Friday, August 5, 2011

The Road Rules!

A lot can happen in a jeepney ride home.

So I decided to drop the dramatic words and start using plain, matter-of-fact sentences instead. And what better topic to talk about than the adventure one can only experience in a 30-minute commute from workplace to home.

Naturally, for an 8-hour job, signing out was one of the best parts of the day. It’s just like a school kid’s recess or school bell signifying the end of another day and the start of the rest of play. For me, the start of the end of the day would mean riding a jeepney home. Now, there are two things to consider when you decide to ride a jeep to where I live. First is: are you willing to walk a few blocks more before you actually get home? One jeep route lets you walk a shorter distance home than the other so it’s actually a matter of your perseverance and diligence that would take you home. And second, you should take note that one route’s driver is sort of a stalker/scarily-friendly and you’ve made a stupidly huge mistake of befriending him. Although he does let you ride for free, you also get to have your conscience eating you because you gave him the wrong cell phone number when he asked for yours. Therefore, it takes one good decision for me to get into a jeepney and ride off into the sunset.

Having gone through a minor brain battle before finally settling into the jeepney, one must realize that the streets are a dangerous place for anyone. There are, of course, reckless drivers, scary perverts and silent killers, all of which disguise themselves as charming, charismatic and self-absorbed strangers. There are also natural disasters such as realizing that you didn’t bring your umbrella and nature decided to convert the streets into a swimming pool. Yes, casualties such as shoes and school papers are mourned during these times of crises. But more noteworthy are those dangers that pose much greater threat on one’s life: no fare. In a world where money can take you (almost) everywhere, having to hear the kid conductor of the jeep tell you that you didn’t pay the required fare is kind of undignifying. 

So off we go into the land of twists and turns, out into the road most often trafficked and never out of smoke belchers. Inside the vehicle, one can think up lots of entertaining and sometimes annoying facts about other people. Like the one you happen to sit right next to who occupies two seating spaces apparently because of the inability to sit perpendicular to the seats. Or you notice the other person sitting on the far corner of the jeep whose head has been falling down ever since the start of the journey. And maybe you’ve been with a passenger who unconsciously talks about Enpafro to her friend on her cell phone without any hesitation on highlighting the milk’s brand—it’s “EN-PA-FRO”. It is also a great opportunity to accidentally eavesdrop on lovers having a minor debate on why forwarding love quotes to other friends of the opposite sex is not a morally sound deed. On the other hand, having to spend the next 30 minutes of your life sitting beside two species of the human race starting to become one would be one of those “stop the jeep, I want to get off” moments. Nevertheless, if you pay very careful attention, you will actually learn something from your co-passengers—sooner or later.

Moving on, a jeepney ride isn’t an adventure without antagonists. In one ride home, for example, one can witness two fights from two different groups of people. The first could be from kid conductors who bravely (or maybe senselessly) picks a fight with a rugby boy on the streets who seemingly was alone at the time but turns out to have three other bodyguards helping him throw rocks at the conductors. Having no professional training in pitching, only one out of four stones were able to hit the target. The rest of the stones decided to lay their vengeance on the innocent humans who happen to be sitting right next to the target. It would have been a much more exciting event had the policeman, sitting on his motorcycle looking cool and alert, witnessed such brawl and apprehended the two parties. Sadly, the two fighting groups have already watched too much television dramas to know how to act as if nothing happened when in front of the authorities.

Well, so much for the injured passengers. Sorry to say, insurance companies don’t pay for accidents like getting hit by a rock and bruising your ankle when riding a jeep. Someone must really take a look at that case.

The adventure isn’t over yet. The moment you think that your vehicle has finally outran the rugby boys here comes another, much deadlier rival: a different route’s jeepney driver. Under normal circumstances, drivers of other routes should be courteous and less selfish in road space and passenger attention. In this case however, when one vehicle decides to overtake another without saying ‘please’ or ‘excuse me’, steam tend to rise out from each driver’s head and harsh words from their mouth. The road is no-man’s land yet the threat of one jeep attempting to conquer and rule one lane brings out the barbarian in a person. Ergo, passengers find themselves inside a race car instead of a public utility vehicle. Play in-flight safety audio: Hold on to your purses, bags and children. Please also hold on to the handle bars installed on the ceiling of this vehicle or the handle bars on the sides. Sit properly and try to maintain balance. If the vehicle goes into a sharp turn, please remain seated and do your best to keep your butt firmly attached to the plastic seat decorated with Hello Kitty and Tweety towels. In case of emergency, take note of the emergency exits located in every window of this vehicle. Emergency lights will illuminate the way to these exits in the form of headlights, flashlights, traffic lights and even cell phone lights. If in case the driver has lost all control of the vehicle, do not panic. We will gladly reimburse your fares. Thank you for choosing this vehicle’s route and driver. Have a safe trip. End of voice over.

Racing from point A to point B with a driver who has been uttering profanities in quick-time is kind of a nerve-wracking experience. Much more if the driver suddenly pulls over and asks one of his conductors to take his place as he runs out of the vehicle and into a dark and secluded alley, either to hide or to get some sort of weapon, in which case one would shudder at the conclusion these words would suggest. 

Off we go again, passengers pleading for the new driver to speed up and leave the soon-to-be crime scene. Of what ending the two drivers will meet, one can only hope for the best.

