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Ryan’s Great Adventures

Volume 20: Sat Aug 10, 2002

Alas, I have returned to the United States, alive and well despite climbing active volcanos, swimming in shark infested waters, and running through jungles dodging thousands of machete wielding men. But I still have a few comments about Costa Rica and what I've been up to since I last wrote.

Yet another church, this time in San Jose

Being rather lazy and generally broke of money, I ended up staying in San Jose for the rest of my stay, wandering around aimlessly. Which isn't really a bad thing to do, since I found plenty of interesting things along the way to watch.

For instance, there are bookstores here. BIG ones. The kind like you'd find in the United States. With thousands of books! It was heaven for me. I spent hours wandering the aisles, and even browsing through interesting looking books that weren't individually covered by the annoying shrinkwrap like bookstores in Honduras and Guatemala. And I discovered, for instance, that for some bizarre reason, chess books were filed under the sports section. Yep, tucked right in there between football and wrestling were dozens and dozens of books (in Spanish) about chess. It's amazing anyone can find a book they are looking for with logic like that!

And the elevators were very fascinating. I could have gone up and down them for hours without growing bored. Most elevators you'll see—at least in the United States—have two doors you have to walk through to enter them: First the door separating the floor from the elevator shaft so people don't fall to their deaths while walking around drunk, and the second door separating the interior of the elevator from the elevator shaft.

The elevator at the hotel I stayed at, though, felt that this second door was optional and neglected to include it. You better not get any clothing caught on that wall when the elevator starts to move, or it may be a situation for the paramedics if things go well, or for the morgue if they don't. It's hypnotic to watch the entire wall look like it's moving as you drum your fingers against it while the elevator is in motion.

The elevator in the building with the Jade Museum needed to include instructions in both English and Spanish so people would know how to use it. I'm not kidding. They were right there, next to all the buttons one could press. Most elevators I've been in have a button for each floor you can choose from. Push the button and it takes you to the necessary floor. In this elevator, they had the buttons 0 through 9, and you had to type the floor you wanted. If you want floor 14, you had to press the 1 then the 4. Never before had I seen such a strange user interface for an elevator.

Picasso, creating another masterpiece! I ended up buying this particular painting.

The most interesting thing I got to watch was a guy named Claudio. I took to calling him Picasso, which I liked a lot better. =) I first saw him sitting on a box painting beautiful pictures onto mirrors that he would sell to anyone who was interested, or lotto them off if nobody wanted to buy them. It was fascinating watching him work his paintings, though, and I sat down watching for hours. Literally.

After that much time, though, you start to learn a few things about each other. I learned Picasso was originally from Costa Rica, but had gotten jobs on several ships taking him all over the world including Alaska, England, and all over western Europe. He spent several years in Guatemala. His English was very good, but he also knew German even better. He used to be a tour guide for German tourists since most locals didn't know German, but he quit because these little paintings he sold made him far more money.

Which, I might add, he was not shy talking about. He said he could easily make 20,000 colones (about $55) per day—or over $20,000 per year, which is VERY good money indeed. The average Costa Rican makes about $3,500 per year according to my guidebook, so this guy's paintings that he sell for less than $10 each are earning him a small fortune.

Or it would if he actually saved his money. He explained how he couldn't help but spend it all as fast as he made it—mostly on women and alcohol. Then he proceeded to tell me tales of women he's dated and about the girl he'd be seeing that night.

In any case, he was a colorful person to talk to for several hours over the course of a few days. I bought two paintings myself (and since I was such a good friend by then, he gave me a deal for the second one—only $5. And in the hours I watched him making and selling his paintings, NEVER did he give anyone else a discount.)

And—this is the best part—he let me try my hand at a masterpiece. He gave me a mirror, a few pointers, and while sitting on the streets of San Jose I was off fingerpainting my way to a disaster. Actually, it didn't turn out THAT bad, but put side-by-side with one of Picasso's paintings, it was dreadful. I think it was a ploy to make his paintings look even better and he could charge more for them. =) I'm kidding—he probably just thought it would be fun to watch me making a painting, and the people that stopped to watch him paint certainly had plenty of fun at watching my feeble attempts. =)

And at long last, the day of my departure arrived. I got a cab to the airport, checked in, and found myself on a plane hurtling through the air at over 500 mph on my way to the United States.

