Another perspective on crime in São Paulo
Having never been robbed – at least in the stick-‘em-up sense – while reporting on a motor race, I felt a trifle left out by all the clamour and brouhaha surrounding this weekend’s Brazlian GP. On Saturday night Jenson Button was spared from a potentially unpleasant encounter with an armed gang by the vigilance and skill of his driver, although the same gang is believed to have held up a group of Sauber mechanics when they left the circuit some time later.
It’s a cliché to describe Brazil as a country of great contrasts, but like most clichés the description has earned its status by being true. São Paulo has a particularly grim reputation, and I vividly remember my first visit there. Like no other great metropolis on earth, with the possible exception of Los Angeles, São Paulo immediately impresses and imposes with its size and the relentless unpleasantness of its architecture as you approach it by car. As we bumped along the freeway in the back of an old Fiat taxi it just grew and grew. The traffic was absurd. Cyclists were riding against the flow in the tiny gap between the lane and the barrier of the central reservation. It was utterly chaotic.
If you believe everything you hear about São Paulo, you’d probably not leave the boot of your taxi. The reality is that it’s certainly grim in parts, but that the fear of crime grips the tourists more firmly than it does the locals. I had to attend a press event in a hotel about a mile up the road. Of course, I took a taxi. It took about an hour. At one point I peeked out from underneath my bulletproof camouflage blanket and saw someone cycling past with an iPod tucked into his belt and the distinctive white earbuds stuffed in his ears. He either had very good insurance or he wasn’t as paranoid about robbery as I was.
After the 2007 race, many of us were late finishing because of the ‘cool fuel’ nonsense. A year or two earlier, a car carrying Toyota personnel had been ambushed and fired upon on the way home. As I left the circuit with two colleagues from AUTOSPORT it dawned on us that we didn’t have transport. We would have to step outside the safety of the circuit gates and hail a taxi. At 11 o’clock on a Sunday night it was a long time coming. We stood, in the rain, three blokes with moderately valuable laptops, waiting for an armed mob to descend upon us at any moment. It didn’t happen.
Anecdotally, 2010 seems to have been a pretty bad year for crime at the Brazilian Grand Prix. Is it actually worse, or are we just being tense? Once, on a charity bike ride through Kenya with Eddie Jordan (amongst others) I was alone on the road when I encountered a man loitering with a rather large machete; I sized up the situation and realised that the road wasn’t wide enough for me to evade him if he was intent on doing me a mischief. Instead, I stuck to my trajectory and gave him a cheery greeting as I passed within a machete’s swing of his position. He just looked at me as if I was slightly peculiar.
Sometimes the fear of crime is as intrusive and repellent as the act itself.