“La cola” is not fino cambur, which sucks, because Caracas is awash with them. However, the ubiquity of la cola does not surprise me, because making one is very straighforward. You simply have to find several people who want the same thing, then add a touch of scarcity, some inefficiency, and a hint of apathy and viola! you have yourself a standard Caracas Cola. What’s better though is when you can locate some incompetence (not scarce) to toss in with the rest. Then you get yourself a Super Caracas Cola.
A cola is a line, a queue, a headache, and a test of patience; or perhaps a cola is an opportunity to practice meditation, look at people’s auras, stand in awe at once of human ingenuity and shortcomings, or to stretch those tight hammies. If you are creative and don’t care what others think of you, then the cola is your oyster. Go ahead, hurry up and wait. After all, life is more about the journey than the destination, right?
A few exemplary examples of la cola:
The airport cola.
I’ve never seen people line up at the gate so early. It only took me one time to understand that in this country a flashing “boarding” notice on the screen means you have at least another 25 minutes till actual boarding. Perhaps Venezuelans are just a people full of hope for the near future — “Maybe, just maybe this time the airline will board on time.”
The Friday afternoon department store cola.
Mama, watch out. I waited for an hour to check out…even though there were six registers open. Labor laws here make it pretty difficult to fire someone. I like the idea of protecting workers, but what Venezuelans have gained in job security, customers have lost in efficiency and customer service.
The bus stop cola.
Sometimes colas make sense when it comes to fairness and civility. At rush hour, buses are often so crowded that dudes are hanging out the door, which means there might be only one or two people boarding at a particular bus stop. A line in this case is quite appropriate.
The invisible cola.
Like at the eye doctor. At three different appointments it has taken me 20 minutes, 30 minutes and 40 minutes, respectively, to get past the first reception desk. The first time I got my “pass” to go to my appointment I felt quite the accomplishment, until I realized that passing that first desk only got me to the second reception desk. To be expected, there were a few people sitting around in the second waiting room (notably not reading, not texting, just pure, adulterated waiting). But there was no physical line, and without that, there was no feeling of movement — I couldn’t tell if each ticking minute was bringing me closer to the examination room. One’s imagination can run wild creating scenarios to justify the wait — bunnies, cambur, sandpaper — though the real reason is truly beyond comprehension; I doubt if the employees even know. Regardless, when my name was called two hours later, it was like a gift from heaven, which is nice.
Part of keeping one’s sanity in Caracas is figuring out when colas are at their worst and then avoiding them. Unfortunately, cola patterns are shifty so one often ends up saying the commonly heard words that justify everything, “Well, this is Venezuela.”
Sounds like China. The subway system is beautiful: cheap and efficient. They have arrows pointing to where you should stand while waiting for the train, and arrows showing you where passengers get off. You wait to the sides of the door, and the arrows show that passengers will exit in a straight line.
Then the train comes, the doors open, and it these handy arrows are roundly ignored. It’s just a fight to get in and out. Both logic and manners are nowhere to be found.
Same deal with elevators. If you want to exit an elevator, you’d better be prepared to show your angry foreigner face.
Oh, and we have a similar saying, a slight variation from the famous last line in Chinatown, which we use to explain the inexplicable: “It’s China.”
Here are some of my favorite cola phenomena:
1. Instant Colas. Colas materialize instantaneously out of nowhere. You walk into the supermarket, see there are no lines, pick up 3 or 4 things, go to pay, and…BAM! Cola from hell.
2. Number Ticket Colas. There’s no one there at the pharmacy, so you stand behind the person who’s paying and don’t bother to take a number. All of a sudden 10 people show up and grab a number ticket out of the blue, and now you’ve been instantaneously “numbered” to the back of the cola …and the pharmacist couldn’t care less.
3. Metro Colas. They have those neat little queue markings and arrows on the subway platform, so that people line up away from the opening doors and exiting passengers when the doors open. People are very vigilant about following them when it gets crowded. Everyone conscientiously follows the little arrows, then the train arrives and the doors don’t line up where they’re supposed to, and it just turns into mass pandemonium.
Great additions, Michael. Thanks! I’ve definitely been blind-sided by a few Instant Colas.
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