Day 3 (March 6):
Paso Canoas (Costa Rica/Panama Border)
The weight of the stopped TRACOPA bus suddenly shifts to the right side. It’s a noticeable shift…like when someone hops to the other side of a canoe. The abrupt change catches my attention and forces me to look up from the movie that I was watching on my tablet (damn me for being such a gringo). “Estan peleando! Estan peleando! (They are fighting! They are fighting!)” Peering out of the windows of the bus—like grade school children—the crowd watches while two street vendors exchange fists. This was a good ol’ fashioned fight. No weapons. No mismatched numbers. No cellphones streaming the event to social media. Just two guys settling a dispute on the sidewalk. The people on the street casually position themselves to form a tight circle around the fighters; their smooth motion hinting that there may be rules to watching a street fight in Ciudad Neily. In the middle of that impromptu ring two middle aged, fairly fit vendors dance around each other with their hands in front of their faces.
Their movements make it look like they are part of the same rhythmic machine. One quick jab countered by a finely tuned backstep. A tight right hook avoided by a smooth head bob that would make Mike Tyson proud. Typical street fights in the States start with one lunging haymaker that either connects and puts the other down or misses and results in two out of shape people rolling on the ground until they both lose to exhaustion. Not here…not today. These two vendors have a strategy and appear to know what they are doing. At times the fights seems so fluid that I cannot determine if the men are performing for sport or to settle a spur of the moment dispute. The battle continues for five or so minutes with little bloodshed. The two vendors eventually drop their hands and agree to go their separate ways. No hug. No handshake. No police. But, it appears that whatever dispute started the fight has been resolved…for now.
In these moments of spectacle there is something that happens within the social group. Yes, it is captivating to watch two men battle in the streets (that is clear), but what is important during these events is something that goes beyond the easily observable spectacle. The social awe of the event that is unfolding creates a feeling of comradery within the group. The TRACOPA bus had been filled with people who were previously isolated within their own social bubbles—their eyes locked to their phones or their conversations restricted to their family members that boarded the bus with them. But, in these moments of spectacle that social bubble expands and encapsulates the rest of the observing crowd. During the fight previous strangers exchange looks of excitement, feelings of fear, expressions of shock. There may be no words spoken, but there is an emotional connection that is created by the social observation of a singular event. The bond continues after the spectacle. You can feel it in the new chatter that consumes the once quiet space of the bus. We have experienced something together and that carries meaning.