You know how, in the Philippines, when a small enterprise becomes successful, everyone rushes to get into that line of business? It happened with lechong manok, shawarma, pearl drinks, milk tea. All the neighbors dreamed of being hot pan de sal magnates when I was a kid. Now I think it is happening with Uber.
Uber is the ride-sharing app that puts car owners together with people in need of transport. Essentially it’s a taxi service minus the franchise and the aggravation of haggling with taxi drivers. (Taxi apps actually legitimize the “kontrata” system—passengers offer the drivers tips even before they’ve entered the taxi. It’s a bidding war, and the result is to reward asshole behavior.)
Seen in traffic on EDSA, Guadalupe, Makati: Pay toilet rates “wee-wee 3 pesos, poo-poo 5 pesos”. Is the user required to announce whether he intends to do number one or number two, or does someone do a spot check afterwards?
One advantage of riding taxis is that I get stories I can repeat in my column. Like the one about the driver who was reading a warrant of arrest for murder, which I hope he had not personally committed. I have had some memorable conversations with cabbies; practically the only thing we have not discussed is the Hardy-Ramanujan taxi number (1729), and when that comes up I know it is a sign that I should start a taxi company.
In recent years I’ve had only two arguments with drivers. The first driver checked the route with me every 30 seconds, and when I said, “I don’t know, you’re the driver,” flew into a rage and cried, “Kailangan mo bang mag-Inglis?” The other was a cranky old person who said we could not go straight on Legaspi Street towards Greenbelt, and when I pointed out that we could, launched into a stream of invective about women being possessed by the devil. Which made me furious, but I was not as proficient at cussing in Tagalog as he was, so I just tossed the exact fare on the front seat and said, “Mamamatay ka.” I had meant to say “Mamatay ka”—drop dead—but in my rage repeated a syllable, so it came out as “You will die.” Which is a statement of fact: everybody dies, if not now then eventually, but the crabby cabbie interpreted it as a threat and started screaming out the window as I walked off, thus increasing his chances of having an aneurysm and proving me psychic.
So I’m in a taxi on a sweltering Tuesday afternoon, crawling through
the traffic on McKinley Road, and we stop at a red light. The driver
opens the glove compartment and takes out a sheaf of papers. I don’t
mean to look but I can read the print clearly over his shoulder. I
wish I hadn’t looked because it’s a document issued by a Regional
Trial Court. A warrant of arrest.
Our real answers to the “Purpose of travel” item in the visa application form
1. Amok prevention. We love living here, but this city keeps pushing and pushing and pushing us and if we do not take a break we will snap. Take this morning. Please. In sane traffic, it would take us no more than ten minutes to get to the embassy for our appointment. This morning it took us an hour and a half, and the only reason the taxi driver agreed to drive us was because we bribed him. (Yeah there are taxi apps. Same principle: They’ll drive you if you’re willing to pay more. And the “kontrata” system is now legitimized as “tips”. In effect we are incentivizing asshole behavior, but people just want to get home safely and with the least aggravation.)
2. Sanity maintenance. We are very, very, very, very, very tired. We haven’t had a proper vacation in years. All our trips have been work assignments. In fact the last real vacation we had—”real” meaning we could do whatever we wanted and we didn’t have to say nice things about the trip sponsor or shut up when something went wrong—was eight years ago, in the same place.
3. Perspective. We love our country when we’re somewhere else and can think about it objectively.
4. The horror of sameness. We need to feel like an alien in an alien land. It makes us think better. Here we only feel like a freak. A bored, enervated freak.
5. The comfort of being in a place where people read books on the train—good books—and cafes give prizes to the best novels written on the premises.
At a media launch yesterday the topic at our table was the Ipit Taxi Gang. We heard of at least two colleagues who had encountered these muggers who prey on taxi riders. Crime is terrifying to think about, but it is ten times more terrifying when it happens to people who know people you know. It moves out of the realm of the abstract—stuff that happens to other people—and becomes a real threat.
Our friend was particularly irritated at the police advising people to guard against the Ipit Taxi Gang by checking the child locks before entering a taxi (You roll down the window and see if you can open the door from outside). Yeah, shift the onus of safety (i.e. not getting mugged) onto the passengers. In the first place, does anyone have time to do that? By the time you’ve rolled down the window, the taxi will have driven away. Usually we’re just so glad to find an available taxi that we’ll take it, even if it’s dilapidated and smelly.
In this video, Atom Araullo shows you what to do in case the Ipit Taxi Gang strikes.
Okay, but you’ll probably need Atom’s muscles to do that right. Some may even be too distracted by the T-shirt to remember those tips.
It might help to sit directly behind the driver, and then make a phone call to a friend giving the plate number and name of the taxi company. This way the driver knows that someone knows you’re in the vehicle.