Monday, August 1, 2011

Street Crossing in Guaricano

Street Crossing in Guaricano
         Because Niningo needed cleats for baseball, and Chavela needed two more pairs of tighter fitting jeans and Altagracia needed a dark skirt for work we all went to Duarte yesterday afternoon. I had been grocery shopping in our local Hipermercado Olé that morning so I should have known better because, being the first day of the month, nearly everyone who has a job had gotten paid plus it is that much closer to Christmas-- which is huge here--and so lines in banks and at check-outs were more unbearably long and slow than usual. I think new employees must start work on the firsts of months because both the incoming package check person and the cash register person were new and, therefore, very slow. But, in any case, in the afternoon when Niningo and Chavela got home from school they took quick showers and snacked and the three of us walked up to the water tank and caught a guagua for Gascue to meet Altagracia as she got off from work. We got off the guagua at the Supermercado Nacional and, while Niningo and Chavela went to meet Altagracia at the pensión I walked quickly down to my friend Domingo’s apartment on Independencia which is next to where we would re-meet to for transport to Duarte. Domingo, who is the Head Speleologist for the government and also a journalist and photographer, happened to be home so I was able to give him, in person, the small set of cardboard archeologist’s scales for including in photographs so one could figure out the size of the thing photographed that I happened to have extras of and that I had promised him. Even after after visiting I still got to the bus stop about fifteen minutes before the rest.
         Duarte was teeming with people and construction crews were digging the street up to install new drop inlets to catch rainwater so there was mud and sand and cement dust and smoke everywhere and the street was trickier to cross than usual. But we crossed back and forth in-between eating Chinese food in a restaurant where a waitress brought menus to the table, and buying fingernail polish and rubber gloves in La Sirena and jeans in La Paloma and baseball cleats in the basement of Gran Via and when we were ready to leave it was already dark and the street venders were breaking down their kiosks and wheeling their juice stands and portable, makeshift gas grills and deep friers home for the night and there were horses pulling two wheeled carts and we heard a dog howling its death howl after being hit by a car down a side street.  We snaked our way through stained, curling plywood tables covered with apples and eggplants for sale and found a public taxi headed for the intersection of Ovando and Gomez and traffic was so thick that we got let off a block early on Ovando.
         Ovando, like Duarte, is lined on both sides with street venders selling everything from used clothing to wind up alarm clocks to underwear to coconuts and as we worked our way toward Gomez we bought apples and gumdrops for the rest of the trip. Hundreds of people lined Maximo Gomez looking for a guagua or a taxi but there were hardly any because of a partial work stoppage by the taxistas to protest the new regulation that forced half of all the public cabs to paint their roofs yellow and the other half to paint theirs green and to work only on alternate days of the week. Another reason was to protest the construction of the new overhead train that will draw customers away from the taxis and besides, has already reduced Gomez to one lane in places. The first plan to reduce the traffic on Gomez during commuting hours was to dig a subway line from Villa Mella to Gascue but because nobody understood where the money was going to be borrowed from to even meet the unrealistically low estimate for the cost of the project, it was scrapped after only a few of the planned subway stations had been marked out with spray paint on the ground. Only a few days after the newspapers reported that the Senate had approved plans for the overhead train, giant holes that encroached on the left-hand lanes going in each direction were dug both by back hoes and by hand in the center of Gomez and then, two weeks later, prefabricated round towers twenty feet tall of reinforcing rod were dropped in the holes and hoisted into place using cranes as well as by men pulling on ropes and now are precariously guyed in place with nylon rope while they await the concrete forms and then the concrete to be poured in around them. In the meantime, and no one knows how long that will be, traffic is worse and sometimes Altagracia has to wait a half hour for a guagua or a taxi to take her to work.
         The crowd waiting for busses became more restless and overflowed onto the street which cut off still another lane for traffic and so we walked slowly downstream hoping to find emptier busses. A man leaning out the door of a slowly passing garbage truck started calling out destinations as though it was a guagua and everybody laughed. We finally gave up waiting for a guagua to take us to the blue water tank and got on one heading for Guaricano which would let us off half way home and across the bridge and we figured it would be easier to change guaguas there. The guagua was so crowded there was hardly room for air. We were wedged in, standing, cheek to jowl to cheek and most of the windows had been replaced with plywood so we could not see out. The driver tired of waiting for traffic and so detoured and we lost track of the turns and we figured we must be winding our way through the MIrador del Norte park and we made a stop at a SuperMercado Nacional, and I was afraid it was the same one in Gascue and that we would have to start all over, but it was one I had never seen before. Nobody really knew where we were but at one intersection there was an extended discussion between the driver, the cobrador and maybe 10 of the 80 or so passengers about which way to go and the longest route was finally decided on. After an hour of riding this way the guagua finally came to a stop at the gas station in Guaricano where we would look for a guagua to take us home. All that remained was to cross the street.
         The frustrated traffic was unyielding and it was not until fifteen of us had collected to cross that we had the courage to lurch like a drunken flock of sheep tied together across the two southbound lanes to the relative safety of the narrow concrete median. Traffic was moving faster in the next two lanes and I thought our little herd chose a bad time to start the crossing but we did anyway but then we got split by two motorcycles speeding between lanes and then all the group except for me and Altagracia made it across with room to spare in front of an oncoming OMSA, which is a bus the size of a NYC bus and looked like a huge wall moving toward us. When I saw that the OMSA was stopping to let us cross I took Altagracia’s arm and started but she heard someone on the other side yell, “It’s not stopping!” and she stepped back but the cars in the lane behind us were moving fast again and there was no room to wait between the lanes so I pulled her across with me in front of the OMSA and we made it to the curb but she thought I had tried to kill her and said that she was never going to cross the street with me again and solicited opinions from the rest of the disorderly flock, which had not yet dispersed, and opinion was divided although no one except for Niningo and Chavela (who saw the bus stopping) had really been paying attention. In the meantime a guagua going our way stopped and Niningo and Chavela got on and I started to get on but Altagracia turned and strode away, still gesticulating and opining wildly, and so I got off and Niningo and Chavela went on without us. When Altagracia refused to get in the next taxi that stopped I went on without her and eventually caught up with Niningo and Chavela at the bus stop and, as we were walking home, Altagracia sped past us on the back of a motor concho, and it is the next day now but she hasn’t yet spoken with any of us. The kids tell me to not worry and that she gets like this from time to time.
         After coming home from work the following day she went straight to bed complaining of a splitting headache but she was seeming much more herself.

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