Driving the Streets of Santo Domingo

grill work

While driving the streets of Santo Domingo constitutes a very small part of our week, it’s still the part that gets a lot of attention because it’s the part with greatest hazard. First of all, it’s a two-person operation. I drive the car, dodging potholes and other vehicles. My friend navigates with the GPS system on her smart phone and tells me lane changes and upcoming turns. Santo Domingo has no addresses like we understand them. You get to a place by knowing the closest cross-street intersection, making a guesstimate, and placing a marker pin on the GPS.

We have made progress. I no longer wait my turn or keep my distance from the car ahead. When somebody cuts in front of me in flagrant disregard of driving courtesy, I say, “You’re really going to do that? Oh, alright, it’s your city.” My friend no longer squeals and ducks as a massive truck careens past us with a half-inch to spare. [Incidentally, she firmly reserves the right to flinch.]

It’s all grist for the mill of entertaining conversation, and there is certainly plenty of time for that. Gridlock is the norm. The key to happiness is to never be in a hurry and to always be on the lookout for interesting photo-ops while experiencing the inevitable traffic jam.

The Grill as Power Statement

We’ve developed a fascination for photographing the cast-iron grills installed on vehicle bumpers, both front and back. These big grills seem to ensure winning in a crash, or possibly plowing through the traffic jam. Many of the new vehicles have them installed, as well as those in varying degrees of ruination. By the way, I’ve never seen an external grill in pristine condition. Every single one of them has been dented and chipped from use.

The little red car below was full of teen-age boys. I wonder why the two fans on the front dashboard? Take a closer look at this very new petroleum truck. That grill has already been used a few times, right?

Gua-guas for Mass Transportation

And no self-respecting gua-gua would hit the streets without a grill.

The ramshackle buses that do most of the passenger hauling around town are called gua-guas. Like in India, they individualize the front windows to such an extent that vision is often an iffy proposition. As you can see, there are no side doors. Usually a young man hangs from it and shouts at pedestrians. When I’m on the sidewalk the word I recognize sounds a lot like abuela. I want to shout back that he got that right—but I don’t. I’ve wondered if he’s like the “pushers” who used to cram people into the underground trains in Tokyo. (Not sure if they still do it – hmmm, maybe I’d better take a trip to Japan and find out!)

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