Tuesday, January 13, 2009

cuppa tea

Not too terribly long ago I was struck with a spate of laziness. I wasn't too far from home, maybe a 30 minute walk, but I got on the bus anyway. This particular bus (the 505) runs down Santo Domingo, a narrow street with commerce and people and bustle and the bus ends up taking almost as long as walking, but I'd be struck with laziness, so I swiped my bip (fastpass), and up I went. The bip sensors are at the front of the bus, and it's become a bit of a plague that people hop on the back of the bus and just don't pay for their ride. One such subject did that just as the doors were closing. And I judged him for it.

He hadn't been on the bus long when I heard, "señorita, señorita." I'll admit, I peered sideways up through my hair, decided that whatever this particular fare-evader had to say to me was not going to change my life, and promptly went back to my musings. Seconds later, I heard him "señorita, señorita" someone else, this time a uniformed high-school aged girl with her younger sister in tow. "Ten me esto," (hold this for me), he said, handing the girl a styrofoam cup of tea. An open styrofoam cup of tea. No lid, just water and a teabag and the cup. And she took the tea, wildly juggling her sister, her own hold-on-efforts and now, the tea of a stranger of dubious cleanliness.

I was surprised to see him make his way up to the front of the bus and swipe his card. I unjudged him, though the whole tea thing was still straight out of one of those "funny video" shows. He came back and reclaimed his tea, and the schoolgirl and her sister went on their way. The now non-fare-evader, a man certainly down on his luck, unkempt, dirty, messy, etc began to drink his tea. And then he pulled a pastry out of a bag and began to eat it, showering the bus with crumbs. And when he'd finished his afternoon snack, he balled it all up and waited until the bus doors opened and made a half-hearted attempt to throw the trash outside. He got kind of a rimshot, and the trash bounced back in.

Now I have to take a minute to talk about how clean Santiago is. Sure, we see the occasional ice-cream-wrapper-out-the-bus-window episode, but in general, Santiago is not that city with the trash and the junk and the piles of festering anything. By the standards of the neighborhood we live in, we're downright meticulous here in Santiago. Foreigner friends have commented, "Santiago is so clean!" So seeing this man so blatantly throw a bag of trash on the street was out of place.

This is also, however, a land of non-confrontation, and not a single soul would tell him to stop throwing trash, or to go pick it up, or anything else. Instead, each successive passenger, upon leaving the bus would give a kick or two to try to dislodge the trash from where it was now trapped in the door hinge. Because trash on the street is better than trash on the bus? Because they just wanted to help the guy out and help the trash find its home?

Who knows. When my stop came I just looked the guy in the face, decided that I had bigger fish to fry, stepped over the trash and walked to my apartment.


Katie said...

I just don't get this kind of behavior, not here in the U.S., in Argentina or in Chile. I mean, really, how hard is it to throw away your trash in the proper receptacle? Even if you're down on your luck, it doesn't cost anything or take much effort to throw your trash where it belongs.

You're right though - we all have to choose our battles.

Anonymous said...

I had friends drop trash in B.A. and I picked it up after them. I don't know about Chile, but there is a nonchalance about littering in Argentina.

It makes me chuckle to imagine all of the bothered people kicking the bag out of the way.

Sharon said...

I still remember the time when I got on the bus (vintage yellow one) and the driver just looks at me while I pay and tells me "eres limpia". At first I thought he was being ironic, but he was just glad I had properly disposed my trash before I got in.

Anonymous said...

ugh, Valpo is so dirty compared to Santiago. People just throw things on the street even if they are literally 3 steps away from a trashcan. They tried a campaign to elimate littering and installed new trashcans everywhere which were promply burned, kicked, removed, thrown, or bodyslammed. And then the bigger bins they have are on wheels. Hello. Valparaiso, Congress, protests, trash bins on wheels. You don't even have to think about it to realize the amazing coverage they give if you're hiding from a guanaco.

Viña, though, is clean. You almost never see people littering. The difference is inexplicable.