Saturday, November 21, 2009

riding the colectivo part 3: The Gringo on the Bus goes...

Welcome back! Its time for the next installment of Riding the Colectivo. So far we’ve covered the Guia-T and bus stop behavior, but at this point we haven’t actually made it onto the bus, which really is the whole point of the endeavor. So let’s go!

After finding the bus stop, waiting in line, and allowing all feeble people to board before you, what next? We’ll start with a word of caution. As I mentioned before, many colectiveros (bus drivers) will not wait until everyone is safely behind the yellow line before taking off (HA, safety regulations, what a joke). So, if you are the last one on the bus and it’s pretty crowded, get as far in as you can, hold on tight, then give the driver a quick “Dale” or “Bueno” so he knows its all right to go and there’s no one else trying to get on. Make sure your buttcheeks don’t get pinched in the door—I’ve seen it happen, it ain’t pretty.

Moving on to payment. Once you’re inside and intact (hopefully), you must tell the driver one of two things. First and easiest option: tell him the amount you wish to pay. The buses operate on a kind of distance-based fee system, where you pay different amounts based on how far you wish to go. In general, you will pay 90 centavos for a very short trip, within 10 blocks or so. 1.20 will take you up to 20 blocks, and 1.25 will take you anywhere further than that. These are the three main amounts, but occasionally you can say 1.10 and get away with it. This being said, if you say an amount and the driver puts in something different, just pay it, because there are some regulations about buses crossing into other companies’ areas and having to pay more or something like that. I don’t know the details, clearly, but the most you will pay is 1.25, so it’s really not that big a deal.

The second option is to tell the driver which street you would like to get off at or near. This works if you have a destination in mind and know that this destination is along the bus route. Once you tell him where you want to get off, the driver will put in the correct amount for that trip. For example, if you are riding the 152 down Santa Fe from Belgrano and know you want to get off at Avenida Puerreydon, you just get on, tell the driver “Hasta Puerreydon,” and he will push the little key that says 1.25, and that’s how much you pay.

Now, to actually pay you have to insert your coins (monedas) into the machine located right behind the driver. Once you tell the driver the amount or the destination, the fee will show up on the little screen on the machine. There are different types of moneda-eaters, but in general you just put the coins into a slot or into a little dish that has a motor in the back to pull the coins down, and that’s that. I once had an awful experience when I couldn’t find the slot for the coins (seriously, I was looking for it for like 2 minutes and couldn’t find it anywhere! Finally the lady behind me pointed it out, muttering something suspiciously ending in “-oluda.”) Point being, if you’re new to this and want to avoid appearing slow, watch the person in front of you and see where they put their coins. Also, with the dish-motor contraptions, don’t put all your coins in at once because there’s a good chance they will be spit violently back at you, hit you in the eye, and then you will have to crawl half-blinded around the floor looking for your last 5 centavos while people huff and sigh behind you. Hypothetically, of course.

After you have successfully paid the correct amount, a little ticket will print out of the machine. I don’t exactly understand the purpose of this ticket, since not once has anyone asked to see proof that I paid the measly fee, but you have to take it anyway, just in case! They usually just end up on the floor of the bus, but I personally like to roll it into a ball and flick at people with those ridiculous mullet-rattail hairdos (kidding! Or am I?)

*EDITED! I have now been asked to provide this slip of paper about four different times, so definitely make sure you hold on to it and don't mangle it or rip it into shreds. Occasionally a representative from the bus company will get on a bus and walk through, asking to see all the passengers' tickets, presumably to make sure they are paying the correct amount and not getting free rides. The man will board, announce that he would like to see the tickets, and then everyone will start rummaging around in their bags and pockets for the incredibly inconspicuous piece of paper. Then he'll come around, take your slip, put a little check on it, and hand it back to you. This has only ever happened to me on the 106 line, but I'm sure other lines have ticket-nazis as well, so keep that in mind!

Once you have your ticket, GO TO THE BACK OF THE BUS. This is a standard rule that everyone should follow. The seats at the front of the bus are reserved for older folk, women with kids, women who are preggers, disabled people, etc. If you sit there, not only will you have to face the rest of the bus and ride backwards, which is a little disconcerting, but you will probably also have to give your seat up relatively quickly given the number of afore-mentioned preggo/old/child-carrying people there are in this city.
And give seats up you must. If you are seated anywhere on the bus and someone who looks infirm or in need of a seat (ie with a cane, with a baby, etc) is standing near you or approaching, you should get up and offer your seat to them. This chivalry happens with amazing frequency, and I love it. Anyway, if there are seats available in the back part of the bus, feel free to take them. If not, you should go to the back anyway and take up a station holding the rails, praying for someone near you to get up. I usually pick the one person who is riding the ENTIRE line to stand near, and spend the whole ride glaring down at him and trying to force him with my eyes to just GET OFF already, where can you POSSIBLY be going that you have to sit there for SO LONG. Alternatively, you can stand in the little area in the middle of the bus where there is often a butt-rail to rest your hind parts upon but that really doesn’t do anything in the way of offering support or comfort. Your choice.

Another word of caution: watch your bag. Women: keep purses zipped and close to your body, especially if the bus is crowded. Messenger style bags are easy targets because they are so low down, so maybe keep a hand on the zip. If you’re wearing a backpack, I recommend wearing it on your front. Don’t feel silly doing this, because Argentines do it too…no one wants to get robbed! Men, you should already know this but keep your wallets in front pockets or, alternatively, wear jeans that are so tight you couldn’t get a credit card out of there. Again, your choice. 

So, that’s the bus! It’s easy, no? You’re on and heading to wherever you want to go, which is all fine and dandy. But what about getting off? No one wants to ride the colectivo forever, especially if it ends up in a barrio that is less than tourist-friendly. Enter the next installment: “Permiso, yo bajo.”

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