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The small -- and inexpensive -- blue-and-white (red striped) Chevrolet buses compete with the larger, more comfortable orange-and-white (green striped) models of the Canal Zone Bus Company for the paying traffic, while at the schools, large square-fronted, Army-green buses mix with bright yellow (black-striped) Blue Birds with their big flashing lights, while on Central Avenue and throughout the city, buses are vivid splashes of color and horn and bravado, slowly moving art museums named for once and future loves. Ancient wooden-bodied chivas, two benches long, "luggage" strapped to the roof and bumpers, ply Via Espana and the highway to the interior behind and between newer speedy vans, plain white except for the destinations painted across their fronts.

I look up "parada" in my dictionary to learn that it means "stop, stopping," also "rank, pause, Parade, and dam (but I think they misspelled that last one). "Paradero" translates as 'whereabouts, destination,' and 'parado' as the often perfectly accurate 'motionless.'

Never-the-less, for Zone kids with no cars, these strange vehicles meant freedom--'parada' also meant, 'stop right here!' even if it were in the middle of the Forest Preserve or close to a road where buses didn't go but hitch-hikers did.

Why not cut school and go to Pina Beach or Fort San Lorenzo? From Balboa! And still get home in time! Or take the bus to the teen club (but get off at the PX or Clubhouse and walk the rest of the way.)

Didn't like the movie at your Clubhouse? A dime got you a round trip ticket to another. Prefer the Bella Vista Theater (or, remember Cinerama)? A dime each way! (You remember the Cinerama? You ARE old!)

Buses brought the kids to the pool, bowling alley, YMCA, the skating rink on Diablo Road. Buses got us to "J" Street, where we bought new records at Morrison's, visited hobby shops and hardware and Hindu shops, bought cameras and radios and lottery tickets. While today's parents spend half their waking hours hauling their kids around town, ours just gave us an allowance and let us go! "I'm going to the pool, Mom!" (You guess which one!)

Buses added excitement, too; once, crossing the Isthmus in a speed-chiva, it came to my attention that the headlights kept going on and off; potholes apparently served as switches (lots of switches!) The effect of the alternating bright-and-blackout in front proved to be less annoying with my eyes tightly closed.

In a country where drivers seem to pay tax according to how often they use their brakes, and receive rebates for horn blasts, watching tourists cross the street was always good for a few chuckles.

There were limits, however, as bus racing across the bridge was never destined to become an Olympic event, just like Beat-the-Train never caught on.

What was bad about buses? Being on one when a Canal Zone brat decided to hit the window bars with a raw egg while the bus was moving along at about 20-30 m.p.h. was not too popular. Being on a bus when it was stopped by a Guardia having a bad hair day was not great fun. Price increases were terrible, because nobody increases a nickel fare to six cents, they double it! (I think the Official Fare Increase Mathematical Formula is Fe X 2 X $ X 1.5 = New Fare, where Fe is the earliest fare you can remember, and $ is how much the bus company thinks your father is willing to raise your allowance).

Then one day we all grew up, and we never went anywhere unless someone With A Car took us. And then, again, one day, we got our own life-style changing driver's license ("Need something at the Commy, Mom? Want me to put some gas in the car, Dad?") How old were you when you found out you could drive from Los Rios to the La Boca gas station without driving on the Causeway?

And then, we got a car of our own, and most of us forgot that buses ever existed, except as traffic hazards driven by cretins who couldn't get out of their own way! Aren't you ashamed! It's people like you who make people like me write stories like this .

This story first appeared in the Panama Canal Society
of Florida's Canal Record (June 1988).

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Last update: October 6, 1998
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