Streets of Golfito focuses on two individuals who meet in Golfito, Costa Rica in 1974. Jim (Diego) is a 22-year-old Peace Corps Volunteer from upstate New York, and he has been assigned to introduce sports other than soccer to the young people.
By contrast, Lilli is a shy, beautiful, 17-year-old Costa Rican girl who wants to learn English and escape her small town, a banana port on the Pacific side near the Panamanian border.
In alternating chapters, the first third of the book shows these two characters growing up in their respective countries. Then, after they meet, Lilli experiences a tragedy that will drastically change her life, and Jim does all he can to help her survive and thrive in her new circumstances.
Don Diego first visited Golfito during the early part of 1974. At the time, he was still simply Jim, a fresh-faced, recent college graduate and Peace Corps Volunteer who had heard President John F. Kennedy speak and had been inspired by him to try to save the world.
The inspiration occurred when Jimmy was a nine-year-old fourth grader at Saint Mary’s Institute in Amsterdam, New York, during the autumn of 1960. At that point in his life, if Jimmy knew anything about a political topic, it was a rare occurrence. Typically, he was more concerned about Mickey Mantle’s home-run count and batting average than he was about any politician. But Jimmy’s teacher that year, Sister Anna Roberta, had a special fondness for candidate Kennedy, the senator from Massachusetts, and she talked to her students often during social studies class about this young man who offered new ideas and new programs for a new generation of Americans.
“He’s a Catholic, too,” she mentioned with obvious pride, “and the United States has never had a Catholic President before. You should learn as much about him as you can and maybe tell your parents about him.”
Jimmy wouldn’t go that far, of course, because they didn’t talk about those things at his supper table, but he did get somewhat involved in the presidential campaign.
Every day after school, Jimmy and his best friends, Bernie and Larry, would walk downtown to Main Street before heading up Market Street to their homes. Yes, they were going a bit out of their way, but as fourth graders, they were finally old enough to explore the city a little bit on their own. “As long as you’re with one of your friends,” Jimmy’s mom had told him before the school year began, “you can walk home any way you want — but don’t be late for supper.”
And in actuality, the boys weren’t really exploring that much; they tended to take the same route every day. They would go immediately to Main Street by way of Liberty Street and head west toward “downtown.” Sometimes, they ran through the alleyway between Grand Rapids Furniture Store and Sears and Roebuck, but usually, they avoided those dark and wet places where the junior-high kids smoked their cigarettes and harassed the “little kids” who dared to invade their territory.
The real attraction that fall was the Democratic Headquarters next to Sears and Roebuck on the north side of Main Street. This previously empty storefront that once housed a paint store was now occupied by a young cadre of recent college graduates who were swept up in the Kennedy candidacy. Unlike most Main Street shop owners who didn’t want kids traipsing into their buildings, these New Frontiersmen eagerly invited everyone in to pick up JFK promotional materials, and the young people there were especially nice to these curious fourth graders.
“The Republicans have been in office for eight years now,” a beautiful, long-haired redhead said to the boys as she tidied up the pamphlets and pins on the table before her. “Don’t you think it’s time for a change?”
“Yes, I do,” Jimmy answered with fake sincerity, as if he really cared. What he really wanted was more “KENNEDY JOHNSON” bumper stickers. He thought it would be really cool if he could cut up the Democratic stickers and then use the letters to create his own brand of baseball bumper stickers. He figured he could sell them for at least a buck apiece to all the “NY YENKEES” fans in town.
Meanwhile, Larry and Bernie were busy working their own small-time con. They were trying to get as many political pins and brochures as they could, so they could sell them for a quarter each to the seventh- and eighth-graders who, as part of a social studies assignment, were supposed to visit not only the Democratic but also the Republican campaign headquarters, which was across the street. Those older students needed proof of their visits, and they were, naturally, too cool to actually make the visits themselves. Bernie and Larry had already made over three dollars each with their campaign sales.
After a while, of course, the newness and excitement of the campaign headquarters wore off, and the three friends moved on to more interesting endeavors. They explored the new department store downtown, they asked for old movie posters from the four movie theaters, and they felt much more confident about exploring the back alleys and shortcuts between the Chuctanunda Creek and Market Street. When Sister Anna Roberta announced that JFK himself would actually visit Amsterdam in the near future, however, Jimmy especially took a renewed interest in Kennedy’s campaign and platform. Surprisingly, Jimmy actually began to read the brochures that he had picked up and the newspaper articles that explained what the Peace Corps was all about.
(Though this book is not yet available in bookstores, you can order it online from Amazon by clicking the link below.)