I’m not sure many readers would remember, but in 2008 I expatriated to Costa Rica. Despite my longtime love for Sacramento, my disgust with American politics drove me to flee.
As fate (or questionable decision-making) would have it, I overshot the run(a)way. It wasn’t that Costa Rica didn’t give me perfect fits, it just wasn’t a perfect fit. Other than the fact my Spanish was awful, my roof doubled as a giant colander (check that: it did serve as a giant colander). I endured frightening home break-ins, bizarre ailments beset me, and my general discomfort had me bookmarking “apts/housing” on craigslist: devil’s island.
One can only stand Nirvana for so long, though, so back to the U.S., tail firmly tucked between legs, I hied.
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As I sat inside my house in Costa Rica, I had plenty of time to think. The inescapable conclusion: I was hopelessly American, and highly Americanized. Having been supremely fortunate to have hailed from an upper-middle class background (I was raised in Land Park), I was used to being comfortable. And, in Central America, comfortable I was not.
Many believe “Costa Rica” translates to “rich coast.” During my self-exile, however, I learned it really meant: “Silly gringo, you had it made. Holster your idealism and head home, a little wiser. Plus a lot drier.”
Once back in Sac, however, I was discombobulated, an unease that lasted months. Having been publicly outspoken about my disdain for the direction in which I saw the U.S. headed, I was now flailing, identity-wise. To ease my bumpy transition, I engaged in various distractions. I learned new things. For instance: Who knew there’d be so many recipes for crow? (FYI: None work.)
Finally, though, I found balance, and in the eight years since my return I’ve sold my house in Costa Rica and bought one here (with a roof that’s hole-less, no less), published a book (in a wild coincidence, it involves Costa Rica), watched the Giants win three world championships (be still, my orange-and-black heart), and got married. Again. (Thought I’d save the best for last. And, after four, it had better be my last.)
As for my old hometown, it’s changed a bit.
There’s a new arena (’cause, really, a quarter-billion dollars had to be spent on something), “modernized” parking meters, skyrocketing housing costs, intractable homelessness.
Yep, we have big-time problems and gigantic growing pains, right here in River City, and I’m worried. Having lived in Sacramento for 50 years, I’m acutely aware of its unique soul, and I fear that some of what’s always made this town special is disappearing: affordability, unpretentiousness, affordability, an organic creative scene, affordability and genuineness. (Did I mention affordability?)
Don’t get me wrong: I, too, love hot, new restaurants, am intrigued by buzzy ideas (A 30-block streetcar line? Maybe not.) But, as our cost of living climbs, are too many critical parts of Sacramento’s heart – as in Sacramentans – being left behind?
And what of America itself, the land that I love even though I left it and then learned I couldn’t live without it? Well, it ain’t well.
I told friends before departing for Costa Rica that, having come of age during Richard Nixon’s reign, I never thought anyone could top Tricky Dick for worst president ever. Then: George W. Bush. Now, in light of recent events, I find myself, incredibly, practically longing for the dreamy days of Dubya. (I said “practically.”)
But, here’s the deal: I’m here for good (or bad), regardless. I’ve fled once, and when I got to where I was going, well, there I was. As corny (and obvious) as this sounds, I know that it’s up to me to be a positive force in my native environs. So, even though the incoming administration is so generals-laden and nukes-happy it has me digging for my DVD of “Dr. Strangelove,” I’m wondering … you know, do you think this Calexit thing’s got legs?
Mark Drolette is a freelance writer who lives in Sacramento. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.