15 October 2010

Rendezvous with Ondoy

I had lunch at the cafeteria today with a couple of colleagues from Human Resource. I learned from the two that one of their officemates – somebody I used to work closely with – is in Cebu attending a personnel managers’ convention and won’t be back until tomorrow.

After lunch, I sent this other colleague a private joke of a text message: “You will be met tomorrow at the airport by somebody named Ondoy!”

Half an hour later came the cryptic reply that, however, said it all for her: “Syet!”

That acerbic reply captured everything she wanted to tell me as a rejoinder. But allow me to explain...

Just over a year ago, the very same colleague was at the Sofitel Hotel in Manila attending last year’s version of the same convention she is currently in Cebu for. By mid-morning of Saturday, after the convention had concluded, the school vehicle sent to fetch her picked her up at the hotel lobby and she was on her way home.

She was happy to be on the road and on her way home. There was a storm that day: international codename Ketsana, locally known as Ondoy. Conditions were not too friendly anymore, but at least they were driving home.

It was a Saturday morning, and I was at home at the time. Our league match had already been cancelled because the field had become waterlogged. I had little to do but alternate between watching the television and monitoring Ondoy’s progress via the Internet.

In all honesty, there was not much to be impressed about Ondoy. Its winds were not by any means of the sort one would normally fret about. Albeit, it rained... it rained... and it rained...

That was hardly surprising because – the night before – I took one quick look at PAGASA’s satellite photo and instinctively knew that the big angry red blob heading our way meant gallons upon gallons of water waiting for an excuse to be unleashed upon the earth. For the record, Ondoy was no more than what the pundits refer to as a “tropical storm” worth no more than a Signal Number 1.

As the rains continued to pour, there was also – on Facebook – first a trickle and then a steady stream of people complaining with their phones or laptops that they were caught in unmoving bumper-to-bumper traffic leading to and along the South Luzon Expressway or SLEX. Some portions of the expressway, I immediately concluded, had probably been made impassable by floodwaters.

Among those stranded, I later learned, was this colleague returning home from the Sofitel. Apparently, she and her driver got caught in the traffic late morning thereabouts of the Southwoods exit, where rampaging floodwaters trying to get to the lower other side of the highway stalled hapless vehicles completely for hours.

Thank goodness, she would later tell me, for the bottle of mineral water and biscuits she had inside her handbag that were leftovers from the conference she just left. These, she and the driver made do with in the ensuing hours of tortuous waiting until the highway became passable again.

As was bound to happen, her bladder began to fill up. Now, of course I had written previously that the simple matter of pee-ing rather tends to be something of a problem more for the females of the specie than the males.

In the case at hand – or at least my colleague so melodramatically related to me – timing was of the essence. What I am trying to say is, after hours of trying to keep it in, she was finally and unbearably ready to go courtesy of a plastic bag.

What she was waiting for – and this she took great pains to explain to me – was that point in time late in the day when darkness had set but there was still enough light for her to see that the plastic bag was in the right place. She could not wait for total darkness to fall, she explained, else all the stranded cars would turn their headlights on and make her look like she was relieving herself under the glare of stage spotlights. She thankfully had an umbrella to hide behind in case the driver got tempted to look at the rearview.

When done, out went the plastic bag through one of the car’s windows, her bodily fluids to happily rendezvous with the waters of Ondoy.

This scenario, I can imagine, was played out in countless other vehicles stranded along the same stretch of highway. Late in the night, when the rampaging waters appeared to have subsided somewhat, the driver plowed the vehicle through waters that still reached almost to the car’s windows. My colleague had fallen into a bit of a nap and roused when the vehicle moved as though a boat rocking through currents of water.

There is, I told my two table companions at lunch, a low pressure area embedded in the inter-tropical convergence zone that is headed in the direction of the Visayas. Unless the LPA dissipates quickly, I told the two, our colleague may be in for a rather shaky take-off tomorrow when she flies out of Cebu International.

Should not really be a problem for the modern jet planes that ply the routes these days. And as long as Ondoy does not have a brother ready to spring a surprise...

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