San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

They came to see the president

A little after 3 p.m. this afternoon, a crowd of a few hundred people began to gather on either side of Avenida 2 in downtown San José, where police hand lined the street with ropes in anticipation of U.S. President Barack Obama’s arrival.

Small children sat on their parents’ shoulders and short adults stood on tiptoes to try to catch a glimpse of the President’s vehicle – dubbed “the Beast” by secret service – as it sped past.

“I like him because he is so humble,” said Marling Pavón, a pregnant woman with young son by her side. “He came from nothing, and he is also very good-looking.”

A man named Eliecer Valverde had also come to the street to see Obama, and to him, the event was a kind of holiday for Costa Rica. For this visit, everyone had been given the day off, and the streets – empty as a ghost town earlier in the day – now crackled with energy. Valverde was particularly struck by how different things had been back in 1963, when John F. Kennedy visited.

“I have friends that shook Kennedy’s hand when he came, but that can’t happen now,” he said. “Look at all this security; the whole city is shut down.”

Across the street, a man who called himself “the Indian” was dancing around in army pants and a garbage bag wrapped around one foot. “I’m having dinner with the President tonight,” he said in slurred Spanish to no one in particular.

Although the word on the street had been that the President’s entourage would pass at around 4 p.m., the heavy black vehicles swept past nearly a half hour sooner.

Some in the crowd began calling out and swooning, while others seemed unaware that the moment had passed. It was decidedly anticlimactic, and everyone began to disperse. Still. They had been on the same street at President Barack Obama.


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