The Panama City
From The Panama News ... July 19 - August 1, 1997
By Richard Taub
I've figured it out. Finally, a
get-rich-quick scheme that'll work without fail. I can just see it now, the
financial independence to quit the bank, along the way loosening my belt, turning around
and showing certain ex-workmates what I really think. My idea is to team up with
some software game manufacturer somewhere to create a new game called "Panama City
Driver," the object being to get from home to work in under a pre-determined amount
of time, say 15 minutes.
It'll be just like Pole Position and all those other race car arcade games that you sit in and shift gears, except that instead of some cool Formula One race car, you'll have a four-year-old Mazda 323 with plenty of dings, dents and a worn-out horn from overuse. There will also be the requisite coconut-scented-air-freshener and cross dangling from the rear-view mirror.
The game will start out just like any other arcade game; at a relatively easy level, but getting harder depending on the skill of the driver. On a typical commute, say from Marbella to Bethania, cars will pull out of the driveways and parking lots in front of you, just close enough so you have to brake quickly to avoid an accident. Taxi drivers, instead of pulling over all the way to the side of the road, will pick up and discharge passengers just far enough into the middle of the road to prevent you from squeezing by and saving valuable time. Oh yeah, be careful! If you hit any of these passengers, or any other pedestrians suddenly crossing the street anywhere, points will be deducted from your score and the 15-minute countdown clock will run faster. Hitting other cars will carry a penalty as well, albeit a minimal one.
Land Cruisers, Monteros and other 4x4s or commercial trucks will switch lanes in front of you, blocking your views and making your job of impatiently switching lanes and cutting off other drivers during your own commute a bit harder. A couple of people waiting to cross the road might give you the head fake or else they may actually try to cross in front of you; then come a few potholes and other road surface obstacles and debris that could slow you down. Sound easy enough?
Now the game gets a bit harder. *You are now surrounded by taxi drivers, each trying to switch lanes into the space between you and the taxi in front of you, which you are rightfully tailgating. Letting them in can cost you time - especially if they see a waiting fare - yet ill-timed honking may elicit retaliatory slow driving by the taxi ahead. *Suddenly you're amid road construction.. Lanes merge, weave, split and merge again. Driving on the grassy median to avoid those silly commuters waiting on the pavement is encouraged. Just make sure no storm clouds suddenly appear - spinning out in the mud is a time-costly penalty.
Detours around construction sites are also encouraged, except if you're traveling from the back side of Albrook and El Dorado through the Corredor Norte construction, where the Transito guy stops everyone to allow the same one dump truck to cross back and fourth all day. *A left turn across Tumba Muerto without a traffic light might also be required here. You'd better find a hole like Emmett Smith to make it across the oncoming traffic, then give it the gas.
*Other small annoyances will be accidents in the road awaiting police assistance and those men selling chicha on bicycles, some motorized, some not, but all causing a brief slowdown in the right hand lane.
WELCOME TO EXTENDED PLAY!!
So you've made it this far - congratulations! You are now given shiny new rims, a "Con Dios Todo lo Puedo" bumper sticker, and a stronger, louder horn that, when used properly, will give your by now well-worn 323 a brief boost in horsepower. The difficulty level increases a bit here, as all the previous challenges are accompanied by the following added twists:
*Grumpy bus drivers will drive their 'diablos rojos' as if they were Miatas, switching lanes suddenly and cutting you off. Get them before they get you. *Uh-oh, Did you just make an illegal left turn? Never mind that there was no sign and the arrow on the asphalt was painted during the Torrijos regime - you got a ticket. Lose a minute and the bumper sticker. *Be careful at that stoplight - if you allow that guy to wash your windshield, the horsepower-boosting horn is gone. You must somehow refuse the anti-drug guy's literature in the plastic pouch without honking at him. And no, you can't use the excuse that you'd buy it for their cause if it looked like it tasted good.
Also, keep an eye out for the mamones and steering-wheel salesmen in the street (these guys you 'should' honk at). You must also quickly contemplate whether or not to buy this morning's 'La Prensa' by quickly looking at the headlines from your car without attracting the vendor's attention. Still alive?
So maybe you've been a Panamanian driver for some time, and you're still going. Well, we'll see how you handle an increased frequency of the previous road hazards coupled with the following driving nuisances:
*Over-loaded fruit trucks with broken mufflers in front of you as you navigate through Los Angeles, some emitting in one minute the total yearly chlorofluocarbon output of Angola.
*Ambulances *Rubbernecking *Strong sun (although the player's windows are tinted after reaching the expert level).
*Nearby car stereos playing "Margarita la que Llora" Loudly.
*Taxis with indecisive passengers.
*Tamburelli delivery guys.
Thank you for playing. To continue, please insert 50 cents within the
next 15 seconds. (Hey realism doesn't come cheap.)
November 1, 1998