This is the one about the time I almost got skull-crushed, was the first on the scene of a bizarre motorcycle accident, and got held at gunpoint…all within one hour.
*Sometimes stories are better heard than read. So sit back and relax while I read, if you prefer.
I’m waiting for a bus to San Jose so I can meet a friend there. She’s in town from the States and instead of attempting to explain the impossible directions, I told her I would just meet her and we could drive the rental car back together. Except that I don’t quite make it to San Jose this particular night.
The bus stop is way up in the mountains at a t-intersection and the only light falls from what must be an Edison original because it barely does more than leak a couple drops of light below. There are two houses further up, but aside from that, the road is empty. In fact, the only place more strategically suited for robbing someone would be the middle of the goddamn desert.
By 10:15PM the bus still hasn’t arrived so I sit down at the base of the light post. Gollum’s Costa Rican cousin seems to materialize out of thin air and hobbles towards me, sweating profusely, which is no surprise considering the huge astronaut jacket he’s wearing. He starts blathering in Spanish about how someone just tried to assault him but, “Thank God!” he managed to run away – he must be coked to the gills I think to myself, talking so anxiously. Immediately, my Gringo Don’t Belong Here senses come online and I stand erect, tense. I’m not going to have a repeat of Ecuador. Not tonight, you sweaty little creature.
As I’m piecing together his bogus story, a young couple appears and all-too casually saunters up to us, as if there wasn’t a ring-deprived gnome on the verge of mental breakdown.
“Oh, hey, maybe this distressed boy can borrow your cell phone to call for help? Conveniently for the purposes of this setup, we don’t have one.”
“Oh shit,” I realize, “something is definitely not right here.”
My Gringo senses are highly tuned after years of dodging shady characters in foreign countries, so as soon as they ask about the phone I take a step back. They recognize my hesitancy and they know. They know that I know and try to recover by prematurely springing the trap.
He suddenly rips a cement brick out of his coat pocket and wildly swings it at my face. I duck down, deftly avoiding the punch, and then Russian Leg Sweep him. He falls backwards to the ground. Before his head rebounds off the gravel I whip out my iPod headphones and hog-tie his limbs, completing the image of a skewed pig by shoving the same brick halfway down his grimy gullet like an apple. Shocked at my speed and guerilla fighting tactics, the young couple retreats in terror, emptying the contents of their pockets as they flee.
Every time I play a scene like this out in my head, I instantly transform into Bruce Lee and react perfectly like a trained fighter. Then when it happens in real life, I don’t do any of these things. In fact, what really happens is that I awkwardly stumble to the ground, trip, and only manage to stay on my feet by planting my left hand in the dirt before wheeling out. Ten meters later, the brick zooms past, nearly taking my head with it. I sprint down the hill mostly unscathed except for a couple rocks that find a new home embedded under the skin of my palm. Luckily, they don’t follow me. The way I see it, if you’re going to mug someone, at least have some conviction about it. Let the chase begin, right?
Now I’m at a different bus stop in front of a bar, waiting for the same bus. As it approaches, I make sure the driver sees me – this route doesn’t run much later and even if a cab rolls by I’m not exactly keen on spending $20 for a taxi that would otherwise be a 75-cent bus ride. Despite flailing my arms and even making eye contact with the driver, the bus sails past. So once again, I’m sprinting. Maybe I can catch it at the next stop.
Just as I’m hitting my stride, the doors of the bus in sight now, BAM!, I hear a loud crash. When I look back, I see two people on the ground rolling in pain, one whose face is bloodied. Another is clearly stunned, barely able to stay upright as he staggers around a fallen motorcycle.
“Sweet jumping baby Jesus! Forget the bus, what just happened!?”
By the time I reach them, a handful of neighbors are coming out of their houses, just as confused as I am. An ambulance has been called. Good. There’s blood, but not much, and no one has any visible life-threatening injuries. They’re in pain, but it soon becomes clear that they’re going to be fine.
As the intensity of the situation drops, I find myself staring at one of the guy’s feet, which is a point of focus because he is clutching his ankle. The two that are laid out on the ground are wearing roller skates. Not roller blades, but vintage roller skates. Were they being towed before hitting a pothole? Were they out for a late night stroll and then got smashed by this motorcycle? Sherlock Holmes himself would be stupefied.
Traffic is now stacked up on either side of the accident; traffic that includes what surely must be the last bus of the night. It’s waiting to go up the hill, where it normally turns around and then comes back. I decide to wait as the dust of the crazy moto-skate brigade settles. About ten minutes later, however, I find myself running after the bus. Again. This time the driver decides it’s not worth waiting, so it abruptly about-faces and marches away.
I run an Olympic record 800-meter dash before giving up. It’s gone and I’m on another sketchy dark road, alone, late at night. Eventually, I get the number for a taxi and literally as I’m giving the dispatch unit directions, I notice a hooded figure walking intently towards me on the same side of the street. My stomach drops as the Gringo senses kick in again. No way is something about to happen, but I can already feel it. I walk to the other side, phone in hand, eyes on hooligan. My suspicions are confirmed when I see two more thugs walking at me from the other direction, about 30 meters away.
Sometimes in movies, they like to warp time as a way of adding suspense. Every movement is slow enough to be seen by the viewer so that while the actors are stuck in this vacuum and fated to the outcome, people watching can safely predict what will happen from the outside. Imagine being both at the same time in the sense that you can see the scene unfolding perfectly, except that unlike the people in the theater, you’re a part of the plot, a slave to the script – this is what it feels like before he pulls out a pistol and points it squarely at my chest.
I don’t know if there’s a term for incontinence of the tongue, but regardless of what it’s called, it most definitely exists when there’s a gun barrel in your face. All I can do is shout “no” repeatedly and put my hands up. He demands me to give him the phone, the wallet I practically throw at him before he even mentions it. As for the iPod? Still got it!
Then he and his cronies leave in a getaway car that was obviously waiting just down the hill. They must have seen me pacing back and forth. It was definitely orchestrated, perhaps even related to the previous incident. Who knows?
I look at my watch and it’s just after 11:00PM. Jesus, what next? Where’s Ashton? This cannot be real, after all.
Eventually I gather my remaining scraps of dignity, wondering what twisted form of karmic skullduggery has just been unleashed upon me, and start schlepping it back home. Having been robbed before (twice over the course of three days, I might add – common theme, anyone?), I know the routine: Call the bank, cancel the card, get a new phone, and renew my license whenever I’m back in the States. It’s a pain in the ass, but you stay levelheaded, chalk it up as an epic travel story, and move on.
This is where you might expect to see the cliché scoreboard of unfairness (i.e. Britten: 0, Costa Rican Yahoos: 2), but to be honest, I was out late by myself and besides, I’ve had infinitely more amazing experiences living abroad to get jaded about it all. When you buy the ticket, you sort of just have to take the ride.
Hands down, the most insane hour of my entire life. Okay now you go : )
Photo credit: Tyler Tarver