Friday, August 01, 2008

Philippines Trip: The Taxi

I get off the bus under the freeway and four cabbies circle me. Yes, I need a taxi. No, you must go with him. Him is at the front of the taxi ranks. Him is a little, darker-skinned Mr. Magoo. I hand him the address and he hands it to the three other cabbies.

They begin gesturing and pointing. They get a rock and scratch a map on the sidewalk. I loan them a pen and paper. They draw another map. Now it's all nods and smiles and I'm ready to go.

Me (to map drawer): Does he know where he's going?

Map Drawer (laughing, smiling): Of course. He's a taxi driver.

He better be a good one, because I am looking at the map and back at the road and worry. He begins with an 8-point U-turn, seven of which are perpendicular to, or facing traffic coming down the one-way, four lane highway. The U-turn is laboriously completed and we are now facing directly into the flow of traffic. About time to stall. So we do.

The other cabbies dodge traffic and push us to the side of the road. My driver pops the hood and stands to the side of the engine with his hands on the hood. Without touching anything except the hood, he closes it up and tells me "It's all okay now." Wow. Psychic car maintenance.

Like a pledge gathering courage to run through a haze line, he revs the engine hoping to gain enough momentum to slalom us 25 yards through the oncoming cars to our desired exit on the far side of the highway. He pops the clutch and we shoot off just like most rust buckets starting from second gear would do. With Segway-like speed we coast to the divider, still needing to turn 45 degrees so we can actually try to stall with the flow of traffic. But first, we should probably stall where we are. No problem.

A leisurely 3-point turn does this for us and we lurch and sputter forward like Foster Brooks on wheels. Concentrating on my zen-like powers of bowel control, my other senses have been temporarily ignored. Now that we are safe...safer... the other senses come back online and Smell is telling me that my cabbie either mistook gasoline for Armor All, or he has installed the carburetor in the car's interior.

I check in with Sound, trying to ignore Smell and hope that my cabbie doesn't decide to light up. Everything in this cab makes noise. The steering wheel creaks. The stick shift squeals. The gears grind. And the brakes. They don't squeal. They are well past that. It's frayed pieces of metal clanging against each other until two parts lock together in a quick, deep decrescendo that stops us immediately. And then we stall.

Oh, lookee! An overpass! This cannot be good. Two lanes, one-way traffic, bumper-to-bumper. Go a car's length. Stop. Rest. Repeat. About 70 times.

My cabbie has decided to add a few extra steps to this pattern. Advance. Brake. Stall. Coast backward. Stop again. Re-start engine. Release clutch. Coast backward again. Drive forward one car's length. Stop. Stall. Repeat. About 70 times.

On our 1-lurch-forward, gentle-coast-backward assault of the overpass, another taxi passes us ( or maybe we passed it in reverse, it's hard to say). The company name on the taxi said MAYDIE Taxi. Trying to figure out the probable name of my taxi kept me distracted until we reached the top of the overpass and headed down.

Here, he had to modify his driving pattern a bit. Initiate stall. Coast. Brake. Slam into the front seat. Now that he did not need to be so focused, he became quite the chatterbox.

Him: Where are you coming from today?

Me: Puerto Galera.

Him: Puerto Galera. That's on Mindoro, right?

Me: Yes, it is.

One minute later

Him: So, how did you like El Nido?

Me: What? That was years ago. How did you know?

Him: You came from there today.

Me: No. I told you I came from Puerto Galera today.

Him: Oh. Did you take the boat or the bus?

Me: Both.

Him: You can take a boat from Puerto Galera directly to Manila. No boat. Very convenient.

Me: I was in Sinandigan. The bus stop is far away and the crossing to Luzon is really far away and...and, yeah, it was nice and very convenient.

Him: So, you took the bus to Manila?

Me: I told grabbed by bag getting off the bus...yeah, I took the bus to Manila.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

bush loving conservative