The Isuzu Gemini, for all its flaws, was the taxicab of a generation. This was the early 1990s, where air conditioners were supposed to release a visible cloud of vaporized antifreeze that smelled like car exhaust. The dashboard of the Gemini, which featured a whole lot of non-useful (there’s a difference between “useless” and “non-useful”) buttons, was way ahead of its time that you actually felt you were driving or riding the Enterprise. Before the days of Chi-Chi digital taxi meters, all taxi meters worked like water meters, only with the addition of a lever with a Chinese character on the big round circle.
You simply don’t get that in a Kia Pride or a Toyota Vios these days; back then, the only taxi worth riding was a Gemini that was painted yellow, and peferably a part of the “R & E” franchise. Yet what made the venerable Isuzu Gemini such an icon for a generation of commuters was the smell. If you were going to roll down the hand-crank for air, you have to breathe deep of the aroma that only a 1980s car on a 1990s taxi license can give.
On some taxis, the driver had one of these perforated cans of Going Steady on the dashboard, which pretty much made the car smell like a weird combination of alcantara leather, a tin can, Gilette shaving cream, and Dial bath soap. Yet for those who prefer to have their cars smell less nauseating, there were always those scented cardboard trees. While “Lemon” is still popular, it is the pine-scented Little Trees air freshener that has become the scent of a ride… at least for a generation.
I sometimes wonder if there’s a regulatory board of taxi names: I’ve seen “Lesbayan Taxi” (I won’t mind riding that) and “Piss-Pot Taxi” (I have issues riding bedpans, chamber pots, and arinola in general). I’m sure the “Katas ng Saudi” theme is all too common in vehicles, especially if OFWs worked their asses off far and away for their families and give tokens to heathen relatives they never heard of: Libby’s Vienna Sausage, Hormel Corned Beef, SPAM. It lends itself well to the katas metaphor: that you’re literally juiced out of the last miserable M&M out of the Balikbayan Box, then you have to show up in some pissant TV show where you get sapped of your dollars. Where everyone has to be from San Francisco or San Jose or Los Angeles or New York. It’s SanFo, not Frisco. You can cancel out San Jose del Monte, Angeles City, or New York, Cubao. It’s not funny, I know.
Most of my commutes these days involve taxi cabs, trains, and buses, so I kind of miss out on the old reliable jeepney. Say what you will about them wreaking havoc to the environment, but I’ve always held a fascination for them. The chrome and the burloloy outside doesn’t really matter, nor do the “God Knows HUDAS Not Pay” signages or the mudguards with religious iconography. When it comes to jeepneys, it’s almost always about headboards. I never really bothered comparing the Sarao and the Amante, or the Lippad and the Malagueña, but headboards almost always seemed to feature the names of the family members… of course, with the recommended and required random “H” placed somewhere. It may be artistic expression or borderline laziness, but the common feature will always be “God Bless Our Trip” at the rear, and a design factor that always involves brush-stroke outlines of pineapples.
The wealthier jeepney owners will always have an extra ace up their sleeves: the “Aircraft Console.” Coupled with a mirrored headliner, the Aircraft Console is this giant lumbering structure of plastic, panel board, and LED lights which make riding the jeepney uncomfortable. The Aircraft Console is basically a giant case for a radio and the occasional black-and-white TV set installed on the center console. With all those switches and lights (which don’t work), you could easily assume that you’re taking a ride on the X-Wing, while the rest of the jeepneys plying the route are TIE Fighters while you navigate the eskinita’s of Death Star. Be brave, young Jedi… we may not have the power of the Force, but the rosaries near the knit windshield accessory with them furry yarn balls should do the trick, along with the tiny statues of Our Lady of Manaoag propped up next to the Iron Maiden stickers.
Run for the hills, run for your life.
But there will always be them scented pine trees, I guess. Some, ten years old, and still inside the halfway-torn plastic case. I wonder if there’s still a scent left in them. Although I wonder if there’s enough synthetic smells in there for me to have a reminder, at the very least, of the little trees back home.