After an extremely stressful weekend (Our cat Saffy was at the vet to have some teeth extracted; she’s fine, we’re exhausted) we decompressed by visiting Uniqlo in MOA. There’s no therapy like thin Merino wool sweaters at Php990. Feeling pleased with ourselves, we lugged our purchases to the taxi queue and jumped in the first cab.
The driver was courteous and genial—he outlined the route he intended to take, for our approval. As we drove out of MOA that Korean song came on the radio and he noted the popularity of dancing Gangnam-style.
Typical weeknight on Edsa
At the traffic light we noticed that the driver was eating. Not popping snacks in his mouth, but eating a meal with a spoon and fork. Ordinarily we’d worry about the driver taking his mind off the road but traffic was moving slowly and he seemed alert enough. Then that song by No Doubt started playing on the radio and he started singing along.
To recap: Our driver was driving, eating, and singing at the same time. As we had been de-stressed by shopping we didn’t mind at all. If you recall that song from the 90s it goes, “Don’t speak…dadadada…Don’t tell me cause it hurts.”
Cheerfully the driver sang, “Don’t speak…dadadada…Don’t tell me cause it’s hurt.” Suddenly we remembered an entry in our collection of eccentric old lady stories.
Some years ago, our friend and his sisters were spending the weekend with their aunt at her farm. His sisters wanted to get pedicures. “Tita,” they asked their aunt, “May nagma-manicure ho ba dito?”
“Ah oo,” said Tita, “si Cely. Andiyan siya…andiyan. Sa phonebooks ko.”
The girls looked in the notebook next to the telephone. They looked under “C” for “Cely”. Nothing. They looked under “M” for “manicure”. Nothing.
“Tita, wala ho dito,” they reported.
“Andiyan yan,” their Tita insisted. “Hanapin ninyo diyan sa phonesbook.”
They looked under “P” for “pedicure” and “parlor”. No such listings. They tried “S” for “salon”. Nothing. “B” for “beauty parlor”. Wala talaga.
“Sigurado akong nariyan sa ponebooks,” said Tita, who was instructing the maids to prepare lunch. “Ilabas niyo na yung srim (shrimps).”
After going through all the possible listings they found Cely’s number at last. She was listed under “K” for “kuko” (nails).
The taxi ride to Bonifacio Global City took less than ten minutes, but in that short span our cabbie managed to cram current events, corruption, religion, and thought police into his spiel.
“There should be a computer that monitors what people are thinking!” he declared while AM radio announcers discussed the search for a replacement for the late Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo. (We wondered if he’d seen Minority Report.) “So when a politician accepts a bribe, everyone will know about it, and he will be shamed.”
“If they are capable of shame,” we pointed out. “The corrupt seem pretty proud of themselves.”
“Then they should be assassinated!” the taxi driver said. “We finally get an honest official and he dies.”
“If only he’d taken the bus,” we mused.
“You know what happened?” He proceeded without waiting for an answer. “Robredo was a good man and devoutly religious so he had no fear. He put his life in his god’s hands and accepted his fate. He didn’t recognize danger, he thought he would be protected.” The taxi driver shook his head vehemently. “It’s bad people who worry about their safety. Because they have reason to! That’s why they’re always surrounded by security guards.”
In a snap the cabbie had solved the mystery of why the good die young and the bad live long.
“If they ask me to become President of the Philippines I’d say yes immediately,” he went on. “I would sign a contract. For six years everyone has to do exactly what I say. If at the end of those six years I haven’t fixed the Philippines, they should cut off my head!”
What a radical idea. Then he went on about how only a dictatorship would work in the Philippines because we are an insubordinate, hard-headed people who will break the rules if we can get away with it. We reached our destination before he could tell us how to establish a fascist state. He gave us the exact change, though, unlike many cabbies who claim to be nice.
This time the taxi driver wasn’t interested in chatting with us. He was listening to Relasyon, the very useful legal advice show on Radyo Singko hosted by Luchie Cruz Valdes and Mel Sta. Maria.
The first caller identified himself as a taxi driver. He was on the “boundary” system, he said, and he wanted to know how he could pay his taxes without documentation. “P****g ina mo!” the cabbie screamed at the radio. From the violence of his reaction we’re guessing he doesn’t pay taxes.
Next up was an old lady who was crying because she’d been swindled of her retirement money. This time the cabbie shook his head and chuckled. “Ang tanda-tanda mo na, nagpapaloko ka pa!” he chortled.
We paid him the exact amount on the meter, marveling at how lucky we were that our acquaintance with him lasted only ten minutes.
There have been too many references to Taxi Driver, so here’s a taxi scene from another movie. That’s Chris Cornell and Audioslave in the background.
Our column Emotional Weather Report appears every Sunday in the Philippine Star.
