“Go ahead, call a regular cab…We’ll reimburse you,” said the wedding coordinator. We didn’t mean to wake her at 5AM, but the card said, “For travel emergencies, call…” After a week in beautiful Costa Rica, two of us had to cut the trip short to get back to reality.

The prearranged cab was a no show and we had to catch the 8:35 flight to Miami that day.

My traveling companion said, “I think not getting to the airport is an emergency.” I disagreed. I thought not getting to the airport would be pretty pleasant. Costa Rica is awesome. I swam, surfed, and ate fresh food every day. Except for the mosquitoes, which were not as welcoming as the citizens, I thought I might stay.

“Let’s take this cab.” There was a “turismo” cab waiting out front for a guy named David who seemed to be sleeping off the hospitality of Tamarindo Beach.

“Are you sure you can’t take us instead?” I asked the driver in Spanish. He said he had to wait for David, who–much like our ride–never did show so Nice Front Desk Man called Juan for us, who responded faster than Uber. We were a half-hour behind schedule.

No matter–my mind’s developed a “Can I make up the time?” meter driving in America. I always think I can recoup time when I leave late but I get stuck behind a school bus every time.

Being stuck behind a bus is a fate worse than New York City gridlock. Once you see the endless yellow vehicle with its ten-foot four-lane sign shouting “STOP!” your commute–and very possibly the next day’s commute–is over.

It’s not just that the bus stops every ten feet–American school children can’t walk more than that unless they live in budget-strapped cities where politicians don’t pay for busses–it’s the safety procedures that make time stand still.

My son’s bus driver has to put out the STOP! sign. Then, she uses the loud-speaker to say “bus approaching” which seems pointless since I hear the rumble of the diesel engine and see a glowing banana on wheels a mile away.

The boy gets out with the bus monitor who hands him to me but still has to circle the bus and look under, though she can see Declan the entire time.

The bus doesn’t leave at that point. The driver’s must say, “Bus leaving,” to alert the traffic it’s time to move again. Only then can she resume travels at a safe twenty-five miles per hour down the road to the next stop, inches down the road.

Juan, the Costa Rican Uber, passed a school bus going 130kph, about 80-85mph. Apparently Costa Rican lawmakers figure kids can get off busses by themselves.

Juan weaved in and out of back country roads with superior efficiency. Juan was a trained professional–or at least a driver with a car. He passed two tourist busses and a slow car into oncoming traffic, returning to our lane with meters to spare. He buzzed by workers and mopeds at top speed. No one flinched. These people didn’t even have helmets or a designated bike lane. He sped by pedestrians and raced through a school zone while kids waited patiently for traffic to clear–without the hint of a crossing guard or light. It was magic.

Juan got us to the airport well ahead of schedule, in style. I wondered if he could pick me up for work.

“Cien dollares,” he said. It was on the high side–we were late and forgot to negotiate. The adventure was worth the price.

Juan made me think–has America gone soft?

We have labels and protections on everything from our food to our bus routes. I like safety–no one should be at risk because of negligence, but it’s impossible to make a law for everything, though we try, and at times, that’s what America feels like.

Driving with Juan–without an American-legislated seatbelt–was all the risk I’ve taken in the past several years, but it felt good, freeing. For a brief minute I was challenging a system so tight with rules and regulations, I had forgotten what it was like to live any other way.

Epilogue: 

I returned safely to America aboard flights that gave 20 minute safety speeches. I got airport coffee with an etched warning,”Be careful, this is really hot you idiot, and since we told you, you can’t sue us.” The next day I put my lunch in a plastic grocery bag–I couldn’t find my lunch box. The bag said “Don’t put this over your head, you stupid American. It’ll suffocate you. And by the way, buy your kid a toy. This bag is not a toy.” Then, I drove to work at a safe speed, blinkering as I passed slower traffic on the way, stopping every fifteen feet behind the school bus in front of me.

And since I’d left the country on election day after just casting my vote, I scrolled down the list of winners and losers, knowing these would be the people passing laws to keep me safe for the next four years.

 

 

 

 

 

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