My life with cabbiesBy Romana F. Gella
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Before I retired from government service, I was a regular taxi rider. And when you ride a cab to and from work (as I used to), you get to meet all kinds of drivers. There are those who give unsolicited advice. One cabbie “suggested” that I buy a car because my office is far from my home. My aversion to unsolicited advice tempted me to lash out at the guy for his effrontery, but prudence dictated that I just bite my tongue.
At another time, the driver talked unceasingly of his life story the minute I got into his taxi until I reached my office. That really floored me—not his life story, but his ease with the English language. An English-speaking cabbie? What more can one ask for?
Once I was rushing to an appointment with my doctor, and as I boarded the cab, I absent-mindedly told the driver to proceed to Herran, referring to Pedro Gil street. The driver shot back in Filipino: “But ma’am, Iran is quite far, it’s in Saudi.” I wasn’t sure whether he was being cute or giving me an on-the-spot geography lesson. But I was dead sure I was not amused.
Given our culture of extended families, I have been addressed by such names like “Ateng,” “Manay,” “Manang,” “Nanay,” “Mommy” and
“Tita” by well-meaning drivers. I’ll take these terms of endearment anytime, as long as they do not include “Aling ano,” an appellation given to me by an office messenger.
One time, there was this mousy-looking cabby who cursed at every turn and stop. The urge to hand him a bar of soap to wash the filth from his mouth (a la Jane Fonda in “Georgia Rule,” the movie) was quite compelling, but I restrained myself lest the situation turn ugly.
The annoyingly inquisitive ones turned me off. Somehow they gave me the feeling that I was being psychoanalyzed by pseudo-psychiatrists minus the ubiquitous couch. But the naturally pleasant ones, I obliged. Normally, though, I just kept to myself and prayed that I would reach my destination in one piece.
Drivers who displayed homicidal tendencies by threatening to erase from the face of the earth recalcitrant government officials through violent means or who were nursing a personal vendetta sent shivers down my osteoporosic spine.
Once, I almost passed out from gas inhalation! It turned out that the cab had just been filled up with LPG (liquefied petroleum gas). I wondered then if the proper government agency had instituted safeguards to protect the riding public, not to mention the drivers themselves, from toxic fumes. Or if the taxis had been properly converted to run on LPG.
Owing to the frequency of my taxi rides, I perfected the power of discernment. With almost 100-percent accuracy, I was able to single out which taxi brand to avoid. Eventually, though, I engaged the services of Mang Romy, an affable guy with a happy face. It was arranged that he would collect me from my house every Wednesday. One particular Wednesday, Mang Romy was unusually late. So I sent him a text message inquiring if he was on his way. No reply—also something unusual. A few days later, I learned that he had succumbed to diabetic complications on Monday of that week. I shuddered at the thought of Mang Romy replying to my text message from the grave.
Some cabs are installed with humongous loud speakers teetering precariously atop the back seat; these can easily knock one unconscious when the taxi hits (without the driver stepping on the brakes) those cavernous excavations on the road. I’m not even talking about the loud music or morning commentaries they emit that no earplugs can shut out. Talk of noise pollution!
And what about those speed maniacs who drive like there is no tomorrow? Flying taxis, anyone? Onli in da Pilipins, to quote a famous comedian. I am reminded of what my sister’s mother-in-law used to say: “It is better to be late in this life than early in the next.”
Quite a number of cabbies stubbornly insist on following their own road maps, never mind yours. When you encounter this type, you are well-advised not to divulge where you are headed. Instead, give out directions piecemeal, or you can wind up going on a joy ride that’s not enjoyable at all.
The really agreeable, courteous and honest ones (yes, there are more of them out there) usually got a considerable tip from me. In fact, when they caught me in a “spending mood,” I even paid them double their meters’ readings. Unfortunately, errant taxi drivers do the good ones a disservice.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against cabbies per se. On the contrary, I feel for the likes of one driver who was a victim of illegal retrenchment (his words, not mine). He lamented that taxi companies that take in overage drivers like him are only those that require them to drive 24 hours straight in order to meet the “boundary” (a fixed rate charged by the taxi operator at the end of the day). So, what happened? The bleeding heart that I am took care of half of the guy’s boundary for the day! I wasn’t sure what
possessed me, but I must have felt supergenerous that day—or perhaps I am just one of those suckers born every minute.
No matter. I must admit that taxi drivers were my lifeline to my office. And my encounters with them have somehow enriched my experiences and taught me to look for that “saving grace” in every exasperating and hazardous situation.
Romana F. Gella, 66, is happily retired and taking it easy after working for 43 years—six years in the private sector and 37 years in the government.
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