17 1/2 People and a Propane Tank
Updated: Jun 30, 2021
Those of you who have taken buses in other parts of the world know that when I use the word “bus,” I don’t really mean “bus.” I mean something halfway between a Fiat 500 and an Urban Assault Vehicle. In Grenada, this means a Toyota minivan, the kind with three bench seats for passengers, hangers for chicken coops, and loud, bass-driven music that moves your bowels.
Grenada has a highly developed bus system that covers most of the island, especially the southern third where we are afloat. Buses run regular routes, and that means that our number 2 bus circulates from St. George’s, out to Woburn, and back. The trip from Woburn to St. George’s takes about 15 minutes. If you or I were driving, it would take twice that long because the local drivers seem to have two speeds: accelerate and stop…now!
The other morning Chantal and I waited in the heat outside Nimrod’s Rum Shop—which is more than its name suggests. Yes, you can get rum there, but you can also buy vegetables, see bands play, and top off your Digicel account. Finally, a bus pulled up, a rickety red box with some kind of Caribbean funk pounding out of the speakers. We got on and were directed where to sit by a person we call “the controller.” The controller rides shotgun for the driver. He hangs out the window and hoots at girls, waves to his cousins, and yells at pedestrians, asking if they need a bus. This controller was holding a propane tank that he kept moving to best optimize the space aboard. We paid him for the ride--$2.50EC, about 75 cents US—and got on. “Yah, mon,” he said.
Soon we were clanking around Grenada’s winding roads at breakneck speed, tooting at everything that moved, when suddenly the controller said something to the driver, and he slammed on the brakes. He reversed until we were opposite and old blind man standing in a front yard. The controller jumped out, placed his propane tank on the verge, held up his hands to cross the road, and guided the old blind man onto the bus. After a few more pickups, we were full. Or so I thought.
Each time someone disembarked, half the bus had to get out to let the person out. Then everyone had to reload, and another passenger was jammed in. Chantal found herself without a seat when the music stopped at one point. No worries. The controller moved his propane tank, handed her a small, narrow cushion and pointed to the slice of space where two seats met, in between two other passengers’ butts. “Yah, mon,” he said.
People are supposed to wear masks on the bus, but it’s an interpretive thing: some wear their masks off their ears, some hold their masks in their hands, some cover only their mouths. There seems to be some flexibility with masking. Or maybe down here in the tropics Covid moves at a different rhythm that Grenadians have figured out.
We were in the home stretch now, coming down through Springs to St.
George’s, and I cranked my head around. There were 17 people on the bus occupying a space that was about 8’ x 4’. There were 17 ½ if you counted the baby on one lady’s lap. That’s when we hit a jam in the road.
Normally, Grenadian drivers have no qualms about fitting 4-foot-wide bus through a 4’1’’ gap in the traffic, and they do so at rapid speeds, buffeted by plenty of tooting. But someone ahead of us traveling in the opposite direction froze, and traffic began to back up. Passengers on our bus hung out the window, assessed the situation, and began offering advice—to the bus driver, to the car that would not pass, to me. “It’s a big line a cause a she,” the lady next to me offered. Finally the other driver was cajoled into greasing her car past the oncoming traffic, and we exploded around the corner.
As soon as we hit the Carenage, we banged on the roof. Six other people had to pile out to let us out, and a couple more piled in. I waved to the controller and said, “Thank you,” but he already stashed his propane tank in the bus, which was screeching away. “Yah, mon!” he called out, the creaky red bus fading into the crushing blur of Grenadian traffic.