Moto-boys of Brazil, The Anonymous

 In Sao Paulo I stepped off the plane and into a taxi. On the highway my first thought (aside from trying to convert Kilometers/Horas to Miles/Hour) was the vast number of motorcycles. All single cylinder: Suzuki, Yamaha, and Honda. All ridden recklessly by what I could only describe as dusty silhouettes. Anonymous, the riders band together as if the were infantry fighting a war on classicism. These silhouettes are the moto-boys.  Brazil’s “E” Class.

If we were talking about Mercedes, this would be a good thing but we are not. We are talking about a people forgotten. Think Jeep Cherokee… these are people too. Brazil’s much delineated class structure, like a gas tank bottoms out at ”E”. The anonymous. Those willing to risk their lives to take your package 40 miles, in fifteen minutes, for forty cents.

The motorcycles I saw, splitting lanes, weaving in and out of traffic, speeding, and showing a complete disregard for their own life and limb are ridden by the “Moto-boys.” A good Moto-boy can earn up to $1200 USD per month. A good wage for the “E” class. They are often referred to a sort of scourge…organ donors, cock roaches. Ask a Brazilian, they will tell you and laugh it off dispassionately.

The motorcycles themselves are owned by “Corporate Brazil,” and the “boys” are as well owned by all of Brazil. “You can’t do business in Brazil without the Moto-boy,” I was told by one shop owner at 8 AM one beautiful morning over a pot of French Press Brazilian coffee. “One” had already died at 6:30. AM. The day had just begun and a life had already ended. In the morning you can hear their single cylinder motorcycles wind through their gears, as if racing motor-cross, before your alarm even sounds.

By midday, a taxi driver warned me not to hang  my arm out the window for fear the moto-boy will clip you with you with their handlebars (or the police will fine you) as they split the lanes betwixt-and -between fearful motorists.  It is in fact against Sao Paulo law to ride like this, but the motorcycle police do the same, and break the same laws just not with as much skill or urgency.  They too fear the moto-boy. Brazil fears the Moto-boy.

They beep incessantly as if creating a buzz as would a swarm of bees. Motorists listen. Nobody wants to kill a moto-boy. I met a taxi driver who had been in an accident with a moto-boy. His cab was damaged and off the road for a month. The driver couldn’t sleep for three nights. When he could sleep he had recurring nightmares. Another motorist told me what to do if you do hit a moto-boy: Stay in your car, dont say anything, and wait for the police. “They think they own the road, and if your car is damaged, it is not their fault.”

By midday an average of two or more moto-boys have already died along with an even greater number of pedestrians hit by moto-boys. During my ten days in Sao Paulo, I saw thousands of moto-boys, three deaths, and was myself struck in the street by a moto-boy not wanting to come to a complete stop, thereby having to put is foot down and waste time. Time is money.

The problem is a matter of fact, and its taken for granted. The moto-boys also stand to lose in this game of “Chicken”.  And when they do, its usually with their life. When a Moto-boy crashes, the others circle their motorcycles around them to protect their fallen comrade from further injury although they are often already dead. To avoid these circles further impedes Sao Paulo traffic as does the ambulance who races to scrape the moto-boy off the expressway.

By ten o’clock that same night, while out on the town and looking for a place in town to stop and have a drink, my friend and I noticed many moto-bikes parked meticulously in front of one establishment which we assumed to be a “biker bar”. Although the crowd was not unruly I passed on the opportunity to go inside, only later to learn that they were parked adjacent to the local drogeria (drugstore) waiting for their opportunity to make a delivery, perhaps risking their lives because someone might have a headache or might need a condom.

The moto-boy in my opinion is neither a nuisance nor a necessary evil, but an epidemic that needs a cure.

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