One Saturday afternoon a month ago I took a taxi outside the UP Shopping Center.
“Sa Makati po,” I told the driver.
“Do you have a UP ID?” he asked.
“No.” I mean I had one when I was a student, obviously, but I don’t have a current university ID.
“We’ll have to take Garcia Avenue then,” he said. He was a burly man who looked to be in his 50s. Do you remember Bomber Moran?
“But you went to UP,” he went on and I nodded. I regretted not having earbuds on as a conversation deterrent. Talking to cabbies is always instructive but there is the risk of arguments, yelling, and stuff that leads to cars fusing with lampposts.
“May I ask what you majored in?” (Our conversation was in Tagalog by the way, I’m just saving myself the translation work.) I said Literature.
“I’m here to consult with a professor friend of mine,” he announced. “I’m an inventor, you see.” I congratulated him, for I have a great admiration for inventors. “I’ve invented a process that reduces vehicular emissions.”
I said this was important work and that he should have his invention patented. “That’s not a problem,” he boomed, “I am a mechanical engineer. We’re working on the requirements.”
“Good luck,” I said, hoping this was the end of our chat because I wanted to listen to music. “Don’t get ripped off by evil corporations.”
“I don’t care about the money,” he declared, “I’m doing it for humanity.”
The theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey started playing in my head. “I knew someone who was helping inventors get patents,” he continued. “My friend had found a way to save fuel by using a mixture of gasoline and water. But not a hybrid engine.”
“That’s great,” I noted, “as long as the engine doesn’t explode.”
“No, he solved that problem,” the driver said. “It takes a long time to get the engine started though, about an hour.”
Wonderful for emergencies, said my thought balloon. He went into a long and detailed story about how that guy had actually swindled other inventors but his friend got his patent safely. “Karma,” he concluded.
“That was quick,” I said.
“Yes, karma strikes fast. I’m a cancer survivor, you know. My friend cured me. He taught me how to beat the cancer. I was working in Japan when I was diagnosed; I thought I was a goner. Resigned to my fate, I gave away all my possessions. That’s when my friend showed me the cure. Now I help others to overcome the illness.”
An inventor and a medical genius. Leonardo Da Vinci was my cabbie.
“Do you have bad eyesight?” he asked me. This did not require genius—I was wearing glasses.
“Nearsighted,” I said.
“Would you like laser surgery?”
“That’s what I thought until I had the surgery and now my vision is perfect,” the driver declared. “You mustn’t be afraid.”
“I’m not afraid, I love glasses,” I said. This confused him. “They’re part of my work,” I explained. “I work in…fashion.” Not exactly true but not entirely a falsehood.
“I kept sitting on my glasses,” the driver went on.
“I keep them on my face, not my ass,” I told him, obviously omitting the last part. Blast this traffic, I was late for my late lunch.
“I prayed to the lord to give me a girlfriend,” the driver went on. “I’m single, see, but I want to have ten children. I asked God for a beautiful girlfriend. A kind girlfriend.”
Obviously he wasn’t referring to me. “And he answered my prayers!” he cried, like a game show host unveiling a kitchen showcase. He took a framed photo from the dashboard and handed it to me.
“Don’t you think she’s pretty?” I nodded with all the enthusiasm I could muster.
“The other girl in the picture is her twin sister. I didn’t know she had a twin!”
“Good then, you’ll get your ten kids in no time.”
“We became close when she almost drowned during typhoon Sendong,” he recounted. Why do strangers feel compelled to tell me their life stories? It’s not as if I seem sympathetic. “She called me, crying for help. Her house was flooded, the water was rising. ‘Help me!’ she was screaming, then we got cut off. She drowned.”
An inventor, a medical genius and a protagonist in a tragic romance.
“Drowned?” I echoed.
“I didn’t think she’d survive. Lucky her mother found her. They didn’t have a good relationship, they were fighting all the time. But the experience brought them closer together. They are closer now than they’ve ever been.”
Not a tragic romance, good for him. “I’m getting out there, by the coffee shop,” I said.
“Don’t leave your smartphone in the cab, I’ve collected so many from my passengers!” he warned me, cheerfully.
The Boysen KNOxOUT Project: EDSA mural by Tapio Snellman, Aurora Underpass, Quezon City.
No glowing sunsets. No rustic nipa huts and grazing carabao. No flowers in full technicolor bloom or children splashing about in amazingly unpolluted rivers or women carrying baskets of fruit. Just the chaos, the clangor and the rush of the city we hate and love in equal parts. THIS is the Metro Manila we live in. It may not be beautiful enough for you, but to us it’s home.
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Good to know that you like the mural by Jose Tence Ruiz on the San Lorenzo Wall. Here’s a composite.