Los Topes


2013-05-13 – In 1990, my fiancé (now my wife) Kit and I took a trip in the Yucatan. We rented a Volkswagen Beetle and drove from the coast to Chichen Itza to see the Mayan pyramids there. I got sick there and had to spend a couple of days stuck in a hotel that I remember is called the Dolores Alba. An Internet search tells me that hotel is still there.

One thing we noticed in our driving, that seemed odd at the time, was that the two-lane highways had occasional speed bumps. You had to slow down and, when you did, poor children ran out to beg from you. I don’t know if the speed bumps, which were labeled in Spanish “Los Topes” were intended to promote highway safety of if they were part of a strange welfare program.

I started to write a story about how my illness on that trip was a kind of speed bump in my vacation. I recently took a look at one of my notebooks from that time and noticed that the story was never finished.

Speed bumps were strange to us at the time. We had mostly seen them in parking lots in the US, but never on regular streets. That was soon to change. In the decades that have passed since, these bizarre devices have been installed all over Chicago. We have two in our block alone.

My first reaction when I saw these being installed was to wonder what they would be like after a few Chicago winters. Now I know. They are a miserable patchwork of pothole and bump. Near many of the speed bumps there are depressions in the street that seem in danger of becoming sink holes.

Night and day, you can hear cars bottom out as they go over them. They don’t really need to be going fast for this to happen. Our cars have been so shaken by these devices that pieces of our cars hang from the undercarriage and drag on the street.

Do these devices at least result in safer streets? I’m not sure. A quick Internet search turns up a lot of sites devoted to selling speed bumps, but nothing that I could find that would resemble a scientific study. If you find something, let me know.

But here is my personal observation. Cars on my street seem much more erratic as they drive through. The bumps are not always easily visible, so cars often must slam on the brakes when they realize that they are about to hit a bump. Then there are the goofballs who rev their cars for a fast acceleration once the speed bump is cleared, only to slam on the brakes when the next one is encountered. That kind of behavior doesn’t seem safe to me.

Look, I don’t want speeding in my neighborhood. We live across from a school and a park. There are lots of kids. And there are animals. I’m not worried about the skunks and squirrels, but there are pets. My stupid dog would run in front of every single car that drives by, if we let him. So I’m not in favor of speeding.

We need to slow down.

But I don’t think that speed bumps are the way.

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