An admirer of Casco Viejo, I often find myself defending Casco Viejo or perhaps more valiantly, explaining Casco Viejo to people that think they dislike Casco Viejo for various reasons. This is a natural game of jabs that I assume goes on in most big cities because without a drive for differentiation, populations would resemble North Korea or Topeka. People that live in Casco Viejo are generally viewed by people who don’t live in Casco Viejo as weird. Most people say Casco Viejo is good for some food/drinks but to live there is to surrender the wellbeing of you and your family to the hobo. The strange part is that this is true. Sort of.
As a rule, I generally don’t enjoy anyone who lives in Costa del Este. People from El Cangrejo like to describe themselves as community-oriented and vaguely European, which is generally a clear indication that neither of those are true. Whenever I find myself meeting someone who either a) owns a new BMW sedan, b) refuses to shop at El Rey, c) does not know how to iron, I can predict with 80% conviction that they reside in Punta Pacifica. I’m often struck by how people from Bella Vista have no problem demolishing historic architecture. Whenever someone asks me what I think about Obarrio, the only real redeeming feature I can come up with is Rico Pollo, a down-home cafeteria that sells traditional Panamanian food in American portions. I love Rico Pollo. I absolutely love it.
Sometimes I think that what makes Casco Viejo different is that no one really knows its identity. This can be viewed as a good thing (it’s mysterious and novel). This can also be viewed as a bad thing (it’s non-descript and unbridled). To compare Panama City’s other neighborhoods to Casco Viejo is to compare prime rim to weird, socially awkward brother of prime rib.
I saw a great interview once with a guy named Rick Ross who calls himself a cult intervention specialist. This dude basically assists people who want to disassociate themselves from gangs and cults and groups that have come to infiltrate their lives. When asked what was going through his clients’ heads, Ross said the whole point of joining a cult was that, “they could be weird together and basically feel weird no more.” I had never thought about it this way, but that’s a pretty damn good description of Casco Viejo. That single phrase encompasses a ridiculously large percentage of people who live in Casco Viejo.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say Casco Viejo’s residents are like Branch Dividians. Some of us are gangsters though.