Posted on September 17, 2009 by Colin

The Fine Art of Diving Into Traffic

 

I arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina 2 days ago and after a solid 18 hours on various flights between Miami, Mexico City and Santiago, I was ready to crash into anything soft and bed-like I could find. My wits were a bit scrambled, and though I was conscious enough to not get taken (too much) by the taxi driver who carted me from the airport to the downtown area, I still wasn’t ready for what I would see immediately upon exiting the vehicle.

I was picking up my carry-on bag from the curb, and when I looked up I saw a stampede of cars rumbling toward me, flying through the narrow ravine of road between the buildings. About 5 feet away, an old lady had stumbled into the street and was shambling her way to the opposite shore. She wasn’t going to make it in time.

Even more shocking was that as I was standing there thinking that the first thing I would see in my new home was going to be manslaughter, a half dozen other people of various ages start casually sauntering their way across the street, glancing at the cars uncaringly, almost contemptuously, as if they have nothing to fear.

And it turns out, they didn’t. The cars and people filtered past each other like water through gravel. The vehicles slowed slightly, but only just enough to dodge past a person at the last second if necessary. It was quite the spectacle. Like someone playing Frogger but using a cheat code.

It turns out that this is common practice here in BA. Traffic laws are quite lax, but there is a mutual understanding between drivers and pedestrians that allows both to continue on their way unhindered, so long as they don’t make physical contact.

Having been to New York numerous times, I know all about the power of the pedestrian mob: the walkers rule there, while the drivers just grin and bear it. As you walk around you’ll see people standing right there in the street, mere inches from the cars as they pass, waiting to be the first to the other side when the traffic has lightened up.

It’s a very similar situation in BA, except that here people dive into traffic willy-nilly, hurling themselves into the thick of things and only after having traveled a few steps do they look up to see if there’s any impending danger.

It seems like an incredibly risky way to do things, but it also seems to be incredibly efficient. I’ve made very good time walking miles across town to complete the various tasks I’ve had to get done in order to snag an apartment. It defies everything I’ve known in the past, but it does seem to be working.

But then, maybe it’s not completely unfamiliar territory. I have cast myself into the thick of things with only the modicum of acknowledgement for the risks. Any entrepreneur does this every day. It’s the risks that we take that allow us to get ahead, and though we may fail from time to time (or even more often than that), each and every effort leads to greater understanding, greater potential rewards, and, at the end of the day, a somewhat lackadaisical attitude toward risk. We’ve been through worse than this; what’s to be afraid of?

And it’s this last thought that is most important, because just as one becomes a better entrepreneur over time, through constant practice and at least as many failures as victories, one becomes a better Buenos Aires pedestrian over time, as well. The first several times I tried to keep a steady pace along the streets here, I ended up faltering, taking quick steps backward instead of following the crowd across the swarm of menacing automobiles. Now, 2 days later, I can feel the rhythm that everyone else seems to be keeping pace to, which makes crossing the mean streets of downtown BA a cakewalk.

I’m definitely not a master yet, and I keep one eye on the traffic in case an errant car falls out of step, but like with any new project or business idea I’m leaving myself time to learn the ropes while simultaneously facing the risks involved head on; thinking of the rewards, my life enriched by the journey toward them.