"In America, you'll get food to eat. Don't have to run through the jungle and scuff up your feet. You'll just sing about Jesus and drink wine all day. It's great to be an American."
                      – from Sail Away, Randy Newman's clever slave-trade ditty

All true, so far. We're here in the good ole U.S. of A. Hal's mom was not well (she's better now), Spirit Air had tickets for $250 each = a good time to see what's up here. I guess the USA is still the same… but a few things struck me right off. Like:

  • Once the shock of Naples' grandiosity subsided, it feels like we never left (Hal's mom lives in Naples)
  • Cottage cheese is the best thing since sliced bread. We've eaten at least one large container a day.
  • We are doing all day here what we do all day there: sit in front of our computers for work and play. Does it matter where we are?
  • For all my whining about missing my buddies, we've seen and actually talked to those buddies more during our visits in the last two years than we did the 25 years before that. Ok, that's a slight exaggeration, but not far off…
  • There are fewer people here who are really important to me than I thought. The really important people are in my radar no matter where I am in the world.
  • Everything in Florida is flat, not a hill in sight. Except for the…
  • Convoluted highways with overpasses three and four deep
  • Drivers know how to merge
  • Going 80mph
  • Girls as tall as Morgan (6' 1")
  • $2.50 tolls
  • Too much English spoken
  • Everybody comes to a complete stop at stoplights, then they wait till it turns green to go. What a concept.
  • Country music on the radio
  • All the roads have names. In Naples, they all have two-word names, like Rattlesnake Hammock Drive and Imperial Wilderness Way.
  • I have not seen one guy peeing on the side of the road
  • No farm animals tied up to people's houses
  • No farm animals being herded through town
  • No farm animals grazing along the road
  • No farm animal poop anywhere
  • If you don't jam on the gas pedal the second the light turns green, no one honks their horn
  • Restaurants are EXPENSIVE. I will never not complain about Costa Rica's restaurants.
  • Even though we constantly chat amongst our expat selves over there about how civil liberties are being sacrificed right and left over here, when you are here, you don't even notice. Which is, of course, how they get away with it.
  • Everyone says "cahstah" Rica, even after hearing us say "coast-ah" Rica.

Have we really been gone two years? I feel like I stepped through a wormhole. The only way I know it's been so long is that I'm different: calmer, happier. And the boys have doubled in size. Otherwise, it seems so regular to be here.

I admit it: I love Key West. I love seeing my girlfriends, I love seeing Key West so green and lush – it's finally recovered from Wilma. The houses are so pretty, the streets so whole. The town maintains a prosperous air (even though it is most decidedly not.) A pretty, sunny, familiar face.

Skipper_leanna_gordyI spent last week running around, doing unexpected business. Like I got a new property management customer, wrote an offer for a buyer on a foreclosure (plenty of those around), joined forces with a long-time REALTOR® here, met with a REALTOR® up the keys who's had a Costa Rica real estate office in Heredia for 25 years. Perhaps I will do some referral work with her.

Ganesha_danceFrom here on out, it's playtime. Like there is some very fine music to be enjoyed. Photo left: Skipper Kripitz, Leanna Collins and Gordy Michaels make the jazz at The Gardens Hotel on Sunday Afternoons.

I saw a local dance company's beautiful production at the Waterfront Playhouse, one of the three busy theatres here. Starting top left in the photo is Kyra and Andres (oh my God, you cannot take your eyes off Andres), then Leigh, Denis (ditto Denis) and Mary Kay. Real honest-to-God dancers.

The Robert Frost Festival starts next week. Key West is famous for its talent. I'm suddenly very aware of it and determined to enjoy as much as possible. Because, you know, I'm a singer in a geezer band now. Gotta stay up with my people.

Captain_outrageous_airstreamKey West's real estate market is suffering badly and the worst is yet to come. Like a house I sold (not pictured) for $850,000 the winter of '05 is now going for $350,000. I've heard of others. "Deals" like this are just now making the Coconut Telegraph. Countrywide has $500M in loans here in Key West; $90M are in foreclosure. The snowball is at the top of the mountain. Once all these foreclosures hit the local MSM, it's all she wrote. I'm thinking the bottom will appear in the next year to two years. Unless you are a savvy real estate buyer, save your money.

"Ain't no lions or tigers, ain't no mamba snake. Just the sweet watermelon and the buckwheat cake. Ev'rybody is as happy as a man can be. Climb aboard, little wog, sail away with me."

After being stateside these past few days, a Deep Thought crystallized. I've circled this bridge before and nobody wants to hear me say it out loud, least of all my husband. It's practically blasphemy in the expat world. But here it is: Costa Rica is not cheap enough to justify how hard the day-to-day life is. Hard being mostly culture shock, roads and crime. Feeling like a target all the time is wearing on a body. As is being jostled around in your car practically every minute you are in it.

It's not all bad: I love the life there. I'm looking forward to going back. We've made excellent friends. Nothing would have forced us to think outside the income box except living where that's the only option. Besides, what would my geezer band do without me?

If I were rich, where would I live right now? I'd live in Costa Rica and travel on a whim, no contest. But we're not rich and cost of living is key: it was a major consideration when choosing Costa Rica. Yes, there are places in the U.S. cheaper than Costa Rica. Not that I want to actually live any of those places, but at this point in my life, I'll consider anything. Necessity and all that.

In a year, Key West will be affordable. The really critical thing is: I can work here. I've LOVED working the past few days. I like earning money, I like dressing up and doing my thing. I spent twelve years building a business, then just walked out. I could still walk back in – that is compelling. I guess I miss that more than I thought.

Here's something else that been eating at me lately: the boys can get jobs here. They are ready and it's not possible in Costa Rica. Probably seems like a little thing to you, but niggling at me…

Plus there's Hansa's cooking. Oh my goodness. Spicy, delicious vegetarian food. Hansa can cook and I'm always welcome at her table. Like tonight. She told me I can go on YouTube and find videos for making her recipes. While her dishes are so exotic to me, I guess they are "everyday" in India… if I cooked in Costa Rica like Hansa cooks in Key West, I'll bet our food bill would be way cheaper!

For now, I'll keep pretending I'm rich: living in Costa Rica, traveling on a whim. One day at a time. This sure seems to be working for us. Funny, every time I think this issue is settled, something comes along to rattle that cage.

"In America every man is free to take care of his home and his family. You'll be as happy as a monkey in a monkey tree. You're all gonna be an American."

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