Monday, January 7, 2008

Ending The Year By Doing Something Dumb

When is the last time that you did something, and when it was over you thought to yourself, “Well, that wasn’t too bright.” It is like the famous last words of the redneck, “Hey, Bubba, watch this!” This happened to me on the last day of the year. Let me give you some background information. Traffic in Cochabamba follows no discernable rule. Every intersection becomes a multilane highway with drivers all trying to get the jump on each other and edge out the competition. The goal is to always advance by one car...period. You can achieve this goal by doing just about anything that you want to. You can turn left from the right lane, turn right from the left lane, make a one lane road into a three lane road, go the wrong way down a one way street….whatever…just get in front of the guy in front of you. As a great example of this, I laughed out loud at an intersection a couple of days ago. I was on a one way street with two lanes in it. There was a bus in the left lane, and a taxi in the right lane, side by side. When the light turned almost green (literally, people go when the opposing light turns yellow), the bus in the left lane turned right, and the taxi in the right lane turned left!

Anyway, the only real rule in Cochabamba traffic is that bigger usually has the right of way, and the purpose of driving is to pass as many people in as many ways as possible. I am usually okay with this. It is even funny to me. I will pull up at a two-lane intersection, and watch as cars pull up on both sides of me and the two lanes have become a four lane drag strip waiting for the light to change. Across the intersection, there are parked cars forcing the four lanes back to a two…so the race is on! Invariably, I fold and just mosey on up after the dragsters and am content with last place. But this wasn’t the case on December 31st! Denise and I were driving downtown, and it was horrific traffic. We were having to wait at each light for more than one turn, people were blocking the box, forcing us to miss 'our turn' and it was bumper to bumper. I was on a one-way street, with cars parked on my right, when a taxi tried to zoom between two parked cars and jump in front of me. I honked my horn and did not let him in. He tried it again the next time there was an open parking spot on the right. I honked and didn’t let him in.

Now here is where the dumb part kicks in. For some reason ( I wasn’t angry or suffering from road rage), I decided that on this particular day, this particular taxi wasn’t going to get in front of me. I don’t know why, but I decided that when this race was over, I was going to be the winner! So…the let the games begin! He tried to maneuver in front of me, and I did not let him. Time after time. He was determined to beat me. I was grinning to myself as I kept the angry tiger at bay and maintained my pole position.

Then, it happened. We came to a traffic signal, and I was in front. I was turning right, and so was he! No problem…I am still in front. But then, a bus blocked the box. I turned and had to stop with my bumper right at the back fender of the bus. The taxi driver turned in behind the bus, also blocking the box, but moved up so that he was bumper to bumper. I could see the writing on the wall! I had been out maneuvered due to a silly bus blocking the intersection.

I was watching the taxi out of my periphiel vision, wondering if there was a way that I could still win. The driver moved forward, and in an automatic response, I gave it the gas….and RAN RIGHT INTO THE SIDE OF THE BUS! LOL! Here we were, just sitting in traffic, and I rammed the bus. :) I really did. All traffic stopped as the bus driver, understandably angry, came out of the cab to find out just why in the world this crazy gringo rammed him. As he and I looked at the damage to the bus, I REFUSED to look at the taxi driver. There was no way I was going to make eye contact with him. (I had to reserve some dignity :)) But I could just imagine his laughter. I bet I made his day, and he has told hundreds of people about his come from behind victory under the yellow flag. I talked to the bus driver, apologized, accepted blame, and ended up giving him $13 for the damage to the bus, and shook the hand of a happy man as he climbed back into the cab. You see, the damage was a mere scratch on top of an already dented fender…so he was not even going to report it. He makes about $20/week, so I gave him almost a week’s wages and a humble apology. (I actually carry $40 with my license for events like this).

The moral of this story? I dunno. It was just a funny way to end a pretty good year, and now I am an official driver in Bolivia…I have been imitated by hitting a bus, negotiating a deal, and humbly accepting defeat. Since that day…I am back to meekly crossing intersections and letting the race go to the professionals.