Taxing taxi rides.

Anj, a friend of mine, frequently tweets about the often amusing experiences she has with Metro Manila cab drivers. A recent set of tweets was about a driver who kept on speaking in English for the first few minutes of the cab ride because the driver thought she does not speak Tagalog.

Bubblegummy

I don’t mind not having heartwarming cab stories of my own, despite being a frequent cab passenger myself. I’ll be content with a quiet driver taking me from point A to point B with no to minimal fuss. I will even tolerate listening to Love Radio and Papa Jack’s radio show. But a peaceful cab ride doesn’t always gravitate towards me.

Last week, I was already running late for work so hailed a cab at the intersection where I usually take an FX shuttle for Ortigas. That intersection usually has a bum who hails cabs for passengers; the “taga-para” then asks for some money from the cab driver for “giving” them a passenger. It’s an informal arrangement in many places in Manila, and a way from many otherwise-jobless people earn some money. Do I sound condescending? Because I am.

Philcoa street theater.

I normally dislike this arrangement because I am perfectly capable of hailing a cab myself. It doesn’t really add much efficiency in how passengers board a cab. Sometimes, the presence of multiple “taga-para” in an area even adds more chaos to the already chaotic Manila commuting experience. And most of them do not even hail cabs; they will just approach the driver to collect their “fees”. Still, I tolerate them, most of the time.

The “taga-para” and I saw the cab at the same time. I already hailed the cab when the “taga-para” also started hailing the cab for me. When the cab driver stopped; the “taga-para” tried to open the cab’s door like a valet to let me in. I didn’t let him and climbed into the cab myself.

The “taga-para” approached the driver to collect money, but the driver refused. The “taga-para” then hit his fist against the cab’s body, causing the cab driver to go out in a temper and shouted at the other man. It quickly devolved into a pissing contest, the driver threatening the other guy with bodily harm if only he didn’t have a passenger. Oh great, so I was robbing him of the satisfaction of hitting someone.

While the two men were puffing their skinny chests at each other, the traffic light changed color and I tried to call the driver back and drive. Still stoke, he didn’t hear me and got back in just after the light changed to red again.

Now it was my turn to get angry.

“Bakit mo kasi inaway?” I shouted at him. “Tinatawag kita, hindi ka nakikinig. Late na ko dahil sa’yo.”

The driver went back in, shrugged, and said I didn’t tell him I was in a hurry. It infuriated me further but I did not speak much during the rest of the ride to Ortigas.

The night before that was worse.

C5 corner Kalayaan.

It started benignly enough: The ride was uneventful until we reached the Kalayaan-JP Rizal Extension intersection where we should have made a left to C5. As soon as the light changed, the cab suddenly surged forward instead of turning.

“Saan ka pupunta?” I asked the driver incredulously. “Dapat sa C5 tayo dumaan.” But we couldn’t make a u-turn anymore because of the build-up in the opposite lanes stretches several streets and will delay us further.

The driver explained that traffic was heavy in C5 and he planned to go through EDSA. In my experience, there is absolutely no reason why EDSA would be preferrable to C5 when going to Ortigas. The route is much longer and the traffic is almost always heavier. I was pissed and I made sure the driver knew it.

I shouldn’t have trusted a cab named “Saddam”.

When we approached Shaw Boulevard, the driver attempted another delaying maneouver: he tried to swing to the Shaw underpass, but I caught him in time.

“Bakit mo idadaan d’yan?” I shouted. “Ikanan mo!”

I watched him closely as we entered Greenfield and went for San Miguel Avenue. The sneaky bastard is tried to get me through a longer route.

When we finally reached Emerald Avenue, he messed our route yet a final time by missing the u-turn slot so we can switch to the opposite lanes. This, despite my instructions.

I immediately told him to stop, paid my fare, got out, and started walking to my building. A pair of Koreans hailed the cab and wanted to get in. I half-thought of warning them not to take that cab, but decided not to. I was already several minutes late, and counting.

On speed.

The cab driver seemed a little nervous, a little on the edge. Normally, I enjoy speedy cars but the way he swerved around other vehicles in moderately heavy traffic made me pull the safety belt and lock myself into the seat.

He was bragging how his car might be old, but it’s used to passengers telling him to speed up because they are running late.

“I’m already late as it it,” I told him. “I don’t really care about getting there quickly anymore.”

He was a chatty person. I was in a chatty mood so I didn’t mind it. He told of frequent passengers, one of which also worked in a BPO. He said BPO workers eventually grow skinny from working at nights.

I told him, not really. Many BPO workers gain more weight. Eating can sometimes be a way of dealing with the lack of sleep. I know this from experience.

For one thing or another, our conversation ended up on taking meth. Maybe it was the talk of how to lose weight and him saying that he used to be heavier. He lost weight when he started using meth to keep himself awake so he can drive for more hours.

“You earn little outside the ‘boundary’,” he said. “So in this job, you sacrifice sleep.”

Dusk, Bonifacio Global City

My view on recreational drug use has softened as I grew older. I’m fine with weed, but I wouldn’t personally try harder stuff. I know people who can handle their drugs; I know people who couldn’t. It’s like people and alcohol, which, when you think about it, is just another recreational drug.

Still, I was not sure if I was comfortable with being driven by someone who seemed to have admitted that he’s on meth. The driver joked maybe I should give meth a try.

“People have different trips,” he expounded, “some are in it for increased libido, some crave for food, some look for trouble. I only do it when I’m working, otherwise I don’t.”

He was proud of being able to keep a family and raise his kids, unlike other cab drivers who had left their spouses and hooked up with other partners, presumably because of meth use.

I was relieved to finally reach my destination and get out of the cab. I added a little extra to the cab fair because he took me away from the usual route I take, which had unusually heavy traffic that night.

For a moment, I thought about telling him to be careful in choosing to whom he will be confiding with about his meth use, but the moment passed and I didn’t. I was already an hour late.

If I wasn’t running late, I would have paid more attention to the cab driver’s story.

“What a waste,” he confided a minute after I got in. “A woman asked me if he could bring her to Pasay.” The driver refused; he was nearly done with his shift and was about to head back to Cubao.

And it was a beautiful woman, he said, still reliving the conversation. The girl was young and a little round. While we were hurtling along EDSA, he gestured how her buttocks jiggled when she walked.

The driver, on the other hand, was old and tired-looking. He looked like the type who’d go drinking all night when not driving, and was the rowdiest drunk guy when he had downed a few bottles.

“And she fluttered her eyes at me,” he confided to me. “As if that kind of flirting would change my mind!”

Just about that time, the cab radio started playing “Bakit” by Imelda Papin, with it’s familiar chorus: “Kung liligaya ka sa piling ng iba?” The song sounded very apt for that man.

“You weren’t born yet when that song came out,” he told me, obviously assuming I was younger than my actual age. “They used to play that in the provinces. People would dance to this song, wearing flared pants.” These were the stories I heard from the mother, while growing up.

I wanted to humor the driver and tell him I still wear flared pants, but I was in a hurry and I’m still tired from the trip back from Baguio to Manila that afternoon.