In a country where it is seldom to see streets unpopulated with homeless people, there is a crime each person commits every day. These criminals are more than any jail or maximum security prison can contain. They are so great in number that even the authorities have decided to let it slide. This crime is often committed without anyone ever intending to. It is the crime of impassivity due to familiarity. We can also call it apathy although the better term would be overcontentment. It is such great an offense that too few have been strong enough to break out of its norm. 

Why is it such a misdeed to be content and apathetic to these street fellows? Why compare myself with them when I know that I’ve done my part in the race to survive and I’ve done it well? Why in the world would settling on the fact that these people will always just live on the streets be so horrendous that anyone should call me a criminal?

Here’s probably a view from outside the vehicle: Why are you people so afraid of us? Why do we disgust you with our smell, with our way of life when this was all we’ve ever known? Why would you rich, comfortable and spoiled men and women be so selfish and unforgiving when you of all people have the means to help us?

To supplement this train of thought, if helping other people who cannot help themselves was good enough to make other people saint-like, why don’t a lot of people do it? Mother Teresa became well known because she decided to stop passing by street people and actually stop by them to help. Bob Pierce decided he didn’t want children to die of starvation and started World Vision. People pop up in certain places, deciding that the streets were not a place to live and then we honor them. So why do we admire these people and yet not become like them?

Drama aside, it is disheartening that we pass homeless people every day and not even say a prayer for them. As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. In this case, we’ve grown so used to the sights, sounds and scents of the homeless that we blur our visions, deafen our hearing and pinch our noses to the call of what should be another great man or woman we will probably never get to hear of.

Capitalizing on this moment, it is a wonder how pilots decide to become jeepney drivers after years of learning how to fly. Do not wonder if you are on a jeepney and you feel your hair whipping the face of the person behind you while tree after building after car pass you by in a blur. That only means that you are riding on a jeep with a pilot for a driver. The benefit of being with this driver: earlier estimated time of arrival to your destination. It is, however, suggested that one must take precautionary measures when inside a pilot-driver’s vehicle—like taking bonamine or anti-biyahilo tablets. One would also be advised to pray as these types of drivers will imitate the flight of a swallow or a puffin, swerving in and out of lanes and other cars. It’s like you’re in a remote control car with a 5-year old boy still learning how to control the steering. Good thing that these pilot-drivers do not apply bump car techniques in overtaking.

This brings us to the traffic light sensory topic wherein one must be very observant as to which vehicle is holding the sensor for the traffic lights to switch. When commuting during day time, take note of the way jeepneys inch their way into the middle of the intersection up to such point when their nose reaches the middle part then the light turns green. You will soon enough notice that the first car to reach midsection is the car bringing the sensor to turn the light green. This is, of course, a false observation and should not in any way, reason, or circumstance be taught to children.

Listen well to the conductors. I call them ‘barkers’ most of the time because I feel that conductors only belong in front of an orchestra or choir. Another reason I call them barkers is because of their ability to chain the names of places in their route in one breath. “Cogon-Divisoria-Carmen-Patag-Campo!” Try screaming that in the open 3 times in one breath and maybe the drivers would give you a chance and hire you. Someone once told me that one of the greatest experiences he had would be getting out of the mall and into a jeepney. Why? Because the moment he steps out of the mall or any building for that matter, a group of kids and older people start calling out to him as if he’s an actor and they beckon him to come ride with them. “I feel like I’m a celebrity,” my friend smilingly tells me. I’m sure we all do some times.

Right when you think you’re about to get off, your driver decides to take your adventure a little longer. How does he do this? Two things: one, he alleys and two, he chooses a congested road to rest his feet for a while. The first gives us an idea that the driver is hard working and patient. He is willing to wait for passengers to come into his vehicle and he is willing to sacrifice other passengers’ time to do this. More often than not, the passengers are the ones who are impatient and one by one they step off the jeepney into another.

A few more meters to go and if you’re lucky enough, you might find yourself in the middle of the road, on a jeepney that wouldn’t start. It happens. Not often enough but things like that do happen. You and your comrades sit tight and wait, hoping that soon the jeep will be back to life and go on just so far as to where you plan to go. But after a few minutes and a lot of honks from other cars that the jeep unceremoniously blocked, all of you decide to walk the rest of the way home.

If that’s not the case, then congratulations!

Now we are almost at the end of our journey, one must never forget where you plan to get off. There is a force that we must all take into consideration and that force is called inertia. Most people neglect this force so often that they blame the drivers for not stopping the jeep where they’re supposed to get off. Imagine life without inertia. Imagine asking the driver to stop and then he just stops. It’s like a punctuation mark right where you don’t expect it. Like a movie ending as if in the middle of the whole plot. No climax. No follow through—just an end sign. In this generation’s lingo, it’s called boring. Inertia actually makes life a lot more colorful. It’s because of inertia that you get a reason to ‘accidentally’ lean on your crush during field trips. It’s because of inertia that you wake up when the car stops, although most of the time you wake up because you hit your head on the window. And inertia actually keeps us safe from vehicles following us who do not have the sense to watch where they’re going. Taking inertia into account when choosing the right time to stop the jeep is very important.

And that’s where we end our trip. I hope you enjoyed the little tour and remember: buckle up!

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