Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bar Tales of Costa Rica

I need a break from upset.  Maybe my readers do, too.

Once when I was in Costa Rica, working on another unpublished book, Deep Calling -- that's my depressing book about being depressed, as opposed to Prozac Monologues, my funny book about depressed -- I needed a break from being depressed.  I took my breaks at the bar at the Pato Loco in Playas del Coco, Costa Rica.

My sister, the Voodoo Princess and proprietor of the Pato Loco also needed a break from my being depressed.  So she was delighted to learn that the Pato Loco inspired and regularly supplied material for my third book that is not published, Bar Tales of Costa RicaBar Tales is not about depression.

This week we all take a break together, with the first of the Bar Tales of Costa Rica.

Shut Up, Lenny!

How are you today, Rosie?

Oh, I could use some de-stressing.  You can’t tell by looking at this big black beautiful woman in shorts, sleeveless and flip flops, but she’s running a several employee travel agency back in the States while she sits in front of her laptop in the dining room of the Pato Loco.

Rosie set up the wireless for the hotel, when she was living here while her condo in Hermosa was under construction.  That took so long, she became a member of the family, another sister.  Mama had a colorful past, we say when somebody raises an eyebrow at the introduction.  As a matter of fact, she did. 

De-stressing you need?  Let me see what I can do.  Here’s a story for you.  You know our neighbor, Lenny, the Hot Dog man?”

Yeah, I’ve been trying to buy one of those hot dogs.  Every time I go downtown, he’s never open.

No, he‘s out of business for the time being.  I guess the Pizza Hut truck had a prior lease on that lot where he had his hot dog stand.  They moved back in, what with high season coming.  So he doesn’t have a place to put his cart. 

It was a great spot, right there across from Zouk Santana and the Lizard Lounge.  Lenny said he was selling 70 hot dogs an hour between 2 and 3 AM, when the bars closed.  He said one night, he ran out of chili.  They kept buying the dogs.  He was selling them faster than he could cook them.  They bought them raw.  Four bucks a pop, chili or no, 300% profit. 


It is a triumph, that hot dog stand.

Costa Rican Developers

I don’t really care about Lenny’s success.  He’s a newbie from Texas.  And he isn’t a hot dog salesman anyway, at least, not in his head.  He says he’s a developer.  Everybody claims to be a developer.  Except me.  I claim to be a writer.  I guess it comes down to the same thing, a lot of dreams, not so much cash.  Except I really do write.  I don’t publish, but I write.  Developers seem to talk mostly, over beers at the Pato Loco, since the Bohio has been torn down for being too close to the beach, now that the tides have shifted.

The tide comes in, the tide goes out.  The beach is never the same.  They’re putting in a marina where the Bohio and a lot of other nicer bars and restaurants used to be.  I don’t cheer for developers.

What Lenny really does, or talks about doing, while the luxury condo deal is still in development, is sell vacation packages.  Ninety-five bucks buys you four vacation packages in Maui, Orlando, Las Vegas or Puerto Something.  Ninety-five bucks and a couple hours of your time while people try to sell you a time-share in Maui, Orlando, Las Vegas or Puerto Something.

The hot dog stand is the hook.  You’re cooking the dog to order, piling on the chili, the onions, peppers, cheese, and all the time talking about vacation packages, four per year, ninety-five bucks.  Except when the bars let out and you’re selling the dogs seventy per hour at 2 AM.  Not so much time to talk then.  Just, You want ketchup?  Mustard?  Mayo?

We didn’t meet over hot dogs, but on my front porch, Lenny and me, when I returned to Costa Rica this winter and said hello to my new neighbor.  He was telling me about the hot dogs when, out of the blue, You want to make a couple thousand a week?

Couple thousand what, colones?  (That’s four bucks.)

I’ll pay you twenty bucks for every vacation package you sell.

No, thank you, Lenny.  I do not want to sell vacation packages.  I do not want to make a couple thousand dollars a week.  I don’t make that much money in the States, and I didn’t move to Costa Rica to make that much money here.  I moved so I could live on what I make in the States, so I could write.  I am not a salesman.  I am a writer.

As far as I can tell, it’s a pyramid scheme.  Lenny sells this job to apparently (and in this case mistakenly so) aimless people who want to stay in Costa Rica on dreams of a couple thousand a week.  The job is to sell brochures that will lure drunks, who actually intended to buy a hot dog after they were evicted from the bars, to go to some other vacation spot, where somebody else will try to sell them time-shares, so they can come back to where some other hot dog vender, or maybe Lenny himself next year in a different location, will try to sell them some condo that he has developed, thereby justifying his self-identity as a developer.

But to pull this off, he needs the person willing to serve the hot dogs in the hopes of selling the brochures.  Since I do not want to make a couple thousand dollars a week, I do not qualify for this job.  Ironically, with a different pitch, I might be willing to help him out with his dogs.

That’s what I think Lenny really does, sell hot dogs.

Costa Rican Hot Dog Stand

And it is a triumph, not for Lenny the developer, but for our other next door neighbor, David, who bought the hot dog stand online from Canada, had it delivered to his home in Atlanta, and then shipped it through Miami to Costa Rica.

