Eight years and many life changes after leaving The Tico Times, my weekly clock still resets on Thursday nights, after deadline. I m now the real estate and special sections
editor at a small daily newspaper near Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and my main responsibility, the Sunday real estate section, goes to press on Friday mornings.
When I was managing editor at The Tico Times, from 1996 to 1998, the reporters and I spent Thursday evenings at Chino s across the street, stabbing thick greasy fries with toothpicks and drinking cold Imperials. As we waited to be called to the weekly staff meeting, I watched the restaurant owner s family enjoy steamed fish wrapped in banana leaves, sticky dumplings and fresh bok choy seasoned with ginger and garlic real Chinese food that wasn t on the restaurant s menu.
About six, after Dery sent the last of the pages down to Mayra and Verny, we gathered around her desk for the staff meeting and talked about our stories for the coming week. She usually approved our plans, adding a historical perspective that traced the latest developments back to a time before we reporters knew how to locate Costa Rica on a map.
How I wondered about Dery in those days… a woman who liked spending time with animals more than people, a loner who came to work in the late afternoon and stayed into the night while most people were home watching TV with their families. And how I admired her for her skill as a journalist, her ethics, and her kind heart.
When it was my turn to do shorts (translate and summarize stories from the local papers over the weekend), I waited until the Tuesday after I turned them in, fished Dery s corrected version of my copy out of the recycling bin, got myself a cafecito and went out on the patio to see how she had edited my work.
It was the same experience every time. Although I was alone with the red marks on paper, my face flushed with embarrassment to see where I had used too many words, awkwardly translated a quote or gotten by with a passive verb.
Now, as I edit freelancers submissions, wire copy and my own stories, it is Dery s standards I hold myself to. Avoid wordiness, choose the right verb and don t shirk important issues because it s quicker and less stressful to write fluff pieces.
I didn t go to journalism school, and I grew up thinking I wanted to be a novelist, not a reporter. Before coming to The Tico Times, I got a Master s in International Relations, worked for a non-profit aid agency, wrote for a short-lived Costa Rican travel magazine, taught the fifth grade and was a tour guide. The Tico Times made a journalist out of me, and I ve been working at newspapers ever since. I can t see myself doing anything else (except for writing novels, which is how I plan to support myself in my retirement in Costa Rica).
One of my biggest challenges came when Dery decided to take a two-week vacation to visit a shaman in Peru and climb a mountain, and left me and Mayra in charge of getting the paper out. With a lot of help from Sonia and others, we did it, and the sense of accomplishment and pride I felt has been equaled only a few times since.
I sharpened my environmental consciousness at The Tico Times and learned to do opinion pieces by writing editorials. Another important experience was participating in monthly budget meetings led by Oswaldo, who used an overhead projector, transparencies and a pointer to show Dery and the department heads that The Tico wasn t doing very well financially at the time.
We talked endlessly about ways to cut costs and boost revenues, and again and again, Dery resisted letting staff go to trim expenses. Once she even rescued the paper through an injection of personal capital. I come from an academic family, and this was the closest I d ever been to business. I was profoundly moved and impressed to see its human face.
On a personal level, the time I spent at The Tico Times was a pivotal period in my life. In some ways although I was already a veteran of several universities and many life experiences when I arrived I grew up there.
I turned 30 working at The Tico, decided that having a child was a central goal for me, and went through a heart-wrenching breakup. I sort of fell apart at the end, and sat staring at my computer screen as tears rolled down my face. I couldn t eat and I couldn t remember anything, so I kept my job only because Dery is kind.
Finally, after months of paying good money to sob on my therapist s couch and flip-flop on my decision, I accepted a job offer in my home state of South Carolina and turned in my resignation at The Tico Times. I have never, before or since, been as emotionally bereft as in the weeks before I left Costa Rica, mourning the loss of my relationship and of the country that had been my beloved home for six years.
This story has a happy ending. Shortly after I moved back to the U.S. and began working as a features writer at a Knight Ridder Newspaper, I started feeling better. Then my ex a Tico started calling me and decided to attend grad school in South Carolina. A few months later, he moved in with me and started school.
In the years since then we married, had two sons (now ages 2 and 4) and bought a house (and a lot in Costa Rica). Every year we spend about three weeks on vacation in Costa Rica, and I always stop by The Tico Times para saludar. Mayra, Verny, Sonia, Abby and others there feel like family.
When I heard about the 50th anniversary reunion, it took me less than five minutes to decide to attend. Thanks, Tico Times, for making me the journalist and the woman I am today.