They Keep Us in Shape

Yusimi Rodriguez

One of Havana's newer buses. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, April 20 – If there’s something we should really thank our public transportation service for, it’s that it keeps us in good shape.

I’ve always been a thin person even though I eat a lot.  I love sweets and bread, pizza and ice cream, and almost everything that makes a person put on weight, yet I’ve still managed to remain thin.  When I was a child, my family and friends used to tell me that when I became a teenager I’d start to put on weight, which should have happened in the nineties.

But in the crisis of the nineties in Cuba that was impossible, almost as impossible as catching a bus.  I was not one of those people who bicycled everywhere no matter how far, no matter how tired they got, no matter how little they ate during those years of the so-called “Special Period.”

Nonetheless, and regardless of how thin they got, at least they knew they would get to their destination.  I didn’t know how to ride a bike at that time though.

So, I was among those who waited at bus stops for hours or just walked, which helped me stay in almost as good a shape as those who bicycled.  I even remember climbing in buses through the windows when I was a teenager, and these are nice memories.  One always looks at past years with certain amount of nostalgia.  Those were the years of my adolescence, no matter how difficult they were.

The nineties have passed, but the beginning of this decade was not that much better.  There were still times —many times— when I had to wait for hours for a bus, or walk, or run to get on one, which fortunately I could do since I was still very thin.  People then told me that I would put on weight in my thirties.  That was in 2006.  So it’s the same movie.  To wait or to walk, that is the question.

There were times when I reflected on my situation (which I had plenty of time to do at bus stops) and I concluded that I had spent a considerable amount of my lifetime waiting at bus stops.  It was at these stops where I had witnessed the most interesting things and had come up with the most interesting thoughts.  It was at bus stops where I had met the most interesting —and the most uninteresting— people in my life.

But things seemed to change in 2008.  Our so called “camellos” (“camels,” as these improvised double-humped buses were described) were gradually replaced by modern articulated buses. Additional routes also appeared.  But these new buses came by every five or six minutes, so you didn’t have time to meet strangers at the bus stop and become accomplices or co-victims in an extended wait.  You didn’t even have time to be tempted by the ten-peso taxis that you couldn’t afford anyway, of course, unless you were in a real hurry.  So yes, I began to fear that I’d finally start putting on weight.

Thanks to bus drivers though, my fear didn’t last.

Now when I go to a bus stop, I don’t actually go all the way; I stop a few blocks short of it, as far back as possible.  I do this because I know there’s a 90 percent chance that the bus will stop pretty much in front of me to let people off and on.

Nonetheless, a driver will occasionally remind me of the other ten percent chance and go all the way to the bus stop; so then I have to run, along with the ten or fifteen other people who were waiting short of the stop.

Havana Metrobus. photo: Caridad

When I look around, I realize that this is what we Cubans do, we simply adapt.  Waiting at a bus stop and running to catch one have become normal things to do.  When you decide to wait for a bus at the stop, it might pull up three or four blocks short of it, or after it.  You never know, and that’s the good part of it: You remain on the alert, your muscles tense, ready to run.

Whenever I have to do this, I notice I can still run fast, at least fast enough to get to the bus before it takes off.  Yep, I’m in good shape.  I’m among the lucky strong ones who can get on the bus.  I’m still one of the winners.  I can still look back at the bus stop and pity those who had to remain there, defeated, hoping, praying that the next one stops at the bus stop.

Then I wonder what will happen years from now.  I have this image of me running to catch the bus, as usual, and then realizing that 2010 was a long time ago and that things have changed.

But it will only have been my body that has changed.  Everything else will have remained the same.  Still the same movie.  I’ll be fifty or sixty and I’ll still be running to catch the bus.  Actually I’ll just be trying to run.  Then I’ll have no other choice but to wait, because that’s what we’ve done our entire lives.  When we can’t run, we just wait.

3 thoughts on “They Keep Us in Shape

  • I have found in my trips to Cuba, transportation is the thing that would take me out. People in Cuba generally, want to work at their job/profession but getting there, takes life out of a person, if one is relying on the bus system.. It is too hard and the workers of Cuba should receive more respect, not just the security officers, for being transported to a job and back to their homes in a timely efficient manner. My perspective…

  • The problem is always “money” — i.e., the lack of physical resources acquired (thus the effectiveness — & intent — of the Blockade). Havana obviously needs a subway system. It also probably needs a ‘light rail’ system as well, feeding into this. & probably building a light rail system would be cheaper & easier to accomplish at this point, 1st. So who is discussing this & planning 4 it? & the entire country probably needs a large extension of the rail system on top of all this. Is that being planned-4 as well? It should B — as part of any ALBA development planning 4 the coming period.

    Sure U need more buses. But U shouldn’t B trying 2 support more cars, or 2 many more buses. U apparently need more fixed transport, which deals with the masses of people making regular, predictable trips on a daily basis. So work with Venezuelans, et al. 2 develop this infrastructure ASAP, up 2 ‘World-class’ levels.

    Make it another problem solved successfully by socialist planning.

  • Yusimi
    Why is there this chronic problem with transportation in Cuba?
    In my times at the University of Havana was the same
    Could it be that the problem is still not solve?
    What would it take to solve the problem?

Comments are closed.