It was three o’clock in the afternoon and the heat was suffocating, causing my body to be covered with sticky perspiration that I wasn’t used to. Yet I still had to catch the P4 bus to get to the center of Havana and then take the P11 to make it home to Alamar. I felt enervated just thinking about it.
I walked to the bus stop outside the Coppelia ice cream parlor, where quickly approaching was a green bus – meaning it was a P4.
I imagined that when I got on there’d be someone smoking inside the bus and that I’d continue sweating. I also figured that aggressive people around me would manage to shake me from my tranquility and my nerves would be put on end by the music that the driver wanted to listen to (it’s almost always either reggaeton, or ear-piercing salsa or romantic ballads sung by whining Latin Americans).
But no. I was surprised to find that the bus — though full — had a nice atmosphere. The faces of the passengers reflected a kind of harmony, some even had smiles.
I tried to figure out what was producing this atmosphere, and suddenly I noted (the music was playing very softly) that we were listening to “The Final Countdown,” by the Swedish band Europe, a song that became popular here at the beginning of the ‘90s.
“No way,” I said to my friend Caridad who was with me. “Listen to that music…and the volume!”
She hummed and smiled. She then told me that the vans in Venezuela (their form of private transportation) also play blaring music (ballads, salsa or our everyday reggaeton), and that only in the metro could one hear soft melodies or instrumental music at a volume that wasn’t nerve-racking.
Then the driver put on the group “Chicago.” As it played in the background we wondered if the Ministry of Transportation could at least regulate the volume of music on public buses, since not everyone likes the same music. The P buses have several speakers located throughout them, so no one can escape the inundating sound, regardless of the time of day or the climate.
But things get worse with private buses that serve the public. Climbing aboard one of these mobile-speakers-with-seats generally means being blasted by the moaning of Marco Antonio Solis as he tells you “there’s no way to forget you.” Or you’ll become a participant in an argument over the “best reggaeton group ever.”
Less frequently you’ll hear a radio broadcast between some song and another (of whatever style) where they’ll interview an actor on the currently showing telenovela, though you’ll barely be able to understand it because the audio quality is seldom very good and it breaks up with the sound being turned up so high.
Though right now I’m listening to “Hotel California” and I can in fact see people singing and looking at each other with kindness. However, I believe that this is a problem with no solution. There’s no way you can tell the owner or driver of a vehicle not to listen to what they want. It’s their bus and/or they have to be seated at the wheel for hours, so why can’t they choose to listen to La Charanga Habanera if they want?
I think the only thing we can come to an agreement on for the time being is the volume of the music. Regardless of personal tastes we can turn to science, through which it’s been established what decibel levels begin to cause auditory and emotional dysfunctions.