Just to let you know- this blog is no longer active. I'll be keeping up my 101 in 1001 list until its completion, but will not be writing new posts. You can read the post below if you want the long version. Thanks for the journey to all my friends in the blogosphere!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Man in the Mirror

Okay, let me premise by saying I'm appalled my the amount of coverage that legit news channels (cough, cough, CNN) give to celebrity deaths. I was pretty much ready to throw any TV within arms reach out the window in the weeks following Anna Nicole Smith's death. It's sad, we should remember them kindly, pray for their families, etc. and just MOVE ON.

However, Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" came up on my running playlist today and I feel compelled to share just one tiny memory triggered by that song. In my life, I've done plenty of things that are strange, unpractical, and sometimes a little stupid, but there are a few events I'd label as just plain irresponsible and dangerous. This is one of them.

When I was student teaching in Costa Rica, we used our weekends for little side excursions and adventures to the surrounding towns and beaches. On our last weekend, my friend, Erika, and I decided to travel to tiny little beach town, Montezuma on the very southern tip of the peninsula. To get from Nicoya (the town where we were living and teaching) to Montezuma required 3 different bus trips and 2 ferry trips. The Spanish communication skills between the two of us were pretty much only at survival level. It was quite the logistic challenge.

By the end of our second ferry ride, we were exhausted and absolutely not looking forward to figuring out the next round of bus tickets and schedules. We walked through the cars parked on the bottom level of the boat and envied those who could just hit the road to their destination. A couple in a rented SUV must has sensed this because the man in the driver's side motioned us over and asked, in heavily accented English, if we wanted a ride to Montezuma.

Erika and I exchanged looks that said, "Stranger Danger versus Bus Drama...which is potentially worse?" and with just slight hesitation, climbed into the back seat. The driver was a kind of dark, handsome, older man and his companion was a skinny, much younger, wide-eyed woman who seemed to not understand a word of anything said. Even when I tried to talk to her in Spanish, she didn't really respond. (My Spanish speaking skills leave a lot of people kind of unresponsive, so I didn't really think much of it.) The man asked where we were from and after we had told him our rosy little student-teachers-from-the-US stories, we asked about him. (By this time, we had driven through the little port town and are much more rapidly rolling through the Costa Rican countryside.) It went a little like this:

Stranger: I'm from Baghdad, here in this country for business.

Erika and I: Oh, how interesting! What type of business?

Stranger: Oh, business, you know.

Awkward silence while Erika and I contemplate what kind of secret businesses Iraqi men conduct in Costa Rica.

Erika and I: Is she (referring to the spaced out woman sitting up front with him who has not responded to our greetings in English or Spanish) from Iraq too?

Stranger: No.

Awkward silence while Erika and I observe him feeling up woman's thigh while she flinches and remember that we were warned us to stay clear of the prostitutes who worked in the coastal cities for rich tourists.

While my friend and I are soaking all of this in, the green landscape around is blurring because we are tearing faster and faster through the winding dirt roads. We thought that was making us nervous, until the driver started making motions for his companion to open the bag at her feet. She pulls out...wait for it...a packet of burnt CDs and a fifth of vodka. (Or should I say 1/3 of a fifth of vodka, because most of it was already consumed).

At this point, Erika and I are starting to question our decision. Maybe, just a little.

Our driver (yes, our driver) throws back his first shot straight from the bottle and motions for the hired girlfriend to flip through the CDs. He, very kindly, asks about our musical preference, but we just shook our heads politely and said, "We like anything." (By which we meant, "As long as we get out of this car alive, listen to whatever you want!")

Suddenly, a CD has caught his eye. I see "Greatest Hits of..." as he's sliding the CD in and he turns around (yes, while driving) to emphasize the point as he says, "Michael Jackson is the greatest performer of all time. He is a legend." We nod emphatically as he turns his attention again to the bumpy road (and his second and third shots).

I am gripping onto the seat and frantically looking back and forth between Erika and the blurred view outside the window as this strange, fanciful song I'd never heard filled the SUV. I listened carefully to the lyrics to distract me and suddenly I was completely caught up in this beautiful song. I had no idea Michael Jackson had so much heart and compassion until that moment I heard him sing about the man in the mirror. (My tongue is slightly in cheek, if you don't know me well enough to know.) I was so moved that I loosened my grip and maybe even smiled at Erika across the backseat. If we were going to die, at least we would perish in a beautiful, serendipitous adventure.

Just as I was beginning to make peace with our driver's swerving pace, we turned the corner into Montezuma and he braked into the middle of the village. We awkwardly thanked him and offered a few bills (which he pushed away in a fatherly, caring way) as we quickly exited the vehicle.

Watching the couple drive off, Erika and I finally exhaled, but I will never forget our special moment with a Michael Jackson soundtrack. Thanks, MJ.

P.S. After completing Day 1 at least 8 times, I finally did Jillian Michael "Making the Cut" Day 2!


  1. OMG I am dying at this story!!!

    I had Man in the Mirror pop up on my playlist while I was running the other day. Evidently I wasn't running hard enough because I totally got caught by some neighbor as I was singing along, hehe!

  2. I've always enjoyed this story Rachel but can't remember if I knew about the Michael Jackson twist. And that is a great song!!!

  3. Wow, that realy sounds like quite a journey!! What was going on? Thank god for MJ. Sounds like you had a pretty interesting time!

  4. Oh my gosh!! That is a great story. Scary but a good memory since you survived it! It sounds like Jillian making the cut is different from the shred, I will have to try it.