David isn’t a hot dog salesman.  He’s a pool man.  He’s also a very nice guy who made some sudden and poor financial decisions last fall.  It was a bad time in his life.  He decided that Dennis, the maintenance man at our condo, could use some extra bucks.  So David decided to set Dennis up in business as a hot dog salesman.

Except Dennis isn’t a hot dog salesman, either.  He’s a construction guy, who can do a million different things with his hands, all of them very well, but is not into handling hot dogs.  Dennis is Costa Rican and proud, and Costa Ricans are not into hot dogs, neither buying nor selling, which is why it’s hard to find a good hot dog in this country.

But both of them, David and Dennis are very nice guys, and their friendship survived this awkward spell, when the hot dog stand was taking up space outside the bodega (storage shed) next to the pool for several months, until Lenny moved to town and discovered it there while he wasn’t developing anything but his story.

I will say this for Lenny, he makes a very good chili.  And he did manage to find a vender, a German who lives in San Jose, who sells him a decent quality dog.  Not Chicago quality.  There’s no snap, none at all.  But it’s got a bit of smoke, and for Costa Rica, it’s pretty darn good.  And lots of the ex-pats (the North American ex-pats) get frustrated, looking for the hot dog stand, which often is not in operation for one reason or another.

I will also say this for Lenny – he operates on Costa Rican time.  Which is to say, he gets it open when he gets it open.  If he says 5 o’clock, don’t bother showing up until 7.  The frustrated ex-pats don’t get his business plan.  He is not into food service.  He is into money.  And he can make a whole lot of it, more than enough to live in Playas del Coco, between 2 and 3 in the morning, seventy dogs an hour, $3 profit on each one, even when he is selling them so fast he doesn’t have time to cook them.  He does not have to open when he promises or sell hot dogs during the lunch hour.

But right now he’s not selling hot dogs at all, since the Pizza Hut truck came back to town with the same business plan as far as volume and drunks go and, more importantly, the lease on his location.

We think maybe he went on a bender.  We didn’t see him for three days, but his car’s been there.  And with his muffler, we know when he moves it.  He starts it up, backs the car the hundred feet to the gate, turns off the engine, gets out and opens the gate.  I guess he only has one key chain.  Then he starts the car, pulls through the gate, turns the car off again, gets out, closes the gate, gets back into the car, starts it the third time, and leaves.  Our house is right by the gate.  So we know when he goes anywhere, since he doesn’t even walk the hundred feet to the gate.  Lenny doesn’t walk.

The Voodoo Princess, owner of the Pato Loco, interrupted, You could buy him another key chain.  She likes Lenny, and he eats at the Pato Loco a lot, since you can eat only so many hot dogs, if you want to keep selling them.

I’m telling a story here, little sister.  Work with me.  The Voodoo Princess is my little sister.  We have a diverse family.  Mama had a colorful past.

Costa Rican Neighbors

Anyway, this morning we heard from him again.  It was about 9 o’clock when he shouted, Shut up!  A couple minutes later, we heard it again, Shut up!  It took about three or four times, Shut up! before I figured this out.  Luis, the neighbor on the other side of the wall, has a mynah bird that says, “Buenas!”  The bird says it all day long, “Buenas.”

It used to bother me, David interjects from the bar where he is nursing a club soda, But I have become one with the mynah.

Yeah, now it’s just part of the sound track of Costa Rica.  But this morning it was:

Buenas – Shut up!

Buenas – Shut up!

Rosie is laughing now.  It’s good to hear Rosie laugh.  He knew he was talking to a bird?

Well, I don’t know.  Because then it became – 

Buenas – Shut the f*** up!

Buenas – Shut the f*** up!

Rosie is doubling over, He said, f***?

No, actually, he filled in the vowel and the final consonants.  Things were definitely escalating.  I wondered if he was going to go next door and throttle a mynah bird.  And then I hear it.  Our whole condo association hears it –

David knew what was coming.  He verified it, Yes, we did.

Buenas Shut the f*** up!  Comprende?  Shut up!

She’s screaming now.  Comprende?

Comprende.  One more time, I was just about to go over there, if he said it one more time.  – Lenny, it’s a bird!  I know it’s irritating, ‘Buenas.’  [I flattened those vowels as flat as a tortilla.]  But me, I’m listening to ‘Buenas’ – ‘Shut the f*** up!’  I don’t think I’ll have much success with the bird.  So I’m going to try with the drunk.  Lenny, shut the f*** up!

So, how did that work out?

Well, I never got the chance.  Maybe the bird did comprende.  Because they both got quiet.  So, how are you feeling now, Rosie?

Thanks, I needed that.  I’m feeling a lot better.

Pato Loco logo used by permission
photo of family table at Pato Loco by Mary Cox and used by permission
photo of chili dog by LG2, in public domain
drawing of condo by tomwild, in public domain
photo of bird of paradise and front porch by author
photo of mynah bird by Dhabyany, used under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license


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