FAREWELL DEVILS! (VIDEO BELOW)
Originally posted on July 3, 2011
Take a yellow school bus, paint it in vivid colours with images of Hollywood stars, cartoon characters and Jesus, throw in some bright lights (preferably red) and glittery streamers, crank up the speakers and blast some heavy reggaeton or meringue music, and stuff it like a can of sardines with as many people as possible.
Now drive fast, real fast, while fishtailing other vehicles on the road and you’ve got yourself a Diablo Rojo, or a Red Devil, one of Panama City’s notorious city buses.
But if you want in on that business you’re out of luck…the government says, to hell with the Devils!
As we bid adieu to 2011, a bittersweet farewell to these Devils on wheels… Diablo Rojos, Panama City It all began more than half a century ago, when the Panamanian government imported a fleet of American school buses to serve as the Capital’s public transportation system. They’re privately owned, with no set schedule or regulations, and with drivers best described as 25¢ per passenger headhunters. They’ve caused countless injuries, and even deaths. In 2006, more than a dozen people, including pregnant women and children, lost their lives when an engine went up in flames. With locked and faulty exists and small windows, there was little chance of escape for the victims. The incident sent shockwaves across the country and a clear message that these outdated vehicles were in fact, becoming death traps.
As a result, the government has taken an active role in modernizing the Capital’s public transportation system. A citywide subway system is being dug to alleviate the Capital’s round-the-clock traffic jams, and a transition to a new fleet of modern Metro Buses is almost complete. With that of course, is the imminent death of the Red Devils themselves. “It’s sad, we put a lot of effort into decorating them. We’re very attached to our buses,” says the owner of a Diablo Rojo named “Delinquent.” It’s so personal in fact that he drove to a church to have it blessed by a priest in order to protect it and its passengers from harm. However, with the fate of these buses having been sealed, payers will do little to prevent the crushing exorcisms that await them at the junkyard.
Diablo Rojos employees wait as a new Metro Bus drives by. As a form of condolences perhaps, Red Devil owners will receive $25,000 to compensate them for their inevitable loss of income, whereas drivers will receive $5,000. Some have already moved on by becoming the drivers of the new, air conditioned, and spacious Metro Buses. But with poor driving records as Devil tamers, others are left wondering what to do next. As the streets of Panama City become safer and tamer with crispy white state-regulated buses, some argue that the Capital is loosing its unique and lively luster. Though hard on the eyes, and lungs, for some, the Diablo Rojos are seen as significant cultural symbols of Panama City. Ideas from people hoping to preserve that personal dash of colour in what some argue is becoming a bland urban landscape, are beginning to surface online. From people urging the ministry of transportation to allow for some Diablo-style artwork on their new fleet of buses to preserving a few Diablo Rojos in city museums. Time will tell whether any of these buses will cheat Death when it comes knocking, but one’s thing’s for sure: Delinquent, you have most certainly given me a hell of ride! Farewell Diablo Rojos!
VIDEO: “Farewell Diablo Rojo” by Maggie Padlewska