Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fear smells like box wine: Part 1

My hand, I’m quite certain, is now famous. Its celebrity trajectory began a few days ago, when The Santiago Times received a press release from the UDI, a right-wing Chilean political party. We were informed that the president of the party, a senator, along with a handful of other UDI legislators, planned to observe and evaluate the functioning of the Transantiago transportation system at rush hour and then make comments to the press. Having never attended a press event before (and being strangely fascinated by public transportation), I volunteered to go.

As the appointed time for the senator’s appearance approached, photographers, cameramen, a few TV reporters and a number of onlookers who figured something must be happening began to pace along the sidewalk outside the San Pablo Metro station. I sat on the edge of a bench, clutching a borrowed tape recorder and a very unprofessional camera. The longer I waited, the more nervous I became; what if I couldn’t form a coherent Spanish phrase when it was my turn to ask a question?

My problem, it turns out, was solved for me. As soon as the senator arrived, he was buried beneath an exoskeleton of television cameras and people with real microphones. I was quickly relieved of my naivety and realized that there were no turns here. Still, I nudged and permisoed, usually to be motioned back by a photographer whose shot I’d spoiled. I clung to the edge of the media clump, too far back to hear what the senator was saying but hoping that my tape recorder, which I’d shoved as deep into the microphone mass as my arm could reach, would salvage some of his words.

I don’t know if any of the networks present actually aired the footage, but if they did, Chile has seen my hand bobbing in a sea of TV logos. My hand would like to take this opportunity to say that it would never have gotten to where it is today without the tireless love and support of so many amazing people.

When I replayed the senator’s comments at work the next day, I decided not to write the article I had gone to San Pablo to research. The senator, clutching the hand of an elderly woman in a wheelchair, had said what I had expected him to say: Transantiago sucks, and it’s the other guys’ fault. This is certainly not the first time this sentiment has been expressed by the Chilean right, which—as fellow Santiago Times intern Trey has pointed out—has found in Santiago’s transportation woes a very visible reason to criticize the governing center-left coalition. It’s been said, it’s been written about, and it’s been read; had I really spent two hours at the last stop on the Metro line to report more of the same?

I decided that I hadn’t and that I had to change the focus of my article. Having interviewed a number of commuters at the station before the senator’s arrival, I had plenty of other material to draw from. What about a report based on the comments of people who actually use public transportation on a daily basis instead of those who show up for a photo op and a round of political criticism every once in awhile?

As much as I appreciated the comments that people on the street were willing to give to a strange girl with an accent and a tape recorder, I soon realized that they weren’t enough to base an original article on. The citizen outcry surrounding Transantiago has, of course, already been done as well. The people I interviewed—except for one who told me I’d better put my tape recorder away before someone stole it—all expressed the same general idea: Transantiago sucks, and we’re mad about it. It’s a sentiment that I—a frequent Transantiago user despite my newly acquired status as a bike owner—can empathize with but which, alas, has already been said, written about and read as well.

That left me with the comments offered by someone who had been at San Pablo at work, not on his way home from it: a street vendor who had set up shop outside the Metro station selling a variety of objects which I think included batteries and mirrors. As the tape recorder’s little wheels spun dutifully, he explained that Transantiago had been good for business in a way: Problems with buses have left large numbers of people with no other option than to travel underground. Upon reaching the end of the Metro line, these large numbers of people are spit back up into the sunlight and into his lap.

Here was something new, at least in comparison to the rest of what I’d heard. Commuters have complained and politicians have claimed to complain for them, but what of those whose contact with public transportation is of a different nature altogether?

I don’t claim to be the first person this idea has occurred to. In fact, I’m sure a few minutes of Google searching would turn up ample proof to the contrary. Still, I like to flatter myself and think that no one’s written an article in English about it yet, even though I might be giving myself way too much credit on that front as well.

So it was that I set out from my apartment on Saturday afternoon, once again toting a tape recorder and a camera. I was off to San Pablo to pester street vendors. My journey, however, would soon be interrupted by the event that gives this post its name and my clothes the unmistakable smell of debauchery. The story, which involves alfajores and riot hoses, is soon to come.


Noel said...

Alfajores, riot hoses, public transit and boxed wine?! Write on, Leigh!

Leonardo said...

Hey.. san pablo station is near from where i live!! :D
yeah.. transantiago sucks and there'i no mystery. cheers!

nataliemma said...

lol you are so entertaining! I'm hanging on the edge of my seat here!

Mamacita Chilena said...

on your way to San Pablo you passed right by my house. I guess me and Leonardo might be neighbors :) I'm about a block away from Metro Ecuador.

Thank God Transantiago hasn't affected me. I work from the home so I don't have to use a micro or a metro...I just climb right out of bed, still in my pj's, sit at the computer and get to work.