Living la Vida Loca Aboard a Motorbike in São Paulo, Brazil

Motoboys in traffic in São Paulo, BrazilA cachorro louco (kaSHOhu LOku), rabid dog, is a motoboy (mOHtoboy) in Brazil. The word motoboy comes from moto (mAWtoo), a colloquial word for motorcycle, and boy, from office boy. Motoboys are lightly or gravely injured or die every day in the city I live in, São Paulo.

They die so often their deaths are not even newsworthy any more, about two a day. They are called rabid dogs because they ride their motorbikes between cars at speeds varying from 40 to 80 m/h. And they do it the whole day. It is, I believe, the most dangerous job in Brazil. More so than law enforcement and fire fighting since the death rate is higher.

“James Bond, get out of the way, a motoboy is on his way.” I guess it wouldn’t be too ludicrous for a motoboy to say that.

Even though they are called “boys”, they come in all ages, shapes and sizes. But their life expectancy is very low. Who’s to blame for their reckless behavior in traffic? I guess society as a whole since nowadays everybody wants things delivered yesterday. And nobody is faster than a motoboy, not on the road.

Traffic in São Paulo is chaotic almost anywhere it is worth going to. But if you want to see a cavalcade of motoboys like no other, take Marginal Pinheiros at rush hour –  a highway going round São Paulo city along the margins of the Pinheiros River, thence the name Marginal, even though it has different official names along the way, such as Avenida das Nações Unidas, United Nations Avenue,  – and the other motoboy haunt is Avenida Washington Luis, Avenida 23 de Maio, and so on, it is also the same road with different names, but of course, they are all over São Paulo.

When driving here, if you are on the fast lane, make sure you keep close to the road divider because that spot between the fast lane and the middle one, which is called aisle or corridor in Brazil, will probably be occupied by a motoboy, and if you don’t give them room, they’ll kick your side-view mirror or car, flip you the bird, shout at you or crash into you, which is the worst case scenario.

“Living la Vida Loca!” is their motto.

People do crash into motoboys because they will ride just about anywhere on the road and you can’t see them in many instances. People say there is a blind spot keeping you from seeing them many times. They usually keep to their favorite spot, but they have to go places, so they’ll need to leave that niche for maneuvers, and novice motoboys or regular motorcyclists circulate in other places because they are slower.

If they stay in the motoboy lane – it has, for all intents and purposes, become one – they’ll be run over by motoboys, literally, since motoboys will push other motorcycles out of the way if they are slow, ergo, if you intend to ride a bike in São Paulo, be prepared for that.

Who’s the unique cachorro louco?

Me.

I’ve been riding a motorcycle in São Paulo for many years now. At first I bought brand-new ones, but now I have an old one camouflaged as a delivery bike, with a new engine, because motorbike thieves abound in this city. They steal older motorcycles for parts and new ones to sell in São Paulo itself, Paraguay or many other places.

Thieves have never been able to take a motorcycle from me, either because my alarm went off or because I fought back and got the better of them. I had a pepper spray with me at all times and I used it on myself first, to make sure it worked, and once I trusted it, when I saw a chance, I’d use it and ride away like a bat out of hell.

I said “had” because I need to buy some more even though thieves haven’t bothered me ever since I bought my old bike and camouflaged it. If you ride a more expensive or not-so-popular motorcycle, your chances of being robbed are slimmer since they prefer popular ones.

I also did other things to the bike, I installed side bars, which operate as a kind of bumper, and I wear sports gear, some kind of armor, both of which have protected me many times, from fender-benders and more serious accidents as well. I do have a car, but I use it only to take my family somewhere or on trips, but if I go anywhere on business, I take my faithful bike.

People say I’m more rabid than the motoboys, considering I have more options, but I hate delays more than anything, besides, I don’t ride my bike as they do, I usually go slowly and know when to get out of the way of my rabid counterparts.

And I usually ride it twice a day only, since most of the time I work from home. I only take the road to teach someone English or Portuguese, which I do to break the routine of staying home translating or writing and because I love teaching.

So, I guess, I’m “Living la Vida Loca”.

Author: My name is José Moreira da Silva, but I prefer Joe because José is too common in Brazil. I live in São Paulo. I’m Brazilian and work as a teacher and translator, as well as a freelance subtitler and editor for Rede Globo, Globosat and several other TV channels, such as Fox, etc. Check out my blog on http://joedasilva.wordpress.com.

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