On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Tom and I like to eat breakfast on our veranda, looking out over the city skyline and the calming green of the houses in the blocks behind us. It’s a peaceful feeling, looking out from such a height.
And then we look down, more closely, like you do when sitting out in nature and begin to notice the life around you: bugs flying and ants toiling.
In our case, we begin to see green and white cars, or red and black cars, or red and yellow cars popping in and out of view beneath the branches of the tree-lined streets. It’s our own private view of Autopia, where nascent drivers learn to maneuver their cars in the peace and tranquility of a suburban neighborhood before risking their lives, and the lives of their very courageous instructors, on the streets beyond.
Most weekend mornings, we see six to ten colorful Auto Escola cars lurking under the trees before pulling slowly away from the curb and crawling along the cobblestoned streets, taking agonizingly wide, slow turns and pausing whenever another car comes in sight.
We sit and enjoy our coffee as we watch a slo-mo version of road racing, with sun-dappled cars appearing in the breaks of the tree canopy, disappearing, and then reappearing as they round the corner on the “main road” which is actually a one-way frontage road next to Jose Dinez. On these wide streets, they can pass each other with plenty of room between and on either side. And with each pass and turn, their confidence grows. And we chuckle at their innocence.
On one side street, someone has set up black traffic cones (black, yes, you read that right) next to a curb, so that the students can learn to parallel park. The pups and I watched one day as a young man tried valiantly to back into the space, six times, each time crushing a cone beneath his rear bumper (the cone was returned upright by a fellow who I assume was there specifically for that purpose). Cones sure save on wear and tear on the vehicle, I’ll give them that. While he tried, two other student drivers sat in their car, waiting their turn.
This is Survival 101 in Sao Paulo, where you must parallel park on busy streets with people right on your tail, or learn to wedge your car into a spot six inches bigger than your car’s largest dimension in any given parking lot. Parking skills are paramount. Or, you can chicken out and pay for valet parking wherever you go.
At the end of the lessons, we see the cars pull over, and the student and instructor switch places for the return to the real world.
I’m sure there are other quiet neighborhoods in the city where this goes on, and I say hurrah. Give these new drivers a place to drive without pressure or danger, and let them feel like they can do it.
Then, toss them onto the real streets and watch them panic as other drivers ignore lane lines and motorcycles whip between them and the cars beside them, on either side, and where lane lines are mere suggestions. Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha!