Riding the Bus in Argentina – by Nick Friedland

The buses in rural Argentina reminded me of old school buses on their last legs: those old buses either converted for use by hippies or prepared for ‘twisted metal’ style destruction derby.

My first days riding the bus, I noticed two very important things. The first was that the bus was never on time. Of course, this is a subjective opinion because there were no posted schedules anywhere. There were only the times the locals all converged on the designated bus stop, a timing that I can only attribute to years of practice relying on the faltering bus service. The second thing I noticed was that once on the bus it was almost impossible to stay on your feet; at least that was my opinion for the first 2 months or so. The bus driver always drove like he was constantly behind schedule, no matter how fast he flew through narrow residential streets or how dangerously he cornered around tight street corners, the bus was still always late.

So I found out the hard way that at least for a few months the only option was to keep at least one hand on a pole and your feet spread out in a surfer’s stance. You had to be prepared to brace yourself for any unexpected jolts, stops, bumps or turns. A bus getting into a serious or even fatal accident was far from unheard of. Consequently, I found myself more than once staring up embarrassingly from the aisle floor, or much worse, from the lap of some seated Argentine. Even the elderly and the smallest children would ride the bus with effortless ease. The looks on their faces when I fell, bumped into them, or banged an extremity because of the uncertain flight of the bus embarrassed me so thoroughly that I would have gladly transferred buses at the next stop if only I had known how or when to transfer, or where the next bus might take me.

Nick Friedland is one of the editors of Synch Chaos Magazine.  He wrote this story about a day to day experience he had while visiting a foreign country.  If you have any questions or comments for the author, feel free to contact him by email at Nick.Friedland@gmail.com.

Near the end of my time riding those buses, I had started to master the ‘bus surf.’ That doesn’t mean I didn’t still trip up and get knocked off balance, but it meant I rarely landed in someone’s lap, and on certain rare occasions I could even take my hand off the pole. It became a source of some small joy to practice leaning into the treacherous turns, to ride with some confidence; if not professionally surely semi-pro, so that when some white person joined me on the bus and they were leveled within the first 5 stops, I could smile that same smug smile along with the locals and extend a helping (if not slightly condescending) hand and say, “You must be new here.”

As for the bus drivers, they were care free as far as I could tell. While they drove like escaped convicts, there manner was always cool and disinterested. If someone (such as myself) went running after the bus banging on the door to let them in, they would brush them aside with a wave of the hand like one might do to a pesky insect. Alternatively, if they happened to pass an attractive woman, they would not hesitate to trigger a whistle that, when heard from the street, sounded like a catcall. Those buses were full of lights, sounds and decorations almost as mysterious to me as the bus schedule. The bus would often beep, whistle, and whine like an overgrown R2D2. Those sounds, along with the superstitiously coveted idols on the dashboard and the Christmas lights around the windshield, were just some of the features that perplexed me and kept me guessing on my way to the University every morning in Argentina.

Also, it was not uncommon to drive by a long, lovely, tree lined avenue only to see a blockade of burning tires. These road blocks were the product of angry protesters from the unions of some industry or another; there seemed to be a different industry protesting every other day. The first time I saw the herds of angry men and the pile of flaming tires emitting a suffocating black smoke high into the sky, I was terrified. I assumed that this was the start of riots, perhaps even a military coup that my parents were going to hear about on the news right before they got the phone call for my ransom. One of my teachers that day informed me that it was a regular occurrence, and nothing to be concerned about. As long as the bus didn’t pass down that avenue, that was fine by me.

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