I have a side track from Santa Fe today – but it is Panama related. I just got off the phone with my friend, Nina, who was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Panama at the same time as me and later did her doctoral work at Tulane (and also married a Panamanian, like me). She is a Panamanian anthropology nerd -and directed a short documentary on – Diablo Rojos, or red devils. The film was nominated for all kinds of awards and looks at people, buses, art and innercity life through the viewpoints of several interviews. What’s really neat about Nina is that she has this way of getting to know people and finding wonder in things that many people may not.
The Diablos Rojo buses ran Panama City routes before being outlawed in 2011 (one reason was safety) and were replaced by the government run metrobus system. The Diablos Rojos were privately owned, and were notable as the owners would paint the exterior of the buses (old US school buses) with all kinds of colors, sayings, pictures of women and Jesus. The buses would run the downtown, barrio routes. Drivers would play reggae or hiphop, and people would be crammed into the buses. A pavo (turkey), or assistant to the driver, would hang out the front of the bus, shouting destinations and taking money. Since most people do not drive a car to work in the Capital, many Panamanians would travel back and forth from work using a Diablo Rojo. People loved the buses, people hated them, but you were never bored on a Diablo Rojo!
Today people buy a pre-paid metrobus card and ride on quiet, air conditioned buses. For all the convenience, you can’t help but feel like you’re missing something essential of the soul of the city.