Monday, February 16, 2009

Traffic = Hell On Earth

Editor's note: I wrote this post in a bad mental state yesterday after nearly four hours of agony in my car. I wasn't sure if I should even publish it, because it's angry and rambling and kinda unpleasant. But I am going to publish it, and I'm not even going to edit it- partly because I don't have time, partly because I'm not sure it's worth it. If you're intrigued and have nothing better to do, read on. If not, go here.

What a shitty day I have had. Here's hoping it turns around as the sun goes down.

I knew I was in for trouble yesterday when I realized I had three errands to run during the day today. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but I live in Brazil, and a couple of them were errands on the other side of town.

I've gotten so that I congratulate myself if I manage to do four things in a day, providing those things involve getting out into the city, particularly in my car. This bothers me, especially since some of my most time consuming tasks are things that used to take me absolutely no time at all in the US, things like getting money out of a cash machine or paying my bills. These are now two of the most loathed and horrific things I have to confront in my daily life.

So here's what I had to do:
  1. Bring Ruan to his first day of school because he was feeling jittery
  2. Present my paid bills and pay my rent for my office, something I do every three or four months
  3. Buy some grommets or washers or whatever the hell they are to keep our faucets from drip drip dripping
This, believe it or not, was a challenging list and would have been quite impossible if I'd had to do any of this stuff during rush hour, which extends from about four until about eight o'clock in the evening. I'm guessing there's a morning counterpart, but I sleep late so who knows.

So imagine my sinking feeling when two new items were added to the list:
  1. Take other tantrum-throwing son to his school
  2. Accompany jittery pre-teen to renew his discount fare bus card.
So here's how it went. The last item, the bus fare card, went first, as it was within walking distance. It involved descending into the heart of the Lapa bus station, a place that I detest. You literally descend, down many flights of stairs, crowded with thousands of people and hundreds of street vendors taking up most of the sidewalk with their filthy illegal DVD's and other assorted dubious crap. I have no quibble with most of these people, they work very hard for very little money. I don't have much patience with the DVD sellers though, probably because I live next door to about a dozen of them and I find them to be rather unpleasant people.

Anyhow, we went down there to renew his card and hey, wouldn't you know it? We can't, because he doesn't have a certain stamp and a signature. Typical. So check off task one, failed.

Then there was some stress back at the house as Lucas pitched a fit when he discovered that I was driving Ruan to his school and wouldn't be taking him to his school as is our usual routine. So I capitulated and threw him in the car too.

This was the part of the day I was dreading the most. Ruan's school is not that far away, as the crow flies. I actually walked there once, and it took me about forty minutes. Why did I walk there? Because the route between here and there is absolutely miserable torture to drive. It's always clogged, all day long. It's only bearable on evenings and weekends. I once looked at a house that I liked very much, but the main problem was the only access by car was via this road.

I have long believed that driving in stop and go traffic, especially in a hot car, is one of the most unpleasant things our modern world has to offer us. I have always hated it, everywhere I live. Driving through twenty stop lights on some 'rural' commercial development like every fair-sized community has these days is horrible. It's hideous, the grass is dirty and/or dead, there's phone lines and hot cement everywhere, big box stores and hot pavement, and then of course the hundreds of cars hunching along from light to light if they are moving at all. I suppose it's better if you have a nice air conditioned car, a sweet sound system, and tinted windows. A DVD player to keep the kids quiet. I don't have any of those things anymore. I do have the five inch speakers in the doors, which coupled with Evani's iPod and my roster of podcasts makes any time spent in the car moderately bearable. Usually.

So that's bad. Driving in Salvador is worse, because it was built long before automobiles were a glimmer in any idiot's eye, it's full of one-way streets and shitty drivers and idiot busdrivers. I had a near road-rage incident with one on the way to bring Ruan to school today, he cut me off and I laid on the horn and then I tried to get ahead of him and he laid on the horn and then he gave me the finger and I reciprocated- he stopped his bus directly in front of me to piss me off further but I decided to take a stab at serenity- the kids were in the car after all and I really didn't want any trouble. I remember reading in the paper once about a similar incident a guy had with a bus driver, both of them cutting one another off for several miles before the driver of the car, who had been up all night drinking btw, stopped his car and walked into the middle of the road. "What are you going to do?" he is reputed to have said, "Run me over?"

Which is exactly what he did. He didn't stop the bus though, because he was worried he would be lynched, or stoned, or otherwise put to death by an angry mob.

I've got to watch this road rage thing. I get furious driving, people are such idiots, and there is so much drunk and aggressive and cell-phone driving here it's insane. It's part of my utter frustration with the world in general and Bahia in particular for not being 'fair' and 'orderly,' not to mention 'safe' and 'respectful.' We saw a guy getting a pistol whipping by the side of the road one night (not by a cop) and there are stories about flung tire irons and actual shootings on the news. I've been in the car with close relatives as they have done very dubious things in anger while driving, and I know I have the same tendency.

So take a deep breath, and let... the bus... win.

Finally we get to Ruan's school. How long did it take? Forty minutes. Wait a sec- didn't I say I walked there in forty minutes one time? Yes, I did. This is why I chose to live here in the center, where I don't have to get in the car every day to do anything at all. It's probably the only reason I'm still sane.

Hold on here- Ruan's school looks pretty quiet. Way too quiet. It did seem like a dubious decision to start school for only three days before Carnaval, but what the hell- that's what they told me. What they didn't tell me? They changed their minds. No school until after Carnaval. See? It's written on the paper on the wall. Well too bad I had to drive forty fucking miserable minutes to see the paper, isn't it? But it was on TV the other day. Well I fucking hate TV too, so I guess I missed it.

