The Red De­vils

Excelencias Turísticas del caribe y las Américas (Centroamerica) - - Culture - By: Leo San­tos PHO­TOS:TETEOLIVELLA.COM

Li­ke in the rest of La­tin Ame­ri­ca, bu­ses are the com­mo­nest com­mu­ting means in Pa­na­ma, though with a mo­re co­lor­ful touch. The fleet of vehi­cles for pu­blic trans­por­ta­tion in Pa­na­ma is ma­de up of old U.s.-ma­de school bu­ses bought as se­cond hand mer­chan­di­se.

As you see them co­ming up to the bus stops, you im­me­dia­tely ma­ke out a young man po­king his head out of the first win­dow or access door who goes shou­ting the stops along the ri­de. The bus slows down as it pulls over, yet it might ta­ke off at full speed if the bus­man or his ai­de no­ti­ces the­re are no com­mu­ters ready to hop on.

On­ce in­si­de the bus, you may get a seat if it’s not the rush-hour ti­me. Just li­ke dis­ci­pli­ned and kind­hear­ted school­chil­dren, com­mu­ters sit­ting in rows of th­ree behind the dri­ver will al­ways ma­ke room for just anot­her pas­sen­ger.

For get­ting off, all you need to do is say “stop” and the “red de­vil” will obey im­me­dia­tely. That’s the ti­me when you pay for the bus fa­re, which is equi­va­lent to a U.S. quar­ter.

Most bus ow­ners are mom-and-pop bu­si­ness­peo­ple who­se small com­pa­nies put out all the stops to ma­ke su­re their bu­ses are the pret­tiest in town. The re­sult of that ef­fort is a spon­ta­neo­us con­test in which every­body guns for the pri­ze to the best de­co­ra­ted vehi­cle.

In his de­tai­led re­search pa­per en­titled “A Few Con­si­de­ra­tions about La­be­ling and Pain­tings on Means of Trans­por­ta­tion in Pa­na­ma City”, pu­blis­hed back in April 1974 in the Lot­te­ries ma­ga­zi­ne, his­to­rian Ju­lio Ro­se­mead ex­plains the ini­tia­ti­ve da­tes back to the ti­mes of the so-ca­lled “goats”, com­mu­ting bu­ses equip­ped with si­de­li­ne seats that roa­med the streets from the 1910s to the 1970s.

Mr. Ro­se­mead wro­te in his work, “this com­mu­ting vehi­cle is re­cog­ni­zed as part of the ur­ban fol­klo­re sin­ce it’s a form of art in li­ne with the his­to­ric and so­cial cha­rac­te­ris­tics that ma­de it co­me in­to being, as well as the pur­po­ses of the com­mu­nity that ma­de it pos­si­ble.”

The de­co­ra­tion of the “red de­vils” has chan­ged over the years, though so­me dis­tin­cti­ve ele­ments, li­ke the co­lor, ha­ve re­mai­ned unal­te­red.

In spi­te of all the mo­ney and ti­me spent in tur­ning a com­mu­ting vehi­cle in­to a ro­lling mu­ral or art­work, the ow­ner or bus­man ne­ver gets a red de­vil on the mo­ve if it doesn’t carry at least one red stri­pe on each si­de. Mo­re ima­ges and ca­ri­ca­tu­res of choi­ce are ad­ded in a bid to keep Pa­na­ma’s ur­ban fol­klo­re up and run­ning.

But in ad­di­tion, the­se gaudy and po­pu­lar means of trans­por­ta­tion usually ta­ke plenty of flak from the com­mu­ters them­sel­ves when it co­mes to ser­vi­ce. Now the ques­tion pops up in every­body’s mind. Why are they ca­lled “red de­vils”?

The streets of Pa­na­ma City are not only frin­ged with mo­dern buil­dings, but al­so with ro­lling mu­rals that stri­ke the attention of all pas­sersby. Ima­ges of ea­gles, ca­ri­ca­tu­res, an­gels, mugs of ar­tists and po­li­ti­cians turn com­mu­ting bu­ses in­to po­pu­lar art ga­lle­ries on wheels

For many, the na­me stems from the pre­do­mi­nantly red­hued de­co­ra­tion. For ot­hers, the mo­ni­ker is the re­sult of the bad repu­tation ear­ned by so­me of its dri­vers that ma­ke the bu­ses ba­rrel down the streets of Pa­na­ma li­ke ho­trods.

The truth is the­se bu­ses are part of Pa­na­ma’s ur­ban lands­ca­pe and that their de­co­ra­tions ac­tually stri­ke the attention of fo­reign vi­si­tors. To­day, so­me Pa­na­ma­nians as­sert the days of the red de­vils are num­be­red, even though many of them are still shuttling up and down the city streets. Eit­her way, even when mo­der­nity will even­tually bring high-tech and comfy com­mu­ting vehi­cles, the red de­vils ha­ve al­ready spa­red a spa­ce in Pa­na­ma’s his­to­ric and fol­klo­ric lot.

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