Speed freaks

Speed was an odd choice of movie to show on a ten-hour bus journey through the Andes. While Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock tried to keep their zooming city bus from exploding, I gripped the armrests as we cornered on hairpin bends. Still, Keanu in a tight t-shirt was a welcome break from the endless live informercial we’d suffered during daylight.

Until now, I’d taken little country buses, mostly, where the hawkers sold fruit, mote, and soft drinks. But the Quito to Cuenca route connects most of the major towns down the Panamerican highway, and both the vehicles and the salesmen are slicker. They jumped on the bus whenever we passed through a town. The pitches hardly varied, and could have moved straight to the Home Shopping Channel with little help.

They introduced themselves, sometimes with a sob story, and threw out some quiz questions to engage the audience, complete with trinket prizes. Then they switched smoothly into a fast-talking hard sell, flogging tinny chains with birthstones that would open your chakras and release your creative and healing energies, or leather belts with hidden money pouches to foil the thieves who were everywhere these days, waiting to steal every dollar you had, or purses in the shape of cowboy boots that were ingeniously hand-tooled by master craftsmen. We passengers were amazingly fortunate, since we would pay much, much more in stores for items of such quality. Luckily for us, our vendors—no, our friends now, surely—were hooked up with terrific wholesale (but legitimate!) deals that allowed them to offer these perfect Mother’s Day gifts at such low, low prices, ladeez and gennelmen…

Then they would saunter down the aisle, dropping a sample on everyone’s lap.
   ´Gemini? Charming and versatile. Pisces, ma’am? Sensitive and loving…’
Finally, they collected their money and their samples, still pitching all the while, jumped off the bus, and crossed the highway to catch a bus going back the other way. On the Panamerican you never wait more than five minutes; these people made their living surfing the road.

No pitch lasted less than twenty minutes, and the machine-gun delivery sounded like a cattle auction. I was three seats from the front, stuck in the prime sell spot, and as they lined up to shower me with spittle I briefly considered flinging myself off the bus. But it was a long drop. And I wanted to get to back to Cuenca.