You might not think it, but one of the greatest adventures of moving to a new country is always mastering the public transportation system. And riding in a ‘carro publico’ (public car) in the Dominican Republic is has been one of my particular favorites.
On the surface it seems simple enough: It’s an ordinary car that runs sort of like a tiny bus along a set route, picking up and letting out passengers along the way.
Except standard carro publico operation calls for squeezing four people in the back, and two in the front then add in the driver the driver. 7 people, for all those who lost count there (plus any stray kids you can fit on a lap). Now imagine squeezing yourself in as the fourth person into the back seat of a tiny compact. There is a very specific protocol that everyone knows which dictates how to successfully do this: Person 1 and 2 sit as far to the left as possible. Person 3 (“the huncher”) sits as far forward on the seat as possible so everyone else’s buts can fill in the space behind him. Person 4 (“the balancer”) sits on an angle with your left but cheek holding all your weight with on the seat and the right cheek balancing somewhere about where the door handle should be. Sometimes in very bad moments, when you are person 4, all available butt space has been used up, and so youre desperately trying to cram yourself in and close the door, but it keeps awkwardly bouncing off your body while everyone else in the car silently curses you for being so fat.
Or if you prefer the front, you’ll share the passenger seat with by either hanging half way out the winder or with the parking brake comfortably nestling between your two butt cheeks.
It might not even be that bad, in normal conditions. Except now, picture Santo Domingo in the tropical sun. at noon. Obviously there is no air conditioning, except for the breeze through the open windows, but youre stuck in traffic 96% of the time, so grab on to those moments of bliss.
As a side point, I should mention that these cars are not new and nor in good condition. I wish I had taken a picture, but I didn’t so to get it in your mind, think of a 20 year old car that has been in more than its share of fender-benders. Now picture that car driven off the side of a cliff and put back onto the road help together by sketchy welding jobs and occasionally some duct tape. You are now correctly imagining your average carro publico car. I truly believe that they keep running on the sheer will power of the drivers.
One time the carro publico in front of mine stalled out at a stoplight, so we obliged to help get it going again by pushing literally bumper to bumper with our car.
You almost always cant open the car door from the inside, but have to reach your arm out the open window to use the exterior handle.
But someone crammed into such a tiny space provides a certain bonding experience for the passengers in this clown car. That combined with the incredible outgoing and friendly nature of the Dominicans, people are debating politics or baseball, and not until they exchange names do you realize they are not old friends from childhood, but complete strangers who have just met. Except they always have some cousin or brother-in-law in common.
So one particular day im packed into my car and it has the great misfortune of raining. But not just raining, but that particular type of downpour you can only get in the tropics. Which means all the windows have to be up. With no AC. And so we’re all enjoying the free sauna together as we crawl through traffic. So enter this two middle aged women. And they’re already in the middle of a conversation, and when they get in they don’t stop talk or whisper silently to each other. No, they continue on and everyone else in the car joins in, until we have a car-wide, lively conversation about:
Butt-enhancing padded women’s underwear
I honestly did not know such a life-saving invention even existed. Sort of like a padded bra for your ass. So next thing you know, everyone in the car is adding in their opinion, wondering out loud if one’s boyfriend would be able to tell the difference when he grabs your backside, and basically laughing so hard that all the windows get completely blocked up with steam and I now know that there is a hope and a solution out there for all us flat-butted white girls.
This is why I love the DR. You cannot really understand how friendly and warm a culture can be, until youre sitting half-a-butt-cheek-in-the-air pressed up against your new favorite sweaty stranger discussing the merits of padded underwear.