Not all cab rides in Manila are horrible. Here are some of my favorite taxi adventures.
We like to complain about taxis, how they’re rickety, smelly, and are driven by inconsiderate people who would rather make a quick buck than be a decent human being.
If you live in Manila and have to take cabs, you’re familiar with the abuse: drivers asking for extra money, refusing to give change, ignoring the P10 flag down rollback, purposefully taking longer routes, making unwanted conversation, making passes, being generally rude. And then they have the gall to complain when a service like Uber takes potential customers away from them.
I count myself very lucky because though I do get a lot of chatty cab drivers, most of them like telling their life stories, which are alwas interesting. Sometimes, it also makes for great research for my fiction.
One friendly guy told me about his first few years in Manila. His first job was as an assistant in a furniture factory that specialized in making antique reproductions. He slept in the workshop, usually on a piece of cardboard placed on top of a table, in the middle of all the antique saints and furniture.
Later, he decided to try his luck with cab driving, and so moved out of the workshop and into a small, shared room in one of San Juan City’s biggest slums. “It looks small on the outside,” he said, “But it’s actually deep on the inside.”
He told me about how the slum was built inwards and upwards, how its interior was a maze of stairs and passages, and how it was filled–every nook and cranny–with people.
He hadn’t lived there in a long time, he said, he moved out when he got married. Good thing too, because that particular slum had suffered a major fire recently, but he was sure that it would bounce back. They always did.
I once got into a cab where my driver didn’t say anything, just kept quiet as he listened to the 90s alternative music playing very softly on his stereo. I thought it was a fluke at first, hearing Metallica, Nirvana, Temple of the Dog. When I was sure that I hadn’t misheard, and that it was his actual playlist, I asked if he could turn up the sound. He was surprised. “You like this kind of music?”
I replied in the affirmative. He was delighted. “This is the music I grew up with!” he said proudly.
“It’s the music I grew up with, too.”
He cranked up the volume and we said nothing to each other until he brought me to my destination. Until then, we were just two 90s kids, headbanging softly to good music.
I used to live in a building located along a main road, where getting cabs was either very easy or extremely hard. One Friday night, I was having more trouble than usual getting a taxi, standing for what seemed like hours outside my apartment building. Finally, a cab stopped. The driver didn’t say anything when I said I was going to Makati, didn’t complain that there would be traffic, didn’t ask for me to add to the fare. “How lucky!” I thought as I texted my friends that I was on my way to meet them.
He was chatty, but not too much that it was annoying. Somewhere in the middle of the trip, he said, “I wouldn’t have picked you up, except I took pity on you because you’re pregnant.”
I was wearing a maxi dress, but the only way I would have been pregnant was by immaculate conception. I may have grunted in reply. I didn’t want him to think that his chivalry was for naught. I wasn’t about to berate him for thinking I was pregnant, either. After all, a ride was a ride, especially on a Friday night. And besides, the man obviously thought that he was doing a good deed (even though picking up people and bringing them to where they’re going is literally his job); why spoil his illusion of it?