perspective Matters romeo

Photo Credit: Sydney Valerio

When searching for a bargain, we might not recognize the detours the price makes us pay. Such was the case last summer in the Dominican Republic, as I ventured from the tip of Samaná’s peninsula to the South Central capital city, Santo Domingo.

Two days of R&R ended with a trip back to a city I had never journeyed through alone. Its streets and dwellers were familiar though I had only ventured through them with guardians.

When I climbed into the ‘voladora’ van the driver promised to get me to my destination at a reasonable price; however, what he didn’t clearly outline were the constant stops on his way. 59 miles may seem like a small distance to this New Yorker who travels 70 miles a day to and from work.

I leave New York City every day and venture into the Hudson Valley region. 35 miles northbound and 35 miles southbound. Simple driving: city streets to parkway to thruway to parkway to a town in the mountains.

The stretch of 59 miles to Santo Domingo felt like I was traveling from the NYC to Albany. The 15-passenger caravan ride involved pit stops for the driver and his assistant to get a snack, to pick up a package, to drop off a package, to pick up a passenger, to drop off a passenger, to greet an old friend, to basically find a way to elongate the trip and ultimately take care of his business on our time.

This method of transit is typically coined ‘voladora’… ‘flying’. This descriptor depicts the constant motion involved in the ride or more appropriately the ungodly speed he travelled in the open road.

As we travelled through its route, pedestrians would hail for it to stop. The passengers would scooch over for others making a way for them to sit. I sat in a single and half seat and was able to observe the commuters as they climbed in and greeted everyone. To not engage in this required exchange was a faux pas; hence, the disdain people were feeling towards me which shifted at the moment we reached the fishing part of town.

Upon reaching the end of the town an older gentleman came onto the vehicle with a box and cooler full of fish. The driver ignored the passengers’ complaints about the possible stench that would fill the van along the trip.

The next stop involved a lady coming onto the vehicle for one stop. During her short ride, she sold her ‘yaniqueques’ which are a traditional unhealthy cheap snack people enjoy.

About two stops later, a young boy joined the fisherman, and held back tears as he tightly gripped two containers, each one containing his pets: a turtle in one container and several fish in the other. As he took his seat right across from me, a set of tears came down his cheeks, his watery eyes reflecting both the homesickness and his disdain for the ride ahead.

The ten year old boy put his head down and made the passengers weary of a possibly nautious kid. His father was alerted serveral times about the boy’s affliction. The driver increased his speed and the volume of the radio as an Aventura bachata song came on and quickly tapered everyone’s anxiety.

Even the boy began to mouth the lyrics to the song as he began to pet the turtle’s head. I, however, did not like this band and its lead singer. Yet, it dawned on me that the boy was finally appeased.

“What is your turtle’s name?” I asked the boy and he claimed he hadn’t thought of one.

“How about “Romeo’?” I suggested and he instantly glanced at me in agreement.

“Yes, Romeo” he continued to repeat.

This small exchange was observed by everyone in the van and I suddenly felt the mood towards me shift. I, the passenger who took ‘two’ seats for herself, actually had a sense of humanity. All the while, the driver’s assistant asked if I was paying for the two seats.

“The driver didn’t clarify this stipulation when I mounted the vehicle” I told him as the other passengers listened intently to our exchange.

“She has two seats, and is sitting comfortably, she needs to pay” an older woman’s voice interjected.

Clearly, the group knew that I had an advantage during the ride that they never thought of negotiating for themselves. As this crossed my mind, I stated it to the group.

“When you mounted you caved into the notion of experiencing discomfort for a service you paid to receive. Why don’t you demand better service?”

At that moment, the driver interrupted my monologue by asserting my claim to his assistant. The young boy stared at me, clearly uneasy about his journey, about my exchange, and about his pets adding to the stench that had permeated the van.

Two hours later we finally reached the capital and individuals began to unload the vehicle. The young boy and his father also left the vehicle before my stop. As the father struggled with his cooler and his box, the young boy simply waited on the sideline holding his pets.

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