I had a friend who once posed this question: “How many hours of your life do you think you spend either waiting for the train/bus and is on the train/bus?” Living and working in NYC for the past 3 years, riding the subway was just something that was a part of my routine. Not using public transportation was something only reserved for the super wealthy or super wealthy. EVERYONE I knew took the train. Even if you had a car, you at least had one horror story that started with “One time I was on the (insert train line here) and it was delayed/ skipped my stop/the car smelled like shit/I was stuck in between stations for 30 minutes.” Or if you were late to work the blame could easily fall on the subway and your boss understood, because that was the one thing that even higher management could empathize with you. Being irrationally angry at the subways and buses was totally okay, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say “I had such a pleasant ride on the train today.” The MTA was something that everyone could agree to hate. “The prices have gone up again??!” “WHY is there construction this weekend?” “So you mean to tell me this train is just NOT gonna run?” “And then the conductor kept repeating ‘ladies and gentleman we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us’” Train traffic my ass. I could go on for days about the MTA.
Ahh and then I arrived to Brazil. Natal to be exact. I always think back to that question about hours wasted waiting for the bus/train. While typing this, I’m really trying to calculate how many hours a week I think I spend waiting for the bus. Living here has made me long to hear the dreaded words “We are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us” At least with that I could pretend to believe the half- truth about the shitty public transportation system. Before coming to Natal, we were told by past ETA’s that the buses would be our main mode of transportation. Not a problem. I used public transportation daily back in New York and when I was home in White Plains, if my Mom was feeling generous that day she would lend me her car. I could definitely deal. We were also told to expect to wait anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour for your bus. Come again? I’m convinced waiting for the buses here is like a game of Russian Roulette. You just don’t know what will come your way. The actual ride on the bus may only be 10-15 minutes and Natal isn’t a huge city so it really shouldn’t take you long. Factoring in the wait time is essential, because if you don’t dedicate at least an hour door to door, than you will be late to your destination. Or you will be 30 minutes early. You just never know. Now, you may just say well why can’t you just follow the bus schedule? LOL. The buses here don’t follow a schedule. There have been times where I have seen 3 of the same buses from the same line come one right after the other. There have been times where I have seen the bus that I needed, pass by me while I’m walking towards the bus stop and then I proceeded to turn around and go back home because I already knew the next one wouldn’t come for at least 30 minutes and I rather just sit in my apartment than the blazing sun.
Just like every other place in the world, Brazil has its faults. The buses are unreliable, crowded and hot. People will squeeze onto the bus with limbs hanging out of the open windows because you just don’t know when the next one will come. I have deleted this phrase: “I’ll just wait for the next one.” The next one may come in an hour and you’ll already be even later than you intended to be. (Because like a true Brasileiro/a you are never on time. Even if you’re 15 minutes late you’re on time.) The one redeeming quality about the buses here in Natal is that if someone is lucky enough to have a seat, they will hold your bag for you along with theirs. You can only imagine my hesitancy when someone tapped my arm on the bus and asked to hold my bag. “Excuse me?” But it is customary and part of the culture, and I love it! So when you’re swinging and swaying on the bus because the Motorista is barreling down the street and making left sharp turns, at least you know you’re bag is safe in someone else’s hands.