Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Transivi ego cum omnibus

Buses are a fact of life in Honduras. Most people can’t afford cars and there is no train service. But they can get you anywhere in the country for cheap—Tegucigalpa to Santa Rosa, a 7-hour ride, will set you back about $8. Higher quality bus lines are more, but not that much more, and they don’t service many routes. Most buses are old American school buses, usually refitted to cram as many people on as is possible, many of which still have something like “Clark County Schools” painted on the side. There’s one bus I’ve found that has adequate leg room, but since most have seats quite close together, I am usually uncomfortable.

In any case, I’ve had a number of noteworthy bus experiences, some of which are recounted below.

January 20, 2007: As 6:20 became 6:25 and 6:30, while waiting at San Manuel’s “Transit Plaza,” I tried to figure out whether the people who had cheerfully told me the day before that there would be an early bus at 6 had been lied to themselves or if they had started this happy-sounding falsehood just for my benefit. The 6:30 did show up, though, and made it across the 20 miles to Gracias in just under two hours, which was good speed considering that we had stopped approximately every three minutes to pick up or discharge passengers and their voluminous, unwieldy cargo. On the bus from Gracias to Santa Rosa, my personal hypothesis that I will always be the last person on the bus with a seat to himself was again supported. Midway through the 90 minute ride, I noted people carrying several two liter bottles of Pepsi down the side of the highway, and marveled at how long people would walk to buy supplies. Then as the bus slowed down, we all rubbernecked to see that there were a lot more where those bottles came from, spilling out from the crashed bus. Shortly after that, a child standing in the aisle—if I didn’t mention it before, they always pack buses full to overcrowded in an attempt to get a few more $1 fares—started to vomit, and while it missed me any my belongings, I became concerned about the possibilities for a repeat performance as he moved a little closer to me.

February 5, 2007: On my way back west from Tegucigalpa, my comparatively nice bus is heading steadily down the highway about 90 minutes outside of the city when I hear a noise and the bus starts precariously rocking from side to side. We gradually slow down and we finally figure out—there are never any announcements qua announcements on these buses, lest the passengers’ ability to deduce the source of their delay wither from lack of use—that one of the tires has gone flat. I ask and some passenger tells me we’ll probably be all of 45 minutes to change it, at which point I look at my watch and, noting that I already had a sufficiently late start in the day, decide I will abandon this conveyance in favor of the next that comes down the highway, which it happily does within about ten minutes later. Seven hours after that, I arrive in Santa Rosa. That was an interesting trip.

February 16, 2007: The bus from San Manuel gets a flat heading down the mountain. So they just change the tire, right? Wrong. It takes an hour for the bus driver, money collector, and assorted passengers to bang the rims out of shape enough to remove the tire and then install a new one. Though I would have used a tire iron myself, I wasn’t in a hurry and they let me sit on the bus to read my book, so I didn’t complain.

February 17, 2007: On a bus in the morning, we find that the cause of a slow down is that a bus has gone off the side of the road and fallen down 50 feet from the highway, lying upside down in pseudo-forest. It’s a disturbing thought, especially when you’re on a similar bus yourself at the moment, but I take comfort in thinking what the odds would be of there being another such bus crash that day. But when we see another one—this time, a truck pulling onto the road collided with a bus passing through—I had to think, “Well, what are the odds of three crashes on this stretch of highway today?”

Then, If you were the operator of a bus line, and you knew that your bus would be two and a half hours late in coming, would you sell 100 tickets for a 60-seat bus, and then tell the impatient passengers first “It’s coming at 5:30,” then 6, then 6:30, then 7, and then get angry at the people when they’re a little ruffled once the bus does arrive? If you said no, you obviously don’t work for the Sultana bus company in San Pedro Sula. Arriving at 5 p.m. for the three-hour ride to Santa Rosa, I waited two and a half hours at the bus station, then didn’t get into Santa Rosa until 12:30 a.m. because of an accident on the highway that blocked or at least slowed traffic way down. And because the ticket agent who had no common sense or courtesy of which to speak found somewhere within him a chivalrous stripe and insisted on letting all the women on the bus before any of the men, I was standing for that whole time, except when someone allowed me to sit on his armrest, which was a nice change but nowhere near comfortable.

February 20, 2007: At first my question is “why is that man behind me spilling water onto the floor of the bus?” Then, as I look back, it becomes “how is that man able to vomit so quietly?” The guy taking fares says balefully “Next time, call out for a bag.” This is why I never put my backpack on the floor of a bus.

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Remember how back in November I was cold, cold, cold? Fortunately, I had almost forgotten but my memory has been refreshed by the recent cold snap in western Honduras. It’s probably just as cold as it was then, but it’s also been rainy which makes it just that much more special.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Transit tremors

I’ve dealt with a lot of public transportation in my day. I had most of the bus routes in Pittsburgh memorized almost ten years ago, and there was a time when I could tell you all the stations, in order, on the Jubilee line of the London Underground. I’ve taken trains all over England and Spain, and dealt with the urban rail systems of Berlin (where I didn’t speak the language) and Barcelona and Madrid (where I did, mostly). In the last year and a half, I took the 1 and 9 trains and M60 bus in New York City, and rode on Amtrak a handful of times. When I wasn’t walking or on a bike in Boston, I was on the T, and because I was too cheap for taxis in Philadelphia, I enjoyed riding on SEPTA trains and trolleys there. I bought a SmarTrip stored value transit pass and now feel like a total Washington insider when I avail myself of the WMATA. And, trivially, I’ve made my way up and down Houston’s “Red Line,” the first part in a miserably slow project to build a light rail system there, and transferred at Rome’s Termini station, where the Eternal City’s two lines intersect.

