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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Las Micros

I think it’s about time for a blog post on the micros. Seeing as I just wrote an essay about them for my Spanish class and they are a very important part of Santiago culture they deserve a post. So, what are the micros? Micros are the public buses. This is how I get around for the most part, so I take the micros about twice a day. They are usually yellow although there are new ones that are twice the length and white and green. We are going to ignore the new ones for now because they are stupid and not nearly as cool. Basically, foreigners either love or hate the micros, there is no in between. In case you couldn’t tell, I love the micros.

The micros are kind of like NY taxis in that there are tons of them on every street and the drivers are crazy (and they are yellow). They all have numbers but I have no idea what number micros go to my house, I just look at the sign in the window that says wear it is going to see if it is going to the right place. Whether or not you are at an official stop you usually have to flag down the micro or they might not stop. If you catch the driver’s attention and he is three lanes over, he will cross three lanes in about 10 feet to pull over, or they just stop in the middle of the street and you have to cross the three lanes of traffic to get to the door. You get on and hand the driver your 350 pesos (about 70 cents) and while driving (stick shift) he rips you a ticket, counts your money, and gives you change, all with one hand and (hopefully) still paying attention to the road, it is quite impressive. Sometimes the micro starts to move as you are getting on and you have to quickly climb on before it starts going faster. Once you are on the micro there is the chance that you can find a seat, but more likely you stand in the crowded aisles, especially if it is rush hour. When you are ready to get off you either let the driver know or push the button and hopefully they will come to a complete stop to let you off, but you never know.

Often, while you are on the micro, a vendor, musician or beggar will get on the micro. The vendors that sell ice cream or water, walk down the aisles shouting out what they have and people buy stuff. The vendors that sell random things like, books, pens, socks, best of the 80’s mix cd’s, toys, etc. walk down the aisle and hand things out. Then they give a little speech about their product and then walk back down the aisle to either get the thing back or collect money if you want to buy it. Then there are the musicians who are the most fun. They will come on and just start playing a couple of songs and then give a speech about who they are and come and collect money. Since this is a regular practice and part of the culture, a bunch of people will usually give them money. Once, these two kids who were in high school and in their school uniforms played music while I was on the micro. Since these people get on for free I think some people just use it as a way to get home and make a little extra money at the same time. Sometimes people come on to ask for money. Usually they are blind, have some kind of disability, or are asking for a particular cause. It is unclear how many of these people are legitimate and how many of them are faking it.

I know this is a very long post so don’t feel obligated to keep reading. This is the story of my craziest micro experience so far. About two weeks ago I got on the micro after class to go home. An ice cream man gets on, walks up and down the aisle, sells a few ice cream bars, and then goes to the front of the bus to wait for where he wants to get off. He is talking to the driver and after a minute or two it is clear they are arguing. All of a sudden, in the middle of the street the driver slams on his breaks, almost crashing into the car in front of us. He stands up, grabs the ice cream man by the collar and shoves him against the door, screaming at him. Then, still holding his collar, he holds up his fist and was about to punch the ice cream man in the face but stopped himself. Instead he opens the door and yells at him to get off the micro. The driver was still upset so is not paying so much attention to driving and yelling at the ice cream man out the window who was picking up dirt off the ground and throwing it at the micro. Then one of the passengers shouted that the ice cream man had a rock and was going to throw it at the micro. These little old ladies sitting next to a window, scooted away from the window to the edge of their seats and spent about two minutes holding their pocketbooks in front of their faces to protect themselves from a rock coming through the window. Luckily, nothing happened and we kept going as if nothing had happened. I was much more scared of the crazy driver than the ice cream man with the rock and so was relieved to safely get off the bus at my stop. So, a slightly scary experience, but also very entertaining and just part of the day to day micro experience. Also, it made for a good story to tell everyone.

Also, you always say las micros even though the word micro should be masculine, it is a mystery to everyone why the word has a feminine article in front of it.

Ok, that is far more than you wanted to know about the micros.


At 8:49 PM, April 12, 2006, Blogger Becca said...

not to obessively post comments your blog or anything....

but i love it! the adventures of public transportation are so representative of the culture of a place.

melbourne has a, well-known, tram system. students get "concession" fairs... but study abroad students do not. thus, we have to pay full fair. and... it's all done on the honor system. you are *supposed* to validate your tram card when you get on. but it really appears as though noone does much of the time. so its a gamble. sometimes we do... sometimes we dont. and there are a couple people who have stories of being caught and fined.

here is a crazy tram story for you though. i was on the tram with a friend going down to the beach at st. kilda. it was during the commonwealth games so the tram was absolutely packed. we ended up standing next to an extremely drunk man (it was about 2:00pm) who had a baby baby puppy. the tram was so packed that you basically *couldn't* tip over... but he was anyway. he wasn't holding on to anything and was totally piss drunk. so people kept catching him as he tipped over but it really seemed as though the only reason was that they were worried about the poor puppy... not the man. he really did love that puppy though. unclear if it was going to take taken care of- but he certainly cared for it.

we were glad when we got to st. kilda and got off the train.

thanks for the update sari!

At 1:42 PM, April 13, 2006, Blogger sonja said...

i really enjoyed BOTH your public transportation stories! so funny.

i've got one too, though it didn't happen to me. it is SO typical of greece: you can hail a cab, get in and tell them where you want to go, but they don't have to take you there. if they don't feel like it, they can just tell you to get out. out of control, no?


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