We gringos simply don’t know some things about the busses here in Quito – things that every native Quiteno seems to know. There is a bus sense that we lack.
In the beginning, I got around by looking at the plackards displayed in the lower portion of the busses’ windshields. They would list the more prominent places along their routes: Colon, Plaza Artigas, 12 de Octubre, Catolica, Trebol, Marin, and so on. If you know the city, you can kinda then visualize the route. You know that this bus going to Colon, Plaza Artigas, 12 de Octubre, and so on is going to take you to La Mariscal also. But the problem is, no bus says “La Mariscal,” so you can spend a lot of time looking for a sign that doesn’t exist. The other problem is that sometimes, the plackards vary, or they forget to turn them around to display the places they are going to rather than the places they are coming from. And another major problem is that many of the plackards are too small to read from half a block away, so you don’t see “Colon” until the bus passes you.
Just this past week, though, I was waiting for a bus after class, and one of my students was at the same “bus stop.” Once we discovered we were going to the same neighborhood, she said, “Entonces, coges el 15 de Agosto?” (so, you want to catch the 15 de Agosto bus?). I looked at her dumbly and nodded, which is what you do when you don’t understand. Eventually, she pointed to a bus that was a block away and said, “aqui esta.” When it was stopping in front of us, I noticed that indeed, it was the one I wanted. I also noticed that there was a huge sign at the top of the windshield that read “Bus Tipo 15 de Agosto.” The sign was so big, in fact, that you could read it from a block away.
Thus armed with my new knowledge, I informed Eileen about this little trick. So then a few days ago, she was at a bus stop where people were mysteriously lined up (such order is rare in Quito). She spotted her 15 de Agosto bus and tried to flag it down. She even began running after it and caught up, but the money collector guy shook his hand at her and said, “no.” She screamed “por que?” to which he responded with something like, “estoyhablandoelcastellanodemasiadorapidoparati.” So she walked back to whence she came and received an explanation from a kind woman: “Don’t worry, sweetie, it’s turning around. It’s at the end of its route. There will be another one coming soon.” And sure enough, another one came soon; everyone boarded it in a very civilized manner, rare for a place where you have to literally run and jump on to and off of the busses half the time.
Speaking of which, yesterday, I was attempting to catch the famous 15 de Agosto. I was crossing the street just as it rounded the corner and I put out my arm and whistled (an imitation of native Quitenos which has actually worked for me a few times). He didn’t stop. I finished crossing the road, ran, and jumped on to the still moving bus, which then came to a stop. The driver got out and did some miscellaneous maintainence work on the bus, which I couldn’t really see. We sat there for ten minutes, and then started creeping along at 10 miles per hour.
By friend Bill, who has been equally delighted by his occasional athletic bus mounts, ran and jumped onto a moving bus the other day. The driver looked at him and said (in Spanish), “this isn’t the one you want.” And upon looking back, Bill noticed the passengers were all children in their school uniforms. He had jumped on to a school bus.
My bus sense is getting better, but there is so much we don’t know. I have repeatedly jumped off of moving busses only to then have my momentum bring me face to face with passengers calmly exiting the very bus I leapt from.
Hopefully, it will get better.