Brazil Article: ‘Driving Miss Sampa Crazy’

By Ciara O’Sullivan
Just over a year ago I debuted as a São Paulo pedestrian. Innocently I stepped out onto Alameda Santos on my way to the metro – for I was then embracing all forms of public transport – unaware of the existence of the fast-changing traffic light on the zebra crossing that only a zebra on steroids would ever hope to cross in time. Once I’d mastered this phenomenon I had to get my head around the crossings with no facilities at all for the foolhardy foot soldier and learn how to dodge a high speed motoboy racing up the middle of a lane of parked cars.

On one occasion I had a dangerous liaison between a big black car and my left thigh which left a bruise the shape of Brazil for weeks. It was all his fault of course. I was walking along the footpath and he appeared out of nowhere, screeching out of one of those hidden carparks determined to get into the street before the oncoming traffic. He saw me, acknowledged me and then just ploughed on with his mission, obviously thinking I would stop and let him drive on. Not in my country you freak. As I grabbed my leg in shock I remember screaming through his blackened windows in the worlds worst learner-portuguese that he would have seen me better if he didn’t have black windows. I remember him laughing as I hobbled off disgraced and deflated hating São Paulo and her cars.

Of course now it’s all different. Since July I have Clovis, my two year old, slightly common looking, silver Cheverolet Corsa. Together we unashamedly contribute to the smog as we eat up the city and everything that dares step or roll into our path. In just two weeks of getting into the driver’s seat I appeared to have forgotten all my compassion for the pedestrian and was screeching around corners at breakneck speed trying to position myself in the best lane for a Senna-style getaway at the next lights.

I soon learnt that becoming a driver here requires a slightly different approach to the highway code I was taught back in Ireland. These days the high chance of killing a kamakazi motorcycle courier and having to face his mates is my biggest fear. As I nip from lane to lane I pray I will miss the black helmeted devils. I have tried smiling when we’re pulled up side by side at lights in case one day he’ll remember me as I’m being lined up against a wall inside a tunnel and shot by his companions.

In this transition from foot to wheels, the bus has gone from being a cheap and efficient way to get from A to B to a dinosaur beating a path down my lane, heedless of my flashing indicator. The taxi is still a friend though as he is the only one who will get you back on track when you are hopelessly lost looking upside-down at your Guia das Ruas de SP and over an hour late for your appointment.

The bad news for me is that the authorities now seem to know who we are and have clearly been watching us closely. It started with me opening the post one day to find two nice black and white pictures of me and Clovis flaking at a whopping 50 kms and hour in a 40 km zone. Then I received a traditional parking infringement, followed, a little too swiftly for my liking, by another three speeding fines in different zones of the city. At one stage they were popping in the letterbox at a daily rate, I was even beginning to find the attention almost flattering. But the photo album is losing its charm and the financial costs of my fecklessness as a driver in São Paulo are beginning to add up so I’m considering getting back on foot.
Frankly I think I miss the exercise, the metro where everyone just stands on the escalator instead of running to the train, the day-dreaming on buses and most of all the freedom my little feet gave me. I just need to paint some new zebra stripes on my jacket and I’m off.


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