A word about driving in Sao Paulo

I think in many ways, driving here is one of the most memorable things about living in this city.  At least, it’s one of the first things I did after getting off the plane, so it’s rooted deep in my memories.

First, the motor boys.  “Motor Boys” is what everyone calls the guys (and sometimes women) who ride through the city on motorcycles.  They are mostly doing courier and delivery work.  They are the grease that keeps the entire system running her.  Seriously, they are a key part of the infrastructure of the city.  And the reason is that they do not obey the laws of the road.  They zip between cars, they weave between lanes, and ultimately it means they outsmart traffic.  I was once at a stop light and there were 7 Motor Boys lined up between my lane and the lane next to me.

Oh, and if you don’t leave a big enough gap at stop lights, they will honk at you or slap your car.  I’ve been in cars and had the driver back up and move over to make more space.  It’s the price we pay to get things delivered in an efficient and cheap way.  If regular cars did all of this work, it would triple the time because traffic is slow.

But damn if they don’t scare the shit out of you.  They go so fast, so close to other cars, and sometimes they going into the lanes of oncoming traffic!  They skirt within a few inches of your car, and I was warned that if I ever hit one, every Motor Boy in the vicinity will come to their aid, loaded with a lot of rage at the car who hit them.  They are a protected danger of the city.  We respect them and give them right of way, and in return, we can get documents and take out buzzed across the city at lightning speed.  At least they all wear helmets.

The other thing is the hills.  This city, and in particular the part of town where I live is so hilly.  I don’t think whatever you are imagining is hilly enough.  45 degree angles, I kid you not.  In the van that drove us around the first few weeks, I would have to close my eyes and clutch the seat in front of me as we stopped at a red light, the car clinging to a 40 degree hill.  I was certain gravity and rubber would fail us and we’d go tumbling down the hill.  It didn’t happen, though.

Next, the roads themselves are bumpy.  There are speed bumps everywhere, which do ensure that people don’t speed, but they are fat and steep.  Then there are drainage gutters carved into some streets across the intersection.  There are then the just plain old bumps from patches to pot holes.  It’s the bumpiest, hilliest, ride, watching Motor Boys fly past you.

Now that I’m driving, it’s even more challenging.  3 or 4 times I have driven the wrong way on a one way street.  There are tons of them and I’m so focused on not hitting Motor Boys and finding the right street or parking that I don’t notice the sign saying it’s a one way.

There are also roundabouts.  Of course there are.

The silver lining to all this is how nice Brazilian drivers are.  Because there isn’t always a clear right of way, people are just really nice and let you in.  You have to assert yourself, but as soon as you stick you nose out there, they just stop and let you go without any anger or frustration.  They know it’s a tough place to drive and left turns are tricky, so they just let you in.  The speeds are often quite low, too.  But, the first few days driving our car I was too afraid to poke my car into a lane to get in.  The cars were coming, they had a green light.  The expectation is that you will just jump into the flow, like double dutch.  I’m getting the hang of it.

This all comes back to a big observation I have of Brazilian culture.  They don’t get ruffled.  Long line at the hardware store and now that person wants to check the price of an item?  No one rolls their eyes or huffs.  Car just jumped into the lane in front of you?  It’s cool.  Baby screaming in a restaurant?  Babies are cute.  I didn’t realize until we got here how quick Americans are to get pissed that things are slow or crowded or inconvenient in any way.  Does whining about the long line you got in actually help?  Does sucking your teeth and sighing dramatically make things go faster?  No.  Maybe it’s what happens when a culture gets used to inefficiency and struggle.  But listen, it’s not like it’s any longer of a line than anywhere else.  It’s jus that people let things roll off way more.  It’s a good habit to pick up.

Again, forgive the rush and lack of editing.  I’m sure it’s filled with typos and incomplete thoughts.  It’s a necessity!  Consider this a first draft.

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