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By Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift (ed.)

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The rubbish has to be cleared up, and the plastic chairs, chained up for the night, laid out again. But trade resumes after only a few hours. Rebuilding the beach each day. What is less obvious is that the beach is artificial. Like many Rio beaches it is a major piece of civil engineering. Thirty years ago, there was a two-lane road and not the six-lane highway along the sea front. The beach, too, was much narrower. Just a little strip of sand, nothing very special. Children came down with old tyres to play in the water.

It remains to be seen whether the tough market discipline necessary to avert crisis will be imposed. The fields shall give forth plenty, a designer coffee and cigarette and every exit shall bloom a service station, a stay-up-all-nite luncheonette. The current economic upheaval has been particularly felt in Mexico where the peso hit a new low. This has spawned renewed fears that the drop in joblessness and a strong US dollar will increase illegal immigration along the border. As a response, the USA has added to surveillance at critical highway check-points.

Their encounters are familiar, untroubled by class difference but marked by a shared experience of high fares and infrequent serVICes. Although bus-shelter encounters are fleeting, they do bring people together. They have become a residual feature of public life in the western city, however. Close encounters with people of a different racial identity or of a different class in the spaces of a collective transport system can be avoided by all but the poorest, children and the elderly. The protective capsule of the car keeps others at a distance.

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