Saturday, November 19, 2011

The views from the Taxi

This post is not like the others on the taxi rides where I depict detailed stories and events that are quite comical. This post is more of general observations along my ride from Jardins to Brooklin each morning and Brooklin to Jardins each night. I get to see one of the world's largest cities come to life each morning as gardeners, restaurant employees, gas station attendants, and people waiting for the bus all begin their days. I do not normally take a taxi back home, in fact typically only on the weekends when I am headed to a sporting event or a night out on the town, so sitting in the back of these small taxi's each morning give me a change to observe everyone in this foreign land.

Filling the roads are thousands of cars, much smaller than those in the U.S. In fact, many of the models here in Sao Paulo are not even offered in the U.S. One of the bigger cars here in Sao Paulo is the Ford Fusion, which in the U.S. is a smaller vehicle. Some have SUV's, however the SUV's are similar to Ford Escapes. There are pick up trucks that are only about 5 feet tall, which I tower over.  There are some larger vehicles here including my favorite, the Land Rover SUV's. Maybe they buy the smaller cars for maneuverability, or maybe its the price. Everyone knows, or at least should know, that a vehicle is just about the worst investment you can make in your life, depreciating 25% the first day you drive it off the lot. Cars here are much more expensive than you can imagine and its hard to compare the costs. However, on my way to work I see signs on smart car sized cars that would equate to $50k USD which is absurd.

Lining the roads jammed with cars are many shops, usually very busy, serving coffee, breads, and other breakfast items. There are even small tables set up at the street corners and at bus stops where people have breads and coffees to sell as Paulistas wait to become bus passengers. The buses are massive. In fact, many are actually the size of two public transit buses in the U.S. bound together by some sort of flexible rubber that connects the two units together. This allows these mammoth buses to hold twice as many passengers, but also make the turns in the streets here in Sao Paulo. Along with the coffee shops there are numerous auto shops and dealerships open and ready for business. Inside of the car repair shops I can see many cars parked closely together and some on the racks getting their oil changed. Some shops are so small that there is only enough room for 1-2 small cars to fit.

Also in along my route, there are also many retail shops, a few homes, and vacant buildings. Protecting the majority of these buildings are security guards wearing black suits. These security guards are a reminder that although the city feels safe to me as an outsider, there are definitely concerns present that should not be forgotten. This scene is similar to many places in the larger cities in the U.S. including New York that has many building personnel. However, assisting the security guards are often gates and high walls, both of which are often lined with barbed wire or electrical fences. These are not as common in the U.S. and took some time to get used to seeing. In addition to the vacant buildings there are other signs of economic despair and hard economic times. There are many homeless in Sao Paulo that are sometimes still asleep under benches, taxi stands, and even in the open on the sidewalk. The homeless here has not begged for money nor have they seemed like they were as crazy as the ones that we have in the U.S. which makes me wonder why people facing the same conditions would act so differently 5,000 apart. They are often pushing large wooden carts toting their belongings to where ever they are going. Another sign of despair, ironically enough, is the sights on Michigan Avenue.I pass Michigan Avenue each morning and when I look down it, I often see "Ladies of the Night" still working their shift, broken down vehicles, and vacant homes and buildings. It would be a great investment opportunity as it does neighbor an up and coming neighborhood, but after all I am a Buckeye fan and we don't care much for Michigan around Columbus!

In Columbus, the "capital of road construction", there is not a day that goes by that we do not see road construction a crew repairing sidewalks, or construction works renovating a building. Sao Paulo has the same and much more. Every corner of the city it seems as if there is a high rise office or residential tower going up. Vacant buildings are bought and renovated or torn down to make way for new life. The roads are in decent shape with many not requiring regular paving which we are used to back home, primarily because there is no freezing and thawing of the pavement due to no harsh winter weather here. The sidewalks could use some work but they serve a purpose and are manageable. Perhaps we spend too much money ripping up the sidewalk and replacing it every couple of years. Perfect example would be where our office building is in Downtown Columbus. I have worked there more than 6 years now and have changed the tiles in front of the building 2-3 times now, resulting it what I can expect to be a very expensive project.

I have already posted on the motorcyclists that are added into the mix. Weaving in and out of the cars, both when moving and stopped at a red light. It is the fastest form of travel even if it is not the safest. Motorists drive is what would appear to be a rage or aggressive driving style but in fact it is very friendly and have yet to see a car accident here piling up like I see back home. Of course maybe texting, putting on makeup, or eating that Big Mac while driving is not as common as it is back home. I have seen some close calls with pedestrians as the pedestrians dart across the roads in an attempt to make the bus or shorten the distance they have to walk. Sometimes, it is the drivers fault for not adhering to the logical pattern of traffic safety and giving pedestrians the right of way. There is actually a large campaign underway here in Sao Paulo to make the drivers more aware of pedestrians and their right to cross the road, but the there should also be some education to the pedestrians to cross at the crosswalk. I have even been in taxi's where they increase their speed and then hit their brakes if they see a pedestrian in the road way. Its almost to say "How close can I really get before they move".

One of the more enjoyable sites along the way are the street performers. I have seen people juggling just about everything. From balls, to bottles, to large knives, the performers juggling making a donation or two at each red light. Unicycles, balloons, and some sort of flying toy are also notable sights. Its amazing that people could make money standing in the middle of the street during red lights doing tricks, but I suppose its possible with thousands of cars passing by each hour. Another enjoying part of the ride has been the American music. Songs I have not heard in years can randomly come on the radio at the best times that have added the perfect touch to some of my storied taxi rides and also provided some flashbacks to my childhood through Bob Segar, Pink Floyd, and the Beatles.

After my 8.4 kilometer drive each way, that takes me about 30 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes at night, I arrive at my destination safely, but with new experiences. Many have been good enough to share on their own in a special blog posting, others have not. Regardless they have all been experiences.

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