heeding the call of booty in istanbul

words & images alia kiran

Istanbul has recently been titled the most congested city in the world by the Traffic Index, written and compiled by GPS maker TomTom, which ranked a total of 146 cities around the globe. As a relatively new immigrée to this city of traffic jams, travel time has taken a bit getting used to. In comparison to “quaint” San Diego, where I religiously avoided roads anywhere between the hours of 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., I quickly realized that I do not really have that option in the significantly more hectic Istanbul.

That being said, there are some assumptions that anyone, even an Istanbulite, might make: The the journey from point A (Bakırköy, for those looking to expand their knowledge of Istanbul neighborhoods) to point B (Şişli, or if you’re one of those people who insists of geographical accuracy, Feriköy- Bomonti) would take less time at a 10:30 p.m. on a Tuesday than say, a journey undertaken at 8 p.m. from an arguably farther point C (Bağcılar, the outskirts of Istanbul) to point B.

Wrong. Dead wrong.

Needless to say, this traffic can definitely put a kink into of those foolishly conceived plans to leave the comfort of your home at 10:30 p.m. Granted, you did think the usually 45-minute ride would take somewhere around 30 minutes (Okay, so maybe in your head you shortened it to 20 minutes because there may or may not be a cute boy at the end of this rainbow). What could go wrong? you say, as you pack a ridiculously heavy backpack (when in doubt, over pack, always).

Well, in Istanbul (or anywhere else where Murphy’s law reigns with an iron fist), everything.
Let this serve as a sort of guide for those who undertake the late night quest for booty in the city of Istanbul.

First, be prepared for some sort of strange hold-up on a main road, as you are just leaving your neighborhood. Okay, totally normal for a one lane street, you say. Your driver will then throw another obstacle in the way as you realize that this dolmüş (minibus) actually takes a route that deviates from the daytime route. It’s going to stop an innumerable times as it drives through at least five more neighborhoods. In addition to this realization, the dolmüş driver, who usually drives at breakneck speeds, calmly and carefully drives at the speed limit, slowing down at each approaching possibility of a customer.

Another dolmüş from your point of origin whizzes by your dolmüş. You glance sideways at your driver who is chatting to his friend, eyes casually on the road. You hope that your eyes have some sort of secret burning power. Alas, they don’t, as the driver continues with his oh-so-interesting story about some girl that he met. You attempt to mute your annoyance by upping the volume on your music.

At this point, at least you’ve entered the city walls, so you’re almost half way there. You can’t help but look again to see if he’s still talking and, of course, he is. You’re about to say some strong words, but then you remember the small fact that you don’t really know how to swear properly at people yet. You curse your lack of Turkish skills inwardly as the driver continues on his leisurely evening. You wonder why you didn’t think about taking a normal bus. A wave of brief sleepiness hits your eyes. You hope this is all some sort of bad joke, as he continues driving as slow as your half-blind mother driving at night without her glasses.

Appropriately, the song “Regret” by St. Vincent comes on, which, in a strange way, prompts you to realize that part of the fun in this chaotic city is finding the quiet moments of relaxation nestled in between periods of high stress. So you sit back and finally begin to enjoy the ride, romantically seeing it as something Hemingway would have done in Paris, traveling to visit a lady friend in the depths of Montmartre from his home in St. Germaine.

At this point, you’ve made it half of the way to Taksim. Now for the city bus part. Or you could just walk, but you’ve got a heavy backpack (which of course, you over packed in anticipation for tomorrow's work day). As the thought crosses your mind, a bus rolls up to your stop. You read its side eagerly to see if it goes to your destination, and another bus slowly rolls up ahead of it.

Which one do you take? The one in front, which may arguably get there first, because of its place in line? The final destination of the bus is in the right direction, but does it stop where you need to go? You go with your gut and lunge forward, and breathe a sigh of relief as you see your stop on the small print written on the bus' side sign. You sit and wait for the other bus passengers to board. At this point, you have to remind yourself again to look outside and actually see why you’ve decided to take this bus instead of the other one, and remind yourself why you even left in the first place when you could have stayed in your warm house, sleeping already...But never mind that, it’s much too late to entertain these thoughts at this stage, when you’ve already trekked across Istanbul because a cute boy offered to watch “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” with you.

As you’re lost in your reverie, you jerk awake as you see your bus stop whiz by the window. Clearly you didn’t push the DURAK (STOP) button fast enough. Your anguish increases as the bus appears as though its forgotten about the next stop, and drops you off at what seems like at least a mile away from your intended stop. But as you pass a beautiful mosque, lit up by the harsh yellow streetlights, you remember that it's these annoying experiences that make up your definition of any city. You look up and thank that benevolent force in the universe for placing you in this magical place.

You arrive at your final destination, the top floor of a four flight walk up, a little sweaty, winded and definitely happy that you decided to make the trek, though maybe not just for the booty.

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