The second day that they were stranded in the jungle, Kevin found the 1000 watt light bulb and started to attract insects.
He spread a sheet on the ground down by the old pumphouse and, with the bulb in a shadeless lamp, turned it on just after nightfall. Then all three - Mario, AJ, and Kevin - would sit around and wait to see what was going to fly out of the jungle.
There were remarkably few insects in Costa Rica, and aside from some non-biting flys down by the Pacific beach, they hadn't noticed any since leaving San Jose. But now, they got to see insects as big as a baseball. Sometimes they could hear the buzz of their wings all the way from the other side of the creek, followed a few seconds later by a thunmp as they hit the sheet. Then all 3 would jump up with their flashlights to examine the visitor.
Angel, of course, thought they were crazy. After the first night of bug baiting, he stayed up in the Subaru and would have nothing to do with the rest of the expedition. But, of course, being crazy gringos, they needed some form of entertainment in the pitch black nights without TV or radio.
The Junkyard trip to Costa Rica started three days after Chrismas 1996, when the Richfield cop and the Richfield zoning lady showed up at the Junkyard. They didn't ring the bell, but immediately set to lurking about the property.
AJ had the day off from work, and he saw them in the back, clip board in hand, so he went out to make gentle conversation. Patrolman Davis mostly talked about his recent knee injury and Mrs Tibbs, who had been pregnant on her last visit to the Junkyard, was congratulated on the successful birth of a son. The visit lasted about 15 minutes.
Two days later the letter from the Richfield Police arrived. Click here to read the letter in its entirety. It is a fine example of the letter writer's craft. In summary, six vehicles (out of 27) had been found to have recently expired license plates. And this constituted a minor misdemeanor - the very bottom of the scale of criminal offenses. But the letter threatens not the $100 fine, but seizure, forfeiture, and sale at public auction for scrap value of the unlicensed vehicles without benefit of due process.
The list of offending vehicles with expired plates included one vehicle (71 bus) which had not been on the property for 6 months. The obvious conclusion is that the list was created back in July when the cop and the pregnant zoning lady had made their previous visit. The municipality had merely waited until the expiration date for these plates and then come down to verify they were in fact expired. Not entrapment, exactly - just makin' friends.
This was not the first time that the municipality had tried to shut down the Junkyard. 10 years before, they had tried the same action over cars with current, legal plates. AJ told Judge Stubbs (RIP), "If they can do this to me, I'm going to give them your address" and the Judge agreed and found the Junkyard innocent.
But this time, the threatened actions attacked the very core of American freedom - the right to own private property. Everyone saw the problem and knew that it was a question of much more than junk cars.
So everyone kicked in a few bucks and AJ, still Safety Officer from the construction of the new building last summer, took the responsibility of putting the titles in his name and he went down to the license bureau and bought a bunch of plates at an average cost of $45 each, and put them on the vehicles and that was the end of that matter.
As Doug, the owner of the Doug Out Bar and Grill, so aptly put it: "What a waste! That's $300 that I'll never see in my cash register."
But somehow AJ forgot to get plates for the 71 Super Beetle with auto-stick that the Moats boys had donated to the Junkyard the year before. At least, that's his claim, although Mario - who had his eyes on the transmission for his 71 Ghia, claims gross incompetence as the cause. In any case, the Super Beetle did not get plates in time for the deadline.
And the first that anyone knew about it was when the guys from Gmark towing showed up with the cop to seize the vehicle (no local towing operation would touch the job). Kristie and Carolyn were incensed with rage and might well have gotten arrested if more sensible heads had not prevailed. The Hoopster made friends with the towtruck driver while the cop was arguing with the girls, and although the Tom, the tow truck driver, would not have a beer because of obvious reasons, Eddie, his helper, was happy to accept one.
And despite the calumny heaped upon the officer by Carolyn and Kristie, everyone knew that this affair was none of his doing and he was just performing his job. So eventually Kristie and Carolyn moved their buses to avoid having Tom tow them out of the way, and then Tom had to move a half dozen other vehicles (although he was kind enough to drop them over by the new building where they were going anyway), to gain access to the miscreant Super Beetle, and then it was hooked up and ready to go, Eddie finished his fourth beer, the Patrolman was feeling bad and sort of apologizing for the whole affair - laying the blame at Mayor Lumber's door, and then the Super Beetle was gone, never to be heard from again.
Mario called the Village Hall and tried to find out when the public auction was, but they wouldn't tell him.
That was sort of the end of the matter. The larger question was just becoming clear.
Consider for a moment. What is the fine for failing to paint your house? Is it a minor misdemeanor - the least serious of crimes? If so, can they come seize the house, cause you to forfeit it, and then sell it at public auction?
