I usually don’t take the MRT whenever I go home from work. I’m usually not in a hurry to do anything, and I suppose the extra expense of taking a city bus is well worth it. For one, there’s a better chance for me to have a seat on the long commute from Ortigas Center to Commonwealth. For two, a window seat in the chaos of rush-hour traffic gives me a good, long look into a world without high-rise office buildings and the pretentiousness of office workers from “Ehrr-tee-gess.”
There’s also laziness; eight hours of sitting down, interrupted by a few cigarette breaks every now and then, tends to take away your ability to negotiate that flight of stairs that leads up to Shaw Boulevard station. Climbing it reminds me of when I was a kid at Lourdes Grotto, where I managed to knock myself out to a semi-conscious state because I sprinted halfway up the steep stairs leading to the statue of Mary.
I take the buses bound for SM Fairview. With my weak eyes and lack of coordination, it gets a bit tricky to board the right bus at exactly the right time. Drivers always seem to be in a hurry to load and unload passengers, especially at non-designated “informal” bus stops. A few times I end up boarding the wrong bus, bound either for Novaliches or for Monumento. At least, there’s always Trinoma to look forward to.
The bus itself is a world of paradoxes. You would think that in a time of fuel crisis and low wages, people would board the ordinary bus. Yet there’s a certain indignity in riding them, where you rub shoulders with sweaty men in undershirts who work harder than you do, yet get paid much less. The few extra pesos spent in an air-conditioned bus with on-board DVD is a small price to pay for a small comfort, even if you do have to stand up and cram out front at the aisle.
Any bus that plies the EDSA route will inevitably stop at Cubao. If Dante were alive, he would be aghast at the almost hellish world that lies beyond the paradise that is Gateway. The iron fences erected by the MMDA do little to discipline the crowd moving to board the buses from the entrance of Farmers’ Plaza, who push and shove to make the most of standing room. As if by some unknown sin, a worker at Cubao bound for Fairview is forced to pay dire penance, unless some unknown soul gives up his or her seat because he or she lives either at Timog or East Avenue.
It’s also in Cubao where the business of “ticket inspection” takes place. Some man or lady boards the bus for the sole purpose of tearing up bus tickets. I’ve been told that this is a “5-6” operation, although I think that it’s more of a way to prevent “1-2-3.” Whatever the numbers are, they’re written on a sheet of paper. God knows, in the form of this stern messenger with glasses, “Judas” not pay.
The conductors, inspectors, MMDA traffic people, and bus drivers are not the only people entitled to make a living off a bus at EDSA. From time to time, especially at the stop in front of Robinsons’ Galleria, there will be some vendors who distribute a small slip that tell you they’re handicapped working students who support their education selling macapuno or dried mangoes. Not having a sweet tooth, but irritatingly polite, I return the slip with the promise that I’ll buy a few treats if I can afford them, or if I’m looking for sugar. In both cases, I don’t anyway. My redeeming qualities as a human being are extremely limited.
The other important enterprises in EDSA rush hour traffic are bottled water and peanuts.
Paranoia sometimes gets the best of me when it comes to water; while the bottle looks mouth-wateringly chilled, I sometimes suspect that the bottles are filled and refilled with tap water. I have no problems drinking from a faucet; that is, provided that I know where I’m drinking water from. You kind of suspect something wrong when the bottle is sold to you at the ridiculously cheap price of ten pesos. You start to imagine (and in my case, hallucinate) about dysentery, cholera, or bad diarrhea at three in the morning.
The peanuts, I cannot resist; resistance is futile when you’re offered “mani,” in more ways than one. Fried garlicky salted peanuts remind me so much of “Manang Mani” back in UP Baguio, who would absolutely have no problem with my rather outlandish (yet appetizing) requests of bagoong alamang added to my purchases of turnips, green mangoes, and yes, peanuts. It takes skill, strength, and balls to board buses while you’re carrying a plastic bucket full of peanuts or cashew nuts. Lately, the loose associations of iterant bus-hopping vendors have taken to wearing numbered orange shirts, which remind you a lot of prison. You think that one of them have finished a sentence, but is a former inmate and charter member of Sige-Sige Sputnik.
The billboards are different. I’ve always had this preference for the driver-side window seats, where I could see a lot of those billboards featuring Anne Curtis. It’s completely remote (and it’s a head-slap moment), but I sometimes wish that I was a showbiz fanboy blogger just to get that one entry done featuring a dinner conversation with Anne… but I end up talking to politicians about politics. I’m not complaining, but come on! Although I do have to admit that there are some angles of Ruffa Gutierrez that are alluring, I still find Claudine Baretto more beautiful than Gretchen, and I still nitpick with my showbiz-aware friends about how Judy Ann Santos looks when she “dared to get wet.” Perhaps it’s very… “Ploning…” but that’s just me.
I sometimes wish I could learn a better lesson from all of this; that those profound and meaningful things happen to me on a daily basis every time I board a bus at rush hour. Well, not really, except that hour-long commutes, with all its quirks, teach you a lot about perspective. You view these stills of chaos, searching for those inspirational – perhaps even emo – things that you could blog about and preach as a lesson in life. But really, there’s nothing you learn there anyway that you don’t already know. Things like “fleeting moments,” “time is gold,” “transience,” “look both ways.”
These days, I don’t dwell in the emo, the profound, or the philosophy of bus riding pace Heidegger. There’s that all-important valuable lesson you get from riding buses: “Don’t jump off the bus while it’s moving, you crazy-ass motherfucker.”