The Dueling Buses
By Herbert W. Piekow
One of the things I like about living in Guadalajara is the inexpensive public transportation. For seven pesos I can go anywhere and not worry about competing with the city´s 2.2 million registered cars, other drivers or finding a non-existent parking space. According to Lonely Planet travel guide, “Guadalajara has a comprehensive city bus system, but be ready for crowded, rough rides.” Daily Guadalajara has 5,300 buses on the streets; but many buses fail to meet safety standards and from 2007 through 2013 city buses caused 317 fatalities. None the less I still prefer to get around Mexico’s second largest city via bus.
I live two blocks from Route 622, which is also my favorite inner city bus line. I can take Route 622 to shopping malls in Zapopan, to the Minerva where I go to the doctor or catch a connection and go down Hidalgo to the very heart of the city. Because of an incident in my youth I should have a fear of any bus. When I was in the sixth grade my school bus hurtled down a narrow farm road without brakes; our driver drove the fully loaded school bus into a farmer’s field. The school bus rolled over three times. I survived, but spent three months recuperating in a hospital, I continue to have internal problems due to the accident, the broken ribs mended but a colonoscopy is impossible and I only have a partial pancreas.
To get home from the Lake Chapala Writers Group I take the directo from Ajijic to Guadalajara, I always ask the driver to drop me off by Parque Gallo where I catch my number 622. Recently as I boarded an old faded blue and white bus it felt as though we had been hit from behind; I lurched, lost my balance and was thrown to the floor. I landed on another gentleman and then three other people fell on top of me. Too late I scrambled to retrieve my glasses, but they got stepped on. I held the bent frames when someone pulled me to my feet and a woman, whom I suspect was in her thirties, insisted I take her hard, yellow plastic seat; the yellow seats are reserved for “old people” and expectant mothers. I accepted, not because I am old, but because my face was bleeding and I felt a little unsteady.
Another bump, this time I nearly slid from my seat, directly behind our driver. Then I heard a tearing sound I looked over and saw our side mirror snap as an empty Busman employee bus scrapped alongside us. Our driver turned to the driver of the other bus and they exchanged words that exceed my Spanish vocabulary. The light turned green and suddenly both buses sped forward through the intersection. I and my fellow passengers were trapped in a bus racing down Calle Olimpia, we seemed to be competing with the other bus for some sort of medal. Our packed bus pushed forward against an empty Busman bus our group swayed helplessly and it surprised me that not one person begged to be let out, cursed or otherwise made a peep. Suddenly we came to an abrupt stop and again I nearly slid from my uncomfortable seat. Both buses had stopped for the red light at Olimpia and Revolucion, no one breathed as the empty bus seemed to press against ours. We were hood to hood waiting for the green light, our driver yelled at the other driver who seemed more focused on the light than the words our driver hurled through his opened window.
The light changed and I braced for the regular left turn; the aggressive Busman driver cut in front of our bus and headed up Revolucion against traffic, a quarter block and he swung left onto a narrow one way residential street, we were following close behind. By now our driver was on his cell phone and racing down the street narrowly missing parked cars. With one hand he steered and manually shifted his bus full of silent passengers as he yelled license plate numbers and other information into the phone clutched in his right hand. Our crowded bus chased the empty bus down the normally quiet street I prayed that no child would dash out to retrieve a ball. Both buses sped through the darkening street, normally my bus would have made several stops by now, but we were not on our “normal” route. Without warning or slowing our driver swung his bus to the left and drove a couple blocks to our regular street. When he stopped, at a designated stop, everyone including myself, quickly and silently exited. Like a lemming I followed my fellow passengers to another old blue number 622 and dutifully handed my damp and crumpled bus ticket to the new driver.