Some of you will think less of me after reading this. But I’m going to convince myself you were just looking for an excuse. This one’s kinda long, better get something to drink. If you are drinking shooters, make a few.
Five a.m. Saturday, I drive the boys into downtown San José to catch the 6am bus to the beach. They are going with a friend, Andy, and Andy’s dad, Martin, for a day of surfing. Not a great day to surf, very calm and the tide charts say it’s all wrong to be doing this, but it’s the day everyone can go. Since nobody is itching to be the next Moondoggie, that’s reason enough, right?
They arrive 9am, start scoping out surfboard rental places. The one they’d used before wants a deposit on a credit card. Eeeyouuuu. They decide to look for another place. They find one (because there’s only a million surfboard rental places in Costa Rica), a makeshift tienda [tee-IN-dah, store] near the water. No deposit, no instructions, no contract. The Surfboard Dude held Martin’s U.S. driver’s license and gave out two shortboards, $10 each for the day. Cool.
They walk into the water. Morgan and Andy catch a wave or two. Not long into the fun, both boys are on a good-sized wave and decide to ditch. They fall off the boards, ride the wave to shore. Where they find both boards, Mo’s being in two pieces. Right across the middle. Bummer.
They pick up the pieces and head to the rental place. I’m not there, remember, I’m in Pavas rehearsing showtunes with my friend Sheila, when I get the phone call. It’s Ryan. He says, "Morgan’s board broke in two and Martin wants your okay to pay for it. $450." Without a conscious thought, I morph into Criticia Voluptua Right-Right, Pitbull REALTOR®. Sheila says I looked different and she was sore afraid. By the time I got off the phone, she and Carol, our pianist, were staring at me, wide-eyed and, I think, kinda awed. Trust me when I say you want Criticia on your side of the table. Surfboard Dude didn’t have a chance.
BACKGROUND: I am paranoid and suspicious by nature. Yes, I think they are out to get me. How do you think I earned that nickname? I was immediately suspicious. I gotta nose for B.S. and I’m not usually off the mark. I mean we lived in the Mecca of All Tourist Traps for 30 years. You learn to watch your back. Every other week, you read of some hapless tourist getting scammed by a t-shirt or jewelry salesperson. If you shopped on Duval Street without being completely paranoid and suspicious, you ran a good chance of getting taken. It’s better there these days… tourism is down and vendors are a little more grateful. That phenom has not hit Costa Rica. Yet.
I’ll spare the gritty details. I was not a raving lunatic, I was firm and to the point. I asked if there was anything in writing: no. Was there a sign that said, "You break it, you buy it." No. No instruction, no contract, no deposit, no upfront rental agreement… nada. I talked to Ryan, Morgan, Martin and Surfboard Dude, whose name I still don’t know. Dude was nice at first, then whiny, then a tad nasty. I told him I was definitely not paying anything for the board that day, to send a bill home with my sons, I would present it to my lawyer and get back to him. I told him we lived in Escazú, I told Martin to tell him the name of this website, my name, whatever they needed to know. But I was not paying anything right then.
I needed time to think. If we had been told upfront we’d owe $450 if we broke a board, we would not have rented. At least not without a thorough examination of the board, many photos (I’m big on photo-ing things I rent) and enthusiastic assurances that broken boards are rare. I’m good with agreements I make upfront. But this reeked.
I asked Martin to get a copy of their business license and to mention the phrase "sales tax receipts." If they don’t have those, then who are they to demand their version of fair play? It’s the pitbull thing.
Martin was not happy about leaving his driver’s license. But he doesn’t drive in Costa Rica and getting a replacement isn’t that hard. It surely doesn’t cost $450! I didn’t want to be blasé about his predicament, but his driver’s license wasn’t worth $450 to either of us. Actually, at some point the price dropped to $350. But Martin had to deal with them face to face. I felt plenty guilty about that.
I SO wish I’d been there.
At one point, Martin asked would I pay $100, just to be done with it and get his license back. Not happy but anxious to have them out of that situation, I said, "OK. But be sure to tell them this is the last dime they’ll get out of me." Unfortunately, this was like phone call number three or four, and by the time Martin and I hung up, Dude had taken his broken board and headed home. I figure Dude has my phone number, he’ll call.
The boys go eat, then head to the bus home. They are on the bus when Dude and Dude’s Boss get on the bus and demand $200 for the repair. "We got a quote," they say. They also say they are not letting the bus leave until they get paid. Or at least extract a promise to pay. Which I’ve already given, but, hey, I’m a girl. This is a last ditch effort for cash, but Martin is wisely doing the estoy limpio thing [s-TOY LEEMP-ee-oh, I am clean which is what you say to beggars].
They call us again, since that’s been so successful. Hal has the phone now. He asks, "How can you hold up the bus?"
The Dudes answer in unison, "Because we live here. We can do whatever we want."
I swear to you that’s verbatim. This does not help their case. Hal is livid, Morgan is completely traumatized and feeling a heavy weight. Martin, Andy and Ryan are like, "Whoa… get us the heck outta here."
Hal tells them to send him the repair bill, he will pay it. Unfortunately, this promise is extorted. We want our boys home and away from these hooligans. We would have promised anything at that point. Dude and Big Dude get off the bus, the boys get home. Actually, Morgan has to go right to the Little Theatre to rehearsal because he is running the lights for the upcoming play. By the time he does get home, he is exhausted physically and emotionally.
By today, Morgan and I are pretty wrung out. Things like this take it out of you. Mo is still not quite himself, it was a pretty big burden. He felt like he ruined the day for everyone, that those men were jerks because of him. I want to punch them. Morgan wasn’t even touching the board when it broke, everyone attests to that. It was a freak accident or a really crappy board.
I’ve spent the past day and a half researching, questioning, thinking. What is the right thing? Basically, if we’d agreed to buy the board, we would have. But we didn’t. Prior to board rental, we made no promises, none were made to or asked of us. End of story.
If they come up with a repair bill, I will make sure it’s legit before I consider paying it. As well as research their business license and check out their reputation. It’s a small country.
Is it the money? No. You are talking to a woman who could spend $500 in Kmart in the Martha Stewart section alone. In under an hour.
So that’s where we are. Morgan is at rehearsal. I think he understands those Dudes were jerks because that’s what they do, not because of him. Agreement #2: don’t take anything personally.
Have not heard from the Dudes. I did get a quote today to fix a board broken in half: $80.
This is the last thing, then I’ll shut up (sure): if they had said, "Wow, that board broke. Let’s see, it’ll be $100 to fix it." Any reasonable response, we’d have probably paid, even without an upfront agreement. But they don’t get a credit card or sign a rental agreement or tell you anything upfront because this way works better for them. Usually.