Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Working the Streets (But not THAT way)

Juan Bautista hawks candies and smokes to bus drivers on Carrera 10.
We see them every day, but usually don't notice them. They earn their living on the streets of Bogotá, amidst the dangers of traffic, rain, cold, pollution and angry drivers, as well as police, since they're often working illegally themselves.

But, for folks with few skills and less education, it's a way to scrape by, whether they do it by hawking candy and smokes, washing car windows without being asked or beating bus tires with a stick.

Juan Bautista, who said he is nearing age 50, has been hawking candies and cigarettes to bus drivers on Carrera 10 for about the past seven years. He works from 5 a.m. until into the night, he said, but earns only 10,000 to 15,000 pesos per day - and has to pay 12,000 pesos per day for his room.

"Sometimes you don't earn enough," he said, "and so you have to ask the house manager to let you pay double the next night."

Juan has worked in sales for many years, but used to hold jobs in stores or as a door-to-door salesman. But he said that because of his age companies won't give him formal employment. He bemoaned the decline of his income with the planned TransMilenio line on Carrera 10. Even tho the TM is not yet functioning, the city has already rerouted many of the conventional bus lines, reducing Juan's number of customers. This was a bit hard for me to believe, judging by the long traffic jam of buses on the avenue.

Despite his difficulties, Juan has a dream. He writes music, and has composed some 150 songs, mostly Colombian popular music. But he doesn't have the money to hire musicians to record his works to try to sell them to a music label. But he's still hoping.

Angie does her best on a car window.
But the driver left her empty-handed. 
Angie, who's only 17, said she's been washing car windows for about four years. She doesn't bother to ask drivers' permission before taking water and squeegie to their windows. Most drivers do not seem to appreciate her efforts, and only a few give her coins for her efforts.

Nevertheless, Angie, who appeared to be high on some substance, told me that she can earn 20,000 to 30,000 pesos per day.

 Have you noticed those young guys on busy avenues carrying sticks? At first I thot they were muggers. Later, I just wondered what they could be doing. They walk between lines of talled buses knocking on tires with those sticks. What they're doing, is making sure that none of the tires are flat or low on air.

Knockin' on a tire. 

Collecting a few coins payment. 
What I still don't understand is what a bus driver does upon discovering that a tire is flat on a busy avenue. And, for that matter, why can't he notice the flat tire on his own?

This guy appeared to try, unsuccessfully, to pull open a car door. 
Another common sight are these guys with clipboards and watches. They keep track, down to the minute, of what time buses running different routes pass this point and inform drivers of how many minutes ahead the competition is. Surprisingly, this useful work is actually illegal (the law prohibits 'passing information' to a driver on the street), probably because the buses delay traffic when they stop. In any case, when the city finally gets TransMilenio running on Carrera 10, which is supposed to happen this month, the private buses should disappear and this guy will have to find a new spot.

Finally, a bodybuilder does his thing in front of stopped cars near Parque Simon Bolivar. He has to hustle to perform and still have time to ask drivers for money.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


A Ridders said...

Great insight into the lives of the people we see every day. Thank you.

mauricio forero l said...

Sad and soulful post Mike.
I forgot how difficult is to earn a living for some folks, big cities are rough and very cold on people.

M. F.

Miguel said...

Thanks very much for the comments. It's true that every day we pass a thousand people who are almost nothing to us (or we to them). But each of us has a story.


Elyssa Pachico said...

Great post Mike! These are my favorites.