What about running a stop sign? Can they take your car? How about if the kid breaks a neighbor's window with the softball? Can they take your back yard? How about defaming the mayor on the internet? Can they take your computer? And what will you do about it? Hire a lawyer? Spend a lot of money?
The implications are still ringing. And if they can do it in Richfield, they can do it in your hometown, Unless you live somewhere outside the United States, in which case you probably have woes of your own. But this is a sticking point with us. We're Americans.
So everyone at the Junkyard saw the handwriting on the wall. The municipality, in its quest to toady and fawn over the millionaires who are beginning to build houses in Richfield, had obviously decided to get rid of the Junkyard. No room for honest, hard-working people in this town any more. Things might have been different if it had been the Mercedes Junkyard.
And a caution to those millionaires: don't have anything too nice. Don't have anything that Mayor Lumber will covet. Because he can send the cops around to get it.
Obviously, the Junkyard would have to move. But where?
Mario did the research on the internet and came up with Costa Rica.
Here's his list of reasons:
Mario went further and contacted Ted, a real estate agent in San Jose and began weeding through properties. Most were houses or beach front cottages and inappropriate to the needs of the Junkyard, but there was one 40 acre parcel in downtown San Pedro and one 10 acre plot on the Caribbean coast. But the most likely of all was a 20 acre section of jungle just a wee bit inland from the Pacific Ocean that had been used for recycling automobiles for the last 20 years.
So a command council was organized and the final decision was to have Kevin, Mario, and AJ fly down to Costa for an inspection, not only of the property, but of the entire plan to move as well. The first action was to go to the photographer's, then to the downtown Post Office to apply for passports. Then the Cali bus (63 II) was pulled into the shop and in a short week of frantic activity, it was overhauled and painted and put up for sale to pay for the expedition.
Six weeks later, when the passports arrived, the bus had sold for $2000 (what a deal), enough for three round-trip tickets and some spending money left over. So the expeditionary force loaded up luggage and tents and bedrolls and - one snowy morning - headed to the airport in Aunt Mary's van.
It was the first time Mario had flown in a jet, and he didn't see much difference from flying in that puddle-jumper up to Pelee Island, until the one leg of the flight where there was a bolt and washer fastened to the wing outside his window at take-off but there was none at landing. AJ and Kevin were drinking to excess at the time and didn't much care.
Ted, the real estate man, met them at the airport and had arranged for them to stay in a vacant apartment in San Jose for a month. He took them to see the San Pedro property, and although it was a nice location with a stunning view of San Jose and the encircling mountains, the $1,000,000+ price tag pretty much put a keebosh on that idea.
AJ had studied Spanish in high school and college, but he hadn't spoken it in 20 or 30 years, and although he sometimes was able to speil long and complex sentences, he had the unfortunate habit of interspercing them with entirely fabricated words. Mario didn't speak any Spanish, but he had memorized large sections of the Spanish-English dictionary, and he functioned as a walking word translater. Kevin arrived in Costa with absolutely no knowledge of Spanish, but proved the most successful of the three because he would not let a conversation go until he understood what was going on. In the restaurant, when asked if he wanted the food to go, a 15 minute struggle with language ensued between Kevin and the waitress until she finally went in the back, got a bag, mimed placing food in it, and walked out the door and into the street and didn't return.
More than once, taxi drivers would take them out of the way so that they could SHOW Kevin the burning garbage dump that was the topic of discussion, or the Museum of Modern Art, although in that case Kevin was not aware that was what he was discussing. One driver even turned the meter off for a side trip to take them past the American Embassy, although at the time Kevin was actually just relating some of Tom Iammarino's stories about living in Brazil.
And there were Volkswagens everywhere. Split window buses and oval window sedans and bay windows and crew cabs and single cabs and super beetles and Things and buses converted to diesel engines. Nothing special. All just daily drivers still on the road.
And while AJ and Kevin were out shopping for Cuban cigars or drinking beer and Centenario at all the sodas and hotel bars in San Jose, Mario was stopping and making friends with the mechanics at the various VW repair shops in the city, still doing research - pricing parts and services.
But this was not a vacation. After a week of dissipation in the city, all three felt that it was time to head for the Nicoya Peninsula to see the other potential property, the "Costa Yard", as they were calling it. Both Kevin and Mario had sore throats and respiratory complaints from the incredibly high levels of air pollution in San Jose, where no vehicles have smog devices of any kind, and the buses belch black clouds of diesel fumes when they pull away from the curb (Mario's guess- "the mandatory oil injector"). AJ seemed immune - in fact, since he was not driving the 67 bug with the massive exhaust leak every day, he commented that his headaches had disappeared. Ted, the real estate agent, told them that the pollution levels were 5 times the UN maximum limit and that Costa had started emissions testing for the first time that year. "The first 20 vehicles failed, but all the rest passed because the hose was plugged up from the first 20."
