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Regina Cano: I have lived my entire life in Havana, Cuba – the island from which I’ve still never left, and which I love. I was born on September 9, and my parents chose my name out of superstition, but my mother raised me outside the religion professed by her family. I studied accounting and finance at the University of Havana, a profession that I’m not engaged in for the time being, and that I substituted for doing crafts, some ceramics, and studying a little English and about painting. Ah! – concerning my picture: I identify with Rastafarian principles, but I am not one of them. I wear this cap from time to time, but I assure you I just didn't have a better picture.

The World of City Bus Drivers

November 13, 2012 | Print Print |

Regina Cano

HAVANA TIMES — Much has been said about city bus transportation and the conduct of the drivers here in the capital city, but there have been no comments about the complements and accessories they have on their jobs.

While working, Cuban bus drivers engage in what’s called the “appropriation of space,” which is normal and achieves a certain comfort level for them. In this space they display to the public what defines them: their superstitious and religious fetishes and tastes.

And why not, since these can sometimes be interpreted as their hopes and aspirations, or perhaps warnings of who they are and how far they’ll take things.

In those work spaces you can find banners full of tassels and fringes, mementos of their loved ones (including baby shoes and dolls of their children, scrunchies and hairclips), Christmas ornaments, pictures of saints to protect them on their journeys, flowers, dice, stickers and even children’s decorations filling their micro-worlds stick-ons of Lightning McQueen, Spiderman, Winnie the Pooh, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and others.

This appropriation of space becomes overwhelming for some commuters when it’s combined with music, with which most drivers take way too many liberties.

I say this because the decibel level is often in the red (and if it’s reggaeton, it’s enough to drive anyone nuts). And if we add to this the heat (which always exceeds the temperature outside) and the number of passengers (who are always jammed in), then what you have is torturous.

But to be fair, I should add that many of the passengers enjoy the music, because different generations take the bus at the same time. So when a driver who puts on music from the early 60’s — or boleros, salsa and even some reggaeton — you’ll always discover someone tapping their fingers or moving their shoulders – even those who are ready to start dancing among the crowd.

(Plus there are those passengers who carry their own music on MP3 players, iPods and cellphones, sharing those scratchy tunes with others, being the good fellow-travellers they are.)

So people! This is how bus drivers — while trying to make more bearable their task of transporting us daily — fill up their work spaces and uncaringly share them with us.

Fortunately we sometimes only have to travel with them for short stretches, though other times we have to endure (or enjoy) their work settings on trips that take 45 or 50 minutes or even more.

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What's your opinion?

  • Michael N. Landis

    Thanks for your evokative essay–and fotos–Regina! They bring back recent memories of riding the P-14 and P-5 MetroBus back-and-forth from San Agustin to the Vedado and Centro. While the music–even the reggaeton–was bearable (and sometimes enjoyable), and the collection of kitchy dolls and stickers amusing, those wretched Steven Segal movies on the long distance ViAzul runs were unbearable. As much as I tried to look out the window to see the real Cuba, my attention kept being refocused on their absurd plots (e.g. “Marked for Death,” where Steven Segal almost singlehandedly fights off a gang of drug heavies, while, in the process, utterly destroying an upscale Rodeo Drive department store, before the cops eventually arrive, at their leisure, twenty minutes later! Where were they in the meantime? Too busy downing Dunkin’ Donuts?)