your foes are connected and that your antagonist, whom we thought was long dead, is still alive! Because if this ring carried any more back story around with it, Frodo would be trying to throw it in a volcano.”
  20. Spectre has the resources to launch terrorist attacks at will, and James Bond is traveling across country on a train… so let’s just send one unarmed guy after him again. Is Eye Gouger busy?
  21. If a mouse going into a hole in the wall means there’s a secret room behind the wall, then my apartment in college was the Taj Mahal.
  22. In secret agent school, they teach us to punch man-sized holes in plaster walls, in order to uncover…
  23. …a room so secret that it’s impossible for anyone to get to it without punching a hole in the wall!
  24. No one’s been in this room for 20 years, and it’s in a third world country where the electricity goes out three times a day, but the Apple IIe is still running the same program that the girl’s father was looking at when he was last here.
  25. A secret facility in the desert, because… well, let’s face it, the best parts of this movie are homages to better Bond movies, and at this point even Quantum of Solace looks pretty good.
  26. But how will we break into the… oh, I guess the bad guy sent someone to pick us up. That’s nice.
  27. Surprise, James Bond! I’ve had you under surveillance this entire time! Which means… uh, I could have stopped you at any time, I guess. But I didn’t, because despite my position as the most powerful supervillain in the world, I frankly still have quite a bit of unresolved stuff from my childhood. It’s actually kind of surprising I’ve gotten this far with such a crippling mental handicap.
  28. “I shall drill into your brain and cause you to forget the woman you love, because I am an expert on brains, and that’s how memories are stored. Or not, I guess.”
  29. Let’s put some kind of fuel tanks in the middle of this facility so that one minor accident would obliterate the whole place in a gigantic fireball.
  30. “At midnight, the new system goes online, and then we will have the whole world under surveillance! Which, as we’ve repeatedly established, we already have! So I’m not really sure what the big deal is. But hey, TICKING CLOCK!”
  31. James Bond is on his way to see the bad guy, when he is attacked and kidnapped, and taken… to the bad guy! Well, that was actually kind of convenient. Thanks for the ride, guys, but I must escape your custody now. POW! BAM! [goes inside, sees helpful BOND GO THIS WAY ===> sign]. Bond thinks to self, “Wow, this supervillain is so clever that he actually planned for me to get captured and then to escape in exactly the way that I in fact did. I wonder if this is some kind of trap. Nah”
  32. “I, the supervillain, will now torment you with pictures of people who have died because of you, even though if my plan worked, you wouldn’t remember any of these people!”
  33. “Do you trust me? Do you remember that scene a few minutes ago where we established that there was some kind of cargo netting down below us for some reason?”
  34. “Yay, we stopped the bad guys!” Except, uh, nothing has really changed. The whole surveillance system (and the political/legal regime that put it there) is still in place, and presumably Spectre can survive the capture of a couple of their leaders, as they’ve done several times in the past. Sure, they destroyed the desert facility, but clearly that place wasn’t vital to their plan anyway. But whatever, dudes, I’m off with a hot chick and another stolen car!”

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Advance copies of Mercury Shrugs and more!

Ah, poor neglected blog. I’ve forgotten entirely to update you regarding my latest Kickstarter!

For those who haven’t yet heard: yes, I’m writing a fifth Mercury book, titled Mercury Shrugs. The book is still taking shape, but you can expect time travel, parallel universes, explosions, grilled cheese sandwiches, and the return of some characters we haven’t seen since Mercury Rests. You can get an advance copy and lots of other awesome stuff by supporting the Kickstarter. Get an advance copy for as little as $5! And for those who haven’t yet ventured into the whimsical world of the ornery angel Mercury, you can correct that now!


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Mercury sale and contest winners (and a second chance for the losers)

A quick note to let y’all know that Amazon has the first three Mercury books on sale for $5.97 (or $1.99 each) on Kindle! That’s over a thousand pages of irreverent fun and startling insight (OK, maybe just the first one) for less than the cost of something that costs six dollars! Act now and you can also get the fourth Mercury book, Mercury Revolts, for $1.99 as well. Because I love you. Get the Mercury books now!


In other news, I recently I did a signed paperback giveaway. I got a little busy finishing up Disillusioned, but I’ll be mailing books out to the winners tomorrow. The winners are:

  • Andrew Kwon
  • Mik Mordant
  • Karen Taubmann Johnson

(I hope it’s ok I used your names; let me know if you’re embarrassed of winning a book, on the lam, etc. and I will remove your name from this post.)

For those who didn’t win, I’m giving you another chance: Sign up for my email list before 5pm EDT today and you will receive email instructions regarding how to enter. I will be giving away signed copies of the Mercury books, Distopia and City of Sand. What are you waiting for? GO DO IT!

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