Gleaming & Spotless

Eager to start my second day of the trip, I dashed into the subway station weaving through the commute crowd. I clearly didn’t belong  – my stuffed vintage backpack stood apart from the worn, tired briefcases and purses. I was also a good 20cm taller than the worker bees and was already scanning the cavernous station while descending the stairs. After a gaggle of teen girls in school uniforms passed, I saw a ticket booth in the distance with several windows open. I hustled across the bustling station got halfway, then stopped. Something wasn’t right.

I looked back the way I’d entered in confusion. As conversations and footsteps echoed around me, I realized the issue: Consolação Station was gleaming and spotless. The hallway I’d come through was brightly lit, and the white and yellow tiles shone like the new BMW I’d been drooling over back home. I didn’t see any graffiti on the walls or trash on the floor. There weren’t homeless sleeping or begging, nor were there buskers performing. I was anxious to get a jump on the day, but I was intrigued. I slowly turned in a circle looking for evidence of disrepair, poor maintenance, or hidden stockpiles of garbage. I had the urge to grab the dapper businessman who brushed past and demand that he stop and look around. Really look and appreciate the station.

Consolação  was one of the transfer points for the west-east yellow line and northeast to southwest green line, so one of the busiest in São Paulo. I was amazed that despite the crush of humanity and trains flowing through the station each day, the tile walls sparkled and grey industrial floors gleamed. Poster size ads adorned the walls – gorgeous Brazilian woman applying body lotion, vacation packages to the northern coastal city of Fortaleza, and even the latest Tom Cruise action adventure film – but otherwise the walls were spotless. No scuffs and shockingly no JUAN ESTAVA AQUI or PRESIDENTE DILMA SUGA or crudely sketched sex organs. 

Before I could begin to consider how they possibly enforced such respect, reverence even, for their subway, a woman screamed. Jolted from my reverie I moved toward the sound, rounded a massive (and yes, spotless) concrete pillar and again stopped in wonder. One of the plaid-skirted school girls I’d seen earlier was swinging her large backpack down on an older man, maybe mid-40s, who was cowering with arms raised to shield himself from the onslaught. The other girls had instinctively spread out, forming a semi-circle around their friend and were glowering down at the man.

Backpack Girl was a force, punctuating each yell with a WHACK of the backpack. My spoken Portuguese was pathetic – I had the vocabulary of a child and the dialect of a Manaus farmer near the Amazon – but I could understand what was said. As a sleek silver train slid into the station behind, the girl whacked the man one more time and then yelled, “Vá pegar seu próprio rabo!” Which I translated as, “Grab your own ass.” Or something in that family.

With synchronized precision, Backpack Girl and her posse pivoted fiercely on their flats before disappearing into a crowded train car. As it pulled away, I noticed a bright orange decal beside the door that featured the universal outline of a figure in a dress with text beneath: APENAS CARRO FEMININO. [FEMALE CAR ONLY]

I glanced over at the man who was straightening out his suit after the onslaught. It was the same well-groomed businessman I’d wanted to stop earlier. He must’ve felt my gaze because stopped grooming to look up. He gave me a sheepish “Whaddaya gonna do?” conspiratorial shrug, one man to another. 

I didn’t smile in return, just walked toward him, and when I was a meter away, I spat my insult. “Porco!” [Pig!] 

I brushed past enjoying his stunned expression and lost myself in the immaculate station, ready to board a train for more Sao Paulo sights.