So once again the three loaded their luggage and tents and bedrolls, but this time they headed to the bus station, where they caught the bus to Puntareinas, got the ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya to Paquero, and then took the bus down to Zooma on the Pacific shore.
According to the maps, Zooma was the closest town on the coast to the location of the "Costa Yard". No major roads appeared on the map in that vicinity, but there were all manner of dirt roads through the jungle in the region, all without identifying names or directions. The general plan was to hook up with someone in the area who knew the back roads.
The most likely means of transportation would have been the Disco taxi, a Toyota 4WD flatbed used to haul people from town up the steep, switch-backed hill to the Disco at the top. Unfortunately, the week before, the Disco taxi had wrecked on the way down the hill, some of the eight injured passengers blaming the lack of brakes and the missing of a gear at downshift while others blamed the lack of brakes and the hasta-la-cula drunk state of the driver. AJ - still Safety Officer - had been driving with no brakes all Winter and didn't see that as the cause of the wreck, but he saw two safety violations in the accident:
So after pitching their tents on the edge of town, the expedition set course for the two bars in town, where they began the search for transportation. It seemed that everybody knew somebody who knew the way, especially after a few free beers. But nothing seemed to materialize, and a couple days passed without any progress. But this didn't bother any of the three, who were basking in the equatorial sun and swimming and fishing in the ocean swells. The hotels in town were largely filled with German tourists, so AJ wore all of his German Air Sucker Society tee shirts, and that's the way he made friends with all the Alemanas, while Kevin was helping out at both of the bars doing electrical wiring and refrigeration work. "Down here they do electrical work just like at the Junkyard," he said. "Use black tape if you have it, and if you don't ... it doesn't matter."
Mario's observation on recycling: Up by Chico's bar, the mercado lady has drums and boxes for recycling, the drum for plastics, and glass and aluminum in boxes that are emptied as they fill. Residents and locals put their trash here. Down by the Montezuma Bar, there are two barrels marked BASURA - trash - and this is where the gringos throw everything. But every morning someone comes and pours out the barrels on the ground and sorts the basura into plastic and glass and aluminum and then takes it away. It is real recycling, not the recycling-in-name-only that they do back in Richfield.
And finally Mario met Angel. Angel's Subaru 4WD was stalled on the street in front of the Eco Teosoro (Ecological Treasure Store) and Angel was fooling around under the hood, where he'd been for about an hour. It didn't take Mario but 10 minutes to have it running again using the rudimentary tools that Angel carried in his tool kit.
Angel was from Cóbano, the largest town in the area, and he said that he'd be delighted to take the party up to look at the "Costa Yard". So the following day at low tide they struck camp and loaded up the luggage and tents and bedrolls and a few days worth of provisions in Angel's Subaru and started the trip north.
The road took them along the coast for about half a mile, and when it turned inland, Angel took to the beach. With the tide out, there was plenty of room to skirt the lava rocks and the Subaru climbed over headlands without difficulty, although there was a loud clanking from the front end that worried Mario.
The clanking became a clattering after Angel climbed the stream bed to the top of the hill. AJ - sitting in the back - said that he could feel the rocks and boulders scrapping against the floor beneath his feet and the exhaust system was appreciably louder at the top. There was no road to be seen there, but Angel wove the Subaru between trees and boulders like a politician avoiding a direct answer.
Until the bottom of the mud hill when the Subaru slid hard into the ground, and the clank and clatter ended for good as the front axle became completely separated from the vehicle.
Angel was heart-broken, and the task of doing anything fell to the three passengers. Kevin was able to weasel the vehicle onto flat, hard ground, dragging the front axle by one flexible brake line, and Mario set AJ to searching through the luggage for suitable materials, which eventually came to be identified as tent stakes, nylon rope, and an old pair of blue jeans.
Using a "hungarian jack" fashioned out of a tree trunk and fulcrum rock, Kevin raised the front of the vehicle while AJ and Mario slid the axle back underneath and fastened it with rope and strips of Levi Straus. The steering linkage was fabricated from two tent stakes and the vehicle was more-or-less back on the more-or-less road.
Returning the 25 miles or so back to Zooma was out of the question, so - Mario driving, Angel navigating, and AJ and Kevin walking along side (AJ the Safety Officer: "A vehicle without brakes is a vehicle without passengers") - they continued on into the jungle. The day was wearing to a close when they found the dirt road and - a short way further on - the "Costa Yard".
