Rules of the Road Here? Survive!!

 

Three lanes merging at Calle Roosevelt and Avenida de las Americas.

Welcome to the world’s largest dodge car ride, also known as Guatemala City. Be sure to keep your seatbelt fastened at all times and both hands on the wheel—except when you need to cover your eyes.

Screaming in terror is bad form. Muttering and fuming at other drivers under your breath is pretty much par for the curse.

Driving here is not tough just because it’s not the U.S. It’s actually not unlike driving in Manhattan or downtown Chicago. (Have you ever watched three lines of taxis jockeying their way around Columbus Circle at midmorning?) It’s just that you need the reflexes of a race car driver for the speed at which it happens here. It’s like moving up a couple of levels on your Grand Prix video game.

Ready for just a small taste? Slip behind the wheel for the short run from the apartment to the office. Buckle up!

First we have to cross northbound lanes of Avenida de las Americas. Careful—don’t pull out in front of that bus! He’s back a ways, but we don’t know if he’s got brakes.

OK, now to cross the southbound lanes. Wait . . . inch out . . . wait . . . stop! The guy who sneaked up on the shoulder next to you is blocking the view. Let him go first.

Now—hit it! Go!

Great—you’re across.

Slow down! Who knows whether that line of guys walking in the street up ahead will move aside. And traffic on the cross street has a stop sign, but remember, in this city, that’s only a suggestion.

OK, now right on Hincapíe to go up past the airport. Wait . . . wait . . . motorcycle . . . bus . . . go!

Stop! That bus parked just around the corner, in the middle of the lane, discharging and picking up passengers.

Hang back when he starts up again, so you don’t get lost in the black cloud of diesel exhaust.

This is where old school buses from the U.S. come to die. Sometimes they get painted bright new colors. They run till they drop. Sometimes things like brakes, shocks, and clutches get repaired. Sometimes they don’t. One of the rear dual tires might be down to nothing more than cord on the tread, but that’s OK; that’s why there are two of them.

Now that we’re moving again, put the pedal down and pass this bus. Don’t worry about the guy hanging out the back door. He’s got one foot inside and one hand holding onto something, so he’s fine. But go wide of the guy hanging onto the side. He’s got the little gas cap door open and one foot on top of the gas cap, and he’s got an arm hooked around a window frame. (Maybe he didn’t want to pay the fare.) He’ll probably be able to hang on all right—but go wide anyway.

Ease up slowly behind the mom and dad on the motorcycle ahead with the two toddlers in between them. Nobody’s wearing a helmet.

Crosswalk? Where? And no one stops for pedestrians anyway.

Now under the arch of the old aqueduct and around the corner onto Roosevelt, then–BRAKE! Wow, it really raises the old adrenaline level when they wait until the last second and then dash across in front of the car like that, doesn’t it!

Big bus stop right here. Have to fit in between them as they pull out to cross three lanes of merging traffic. Looks like the guy on the left has already been bashed once; better let him go first, then . . . now! Go!

Don’t worry about the Pizza Hut guy on the motorcycle zipping between you and the cars in the next lane. He’s got at least two feet all to himself. But he’ll need to move before we get to our turn coming up on the right. If you have to, inch over that way. He’ll get the hint.

Oh, wow! He just zipped past our front bumper, four feet away, and into that slot between the taxi and the delivery truck on the left. I didn’t think even a motorcycle could fit through there.

Well, problem solved. Now turn right on the street where the office is located. They filled the potholes a couple of days ago, so you shouldn’t bottom out here anymore.

OK, down into the underground, and then back the car into one of these parking spaces. No problem; you’ve got at least a foot between you and the next car.

Now you can relax and take your hands off the wheel.

Your, ah . . . your hand seems to have ripped the seat a bit there where you’re gripping it. But don’t worry about that; we can fix it. And your heart rate will probably be back to normal before it’s time to drive home for lunch.

 

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