“How are we going to carry all this money out of the bank? We can’t just walk out of here with a paper bag full of cash,” I question as money is stacked in front of us.
We just withdrew five thousand dollars’ worth of colones, the Costa Rican currency, to buy a twelve thousand dollar car. There is a limit to how much cash you can withdraw from this bank in a single day. We now need to go to another one across town and attempt to withdraw the remaining seven thousand dollars to purchase the vehicle. After the teller finishes counting, she lays out two hundred and fifty bills in a single pile. Costa Rica does not have any currency worth more than twenty dollars, thus creating my towering skyscraper of cash. This has brought a considerable amount of unwanted attention from the other customers standing in line.
“Don’t worry,” Rob leans in and whispers, “I’m going to stick it in my underwear.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“No I’m not kidding you. I’m going into the bathroom to stuff the cash into my underwear, most in the front with some in the back. I’m pretty sure I can get it all in there.” Rob reaches across the desk and slides the neatly piled cash into a plastic shopping bag. He then casually walks to the men’s bathroom.
I’m embarrassed to confess that this isn’t the first time Rob has hidden things in his underwear. Rob is constantly concerned about crime and feels that his drawers are the safest place to hide sensitive documents. On more than one occasion, our cash and credit cards disappeared into the dark recesses of his pants. I always felt sorry when I bought something from a vendor, giving them the cash that had been against Rob’s nether regions for the better part of a sunny afternoon. Now Rob wants to take this a step further and do the same with the five grand.
We never thought we would need to spend so much for a used car. They are expensive because the cars are shipped into the country and taxed heavily, a burden passed on to the buyer. This makes the cost double the blue book value listed in the States, but we had no choice and narrowed our selection down to a four-wheel drive SUV. The harrowing drive across Costa Rica influenced us in owning a powerful vehicle to handle the occasional river and steep mountainous inclines, and since the road to our house takes us through a river and up a steep mountainous incline, an SUV appeared to be the best option. We spend a few days looking at different models and decide on a Mitsubishi Montero, mostly because many people drive them here, and we know it must be cheap to get parts.
While shopping, we notice the dealerships have replaced things in the cars that one doesn’t usually see replaced. It wasn’t uncommon to see gray seats, a white dashboard, beige glove compartment, and a black steering wheel all in the same vehicle. This patchwork reminds me that this would be an excellent way to hide the effects of the waterlogged cars from Hurricane Katrina, and since some of these cars have “floated” on over to Costa Rica, Rob and I are meticulous when inspecting the inside and outside of the vehicles. I trust Rob since he has a lot of experience fixing cars.
When Rob was in high school, he noticed a puke green 1970 Nova that hadn’t moved for the street sweepers in months. It accumulated tickets until there was a pile clipped under the windshield wipers. He left a note asking the owner if he wanted to sell the car. The guy showed up and told him it ran, but someone had stolen both the radiator and the battery. Rob had no idea if it would work but knew Novas had a history of being reliable vehicles. Rob talked the owner down to fifty bucks, went to the junkyard, and bought a battery and radiator. He also took a roller and painted the car with two coats of Benjamin Moore’s white outdoor oil paint. That part, he said, was to impress the ladies.
Rob made the necessary repairs, and the Nova ran great until his crazy friend Dom (a guy who used motor oil on his head to clean out his hair follicles), got angry with Rob and shot out two tires, both car doors, and something under the hood that caused the heater to remain on indefinitely. The shoot-out occurred while Rob hid behind an oak tree helplessly watching as his car, and the oak tree, got blasted by a hail of bullets. Once Dom went back inside to lather his head with more oil, Rob jumped in his car and wobbled away on two flat tires.
After going back to the same junkyard, he once again fixed the Nova and used it for his budding career as a car service driver. He picked up customers in a car with bullet holes in the doors, a duct taped window, and a heater blasting in the middle of August not to mention, the passenger door was jammed, making them enter through the driver’s side and slide across the bench seat. It was this attention to detail that made the car unforgettable, not only to his paying clients, but also to the girls he tried to pick up while cruising down 86th street.
With that in mind, Rob searched for a vehicle he felt would have the same stamina the old Nova displayed years before. We found a red 1998 Mitsubishi Montero with roughly one hundred thousand miles, priced at twelve thousand dollars. Nobody in their right mind would pay that in the States. We brought our interpreter with us and started to negotiate, but this is where being gringos and pulling up in a rental car hampered us getting a good deal. Desperation is the world’s worst cologne, and we reeked of it.
Our interpreter was a sweet seventeen-year-old girl formally from California. She moved here with her parents when she was five and is fluent in Spanish. The owner of the dealership was not present, but the salesman called him and gave the phone to our interpreter. With her help, Rob began the negotiations. I was eager to see what kind of deal we would get. Rob’s tough Brooklyn-style bargaining had been successful with us never paying sticker price. He would talk down the price of a turkey sandwich if he thought he could get a better deal.
“Tell him I’ll give him ten grand,” Rob said. Reluctantly, our interpreter relayed the message.