There was a ramshackle house with the barred door wide open and a "SE VENDE" sign out front. A short way behind was a garage with collapsing roof and a baño - consisting of shower, toilet and laundry tub, and beyond that was the junkyard. It consisted of perhaps 100 vehicles in various stages of rust and dismantlement. As the light of day was fading, the party decided to set up tents behind the house, leaving the Subaru parked cattywumpus out in front so as to attract attention if anyone came past.
Night falls fast in Costa Rica, and when it became suddenly dark, everyone retired to their tents for the night, except Angel, who set up housekeeping in the Subaru. When dawn came around, the howling monkeys could be heard on all sides of the site. A travellers' tip from Kevin: when you come to Costa, don't bother to bring an alarm clock, because the howlers will get you up in the morning whether you want to or not.
AJ set up the camp stove and prepared breakfast while everyone else poked around. It didn't take Kevin 15 minutes to figure out how to turn on the electricity, and by then Mario had found the pump house down by the stream and AJ had running water to clean the dishes afterwards.
The rest of the day Mario and Kevin spent cataloging the junkyard, Mario with an eye to getting a running vehicle for the trip back through the jungle and Kevin with an eye to creating a mental inventory. AJ was out most of the day with the plat map Ted had provided, tromping what he believed to be the property boundaries. Angel occupied himself cleaning out the house, which had evidently been home to a number of jungle animals in the intervening years since its abandonment.
There were perhaps 10 VWs in the Costa Yard, including a 23 window with no glass, a dune buggy without engine or trans that looked like it had just come from the MaddMan's back yard, and an oval window that had been chopped into a Baja. In addition there were all sorts of cars that neither AJ nor Mario nor Kevin recognized, like Bedfords and Diatsus and Niva 1600s.
Mario's overall plan was to get one of the VWs working by cannibalizing parts from the others. This was complicated by the fact the all of the vehicles were missing random nuts and bolts and other parts, and the fact that the only tools available were those in Angel's tool kit. Angel at first held out for the repair of his Subaru, but eventually gave up after graphic demonstrations of its wrecked state and Mario's promise that the new vehicle would eventually be Angel's to own forever.
It was the second day that Kevin found the 1000 watt light bulb and rigged it up as a bug baiter down by the creek. That provided a measure of entertainment in an otherwise work-a-day week. Mario had selected the fiberglass dune buggy as the most likely vehicle to repair, hoping to recover a swing axle bus transmission from an old split window bus at the back of the Costa Yard and amalgamation of two engines from a super beetle and bay window bus as the powerplant.
Angel provided help as he was able, but AJ and Kevin, having performed these tasks many times, were responsible for pulling the transmission from the split window and the engines from the other vehicles, tearing them down and getting them ready for Mario. Mario meanwhile had pulled the dune buggy out into the open and prepared it for surgery.
Angel's tool kit consisted of the following:
The actual work took almost five days, and each of the workers had their own horror stories to tell. For Mario, the most difficult part was torquing the engine case and heads without a torque wrench. For AJ it was taking the bus transmission in and out of the dune buggy a dozen times as he tried without a welder or drill to fabricate a front mount that would work (the final mount was made from mahogany and may still be in use). Kevin's main complaint was trying to undo nuts and bolts without creeping oil or even simple penetrating oil. But everyone was bummed by the recollection - given voice several times a day - that the 71 Super Beetle that was the primary cause of the trip to Costa - a fully functional and working car - had been sold for scrap to be melted down to make more disposable cars for the American public.
Angel was generally bewildered by the gringos' activity, and although he tried to help out when he could, the details of the overall project escaped him, never having done this sort of thing before. But when it was finished and Mario fired up the engine using the gas from the Subaru and drove the buggy down the road and back again, Angel expressed the feeling of the event by scratching into the paint with a knife the words:"RECICLA! Ama su ambiente" - the same words as on the sign of the mercado lady's plastic recycling drum.
And so with the plates from Angel's Subaru, the Recíclamobile - as they called it - drove everyone up to Cóbano where Mario stopped at the repair shop of Angel's buddy Luis and used the welder to shore up the front tranny mount and the broken roll cage, and Angel drove them to Paquero where they picked up the ferry and had some more adventures in San Jose and eventually wended their way home.
Back in Richfield, Mayor Lumber had sworn a failure-to-appear warrant for AJ, since he hadn't shown up in mayor's court for the minor misdemeanor ticket issued in his absence. AJ surrendered himself and as this is written is sitting in jail down in Akron. But that's OK because, as he puts it, "I like jail."
The decision whether the Junkyard will move to Costa is in abeyance until AJ gets out, and there's a lot of feeling each way. But stay tuned and we'll let you know how things turn out.
c 1997 Air Cooled Volkswagen Junkyard formerly of Richfield, Ohio
http://www.acvwjyro.com "Where Advice Is Always Free"(216)659-3638
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