Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Brakes & Breaks

I have RTV (Revisión Técnica de Vehículos), or vehicle inspection, due this month for both my pickup and motorcycle. There were a couple of things I needed to fix, or have fixed, on both vehicles.

The big deal on the pickup was that I needed new tires. So I headed to Super Servicio early in the morning on Monday to have all four replaced. I found a decent set of Firestone's for about $120/each. I was second in line - a break. They told me the car would be done after lunch.

I walked into Liberia to get my haircut. I was first in line - a major break! After that I headed to Las Tinajas for a cold beer and to wait for the arrival of my wife and daughter. They had taken the bus in to visit the Registro Civil to get copies of my daughter's birth certificate for her upcoming baptism on Saturday before Easter. They arrived promptly at 12PM with two copies of the certificates. Laila was not a problem on the bus - another major break!

We had a nice lunch and, as I was taking my last sip of beer before paying the bill, my phone rang. The car was ready to go. Incredible! We were on a roll! I couldn't remember the last time I had so many consecutive breaks.

It was hot now - about 96 degrees - and we were walking back to Super Servicio when one of my agents honked his horn at me as I crossed the intersection in front of him. Yes!! I left Carla and Laila at a clothing store and hitched a ride with him to Super Servicio - the breaks just kept coming! I picked up the car and returned to pick up the wife and kid. The car was riding magnificently. I was on top of the world.

We loaded up and headed back to Playa Hermosa. Just outside of Liberia, I heard a wicked noise and something bounced under the right side of the truck. I looked in my side view mirror to see my wheel cover spinning down the highway and losing speed behind me. Superduper Sevicio hadn't fastened it to the rim correctly and it flew off rolling, eventually coming to rest against a tree - not a break. I doubled back, found it and remounted it with zip ties (see Costa Rica Survival Kit).

About half way back to the house I noticed my brakes felt different. I didn't think much about it at the time as the tires had just been changed and maybe this had somehow changed the way the brakes felt. We arrived in Hermosa and I dropped Carla and Laila off at the house, then headed back to my office in Coco. The brakes felt VERY different now - not a break.

By the time I pulled up to the office, I barely had brakes. I almost drove through my front door - definitely would not have been a break. I then entered my office and realized that I had stupidly forgotten my computer at my house - not a break. I then got a call from another agent who wanted to show two of my exclusive listings the next day - a break offset by the fact that I had a RTV appointment scheduled for the pickup the next day at the same time he wanted to show my properties. So I called RTV and cancelled the appointment. I mean, I had to have my brakes looked at anyway, and the sale of a $500k condo superseded both put together.

Just then, two clients (sellers) of mine and their friend came into the office. They were from Chicago and were here on their last day of vacation before heading back the next day. I had forgotten that we were supposed to get together for beers after their ATV tour. They were a welcome sight and beers really sounded good at that point - a break! So I headed out for happy hour at Coconutz and I kinda forgot about the brakes.

After 8 vodka sodas I realized the time was getting late and that I had to get back to the house and relieve Carla of "Laila duty". I said my good-byes, hopped in my pickup and started the engine. It was after backing into the middle of the road and not being able to stop, narrowly avoiding completely crumpling the grille of the Landcruiser behind me, that I realized I had no brakes at all - this definitely was not, and would not have been, a break! I was now REALLY pissed off! And so it was that, I, in my impaired state of judgment and agitated emotional state, decided to drive home with no brakes.

It was normally only a 10 minute car ride, and I did it in 20 minutes with my hazards flashing. Not too bad, and the manual transmission made it easier on the downhill descents. I arrived at home in one piece only to realize that I had forgotten keys to the properties I was to show the next day. I was now, VERY pissed off!! NOT A BREAK!!

The next day (yesterday) came and I couldn't drive my pickup. So I decided to hop on my dependable motorcycle, La Chula, and ride to the office to get the keys in advance of my appointments (one was to take photos of a vacation rental, the the other to show my exclusives with the other agent). When I mounted her, I saw that the front tire on La Chula was flat - not a break! I couldn't believe it!

