Travel by way of taxi can be a nightmare in Manila, aside from the maddeningly high fares, so many times there have been incidents and numerous facebook notes where people would share these encounters of being robbed or worse by some fiendish drivers in the dead hours of the night they’d tell you how there was no way to open the door locks from the inside, or how the air conditioner would release some sort of gas that would make them fall asleep, but more often than not they’d just be lead around by the cab through the wrong route until they’d end up too far from any help.
The opposite is sometimes true, where every other night on the news you hear of a carnapping and the unlucky victim would be some generically poor and out of luck driver who just wanted to earn some honest money and would end up on the side of the road or in the trunk of his own car.
It’s stories like that that keeps my mother awake in the wee hours of the morning when I’m not home yet, and sending me a message every ten minutes that I’m not fiddling with my keys by the gate of the house to get in. She can’t sleep. Too busy hoping I won’t be getting stabbed, robbed, or shot among other things tonight, which is unlikely because my thesis has already claimed first dibs on my life anyway.
But in all the times that I had needed to take a cab home I’ve been lucky enough to pick the nicer ones, the ones where they’d just ask for a little extra tip because I’m hiring them to send me home to Novaliches, which they assume to be a region away, full of traffic, on a road full of holes brought to you by the MWSS. I just tell them that since my house is near TV5, they might get lucky and meet Willie Revillame on their way out of our subdivision. Maybe he can give them that extra five thousand for their trouble. But once we get there I cave in and hand them an extra hundred, for karma’s sake.
I ride in cabs when it’s too late because I think the view from the window is nicer there than on a bus or a jeep. There’s a tiny bit more time to look outside and see the blur of lamps and the shapes of buildings drawn by their lights, sometimes it even transforms the structures, and you begin to notice corners and contours you wouldn’t normally see in the daylight.
The posters and billboards look nicer as well, especially along the stripbars by Mindanao Ave going to Quirino Highway. For reasons other than boobs and overly made-up dancers, I just like staring at the bad photoshopping and font choices and even more terrible one-liners and taglines. It reminds me that I’m almost home.
These past few weeks I’ve been coming home from places that are sometimes unfamiliar or very far (or both) from my house or campus, wishing that just once I’d actually come home either happily wasted or happily laid but more often than not I’m just very tired and stressed out from some assignment that needed doing on the other side of freaking Manila. Not wanting to be adventurous with my way home, since the last time I took mass transport I led my friends right into a bus full of a hold-up gang (thankfully we were able to get out with our things), and last week a friend of mine almost got robbed on a jeep.
But mostly, I was just looking for a comfy back seat, an fm radio tuned in to Easy Rock, and some sleep.
I hailed his cab at around 12 in Eastwood, dressed in my severely wrinkled, sweat-dried long sleeve polo and slacks, and acne marred face, looking like I just got off my shift at some call center . His car wasn’t any better, with faded paint, noisy engine, and busted lights the thing almost looked like it was about to disintegrate once it would stop in front of me. I don’t know what made me even get in, I only started wondering when we were already in Katipunan and he started talking to me startling me out of looking towards Marikina and the dots of light that make up the houses that crowd it.
His hair was white and wiry with eyes that sunk deeply into his head, and his complexion burnt brown by the sun, the hands holding the steering wheel were thin and bony, abundant with veins. He stared intently at the road, and not at me while he asked in a raspy, cigarette ravaged voice,
“Where do you live boss?”
“Just drop me off near TV5, manong”
Spandau Ballet’s True drowns out the silence until we pull into C.P. Garcia , where out of my own curiosity I begin to ask how long he’s been a taxi driver. He tells me he just started recently, and I begin to wonder how long ago that was, and whether it was true considering how crappy the car was but then again the cab still hasn’t fallen apart, and the air conditioner was still strong.
“Hardly enough to pay for fixing this taxi, it’s hard to draw in passengers with a bad looking car. Pati pag nag-chicks ka, diba ser? Dapat swabe yung kotse”
Manong had a point, if it was anyone other than myself, he wouldn’t be getting paid later. He drove a jeep before this cab, he told me. He thought it might bring in more money, but being unfamiliar with most of the roads beyond his usual route from Lawton to Project 6, and not being told by passengers how to get back to familiar roads after they depart, he’d usually make less money at the end of the night than he did when he was driving a jeep. B reakfast was pandesal and cobra, lunch is carenderia and cobra, Dinner is turo-turo and cobra and Marlboro. The red ones I think.
Pretty soon we were riding through Mindanao Ave and passing Tandang Sora, between the bright signposts of McDonalds, Jolibee and Mang Inasal, past the Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation with its luminous neon green rosary-shaped lights decorating the outline of the church, we drive into a drag race between trike drivers from I think Don Jose street, the roar of the bikes rattling both of us from our inert zombie like states. I remember saying “Tanginang yan” in disbelief. It wasn’t often that I’d see these races happen but I never expected that we’d be riding in the middle of one. It didn’t last though.
Manong jokes, asking if I’d pay extra to see him beat both of the bikes racing. I did my best The Rock impression and just raised an eyebrow at him, he just told me that he didn’t have enough gas for it anyway as he smiled. In my mind though, part of me just thought ‘sayang’. I wondered out loud how much the trike drivers bet each other, as we entered Quirino Highway.
There wasn’t much said as we were passing Holycross, and I told him to turn left at the next corner. We pulled into the two-lane street leading to the subdivision where I lived, passing the small born-again church and the empty, tall grass laden lots, past the half-open, hardly lit gate and the half-asleep guards, boxy townhouses and pulled right up to the only house with the lights still on by the outside gate.
The cab was still intact as I handed the taxi fare with the extra hundred slipped in, I told him to keep the change, which I assume made his night. he had asked me where he’d have to drive to get back to Quirino Highway, and I told him through the same way he got in.
In a minute or so he was gone, driving back into traffic, as I stood outside our gate, fiddling with the house keys, hoping that my mother had already drifted off to sleep. It was, after all, already two in the morning.