That empty stool is where I sat tonight.
Bocaditos is a bar that, if this is to be said of any business establishment in San Ramón, is my home. On our first year of the program I spent many an evening with the group at Bocaditos having a drink or two and reflecting on the day of mind-altering interactions. It sort of became a haven that year: the bartenders knew us, the guys at the bar knew me, and it wasn't like it was some kind of Gringo bar. We just made it our place among the Ticos.
And so it has been. I went there tonight for the first time this year to watch the Jamaica/Mexico World Cup Qualifier. I was happy to find my old friend Arturo sitting in his usual place at the bar and drinking his usual scotch with water. Arturo's a man I like because he doesn't say much, and what he says he doesn't say well. He's terribly hard to understand. He's also terribly nice. I tapped him on the back, "¿Cómo le va amigo?" And I watched it slowly dawn across his face: "I know this Gringo? Oh! I know this Gringo!" "Hola, amigo", he said.
When I came back last summer, he stood up and gave me a big, happy hug. But now, it was like I had always been there. When you meet someone and have a good connection and tell them that you'll be back next year, you know that first meeting "next year" will be special because who believes promises a year in advance? Last year was a special surprise when I saw Arturo for the first time. We hugged like lost buddies, and I craned my ears to understand what he was trying to say. This time? Just "Hola, amigo" and a pat on the back. It's nice to have a place where people know you and feel your coming and going as simply a part of the rhythm of the place.
I didn't know the man in the stool next to me and was trying to figure out how to talk to him for the first 20 minuts of the match. Clearly, he'd come to watch it because he was peering up at the TV with a twisted neck. I enjoy the challenge of trying to find a reason to pull someone into conversation with me, especially since it's my second language. This guy happened to be drinking a Corona. There it was!
"So, are you rooting for Mexico tonight, or what? I think you've got the wrong beer." (I've yet to meet a Tico that supports Mexico)
"Oh no... I just like Corona I guess. We need them to lose tonight to stay third."
And then we were off on a discussion of the qualification table and who we wanted to go through to the World Cup. Of course, there was plenty to talk about after my trip to Denver in March for the WorldCupQualifier in which the USA defeated Costa Rica much to the Tico's anger. Costa Rica appealed to FIFA that the ref didn't call off the match after SO MUCH SNOW had fallen by half time. It was wild and a definite highlight of my year. Knowing football is always among the most useful knowledge sets when trying to talk to Latin Americans. It's as seamless and ubiquitous as the weather conversation we all have.
At one point when I excused myself to the bathroom I had a quintessential "where are you?" moment:
I was peeing in the urinal.
I looked up from the urinal.
I saw a gecko one foot from my face on the wall.
I instantly thought: "plastic."
I remembered where I was.
I saw it lick its eye.
I finished and returned to the bar.
It's a shame that this was my first visit to Bocaditos having been here now for 10 days, but it's good to be reminded that there I have some sort of a home.