As you can see I was getting kinda testy at this point. The only good thing? I got the stamp I needed for Ruan's bus pass.

So now it's off to Lucas' school, for which he is already a half hour late. I took a different, much more roundabout route to get there and it took about half as long. See ya Lucas. Have a nice day.

Next stop? Pituba. On the other side of the city. Pituba is one of the 'nicest' parts of Salvador, with some of the wealthiest residents and fanciest shopping malls. It has some bigger roads as it was developed post-automobile, but it probably has the highest per-capita car ownership in the city so all the routes there tend to get quite clogged. At least the roads are prettier to look at as you sit trapped in your car at every blasted stop light.

I went and paid my rent which I found out has gone up. Since I didn't have anyone to co-sign my rental contract, I have to go there every few months to prove I have paid all my bills. I asked to see my contract so she could show me where it said that my rent would be going up, and she asked me if I'd read the contract. I don't know if she realized just how close I was to cracking when she said that, despite my sweat-sodden and wrinkled shirt, my rosy complexion and my air of seething rage. I was prepared to tell her right there that I didn't used to be this way, that her fucking city, her goddammed fucking country made me this way, but I didn't. I thought it though. And plus, it would only be half true. I used to get into seething rages back in the states too, although they were generally related to the lack of certain substances I couldn't get my hands on at the time.

Rent paid, I went away. Now for the last, and most important, item on the list. The grommets or washers or whatever the fuck they are to keep our faucets from dripping.

Hardware stores here are... inexplicable. Probably only because we've perfected the art in the USA. The pathetic little hardware stores here by my house often don't have nails, or screws, or other staples of the hardware trade. The big box Home Depot analogs don't have things like routers, or sheetrock, or cinderblocks. One thing they do have are Deca faucets, the only faucets worth buying according to the guy who installed all our plumbing. So I bought a bunch of them. In fact, all the faucets in the house are Deca. And they've been great, except that they have started to drip. Which is fine, you just need to take the faucet apart and replace the plastic grommet/washer thingie and all is well.

Only problem?

Nobody

Sells

The

Grommet

Washer

Thingies.

In a city of nearly three million people, I found out the hard, roundabout, ask everyone way that there is exactly one store here that sells these one dollar anti-drip plastic donuts. Since I was in the neighborhood, paying my stupid rent, I took advantage and went to this store and bought twenty of the blessed thingies. The first thing the woman said me when I showed her the old worn out grommet thingie was that she didn't think it was a Deca product. No, I assured her, it is a Deca product. I would not be denied. The closest thing I had to a moment of pure joy today was when I walked out of that store with my twenty grommets in my pocket. They were months overdue.

Now I headed home, the hour hovering dangerously close to four P.M. and nightmare congestion. The traffic moved along relatively smoothly, until I tried driving up into the largo where I live. Then it just... stopped. Inexplicably. I sat there for about ten minutes. This happens from time to time because there is so much commercial activity in the largo, and not much room for cars and trucks to move around. If a truck needs to park or back up for some reason, it can tie up traffic for ten or fifteen minutes. Plus, it's almost Carnaval, which means lots of other stuff is getting moved around and precious parking spaces are disappearing beneath temporary police and fire stations. I, thoroughly at the end of my rope, parked the car and walked home.

I did have one peaceful interlude in the middle of all this. Trying to get to the Deca supplier, I was not able to get to my turnoff and was headed back in the wrong direction. My car was extra hot because I'd had to park it in direct sunlight. I hadn't had lunch. I pulled into the McDonald's (yes I did) where they had parking spots in the shade and comfort grease inside. I bought a Coke and an order of fries, and carried them to the upper level. The restaurant was almost entirely empty, and it was pleasantly cool, and there were trees to look at through the windows. The bathroom was spotless, and I washed the traffic off my hands. I sat and relaxed and read my placemat and drank my Coke. I was reminded of the Buddhist temple I used to go into to hear the monks chant in the middle of Bangkok, an island of peace in the middle of pandemonium. Except that it was a McDonald's, and the food cost 10 Reis, as much as two heaping plates of food at a noisier, hotter, dirtier restaurant.

It took me three and a half hours in the car to do practically nothing. I had a couple other things I wanted to do today as well, but you know, I didn't get to them. Maybe tomorrow, if I think I can stand it.

8 comments:

Mei said...

When my husband misses Brazil, I open your blog and start reading him excerpts from posts like these (seriously, I actually do that). I think they are awesome, because they are honest.

markuza said...

Mei- I laughed pretty hard when I read you comment. I take it your husband is Brazilian. Tell me- when you read these excerpts, does it cure him of his homesickness?

Pedra said...

Mark,
I can relate...especially during this pre-Carnaval (and now Carnaval) madness. I have my student's car again and am going to try my hardest not to use it that much, well at least until I am staying in Pituba and away from the Ondina/Barra craziness. If you want to brincar here in the Ondina area, around my house has some good parking!

markuza said...

Pedra- thanks, I got a great parking spot in front of my house and when I parked the car today I said a little prayer that I won't have to use it again for the next seven days. Here's hoping!

Mei said...

Hey Markuza! Yes, he grew up in Sao Paulo, and we moved from there to the States in 2006. We both have a good laugh, because we can relate oh-so-perfectly, and it lightens our mood considerably for the rest of the day. Odd, huh?

markuza said...

Mei, that's awesome. I hope I make both of your days many more times with my stories.

Mei said...

You already have... with your BattleShorts! ah ha ha; where do you stow your cash?

markuza said...

Ha ha- yep those BattleShorts were great. They've already been decommissioned. I kept my money in one of Lucas' socks which I fastened to my waistband with a diaper pin. Worked great!