Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Things You Learn on the Bus

2011 09 06
Portimao, Portugal

Backup Bus Drivers in Portimao - Little Better than Thugs

Riding the No. 4 bus to the Retail Park here in Portimao the BC and I are destined for the Continente store a chain grocery store offering free delivery.

As our stop approaches we moved towards the rear exit of the tiny bus.  An older woman maybe 75, give or take 5 years, grabbed my arm as  walk unsteadily past on the still moving bus.  "Continente" she exclaimed loudly as she windmilled her arms in broad sweeps past my face.  I could see gobbets of loose aging flesh on her underarms slap forward and backward with each swoosh setting off little echo waves all along what used to be biceps. She was pretty old.

Thinking the heat had perhaps gotten to the poor creature we stepped gently back and considered the need to restrain her.  The woman addressed us firmly in Portuguese.  This did not help but clarified that she was not a crazy: she was conveying some information she felt to be quite important.

Realizing there was a miscue in process four or five neighbouring bus riders joined in her attempt to communicate with us the group inflicting mass delivery of staccato Portuguese and pantomime that would have been hilarious if we had not been intimately involved.

One man stepped up and put his hands on my chest.  He gave me the finger - not the middle finger but his index digit and motioned down the road.  Puzzle solved.  If we wanted the Continente store it was best if we waited one more stop.

I know it should have been a whole lot easier to figure out but you had to be there - the cheese in the middle of a troupe of jabbering gesticulating strangers.  In the end we all had a good laugh and parted with smiles and waves all around.  By waiting one more stop we were saved a half mile walk in the unrelenting Algarve sun.  Thanks old lady.

That day was one of our favourites in Portimao and endeared this uninspired beach town to us in ways we never expected.

We take this from the incident:

  • the Portuguese people are among the friendliest and most helpful we have encountered; 
  • Portuguese methods are direct, even blunt, with no time wasted on niceties;
  • we are very obviously not belongers in this society and are easily identified as being from "away".  This is not a barrier to people offering hope.  We have a huge appreciation for the inherent decency and goodwill of the Portuguese.

Sadly this is not the whole Portuguese story.

Here is what we have learned riding the Portimao bus system:

Portugal we deduce is in a whole heap of trouble.  Official thuggery, a form of bureaucratic tyranny developed during the Salazar dictorship has lingered in this poor country.  Think of Hitler's brown shirted Youth Brigade and you have the template for tyranny.  Stupid, under educated people are given authority to brutalize the population without consequence.  They owe their undeserved status to the grand leader whom they follow without question, often because they are too stupid to form a question.   Montesquieu explains the process very well or if you like a less rigourous but equally accurate and more enjoyable analysis you can read just about any Stephen King novel.

Our experience on the bus suggests that Portugal has not recovered from its days of dictatorship and is not likely to in the near future:

The municipality pays 2 drivers for each bus.  While one driver drives a route his buddy sits in front of the local grocery store drinking coffee and harrassing people entering the store.  The store we are sure does not want these thugs cluttering their entrance but there they are every day all day.  We patronize the store and the crowd of drivers is a pain in the butt.

No bus has ever stopped where the people are standing.  No matter if the people are in front of the bus stop sign or placed ten feet fore or aft.  The driver drives past all people by at least a bus length - every damn time.

Drivers on the bus system are extremely unpleasant.  Most will not answer questions on whether theirs is the "de Vau" bus that goes to the marina or the other "de Vau" bus.  Yes there are two buses with the same name going to different destinations:the No 2 bus does not go to the marina but the No 2n bus does.  There is no "n" designated anywhere on the bus anywhere to inform passengers this is the marina bus.

We were on a bus that sat at a stop while a young mother burdened with groceries, child in arms ran hard to catch the bus that was obviously waiting for her.  As the mother came up on the rear of the bus, face red and sweat drenched the bus driver closed the door almost in her face and drove off.

I get that people miss a bus.  This guy was waiting for the woman, leading her on to run only at the very last second pulling away from her.  It was cruel and intended to be.  It was the act of a brute who had no concern for consequence. He knew no one would complain and if they did no action would be taken.  Had someone complained I imagine that person, not the recalcitrant driver, would have suffered consequences.

The last bus we took ran on a 25 minute cycle.  This was of no consequence to the bus driver who, in spite of having a second driver to take over for him (meaning his work day was only 4 hours long) made an unauthorized turn, drove a mile down a deserted road, stopped the bus and got out for a smoke and a rest under a tree.  Not a word was spoken to anyone on the bus and no one raised their voice in complaint.

This is what we have learned riding the buses of Portimao.

"In the infancy of societies, the chiefs of state shape its institutions; later the institutions shape the chiefs of state."
Charles de Montesquieu 

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