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In keeping with what Chris of the Art of Nonconformity was saying recently about fear and the role it plays in our lives, and how for so many people it’s all about whether you let fear limit you, or become your challenge, I want to talk to you about a fear I’ll bet you didn’t know I had.

I’m afraid of getting lost in unknown places. Specifically, I’m afraid of getting on busses in cities I don’t know, or even in parts of cities that I don’t know. Subways are predictable, always following the indicated path, never veering off course, and seldom skipping stops. That’s why I love them so much I wrote an article about them here.

So, back to the bus. The other night I was at a bar in La Reina, a very lovely semi suburban part of the city where I almost never go, and had a party to go to afterwards in Vitacura, an area I know because I have a couple of friends who live there, and also because the world’s gentlest pediatric dentist works there and I am also terribly afraid of dentistry, which is a topic for a whole nother post or years of therapy.

But getting to La Reina (posh and suburban) to Vitacura (posh and somewhat more urban) required me to take a bus I didn’t know, and truth be told, didn’t have much faith in. I consulted the handy transantiagoinforma, crossed my fingers and went. Of course it all worked out, but not before I had time to clutch my new-to-me phone with GPS to look at the map of where we were as we moved (go blue dot, go!).

Which got me to thinking. Long ago, before transantiago (or as some still like to call it, transanfiasco) got underway, there used to be a bus that left from close to my house, whisked me up to a computer thingie store at Parque Arauco (very pleasant mall, as far as these things go, which also has a Boost, and their smoothies are truly delicious), and then bring me home again.

At some point, I had to go to the store, and it was a rainy, shiny, wet night, and I had some kind of a brain misfire, and forgot that in order to get home from the mall, I should not take the bus from the stop I got off at, but rather across the street. The sign on the bus on the same side of the street seemed to describe points downtown, so I muddled through the drippy evening onto one of the oldschool micros (buses). I submit the following:

The oldskool micro in Santiago

So I was kind of dozy and not really paying attention and with the grime of the city and the drips of the rain, it was hard to tell where we were going anyway. I noticed the number of people on the bus was dwindling, and that the traffic lights were growing more sparse, rather than more plentiful.

Hmmm, I thought. And I got the creepy feeling of rising levels of cortisol, and felt my mouth go dry and my stomach go all flippity.

I stayed on the bus, hoping to see either a covered paradero (bus stop) or some other landmark to let me know what to do: turn around, cross the street, etc.

Lanmarks started growing sparser and sparser, and houses bigger and bigger, until I realized I was somewhere high in the precordillera in La Dehesa, where I was sure that if I got off the bus at some random spot, I’d wake to a police officer shining a light in my frost-covered face, demanding to know what I was doing there. It was freezing cold up at altitude, and a place I clearly didn’t belong. What if I got off the bus on a one-way street and was never able to find a descending bus? It was miles and miles back to the Santiago I knew.

At this point I decided to stay on the bus until the turnaround point. The busdriver eyed me curiously, but said nothing, until I was the only one on the bus, and he asked me if I knew where I was going.

Um, no. (clearly not). We settled that he would take me to the end of the line, and I’d take another bus back to town. He’d love to take me, but he was going on break, so I’d have to wait for one of his busdriving friends.

Here’s where I got dropped off in a clearing in the woods, sounds muffled by a softly falling snow, and directed to a makeshift dirt-floored cabin, inside of which three micreros (bus drivers) were pouring hefty glogs of fanta into plastic cups balanced between their knees while toasting slices of bologna over a small indoor bonfire made of wooden pallets that gave off a tendrily black smoke, likely because they were damp, as were we all.

And you know what happened next? These men, who at the time were making less than minimum wage driving the busses, and knew from the soles of my shivering feet to the tippy top of my curly head that I didn’t belong, in this country, in this city, on this bus, at this garita (bus turnaround hut)? They offered me a toasted bologna sandwich and a cup of Fanta while I waited.

I politely declined and waited for my gallant busdriver, the chatty, sweet, patient-with-new-Spanish sandwich toaster to give me a lift back to my world. He kept me up front with him on an odd cushioned platform, like a strangely manicured pet, as we careened out of the mountains and into the city below, finally passing the mall at the point where I should have gotten on the bus, just an hour or so later.

Of course I eventually got home, and I eventually warmed up. I’d like to say that I also eventually conquered my fear of busses, and of taking busses in unknown places. But the truth is, this whole story came storming back through my head like a cyclone when I was on that bus (the C07) from la Reina to Vitacura the other night and my mouth went dry and my stomach went flippity.

But fear is like a clingy, nay-saying friend. Always with you, always trying to prevent you from doing stuff, and wrong, a whole lot of the time.