I think unemployment must be rising in Bogotá; when I first got here, there was about one bus vendor per half hour bus ride. Now it seems like they just come on one after another, selling CDs, bracelets, peanuts or candy or playing the guitar or singing. For some reason, it seems like almost all bus vendors are men.
The musicians always make me quite sad. Just picture a cloudy, rainy city with way too many non-artful concrete buildings framed by dark pine mountains; then picture a 70-year-old guy missing at least half his teeth, wearing a 20 year-old haggard suit, singing traditional Colombians songs and strumming a worn and sad-looking guitar while trying not to fall down as the maniac bus driver flies over potholes and breaks so hard you jump a few inches in the air every time. Sometimes the guys are young and talented but you always know you’ll most likely never hear them on the radio.
‘Then there are the fathers who really don’t look like bad people. Their speech always goes something like this: Ladies and gentlemen, forgive me for bothering you; I know my presence is a bother and even irritating to some of you, but I am trying to make an honest living, and right now, this is my only option. Like many of you, I am a father. I have two young daughters who I must feed and house. I have not been able to find any gainful employment and this is why I am standing here in front of you asking you for your kind attention. What I have here is a most delightful candy, coated in chocolate and with a fruity inside: One for 200 pesos, two for 300 and, yes, ladies and gentlemen, take all three for just 500 pesos. I ask those of you with a good heart to buy one, two or three of these delicious candies so that I can feed my daughters and pay the landlady, who says she will evict my family if we don’t give her some kind of payment today.
Today on my way to Chapinero to meet a new friend, A man missing an eye got on the bus and began his shpeel. He was selling “grizzly splash” candies, “A gummy with a fruitful exterior and a delicious liquid interior.” I was the only person on the bus who bought his candies; I paid 25 cents for 3. If gets on 5 buses an hour an sells 25 cents worth each time, he can expect to make a grand total of $12.50 a day, minus the cost of the candies.
I think bus riders in Bogotá are so used to all these sad cases that they’re rarely moved and zone out when vendors hop on. Sometimes I look around at my fellow passengers and no one flinches, no brows furrow, no mouths turn down. Mostly, people just look out the window and shake their head when the vendor goes to place the candies or whatever he’s selling in their hands. It’s just sad to think the kind of lives that people have. In Bogotá, the really miserable sections of the city are completely separated from the middle and upper-class sections. The bad sections extend up into the mountains in the south and some parts of the east and the only real interaction — or reminder — of poverty in Bogotá is when I’m on the bus.