Playa Samara on the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
I have some well-meaning friends letting me know that we have our 50th high school reunion coming up. What? How is that even possible? Fifty years—that can’t be right. That makes “them” really old. I am NOT that old, or am I?
I will not be attending this milestone event for a number of reasons—the biggest reason, of course, is that I’ve been out of the country for the last three years traveling the world, and have no real desire to return anytime soon (if ever). It would be a hoot to see these “old guys” again, but that’s a lot of money for a quick flight back to the old homestead (money I don’t really have anymore).
And, frankly, for me, high school sucked big time. I do not look back on those times with fond memories as many do—although, in talking with others, I find this attitude is more common than I would have thought. Not everyone loved high school.
Fifty years ago, at age 17 (one month before my 18th birthday), I entered the Marine’s DEP (Delayed Entry Program). This allowed me to complete high school before actually going to boot camp. About a year and a half later I was a 19 year old Sergeant in Vietnam. Young, but no longer a kid, no longer innocent.
Now it’s fifty years later: with three marriages, three kids (and three grandkids) and more than a few career paths under my belt. The marriages failed, the kids (and grandkids) are great and the careers were work (hard work, and oftentimes unsatisfying work). The very young Marine eventually morphed into a Vice President with JPMorgan Chase Bank (the largest bank in the United States).
The economic collapse of 2007/08 brought everything to a screeching halt, and by 2011 the third and final marriage sputtered and failed, the career sputtered and failed, and my life sputtered and failed. Fifty years of playing by the rules, and working for “The Man” sputtered and failed. The wife was gone, the career was gone, the nice house in the country was gone, the cars were gone, most of my retirement (invested in the stock market) was gone and I was done (if not gone, yet)—both figuratively and literally.
Now I am gone too. I left the states in 2012, and I haven’t been back since. Except for my kids and grandkids I miss the good old USA not at all. Three years on the road and I am having the time of my life. I’ve renewed my interest in photography and writing, at a professional level, and I’m finally viewing the world at large through unfiltered (and un-blinkered) eyes. Poor as a church mouse, and the richest man in the world. Fifty years—wow, and wow again.
Would I do it differently knowing what I know now? Probably not. I would try to hurt fewer people along the way, but without these past fifty years I wouldn’t be the person (the man) I am now. And, at this point in my life, I kind of like this old grizzled curmudgeon of a man. He is along way from perfect, but on balance he’s pretty satisfied with his life as it stands today. How many people can truly say that?
Right now, at this very moment in fact, I am hunkered down for a month or two in the small Costa Rican village of Matapalo Samara. This is on the Nicoya Peninsula, and is just a kilometer or two from Playa Samara. Both the ambient air and ocean water temperatures are hovering at about 85ºF. The soft ocean breezes caress me as I swing in my hamaca, and drink a local Imperial cerveza. Jimmy Buffet comes to mind, but in this case the song title would have to be changed to: Wasting Away in Matapalo-ville.
Fifty years, and not a bad life. Not a bad life at all.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Reporting from Matapalo Samara Village, Costa Rica . . .