Sunday, August 21, 2011

Reading Public Trans

I’m slowly learning how to read this city. I'm becoming more and more confident with the language Spanish, but learning how to be and live and read this place-this land of Spanish speaking people- seems to be a whole other language to learn. It seemed like complete chaos at first, familiar images and symbols placed in unfamiliar orders and appearance- Like a painted numbers project where someone gets all the colors messed up and all the number 1’s were supposed to be green, but someone switched them to purple polka dots: it’s confusing at first. But I’m slowly learning what it has to say.

For example- I’ve been riding public transportation for seven years now in the states. I’ve gotten pretty used to looking up schedules and routes and estimating my time to get places. And I knew inside out the routes that I took often: the beach-bound 733 , the 207 would take me to the heart of south la or to the heart of Hollywood, and the 740 the bus that would take me everywhere when I lived in Inglewood- work, the mall, downtown, the library, etc. Riding these routes was second nature. I hardly had to look out the window to know where I was. I had an inner GPS as some mechanism inside of me linked up with the rhythm of the stopping and starting. And on unfamiliar routes- locating the clearly marked stops was really no problem. Since January with the technology of my iphone, I enjoyed special ease in planning my public trans adventures and routes.

All that was out the window here in DF with transporte público.

The buses at first seem a complete mess. There are no schedules or routes you can look up online. There are barely even set stops. Any corner convenient for congregating and accessible to buses is where the stops are. There is no expectation the buses will stop, you have to wave down based on the names of destinations scratched in chalk on the windshield. Plus there are different types of buses, with different fares. City run buses with set fares. Mini microbuses that have different rates depending on how far you are going. And women-only buses. It just seemed impossible at first- a whole consciousness within chaos that I would have to learn.

But- would you believe- they may not have a schedule or a map posted on line but the chicken scratch means something and they’ve been functioning for me as transportation for the past four weeks- never taking me somewhere that chicken scratch didn’t say it would!

It’s like seeing a repetition in a decimal- realizing its not one of those imaginary ones that go on forever and forever with no rhyme or reason at all. Indecipherable images and messaging, deciphered. Like the names of streets, bus stops, and land marks: once all just a mess of impossible to pronounce names made up of completely unfamiliar combinations of consonants and vowels- a lot of them with their root in the Aztec language Nahuatl- I can now tell you the difference between Taxquena or Tacubaya, Chapultapec or Constuyentes, Coyocán or Copilco, Periferico or Pedregal.

It’s like finding your way in a maze. Forging a path through a thicket of confusing signs and unfamiliar people. It’s like a messy drawer that you start to make sense out of as you see “Oh it’s not just a mess, there’s actually useful things here- its receipts and rubber bands and pens”- and yeah there are a few loose screws and pieces of plastic that I have no idea what they are supposed to be used for or who they belong to or what purpose they have- but hey they are part of the experience so I won’t completely disregard them either. They probably have a meaning that I just don’t know yet, and eventually I hope to embrace and LOVE them too.

1 comment:

  1. You're adapting nicely, Bethany. Creatively described observations, too. I especially like the paint-by-numbers analogy. Oh, and the messy-drawer one.