travel


Notes on the bus strike

The elephant graveyard for
Los Diablos Rojos

by E.J. Berger


Remember the old Tarzan movies when the elephants got old and ready to die, they always made their ways to the secret elephant graveyard? The destinations I always remember according to lore, clearly were located behind a massive waterfall located in the deep, dark heart of the African jungles.

Somehow this situation has struck home with some parallels.

Today is a calm, clear day on the streets of Colon, Republic of Panama. It is like a Sunday, or a day of mourning or voting day when they close the cantinas and prohibit the sales of alcohol nationwide --- the populace is supposed to be quiet and keep the parties toned down and music off. It struck me there were no rolling boom-boxes on wheels tearing through our neighborhood.

Furthermore, one did not have to dodge speeding buses while attempting to get across the parking lot into the Mount Hope grocery store Rey. There is a certain patience with each other on the highways and back roads. Workmen and women have stayed home stranded for two days unable to get to their jobs. In many places the country is shut down.

The public transportation buses are on strike from Sunday at midnight until this Tuesday morning. Fuel prices have soared.

The air was cleaner in the cities.

The Colon bus terminal was not bottlenecked --- traffic flowed smoothly.

It was eerie.

It was the day the Red Devils stayed in hell.

It was a day when the morning newspapers headlines of Critica or Siglo did not scream out "Red Devil Takes Another Ten Home!" with the gory highway accident details of dismembered former living human beings splashed across the front page in living color.... It has become a local blood sport.

For those of you that may not know what this article is alluding to, let me try to enlighten. "Diablo Rojos" or translated "Red Devils" are those condemned American yellow school buses that have been done just that, condemned. American school buses that may travel so many miles or be legal on the U.S. highways for just so many years. They then, by law, become declared unfit as in "unsafe" for the boys and girls to ride back and forth to school in. School districts will normally sell the entire aged fleet to a local auctioneer many times located within that school districts county. These buses go up for public sale. These condemned buses attract buyers from many parts of the world --- one of the largest groups has got to come from Panama, who buy the entire lot. These buyers prefer to make their purchases from states located near ports that can facilitate a short run (or tow) to the docks where they will be loaded on a ship and sent south to their new home in Panama. Upon arrival, the new proud owners will handle all the paperwork to unload and get them on the road to work as soon as they can for as long as they can keep them rolling and making money.

Slap on a set of new recap tires, add a metalica paint job with the driver's girl friends names written on each window, chrome exhaust stack pipes off the rear, spinner hub caps, a catchy slogan advocating one thing or another painted across the bumpers, throw in a high watt sound system, super blast air horns and you got yourself a genuine Panama Diablo Rojo ready to roll.

Never said they did not look good --- some of these wheels got soul!

But with time, on many occasions, we see these vehicles literally run until the wheels fall off --- complete rear axles breaking loose, brakes completely failing, steering wheels separating from steering columns at high speeds and inevitably, innocent people and little kids getting killed.

I personally have seen buses rear ends ripped our from under them and within a few hours a clever mechanic with his light, tools and a come along hoist will have crawled up under it working into the morning hours. By sunrise, that bus is gone, up and running, picking up passengers on the Colon-Panama route and back like nothing has happened.

Not its day for the elephant graveyard.

But certainly, you must say to yourself, "these vehicles must have to face an inspection line somewhere along the line, I mean, these busses could be dangerous, people could get killed!"

And they do. Actions have been attempted to get the Devils off the road but the resistance is heavy, especially by the owners, many times in a political position of authority.

Today you certainly hear no outcry from the taxistas. They are doing just fine stuffing the stranded into their hacks. Strike on, our bus driving brothers!

Yes, I realize that gas and diesel fuel is sky rocketing. Remember years ago when a liter of bottled water was more expensive then a liter of gas?

Those days are gone. Times they are achanging and Panama, you are my home and I love you, but we got to get with the times.

You never actually see a Red Devil graveyard --- they just keep bringing them back to life.

A a self-perpetuating reincarnation?

The elephants were never that lucky.





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