It’s funny how some people have such strong feelings about certain buses, and how there are people whose lives are lived so much on one given bus that said bus becomes such an integral part of the person’s life that it even gets invited to their wedding, albeit not to the reception, just the disco afterwards, because it’s not a real friend and it would place too much of a strain on the catering.
So it is with the 60, a bus that is part of so many people’s lives, that when its drivers went on strike for three days in September the entire Mercosur economy was paralysed. I tell people I’m taking all the buses in Buenos Aires and one of the first things they ask me is “have you taken the 60 yet?” as if taking the 60 were a life experience on a par with the birth of your first child, or season 3 of Mad Men, instead of a fairly humdrum ride between Puente Saavedra and Constitución that ultimately gives the impression that the 60 is living off people’s mistaken impressions of its own grandeur.
The 60 was always a bus that other people took. It wasn’t one of “my boys”, a 39, a 151, a 55 even. I looked on it as a bus too big for its boots, arrogant, megalomaniacal, but I wondered if this was just a reflection of my own jealousy at the 60’s celebrity. People would come up to me in the street and say “the 60 takes you everywhere, it’s like LSD, man” but I checked in my Guía “T” and the 60 follows a most perfunctory route between Constitución and a number of towns in the Naughty Zone, which isn’t the red light district, just a facetious mistranslation of Zona Norte. (The red light district is at the other end of the 60’s route, in Constitución, where the service providers in question seldom wait until nightfall to begin offering their services. I see a middle-aged woman in tight white lace that seeks and fails to cover not so much a spare tyre as a whole car boot. Nonetheless, an old man on the street corner takes her for a pro and starts to whistle at her and make that noise that in other cultures is used for gaining the attention of pets. The woman ignores him, for she is not a prostitute, she has merely dressed with tremendously bad taste in the wrong neighbourhood.)
The 60 takes you far, this is true, but how far do you really want to go? The 60 will take you all the way to Escobar, but who wants to go to Escobar? What is Escobar? I don’t know. Every time we come back from Entre Ríos to Buenos Aires, we go through Escobar and I think to myself “This is Escobar” but even so, I don’t know what it is or why it’s here or what business the 60 has in this godforsaken place. But still the people ask “have you taken the 60 yet?” and I explain that Colectivaizeishon limits itself to the Federal Capital for reasons of sanity and reluctance to spend a Kubrickesque length of time on a single project, and they lose interest in the book then and so I try to tell them about the documentary, which won’t involve any tiresome reading and will feature the 60’s route in all its glory reduced to a single cinematographic magic minute, but they’ve gone already.
So I never used to buy the whole “60 takes you everywhere” spiel, and suspected that no sooner had the drivers passed under Puente Saavedra at the end of the route in Capital, they all parked their buses by the river and spent a relaxing couple of hours drinking Legui and soda and laughing at these credulous porteños who’d bought into the myth that the 60 takes you everywhere.
Until one fateful night in February 2010 changed me forever.
I was leaving the local swimming pool with my beloved fiancée when there began to fall, to borrow one of my beloved fiancée’s favourite phrases, vertical turds, which means it started pissing it down. Blanco Encalada street, famously built over a gully, quickly became a river that swept away one of my flip-flops. Quasi-bereft of footwear, we stumbled as far as Avenida Cramer, only to witness to our chagrin that this avenue now resembled the Riachuelo river, and not in a good way. Cars floated past. There was no way we could get over Blanco Encalada and get home. We walked on down to Avenida Cabildo, but the Blanco Encalada gully remained insurmountable. It was 11pm, still raining, and we feared the worse. What was the worse that we feared? That we might get a bit wet and not get home till 12. Dramatic stuff.
Just at that moment there appeared a bus. And not just any bus. It was a bus of the supposedly arrogant 60 line. We got on, not a coin to our name.
“Please,” sobbed my beloved fiancée, showing a little beloved cleavage, “could you take us just the two blocks to Mendoza Street?”
“That’ll be ten pesos”, says the driver.
We needn’t have feared, it was simply another example of that famous bus driver sense of humour. “Against All Odds” by Phil Collins played on the driver’s radio. I took it as a good omen. And so it was that with almost superhuman will, the driver led his proud 60-esque beast through the metre of water that was once Blanco Encalada, and dropped us off on Mendoza, where we waded through four blocks of floating bin bags and effluent to get home.