“He said he’ll take twelve thousand dollars,” she nervously returned.
“What? Tell him I’ll give him ten thousand five hundred.” These negotiations went back and forth as our translator got upset. She had not planned on being in the middle of a heated discussion, and at seventeen, I doubt she had ever been placed in this position before. I started to feel bad for her when Rob barked, “I won’t go over eleven thousand five hundred. Tell him that’s it; I won’t pay a penny more.”
“Hmm… ah… he’s not going to like that.”
“Just tell him, that’s it; I’ll walk.” Rob confidently leaned back in his chair as our interpreter meekly relayed the message and consequently pulled the phone away from her ear. All of us heard the screaming. She then put her ear back to the phone, listened for another ten seconds, and turned back to Rob.
“He said he’ll take twelve thousand dollars.” And that’s how we ended up paying full price for our car, the first time in Pisani history. Rob’s Brooklyn negotiation skills sucked more than finding a DVD boxed set of Steven Seagal movies under the Christmas tree. I actually thought Rob might walk away, but the thought of paying another week for the rental car caused him to fold. It was the end of an intoxicating era.
I was thinking we were finished when the owner requested something out of the ordinary and more than a little suspicious. He wanted the money deposited into his account before he signed over the title. At first, we thought this was translated wrong. But no, he definitely said it. He promised he would provide us the legal paperwork after he received the money. Rob had done his homework and knew that this transaction should be performed in front of an attorney at the time of sale. Once we said we wouldn’t provide the money without the paperwork, the owner then wanted the money in cash or he would sell the car to someone else. We had no other choice but to figure out how we could acquire such a humongous sum of money in one day. With all the modern fraud protection on bank accounts, we knew this would not be an easy task.
I am now waiting for Rob to return from the bathroom with the five grand in his pants. We took the maximum cash advances on our credit cards and as much money as we could from our checking account. Finally, after several hours, we end up with less than half the money. Rob walks out of the bathroom and we try the same procedure at another bank. Luckily, they allow us to withdraw the remaining seven grand. We now need to walk two blocks with Rob carrying all of the cash in his underpants. Forgive me for being paranoid, but I get a little uncomfortable running all over a Central American town with twelve grand in my husband’s tighty-whiteys.
Rob exits the men’s room and waddles toward me with his grossly distorted pelvis. His pants are pulled up to his navel to prevent the money from pulling his underwear down. This gives him an unflattering case of high waters. I am unclear how this will help us blend into the crowd since my husband now looks like Jerry Lewis. We leave the bank and make a run for our car.
“You go first, and I’ll follow,” Rob says as he waddles across the street. He always makes me go first, another one of his security precautions, but this time it doesn’t make much sense since he is the one carrying the money and the one most likely to get hit over the head. Taking one last glance at his mismatched socks, I decide to take his advice and walk as far away from him as possible.
“This is crazy… the whole thing… it’s nuts,” I say as Rob opens the car door for me. “I feel like everything is harder here. How are we supposed to get anything done if buying a car is so damn difficult?”
“It’s just a snag, a small inconvenience. Today we will get the car and return the rental. It’s one more thing we can put behind us.” Rob starts the car, and we head to the dealership’s attorney. He is bilingual, so we will have a modest idea of what the hell he is talking about. It doesn’t take long for him to invite us into his office, where he lays out a variety of papers for us to sign. However, the SUV is not here yet. We ask the attorney to call the dealership and find out what the holdup is. When he reaches the owner over the phone, we can overhear him screaming, and the only bit I understand is crazy gringo. Just what you want to hear with twelve grand stacked in front of you.
“What’s the problem?” Rob asks.
“There seems to be an issue, Senor. He doesn’t want to sell it to you anymore.”
“Why the hell not?”
“He says you did not trust him. He wanted you to deposit the money into his account, and you didn’t, and I don’t think he likes gringos too much,” the attorney says as he pulls at his buttoned collar. Rob stands up and approaches him.
“If you think I am going to walk out of here with twelve thousand dollars in my pants… well… you’re out of your fucking mind. How many other people know I have this money?” Rob’s voice gets louder with each step toward the attorney. “I want you to call him back, tell him we did everything he asked, except we want a legal transaction just like any other Tico in Costa Rica. You got that?” They’re standing face to face, and I see a bead of sweat trickle down the attorney’s forehead. He quickly grabs his phone, and a salesman drives up with the SUV in less than five minutes.
The paperwork appears to be in order, all but the amount of three thousand dollars he put down as the purchase price, another way the dealership can avoid paying additional taxes, but we don’t care. We sign everything, and the salesman hands us the keys and one license plate.
“Where’s the other one?” I ask.
“You only need one in Costa Rica,” he says before swiftly leaving the office. We walk out to the street and soon notice all the other vehicles have two license plates. I am not surprised; the guy had all the intentions of screwing us one way or the other, but on the bright side, I do get great satisfaction knowing they are handling money that sat in Rob’s sweaty underpants.
The most important thing is that we have a car and can return the rental today. And even if they got one past us, at least the car is in my name.