Obstacle course

In the “About Me” section on the right side of this blog page, one of the adjectives I used to describe myself is “seasoned commuter.” It's a bad season, apparently.

I don't know if I'm getting old,or am becoming more defensive of my person,or if Manila's dangerous elements have just upped their ante. I'd been plying the Pier-Malanday jeepney route on the way home from work for three years now, and suddenly I'm scared. I realized it was not just the waist and back strain I get from lurching sideways aboard the jeep that I despised. My blog entry “Bothered” sums up the revulsion I feel towards a particular segment of the male population, and most of them board the jeep at some point along my route from the office. It does not help that about two or three months ago, the newsroom's chief proofreader, Judy May, was held up along Commonwealth Avenue, her hefty bag and all it contained taken from her. It was the 15th; fortunately her salary which she had just withdrawn was in the pocket of her jeans.

And just last Monday, along McArthur Highway which I thought I knew so well, just after BBB and right before Fatima, another jeep sent an SOS to ours. A hold-up was going on, and the passengers were trapped. We sped on, though, and honked furiously at a parked police car just a few meters ahead of us. When we got closer, we realized that the police car was empty. The policemen were standing some distance away from their car, on the lookout for big trucks and their suspicious cargo. We waved at them and pointed to the direction of the jeep where the hold-up was going on. Did they get the message? I don't know. I had to alight by then; I had reached my stop.

So by Tuesday night I was edgy. I am likewise careful about flagging cabs at that hour (I prefer two-colored ones with known franchises), and sometimes the drivers are so choosy that you want to slam the door on their faces after they have rejected you. Plus a ride would cost me a hundred and sixty, one way. (When you are a single mom, and wed to your career in the print media, whose rewards are many but certainly not financial, that's nothing to sneeze at.) That evening, around nine o clock, I decided it was safer to sit behind the driver rather than at the entrance. Two stocky men in black climbed up the front seat, beside the driver. Beside me was a gangster-type teenager, the kind with the oversize shirt, long fingernails, bling blings and a cap not worn but barely put top of head. At both sides of the entrance,two more men, one in gray and another in blue, were seated. One of them was looking at me, perhaps aware that I was observing everybody.

I tried to take it easy. They went on board maybe Blumentritt and there I was, debating whether I should alight or not. My late Lola used to say that I should follow my “kutob” (gut feel) all the time because it was likely right. But Rizal Avenue was itself only lighted in some points. IN others, it was also not safe aground. By that time I was already nauseous and had difficulty breathing. I wanted out.

On Second Avenue, Kalookan, I did, at the first well-lighted corner. (I realized later that it was lighted because it was a motel and there was a beer house and a life-size image of Marian Rivera holding a beer bucket). I flagged another jeep but noticed all the passengers were male and so shooed it away. Finally, a nice looking cab and a harmless looking old driver stopped in front of me like an angel to the rescue. The smell of the car's interior (it was new,and there were no fancy air fresheners) seemed like the scent of heaven. A safe haven. I fished out my cell phone and shared my predicament with a friend, M.

M listened patiently as I recounted my ordeal over lunch the following day. He suggested I take the train instead. That one was always an option, but since it was such a hassle, I never took it except when it was raining and Recto and R. Papa were flooded.

I tried the train indeed. The two very short jeepney rides (from Pier to Carriedo Station,and from Monumento station to Fatima) did not expose me much to the risks of the route. The only problem was that even at that hour,, the crowd was impossible. The coaches were jampacked. Fortunately, there was a separate section for men and women. So even though I felt like a fish in an overcrowded can of sardines, it was tolerable because all those women were not foreign and threatening to me. They were, like I was, moms tired from work racing to get home to their children – and to the comfort of their beds.

This is not to say it was a fabulous ride. It was not. But it was less unpleasant. There were also all sorts of goodies in Monumento. Apples, oranges, boiled corn, pillow cases, stuffed animals, garlic, onions etcetera etcetera. A feast for the eyes.

The really redeeming part was that I was home just an hour after leaving the office. I may have found a new route home. That is, until that fine day that I can afford a vehicle of my own. THAT would be another challenge.