Manong David, wrapped in his thick coat, was chilling and has stammered when I hailed his motorela cab for home. He agreed to a pakyaw rate of P35, a win-win between his P40 offer and my P30 bargain.
Even if he would have offered P50, I would have taken it. That’s definitely better than be left frozen and alone in the middle of Fortich Street early morning.
On the way, he talked of that road accident somewhere, then about the MILF, and then about trying to make both ends meet.
The casual exchange paused over a topic that seemed a suggestive attempt to make me feel guilty for haggling five pesos less.
He said the oil prices are slowly taking his sanity. He is beginning to lose hope about being able to bounce back and be able to even cross the “boundary”.
Crossing the boundary is a need of every driver. He has to cross it to be able to pay rent and earn extra money above it to be able to live.
I was able to put out courteous responses. At one point, we were trying to analyze the root cause together, something like “while we are at this, the oil firms are bloating” stuff.
He figured it wouldn’t also be fair to suggest increasing the fares. “That would mean forcing our passengers to take a walk instead,” he said.
All these talk went along with the noise of his motorcycle disturbing the city, and preventing us from hearing every word that could come out from our tired mouths.
And then it just stopped.
The motorcycle conked out.
The cab was stalled in the middle of the road.
It was not just any road. It was the darkest road portion of the trip. It was the coldest night of the month. It was the most tiresome time to be stuck.
Talk of being unlucky.
Both of us were silent. I tried to look at his eyes for relief. But he avoided it.
In that instant I could feel the cold biting my skin. I forgot I wore no jacket and I was ready to drop dead since yesterday.
This is what I get for bargaining, I said. I was beginning to sulk.
But unlike me, Manong David was busy. He took a mineral water container from a hatch behind the driver’s seat. Then he poured something like gasoline into the gas tank.
Seconds later, we were back on the road.
“This is my reserve since I only gas up for several pesos,” he said.
Since he could not afford to go full tank, he fills the container some volume just enough for him to get back to town, bring some passengers and earn some more extra pesos.
“Tigi-tigi ba, lisud man ang panahon, adjust lang sa ko,” he explained. He got me there.
I arrived home safely and gave Manong David his offer fare, P40.
Crisis situation brings us searching for new ways to do things. And it may not be very pleasant when we find them.
The multi-cab operators now also begin to turn to using a plastic container at the front seat as gas tank because it’s more economical. Never mind if it may horrify some passengers who are fond of taking the front seat.
Imagine, you are sitting on a gasoline tank. You could be charred if you get unlucky.
The jeepney dispatchers and drivers plying the Valencia City – Halapitan, San Fernando route also had some “revelations” to me when I stopped for an interview sometime last month.
One driver said passengers in rural areas also have begun to cut their trips to the centro (Valencia). Some passengers make arrangements with neighbors to buy for them some grocery or farm inputs so they just share the fare.
“Magpuli puli na sila og biyahe, magpadala nalang dayon ang silingan og bisan dugang lang sa pampaniudto, aron lang maka minus sa gasto,” (they take turns traveling. A neighbor will just contribute to the lunch money of the one who will travel. That’s a way to cut cost,” “Rondee”, 37, a driver said.
Because of this, the dispatchers at the Valencia Terminal said, there are less trips for jeepneys along the route.
It is usually hard to believe these stories. But they are true.
I was able to talk to a “kondoktor” who caught this diminutive first year high school student from Halapitan.
“Mag tapad tapad ra siya og lingkod sa usa ka tigulang aron ingnon nga iya tong kauban. Mao dili siya maplitihan kay gamay man pud. Pero daghan man siya’g dala inig balik. Unya lahin napud iyang tapad.Unya sige ra ba ni niya gabuhaton,” (He would sit beside an elder as if they were together, so we couldn’t charge him. But he brings much stuff back home and he sits beside another person. He has done this many times) the “kondoktor” said.
He said he was forced to collect fare from him the last time he rode the vehicle. He confessed that the boy was asked by his parents to be the one to travel because they don’t have to shell out anything for fare.
He said he was trying to forgive the boy’s parents¸ but it was hard. It was also hard times for the jeepney drivers and operators, he said. “So I was mean,” I collected from him.
The head of the dispatchers of the Halapitan-Valencia City route at the terminal said they all have to find a way to survive. They too have less income because of the fewer trips.“Different people, different styles,” the man whose name escaped my memory, said. “Isig diskarte nalang ta ani, buhi-buhi lang gud,” he said. (Walter I. Balane)