Amanda and I, at Universal Studios

At the Houston airport, I made it through customs, navigated the maze to the correct gate, with about five minutes before boarding would begin. So I decided to find a restroom. (These toilets take paper!!!!) A sign for a women's restroom was clearly visible nearby, so I wandered over to it thinking a men's restroom would have been nearby. But I didn't see a men's restroom. However, I did see ANOTHER sign for a women's restroom farther up the terminal. And sure enough, there's a SECOND women's restroom, and not a men's restroom in sight. This is very bizarre, and was something I would have expected in Central America, not one of America's busiest airports. By now, I had given up on finding a men's room without help, so I asked a nice girl at a book and newspaper stand where the nearest mens room was, and she said there was one even FARTHER up the terminal while waving her arms in the general direction. So I continue my hike up the terminal where, at long last, I found a men's room.

Men: Be warned. If you ever have a choice, boycott the C terminal of the Houston airport. It was obviously designed and is currently run by a woman, and until fair treatment of bathrooms are provided, they should be boycotted! =)

By the time I got back to the gate, the plane was boarding. I boarded, and another hour later were were taking off, this time to Los Angeles, California.

I got in pretty late, met by Amanda and my mom. My night mostly consisted of a quick stop at Jack in the Box (oh, how did I survive four months without their two tacos for 99 cents?) and falling asleep.

The next morning, though, I had big plans which consisted of going to Universal Studios. Amanda, a movie nut, I lured out to California on the pretext of letterboxing, but secretly my mom and I were going to take her to Universal Studios to take a tour of their back lot, which is exactly what we did. It was great, visiting the sets where they filmed movies such as Jurrasic Park, Back to the Future, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I didn't realize it at the time, but we also saw the house used in some Nancy Drew shows, and Amanda was thrilled to see Nancy Drew's actual house there in living color! =)

Here Amanda pretends to milk a cow, while I pretend to feed it

But the highlight of the day was getting to watch a television show actually filmed. It's a new series they say will begin airing in November on Fox called The Grubbs. It's a half-hour sitcom about the typical dysfunctional family (The Grubbs). Two sons, mom, and dad. First they played the pilot episode so we'd actually know who the characters were before watching them film this episode. It was amusing—I admit it, I laughed, but I didn't really think it was much different than shows like Malcom in the Middle, Married With Children, or even The Simpsons.

Then they filmed the episode. Most of it, at least. The soundstage we were on had the sets for the classroom scenes, the living room, just outside the front door, and the kitchen. There were a couple of other scenes too like the backyard (I presume) and a bedroom which weren't used in this particular episode. But there were also scenes shot in a gymnasium that were NOT filmed at that soundstage, but were pre-shot and shown to us on monitors at the appropriate place during the filming so we'd still know what was going on.

To film that half-hour show, it took nearly four hours. Every scene was filmed at least three times. Sometimes, they would even do a scene, change the lines, and do it again. In one particular case, the son asks his dad if "mom ever fakes with you?"—in an innocent context, but that's not how it would sound taken out of context. First they filmed it a couple of times where the dad would say, "Yes, and it makes me feel like a great man!" (or something to that affect). Then they did the scene again completely changing the line to "Never" and he walks out of the room. Which version will show up on national television? I don't know. They probably don't know yet! But they've got two different versions to choose from and they can pick whichever they feel is better.

They also told us several times throughout the taping that the microphones over the audience would record our laughing and we should tell all our friends to listen for our laughs when the show airs on television. So listen for my laugh! It'll be my network laughing television debut! =)

The highlight of the day was the backlot, where we watched an episode of The Grubbs filmed live (it never aired on television, however)

There was one incident halfway through the filming where an audience member was hauled off in handcuffs. We never were able to find out why or what the story was behind that, but it certainly made an interesting time even more interesting.

Anyhow.... for details about the actors: The parents are Randy Quaid (Dennis Quaid's brother and stars in Independence Day and National Lampoon's Vacation) and Carol Kane (stars in Taxi, My Blue Heaven, Addams Family Values).

To watch the show, if you're interested: The Grubbs is supposed to debut November 3, at 9:30, on Fox, after Malcom in the Middle. The show we watched filmed was the third one they filmed, so it'll probably be on two weeks after that (the 17th). They didn't say when the shows would definitely be on television since things like that are subject to change (I suppose), but that's the current plan. If things change, though, watch for the episode about the Harvest Moon dance. That's the show we watched filmed.

We finally headed out of Universal Studios at 11:00pm, up Highway 101 straight to San Luis, which is where I am now.

In other news, I weighed myself today and it seems I'm about 20 pounds lighter than when I left for Central America. (I was certainly surprised!) So my last observation about Central America is that it might be good for those who want to lose weight. =)

— Ryan

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