Imagine having to be in Makati at 10 in the morning, at the latest, every day, and imagine having to come from Quezon City—nor somewhere farther still—for this feat.
You can take the train, of course. Theoretically it’s a fast way to get from point A to point B. But that’s the actual train ride. Better be prepared.
Prepare to see the line of people waiting to buy tickets snaking at the station, and down to the ground, and then another line waiting to get their bags checked. On the platform, warm bodies pile up as the train gets delayed from one minute to the next. By the time it arrives, the platform is so crowded you could lose your sanity.
The doors open and all pretensions to order fly out the window—everybody just wants to get to where he or she needs to be. If you’re lucky, you can squeeze yourself into this train. If it is already bursting at the seams and the doors can hardly close, you better step back and wait for the next one.
Alas, who knows how long that could take.
Inside, it could be infernal. Women have the option of staying at the women-only section or in the mixed section. They are equally crowded, and equally uncomfortable. Again, if you’re lucky, the ride would be uneventful and you get to your destination station in less than 30 minutes. Then again, you cannot budget your time so mechanically. Make allowance for stoppages and the possibility of getting off at a precarious junction between stations, or walking dangerously close to the rails, or smelling smoke and trying hard not to panic, or moving at a ridiculously slow pace because moving any faster would be more difficult.
And then tell yourself: I work so hard, I pay my taxes honestly. I don’t deserve this.
You could take the bus, and suffer even longer hours on the road. Every major intersection is unbearable. At first you try to enjoy the airconditioning, or go on Facebook or listen to music or read a book, but then you notice you’re hardly moving either because of the standstill or because your bus driver takes forever loading passengers.
Try not to fall asleep—your seatmate may just be waiting for that moment to dip into your bag or pocket while you’re dozing.
It’s the same if you take your own vehicle every day. You took a loan to get that car so you would be more comfortable, but what comfort is there in sitting for long hours, negotiating a huge parking lot and getting yourself exhausted and stressed and in a bad mood even before you reach your destination. Think of the gas you’re burning and the parking fee you have to fork out.
Look at your watch and realize you are already late. Your boss is looking for you and you cannot do anything about it. These days, heavy traffic is not an excuse anymore. Because it’s a given, you have to plan your day—your life—around it. Add a good two or three hours before and after your actual working hours. Do the math and come up with a dizzying figure—this is time you could be spending with the people who matter to you, taking up a hobby, doing extra work to earn more.
But no, you’re meant to be stuck.
Or, you can take a cab or Grab or Uber. It’s slightly more comfortable because you can sit back in privacy and actually be productive, but it eats up a sizable chunk of your earnings so that sometimes you wonder whether your daily wages were not meant for much else.
Still you tell yourself you will not suffer any other means to get to your destination. You become defensive: You were a good student, and now you are a good professional, you work hard and always find something new to learn. You owe yourself some comfort.
But it’s just an escape from the uglier truths that others have no choice but to deal with every day. You find that you still have to deal with arrogant and uncouth cab drivers who take passengers only if it’s convenient to them or demand tips even before they agree to ferry you. You accept fare surges because you need to get to your destination; you figure you can scrimp on other things but not on a good ride that would help you be at your best at work that day.
And then, you ask yourself, isn’t there more to life than worrying about getting to where I am supposed to get?
Given a choice, we would most likely obsess about other things—how to do our jobs better, how to be more productive, how to do more for others who need our help. We could be in our workplaces earlier, and back home earlier, too, and we would have more energy to do more than is expected of us. We think we can get technology on our side on this fight, but that’s often not an option, too. Internet here is so bad and so expensive.
These are the realities we are forced to deal with every day.
We have had enough of insensitive officials who consoled us with phrases like “you’re still alive, aren’t you?” or “traffic is a sign of progress” or “at least it’s not fatal.”
But it is fatal. It’s fatal to the spirit, fatal to our minds. Imagine the miracles we could be helping make. Imagine the memories we could be creating. Imagine the solutions and the new ideas we could be generating.
To be told that the daily hassle we go through every day is a state of mind, as the transportation secretary supposedly did, is downright insulting. This is the state of our mind because this is what we have been given, and we are just responding to it the best way we could.