A SLICE OF LIFE 1: MY FIRST DRIVING EXPERIENCE IN THE PHILIPPINES
At age 15 (two months before I turned sixteen), I figured I should stop asking our family driver or my older brother or older sister to be driving me around. Everyone at home became worried when I declared to the whole family at the dining table one evening: “I’m ready to drive a car of my own!”
My mother’s reaction was: “With the kind of traffic we have here in the city, I don’t think it will be sensible for someone as young as you are, to drive!”
My father seconded: “There are just too many reckless drivers out there, and you’re a bit too young. Wait for another year, maybe two – by then you’d be old enough to do so.”
“You always want to grow old too quickly,” my older brother told me. “Relax. I’m still here, and I can drive you when you go to the studio at midnight for your taping sessions.”
The words that came out of my mouth surprised everyone: “I don’t get it. If at thirteen, I was old enough to have sex, why am I not old enough to drive a car at fifteen?”
Silence. Everyone, especially my four sisters, glowered at me in disbelief and annoyance. We were brought up allowing to express our opinions freely, but this latest repartee was a rude awakening for everyone.
Cubao during rush hour, photo by Istvan Hidvegi
“You had your first time two years ago?” My brother said with wide eyes open. “My God, I’m a late bloomer, then. My first foray into sexual intercourse was when I was sixteen!”
“Now, I have no time listening to all your nonsense, boys! And especially you,” My sister (who became a nun) said with embarrassment and clearly offended, pointing at me. “And I thought you said you want to become a priest, thank you very much!” She got up and left the table.
My father took a deep breath and exhaled, then smiled: “Okay, okay. I’ll let you drive, but first, I want you to go to a driving school. This very popular driving school in Quezon City will train you to become an excellent driver.”
I got up, hurried towards between my dad and my mom, hugged them and kissed their cheeks. By the way, I forgot to mention that I came from a family of kissers. We kiss our parents when we arrive home, and they kiss us in return. We kissed our parent’s goodbye, we kissed them when we woke up in the morning, etc., etc. In short, we were like one happy Mafioso family (who even kiss their co-gang members scheduled to be butchered in a matter of a few minutes before execution). But, no. We did not execute any members of our own family.
But, you may ask: man, what has this got to do with my first driving experience?
A lot, actually. Because this incident was the plot point (from a scriptwriter’s POV) that made the story turn around, and which, had catapulted it into another direction.
I will not mention the name of the so-called EXCELLENT driving school that everybody talked about in Quezon City, which, I think, had hoodwinked many people including my own father.
So, I went to the well-known driving school. It had a presentable facade, spacious compound, and lots of standard transmission cars for student drivers.
Its syllabus was nothing to sneeze at. It divided the lessons in four parts:
• Lecture on the mechanics of a North American cars vs. European cars vs. Japanese cars.
• Familiarization of different car parts
• Lecture on trouble shooting and car care
• Actual road driving experience
Very comprehensive! I whispered to myself.
My first day was the lecture, and I indeed became enlightened to the difference between the North American, Japanese, and European cars. I also became aware of the different car parts and how to operate them. I also enjoyed the trouble-shooting lectures.
But, the actual road driving experience was another story.
On my first day of driving, I met my driving instructor on our way to the parking lot to go to the car I would be driving. The instructor began talking to me. The first thing I noticed was his somewhat slurred speech. I thought, oh, well, maybe he had some speech problem. He was bragging to me that he was one of the best drivers in the Philippines, that he got his international driver’s license in California and took the road test in Los Angeles, and got one of the three highest scores among the examinees.
Really. Then I must be in good hands.
When we entered the car, the first time he opened his mouth, I smelled alcohol. Hmm, what’s going on here?
The school bragged about their facilities, yet when I started the engine, I realized that he didn’t have his own steering wheel! He placed his foot on top of my foot to control the clutch. Oh, my!
First, we drove along the quiet road by the school and everything was fine. He showed me the “hanging” technique and how to control a standard transmission. The lesson was going well when suddenly, he said: “I think you’re ready to hit the highway. Let’s go to EDSA!”
I hesitated: “It’s now rush hour. Do you think it’s a good idea to go there?”
He was agitated by my suggestion: “Huwag ka na ngang nag-i-English at naiilang ako! At saka ba’t mas marunong ka pa sa nagtuturo sa iyo? Sino ba sa atin ang estudyante, ikaw o ako?”
“Di ba’t obvious naman ang sagot diyan, at di na dapat itanong. Ang inaalala ko lang, ngayon lang ako humawak ng manibela, tapos pupunta tayo sa highway, at rush hour pa.”
“Masyado kang matalino,” was his curt reply. “Basta doon tayo sa EDSA.”
So, to EDSA we went. Gosh, the reckless drivers were having their merriest moments. They passed, they cut, they honked like there were no tommorow. It’s not as bad as Interstate 5 leading towards the entrance to Seattle City Center, but EDSA was bad enough due to undisciplined drivers who didn’t seem to understand the meaning of Defensive Driving.
These snaking freeways leading to Seattle city center may look harmless, but try driving here during rush hours, especially during a long weekend, and you'd probably swear to high heavens never to take this route ever again. The flow of the traffic is extremely smooth, but nobody's keeping the speed limit. Everybody's speeding. One driver error could mean a huge disaster.
When I reached the Cubao area, I watched from my side view mirror a small orange bus coming in full speed, passed me and abruptly cut me to pick up a waiting passenger on the sidewalk.
The instructor had a conniption.
“Putang inang baby bus iyan, ah! Ginitgit tayo! Hintayin mong umandar iyan at ipapakita natin sa anak ng putang iyan kung ano ang ginawa niya sa atin.”
Don't let this bright, multi-colored lights outlining the Seattle Interstate 5 (I-5) leading to Seattle City center fool you as something exalting to your spirits. Only when your car becomes one of the many lights you'd realize why the moth in Rizal's story got burned by the lamp. Taken from Dr. Jose P. Rizal Bridge in Seattle, Photo by Charles Middleton.
So, when the little orange bus glided again, he ordered me: “Ngayon, habulin mo ang anak ng putang iyan.” He said while honking nonstop.
“Bakit pa, para ano pa?” was my protest.
“Putang... isa ka pa! Sinabi nang habulin mo! Habulin mo!”
He was fuming mad and was forcing his foot on the gas, so I had to obey. I drove like a maniac and ran after the baby bus. When we got ahead of it, my brilliant instructor who got his licensed from Cali (I don’t think so), told me to: “Gitgitin mo. I-cut mo ang putang ina. Dali. I-cut mo at ipreno mo nang bigla para maleksion ang anak ng putang iyan!
Well, I did exactly that. I cut right in-front of the baby bus and stopped.
SCREEEEEEECH! The baby bus missed us by a few inches.
The Dr. Jose P. Rizal Bridge in Seattle, Washington.
The instructor got out and hopped on the bus, and I swear he was about to beat up the other driver, but thanks to the lady konduktora and some civic minded passengers, the THRILLA IN EDSA had been aborted.
The incident had given me migraine. And I can say for sure that one of my most unforgettable experiences in life was my first driving experience in the Philippines.