This page has moved to a new address.

My Top Five Public Transport Moments

In the "Cult of Escapism": My Top Five Public Transport Moments

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My Top Five Public Transport Moments

In Panama, most rural bus routes are sanctioned by the government, but the buses themselves are privately owned, usually by the drivers. As such, the drivers pursue their own personal schedules while driving their route and tend to try to take, on average, approximately 40 passengers over the bus's suggested limit*. I'm told this is true throughout Central America. Does this make almost every bus trip longer, more dangerous, and almost excruciatingly uncomfortable? Absolutely. Do the drivers care? Not even a little bit.

More frighteningly, the passengers don't seem to care either. I can't tell you how many times I've seen a driver stop by his house or a friend's house, just to chat. Or pack people on to the point where nobody can move. Or stop at the store to pick up some groceries and a six pack. And the passengers never say anything. Never. As an American, this is difficult to stand. We're a direct people and even the smallest of the drivers' abuses would be considered unacceptable in the U.S. and subject to verbal assault and maybe a swift kick in the jaw. So while the drivers may be guilty of the acts themselves, ultimately the passengers are guilty of letting the drivers get away with them.
A decorated Diablo Rojo bus

The problem is, Panama is a small country, with a small country mentality of being indirect. It's far more embarrassing to call somebody out than it is to be called out, particularly when you live in the same small town as the person you're chastising. So, if you have one bus route leaving your town, with only a handful of drivers, it's difficult to be the first person to speak up, lest the driver remember you and treat you differently. Then again, I'm not sure how much worse we could be treated on these buses, so maybe we better just start yelling at these guys.

Anyway, here are my personal Top Five Most Ridiculous Public Transport Moments. Note that these aren't my worst moments – that list would involve pure complaining – these are the moments that made me literally physically slap myself in the forehead in disbelief and think wistfully of the Tokyo subway system, which gives you a little ticket if the train is more than two minutes late.

5. A Broken Lock: In order to go to my friend Kyle's site, you have to cross the Gatun Locks of the Panama Canal. Which is pretty cool, unless the lock breaks. This happened to Kyle and I, trapping us, on the way back to the city and so we got off the bus to join a crowd of people walking to the other side of the lock. As soon as we reached the footbridge, a driver came cruising up, claiming that they had fixed the problem and he was about to go across. A bunch of people ran for his bus and we followed them, trusting the locals. He was lying and by the time we figured that out, they had closed the footbridge. We ended up waiting three hours in traffic, watching tankers inch through the lock, for our bus to reach a boat that ferried us across the water.

4. Double Hang: Pickups outfitted with seats and a tarp cover are common transport on rural back roads. These trucks uncomfortably seat ten people but often carry up to 25. It's additionally common, extremely common, for several passengers to hang off the back of the pickup, standing on the bumper. I've done this many times and I think it can actually be more comfortable than being inside a packed pickup bed. However, once a driver got so greedy (or motivated) that there were a row of five people hanging from the back and then another row of five people hanging behind them. I was on the second row. Doing this required embracing the person in front of you and, for lack of a better term, butt humping them every time the pickup hit a bump. Which it did every few seconds.

3. Flying Bags: Many small buses tie luggage to the roof under a tarp, which is fine, as long as the luggage stays on the roof. On one bus trip, some people started shouting and I turned around to see baggage flying off the back of the roof. By the time the driver stopped, there was a trail of luggage behind us, including: bags, backpacks, avocados, mangoes, babies, etc. Later in that same trip, the driver hit a pothole and flattened the tire. We then had to wait for another bus to pass us because the driver didn't have a jack AND didn't know how to change a tire. You'd think that if your job is to drive a vehicle then you might be prepared for something as common as a flat tire. But then, that kind of logic makes sense, so they couldn't possibly follow it.

2. Crabs: Drivers often stop and back up to pick up customers that they didn't see in time. Once, on the highway, our bus stopped and backed up for a solid two minutes; the driver then got off the bus, which alerted me that this wasn't a routine customer pick up. Turns out, a guy on the side of the road was selling crabs. The driver got back on the bus after the extensive effort to evaluate this seafood and proclaimed to us passengers that the crabs were too expensive. He shared the price and the first two rows of passengers, rather than castigate him for making a ridiculous stop, agreed that the crabs were too expensive and began animatedly discussing fair crab prices. That's beyond complacence on the part of the passengers – that's active participation in asinine bus driving.

1. Pillow Talk: All time most ridiculous moment. Our driver stopped on the side of the highway for a full fifteen minutes and just waited. Note that when you stop a bus, there is no airflow and Panama is a tropical country. After fifteen minutes, his girlfriend boarded the bus and sat down next to him and they began kissing and pillow talking. They did this for ten minutes and then she got off and he kept going. I've never so acutely wanted to harm another human being.

*This is only a slight exaggeration. A friend of mine who served in Honduras said he once noticed a sign inside his bus suggesting a maximum of 40 passengers. From his limited vantage point, he calculated 60 and the driver still did not consider the bus full.


At August 14, 2012 at 5:44 AM , Blogger Ila said...

You're once, twice, three times a ladyyyyyyyyy

That would be on the best bus ride ever list

At August 30, 2012 at 1:55 PM , Blogger Stephen said...

Haha thanks for the shout out


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home