My husband loves to talk about block parties he had as a kid growing up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The men would race with balloons between their knees, and kids would bob for apples. None of it was very complicated or expensive. The main goal was to get everyone together to encourage a strong community.
Living in row houses may have been congested, but if you were running low on salt or sugar, you could easily get a cup by knocking on the wall and calling out to your neighbor. Everyone helped each other out, and the evenings were full of people sitting in their yards together enjoying glasses of lemonade.
Although Costa Rica has wide open spaces, it has a sense of community that reminds my husband of his youth. People are friendly, and are willing to lend a hand when needed. Their block parties are simple affairs. Children dance to music in the streets while women ladle out gallo pinto. Men on horses show off their skills; the horses decked out with braided manes and fancy saddles.
I get this same feeling when we are out on the town. It’s never complicated here, the dress code is always the same: shorts, T-shirt, and flip-flops. Everyone knows each other and is excited when they see their friends walk through the door. It’s as if I stepped back in time and walked into my old college bar. The familiarity makes me remember a moment that I almost forgot, that intimate feeling when people are excited that you showed up to join the fun.
The other night I went out to see a popular band, Local Legend, play in Potrero. The restaurant was right on the beach, with plenty of tables and a large swimming pool. I don’t go out much in the evening, but was surprised when I noticed so many of my friends were there. And it wasn’t just the adults having fun, they brought their children who were busy playing Marco Polo in the pool and singing along to the songs.
There were people of all ages dancing to the music. I noticed that there was a lack of pretense. Maybe it’s because we all face the same issues: mysterious car problems, intermittent utilities, and bureaucratic red tape. Much of this you can’t throw money at; it gets fixed on its own schedule. All you can do is nod your head in agreement when you hear of someone who has been waiting on a car part for two months. You just laugh, because you know that will most likely be you in the near future.
As the night went on, the restaurant became more crowded and I realized that this was the most people I’ve seen in this small beach town in a long time. It occurred to me that the entire community showed up to support the band and the restaurant that just recently reopened.
Toward the end of the night, my husband turned to me and said, “Doesn’t this feel like a block party? We all know each other; everyone is being friendly and considerate as they walk through the crowd. It just feels so much different than going to a club in the states. It’s as if people accept you here and are more concerned about your character than what you have to offer.” It was then the rain came and many of us ran into it and cooled ourselves off. The kids just jumped back into the pool.
We stayed until the last song before driving home. The rain subsided but left a misty fog across the road, making the potholes even harder to avoid. When I first moved here, it was hard to quantify all the things that made Costa Rica so attractive. Some were easy: the weather, friendly Ticos, and a lower cost of living. Others were more subtle, like the camaraderie I experienced that night.
Maybe I was searching for one big block party; one that had me dancing in the rain.