I am not scared of public transportation. I actually like it. I like public transportation to the extent that I don’t plan on owning a car for the first while after I move back to the U.S. So I was surprised at myself when I looked at the map of the Tokyo subway system and felt overwhelmed. Perhaps that means that I have met my match. The public transportation Mothra to my public transportation Godzilla, I suppose would be the best way of thinking about it.

I think I’m up to it. But am I, really? Watch this space.

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More things to which I look forward

As I mentioned was possible in this post, here are some other things I've thought about to which I am looking forward.
  1. I’m looking forward to having the immigration officer at the airport say “Welcome home” to me as he stamps my passport.
  2. I’m looking forward to talking about my time in Honduras, both in and out of the context of a slide show.
  3. I’m looking forward to browsing the stacks at Fondren Library.
  4. I’m looking forward to checking the calendar for the Shepherd School of Music and attending events there.
  5. I’m looking forward to picking up my mail and assorted packages waiting for me.
  6. I’m looking forward to going shopping at a supermarket and browsing a stunning array of candies and cereals.
  7. I’m looking forward to switching to Daylight Savings Time with no trouble.
  8. I’m looking forward to getting a new external hard drive.
  9. I’m looking forward to picking up a print copy of the Thresher.
  10. I’m looking forward to hearing (or rather, not hearing) well-behaved dogs at night.
  11. I’m looking forward to wireless Internet.
  12. “I can’t wait to get back to the States, back to the cutest girls in the world.” (And though it’s not exactly what the Beach Boys wrote, “I wish they all could be Democratic girls.”)
I think that's enough for you to get the idea. If you’ll be at Beer-Bike, you’ll see me soon enough. I get in on March 28! Are you excited yet? I am! And I can barely stop myself from using exclamation points!

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Don't you love late-night Comedy Central?

My parents have the most excellent custom of recording episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on their DVR and then burning DVDs of them and sending them to me about every month, which means that I can enjoy them even without cable or a TV, watching them on my computer. On a recent DVD, I saw a Daily Show segment from November 27, 2006, called “No Meal Plan, No Cry.” It’s about a student, Aaron Akaberi, who converts to Rastafarianism and as part of that conversion, he demands a special diet from the university’s administration. The school, the State University of New York at Binghamton, did indeed provide foods that meet his standards, including a chef on call until 1 a.m. daily, but it wasn’t enough, and Akaberi has apparently filed a lawsuit to have the chef on call 24 hours per day.

The material was good and pretty standard fare for the Daily Show, but what caught my attention was the graphic used as correspondent Dan Bakkedahl introduced an interview with a columnist from the campus newspaper.
SUNY-Binghamton officials refused to speak to us, which was fine considering they were our “safety interview.”

The sequence started with the green Binghamton pennant, but it then was shrunk and moved to the bottom right corner of the screen, as pennants with the names of nineteen other schools appeared, cascading from the top left. Funny gag, but somehow what caught my eye was the ninth to appear: none other than Rice University!

Well how about that! If only they had left it on the screen a little longer so that more people could review the whole list!

Also, I hope everybody else notices that Stephen Colbert credits himself as "Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, D.F.A." Isn't he just great! I was going to buy a Colbert Report t-shirt, but then saw that they are $25! But I might buy one anyway.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

30 ways to look forward to a trip

So I’m going on vacation at the end of March and going to spend some time in Houston before and then after doing some traveling with my family. (I’ll be there from March 28th to April 2nd, and then again from April 13th to 16th.) And looking back at this posting, I thought another list is in order.
  1. I’m looking forward to my trip to Houston.
  2. I’m looking forward to seeing family and friends.
  3. I’m looking forward to drinking the tap water.
  4. I’m looking forward to driving and riding on paved roads.
  5. I’m looking forward to biking on smooth pavement.
  6. I’m looking forward to being in convenient walking distance to my destinations.
  7. I’m looking forward to meals not involving beans, rice, or tortillas.
  8. Perhaps confusingly (to you), I’m looking forward to Taco Cabana. (Suffice it to say, Honduran food is not the same as Mexican food.)
  9. I’m looking forward to being away from roosters crowing every three minutes.
  10. I’m looking forward to throwing toilet paper in the toilet instead of the trash can.
  11. I’m looking forward to opening the faucet and... whoosh, out comes water, available on a 24/7 basis.
  12. I’m looking forward to comfortable public transit.
  13. I’m looking forward to hot showers.
  14. I’m looking forward to being away from the dry season dust that gets everywhere when the roads aren’t paved.
  15. I'm looking forward to Beer-Bike!
  16. I’m looking forward to essentially free cell phone calls.
  17. I’m looking forward to handling dollars (but not necessarily looking forward to paying dollar prices).
  18. I’m looking forward to getting my iPod fixed.
  19. I’m looking forward to Palmer Church and Canterbury.
  20. I’m looking forward to doorways where I don’t have to crouch down to avoid bumping my head.
  21. I’m looking forward to going clothes shopping. (I’ve lost probably 20-25 pounds since June, and combined with the pretty worn-out state of the clothes I brought, I need some new clothing.)
  22. I’m looking forward to gourmet cooking.
  23. I’m looking forward to beverages bottled by other than Cervecería Hondureña.
  24. I’m looking forward to riding in elevators.
  25. I’m looking forward to being away from loud “evangelical” churches four nights per week.
  26. I’m looking forward to picking up and sending mail.
  27. I’m looking forward to standing in the Hanszen Quad and Commons.
  28. I’m looking forward to surprising people by speaking to them in Spanish.
  29. I’m looking forward to introducing the concept of the baleada to the U.S.
  30. I’m looking forward to watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report nightly at 10 p.m. CDT.
I may add more later as more things occur to me. See you then!