A Good Way to Brighten Your Day

Hey, who you calling a slowcoach?

I write in small notebooks that fit in my pocket.

I am careful not to lose them in case what I write is a gem. Ernest Hemingway once lost a bunch of short stories he’d written before becoming famous, and he never saw them again. I once lost half a notebook to my dog’s belly. It was probably what came out as compared with Hemingway’s stories.

The second notebook I lost went missing mysteriously, and with it my solution to Buenos Aires’ traffic problems – not the nerve-wracking jams but the dangers pedestrians face in crossing the road.

The solution, written from personal experience, went something like this, if my memory doesn’t fail me:

One day a few weeks ago I set out in the car knowing full well that hell awaited. The subway was down so most people had to commute on the streets or brave the railway after a spree of derailed trains.

I set off with time on my hands and the resolve to drive my Hyundai Elantra station wagon as I’d learned growing up in Los Angeles, the city of the car: I gave cyclists and pedestrians the right of way.

And do you know what?

The first pedestrian smiled at me as I let him pass. The second did the same, and the third gave me a cheerful thumbs-up. A cyclist nodded his head and smiled as I gave way.

This put a smile on my face. So I put on a bit of Bob Marley and continued my journey toward downtown. I was rolling along and delighted, beaming even.

I was also a bit naïve.

This is Buenos Aires, for crying out load. Pedestrians don’t have the right of way, cyclists even less. An aunt of mine had once made it her mission to right this failing of society only to almost die at least a dozen times underneath the wheels of frantic motorists and get-the-fuck-out-of-my-way bus drivers. I gave up on trying to help her cause after only a few weeks, beaten in my attempts to exert my right to cross on a green light. I chose the safer life of a jaywalker.

But then on this day, a sunny winter’s day with the tunes playing and cheerful cyclists and pedestrians waving to me, I envisioned how things could change and how fulfilling it could be to slow down and let the un-motorized go first.

Try it.

It will brighten your day.

Or will it?

For after a couple of miles I started to get closer to the mayhem of downtown and my fellow motorists trailing behind me started to frown and honk as I came to a full stop at each block to let people cross the road, adults, kids and grannies. The honks grew louder and longer and more frequent, and then motorists, who in my rearview mirror seemed to be fuming at the forehead and pulling out their hair, started to shout: “Out of the way, pelotudo! Apurate, hijo de puta – hurry up!”

What to do?

There was only one answer to save pedestrians from the mad motorists, other than by revoking everybody’s licenses, and it was simple: I turned up the music, flipped up the rearview mirror and continued on my merry way.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Ben November 7, 2012, 11:25 am

    I was thinking of going for a vacation to Buenos Aires. At first, I thought the crime rate would be high. However, it seems that crime isn’t really a problem in Buenos Aires, but road safety is. Is it too dangerous to walk around?

    • Charles Newbery November 7, 2012, 2:15 pm

      Hi Ben,

      Buenos Aires is a walking city. You can get around on foot, especially in the center, and the buses, trains and subways are good, even though the infrastructure is sagging from neglect. I walk as much as I can. The thing is that you can’t assume that motorists will stop for you to cross the road. The rules of the road here are that cars go first, pedestrians second. You’d be brave to try to change this “rule.” I let the cars go first and then cross the road. Sometimes jaywalking is even safer.

      I hope you make it out. It is a great city for walking.

      Crime? It’s getting worse. I don’t see much of it. But I hear stories. You have to keep your eyes open and not dress flashy, then you’ll be fine.


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