by bob anderson
June 18, 2013
Even in a world homogenized by television and the Internet, some cities hold tightly to their customs.
Some of those customs, like New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, Cajun food and jazz funerals, are part of what makes that city unique to travelers from other states and countries.
While oddities can help to make a place a tourist destination, idiosyncrasies just make some cities difficult.
San Jose, Costa Rica, has inexplicably clung to one such difference, and I had to laugh with pleasure last week when I saw it decided to change an aggravating difference.
My younger son moved there to teach several years ago. When I asked him for his address, so I could send mail, he informed me that the city had practically no residential mail delivery.
If I had to mail something to him, I could try mailing it to his employer, but even that would be rolling the postal dice.
Thinking of the most common item mixed with the advertisements in my mail, I asked how he got bills.
The utilities send out runners to stick bills in your door, he said.
I raised my eyebrows at what seemed like a duplication of effort, then asked him for his address in case he disappeared and I had to search for him like a father in a movie.
“People don’t have addresses in San Jose,” he said.
When I accepted his invitation to visit several months later, I asked for his street name so I could give it to the cab driver.
“San Jose doesn’t have street names,” he said.
For one of the few times in his life, I questioned his veracity as the information he supplied mounted.
How could a city of 1.5 million people not have street names?
“If it does, nobody knows what they are,” he said. “We don’t have street signs.”
He would be teaching when I landed, so he gave me instructions on how to get to his house.
The directions were complicated and mostly involved distances, landmarks and direction of turns. I knew if I messed up any one of them I would be lost.
Though I don’t remember all of the instructions, the last of them was to go 400 meters east to the “roasted chicken place” and then go 50 meters south to where his house would be behind a fence on the right.
Subsequent directions from anybody in San Jose to get anywhere there were given in similar terms. With the modicum of Spanish I had hardly used in more than 40 years, navigating the city proved a challenge.
San Jose is not an endearing city, but it’s a necessary stop in visiting Costa Rica, which is a marvelous country. That made me glad to see a story in The Advocate Saturday saying San Jose is putting up street signs.
I’d like to go back to Costa Rica even though Casey is now teaching in Tokyo.
If my wife and I visit him there, at least Tokyo has street signs, but I guess it doesn’t matter. We won’t be able to read them anyway.
Email Bob Anderson at email@example.com.