Lessons from a Chauffeured Ride

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It was a weird sort of feeling to have someone open up the door of the car for you, and close it right after you settle in. Somehow I’ve been used to the way things were for the commuting masa: to shove and elbow your way into the MRT, or keeping a reasonable distance between noggin and ass while boarding a jeepney, or having literally half a seat inside an FX, bus, or a loaded tricycle. This “family driver” business was more comfortable, I think: more relaxed, less stressful. I could probably get used to it.

We didn’t have a family driver: at an early age, my parents taught us kids to ride the jeepney, to be familiar with routes, and keep our hands inside the vehicle. When I moved to Manila, the MRT was an alien idea to me, until I learned to stay behind the yellow line, to shove my way to the middle of the coach, and to hold on to the bars and handles while the train is in motion (maraming salamat po).

Then again, few observations on life can be made while inside a packed jeepney. The “service ride,” however, made me think about it.

What with all the noise all over the place. Barkers and horns and engine sounds aside, one really can’t ruminate on life lessons when the speakers of the patok jeep blare out hip-hop dance remixes of The Eagles: “When we’re hungry [tgsh tgsh] love will keep us ali-a-ah-ah-ive [THIS IS THE REMIX].”

I look up, and see the well-conditioned leather of the Fortuner’s headliner. It’s a far cry from the usual headliners of the Saraos and Amantes and Lippads of the road: particle boards painted over with spirals and pineapples and the names of “Jhun-Jhun” and “Babygirl,” “God Bless Our Ride,” and sometimes these giant “Airport Consoles” that are nothing more than holders for LED lights that blink and glow to the tune of Guns N’ Roses and Bon Jovi, all on cassette.

There were aircraft magazines and newspapers on the SUV, but none of the racy tabloids that contained serials of erotica like “Kristille: Ang Babaeng Sanga-Sanga Ang Kuntil” (I’ll let you figure that out) or libidinal (read: malibog) advice peddled by “Kuya Jer” on today’s issue of Hataw. All this, with small images of the Holy Mother glued on to the dashboard and an Our Lady of Manaoag sticker plastered on the windshield, with slogans like “Ang Sutsot ay sa Aso, Ang Para ay sa Tao” to “Sumigaw ng Darna Pagbaba.”

No, none of this, except for a uniformed driver with his clean uniform, smelling of Prescripto imitations that pierce the otherwise overwhelming scent of My Shaldan Cool Fresh Lemon. None of the sequined knitted banderitas out front.

No, I didn’t feel a connection with the well-off. It felt a little sheltered plying the road, what with European music humming by the speakers of the SUV, saved from the earthly (or maybe “down-to-earth” is the right phrase) turns of phrase of Baby Kupal or something. The little urchins boarded the jeepneys to wipe feet with a damp, soot-covered rag for alms, and knocked on windows asking for a bit of change. It makes me wonder, though, about girls trying to demurely ride a jeepney while wearing hapit skirts, and if it’s really automatic for men to give their balls as much space at the expense of the dude sitting closest to the driver.

The world definitely didn’t seem any greener from where I was sitting. Somehow I hoped the revelations and epiphanies would barrel through me like buses and jeeps speeding along Commonwealth, but it ended up just like any other rush-hour day on between Guadalupe and Boni. Still, with no connections, stagnated, mundane, meaningless. That was until the driver opened the door for me, and chuckled mildly as, by reflex, I rummaged around my pockets for loose change or small bills.

Seemingly interesting guy, too.  Probably drove a jeepney once.

But she rode a UP-Katipunan jeep, I think. Still, it ain’t all that bad.

I’m pretty sure that Nicole learned a lot of lessons from her jeepney ride; I certainly didn’t when I took a ride out of my usual commute. Five years ago, I would have exploded and ranted at the prospects of kids too sheltered by parents who can’t let their offspring go out and experience the world, or even at young people who are so clueless and naive to the point of failing at life’s essentials, unintentionally coming off as condescending to the lot of us who ride jeepneys.

Will I need 10 years of service rides to appreciate this business of having your own driver? Probably not. I’m 27: too old to glean and ruminate and perhaps even think of the great and amazing things held in store for me by ordinary life. Or maybe not. Either way, it doesn’t really change things for not-rich, not-sheltered, commuting old me.

Nowadays, I prefer to dwell on the knowledge that she may have learned something new, and that’s a good thing. The chauffeured ride, on the other hand, didn’t teach me anything at all. Or maybe it did, but all the knowledge got vaporized by air freshener.

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