I don't know how, but I remembered that the ferreteria (hardware store) around the corner had a compressor for cleaning air filters, and I banked on a hunch that they could fill the tire with air and I would have enough time to get to my office to get the keys and back without the tire deflating. I crept the 400 meters to the hardware store on La Chula and my hunch proved right - a break! I had a guy over inflate the tire with the compressor, then took off like a young Steve McQueen up to my office. I got the keys and returned home, picked up my camera and headed to the vacation rental to take pictures. The leak was a slow one - a break. I then met the other agent and showed him and his client my listings. It went very well - another break.

I was now on a roll and decided to have the tire leak fixed before my RTV appointment the next day (today). So I headed to the bomba (gas station/pump) in Sardinal where I arrived about 1 second too late. Friends of mine had arrived just in front of me and were having their tires rotated - not a break. So I grabbed a Cuba Libre at the minisuper and killed some time. One Cuba Libre turned into two - a break, or not a break, depending on how you look at it.

After the second Cuba Libre the llantero (tire mechanic), removed my front wheel, peeled the tire off, put the tube under water, found the leak, patched it and reassembled everything for me good as new. I paid him 1500 colones (about $2.75) and almost did a wheelie as I screamed out of there. I was now prepared for the next day, having replaced the interruptor for the rear brake light on Sunday over the previous weekend.

So today I get to RTV at 10:00am before my 10:15 appointment, get my paperwork and pay the $12 for inspection. I only had to wait a half-an-hour past my scheduled appointment when a technician began his inspection of La Chula - in Costa Rica, a half-hour late is "on time", and that's definitely a break! The technician inspected the VIN, signals, lights, horn and then did an emissions test. "Perfecto!!", he said, in a congratulatory manner. He then waived me through to the front parking lot. "Wait...", I said to myself, "...they hadn't tested the brakes."

So, sure enough, the piece of paper with the little tear-off that you stick in reverse on the sticker they give you with the clear window on it that allows the tear-off to show through it that you stick to your motorcycle, had the word "GRAVE" on it. I asked the technician how my brakes could have failed if they hadn't even tested them. He said that that was the point. Apparently, RTV's frenometro (brake tester) was broken. They couldn't test my motorcycle brakes!! He wrote a number down for me to call to find out when the frenometro would be fixed and, thus, when I could return to have my brakes tested and get the piece of paper with the little tear-off that you stick in reverse on the sticker they give you.... Definitely, NOT A BREAK!!

Those are the breaks, and those are the brakes.

Pura vida!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


Spanish for "stupid". That's what I was day before yesterday when I decided to give an ex-caballero named Edgar, a.k.a. Cascarita (Little Eggshell) the task of felling a tree encroaching on my house that would have reduced it to toothpicks and dust had it fallen on it. Cascarita got his nickname after being involved in a drunken car accident that shattered his wrist like an eggshell - no mas toros, caballero. Now he's the cook at my sister-in-law's restaurant.

I stupidly decided to give Cascarita a shot at felling the tree. I mean, he used to ride bulls, for God's sake! I made it clear that I didn't want any problems with the telephone line and/or roof underneath the tree. "Fine!", he said, with total confidence.

Of course, he didn't show up at 6AM yesterday like he said he would (normal), and still wasn't there by 9AM when I left for the office. When he did show up, he came with a amiable, toothless guy named Primo (Cousin), who, when not drunk, worked like an army ant and could scale a greased brass pole barefooted like a howler monkey climbing a mango tree. He also brought two machetes and a rope.

I got a call from my wife at about 5:30PM saying there was a "poco disastre" ("little disaster") at the house. She was pisssed. A branch had fallen and had hit the roof, cracked the fascia and downed my telephone line. It dawned on me that the confidence exuded by Cascarita was simply the usual words, a lie.

Cascarita's explanation for the poco disastre infuriated me - " need a cherry picker to take that tree down!", he shreiked, arms waving in the air pointing at the tree. I replied, "Well if I neededed a cherry picker to do the job, why did you guys even start it? I mean, there's a big difference between a cherry picker and two misfits with machetes and a rope. When did THAT dawn on you?" It didn't register with him. He was the victim. I hadn't provided him with the right tools. It was my fault. I paid them 15,000 colones to go away.

So now I have the guy I should have called in the first place coming by this afternoon to see if he can finish the job. He's a gringo. It's better to give it to a gringo "...when death is on the line. Ahh, hah, hah...!"

Pura mierda!