31 October 2010

Traveling to Alabang

Last week, I agreed to meet my eldest sister and her family in Alabang the day before All Saints’ Day – which would be today, as if you did not already know. Being me, up until the time I was about to leave home, I was still rationalizing inside my head that I was, in fact, doing the right thing.

So alright – I argued with myself – those who were going home for the long weekend would have gone Friday night or yesterday. And those who wanted to wait until the day before would go for an early start today… Which meant that I was probably doing the right thing because any traffic was bound to be incoming rather than outgoing…

But, being me, I sneaked a look at the Facebook News Feed before I let myself out of the house… And as everyone on Facebook knows, there is always bound to be somebody who will let you know what is not going right with his or her life at the moment…

Indeed, somebody said there was heavy traffic just out of SLEX into Turbina – and I could have used a bit more information. Was it both ways or just heading into Batangas?

Not that I had much of a choice since I had already committed; albeit, I was so, so tempted to make up some silly excuse and sleep, instead, the whole day.

But I was dressed; it would have been silly not to have gone… So, off I went to the bus stop.

There were several buses bound for Alabang at the terminal. Of these, only one was air-conditioned. I got on, and was surprised to find that I was the only one on board. I sat in the seat just behind the driver and silently weighed my options.

I do enjoy the few creature comforts that come my way, so getting on any of the “ordinary” buses did not seem too appealing – even if each was slowly filling up with passengers. Staying on this single air-conditioned bus – or so I thought – would have meant a significant amount of time waiting at the terminal.

But then, the conductor boarded in just a couple more minutes; the driver pulled a tiny lever to close the door; and we were on our way before I could even make up my mind what to do…

I thought to myself as we slowly drove out of the terminal, “What’s the catch?” I mean, there is always a catch!

Resigned that there were no more passengers boarding, the conductor put on a VCD that on the 32-inch LCD television that hung above the driver appeared hopelessly pixelated. Done, he asked where I was headed and promptly gave me a ticket off a hand-held ticketing machine. That was smart, eh? Even provincial buses have entered the digital age!

I made myself comfortable; although I could not help thinking that these buses that ply the Batangas route are discriminatory against anyone who stands five-foot-eight and above. I had to sit on the edge of the seat just so I could lay my head on the head-rest; which also meant that I had very little leg room left. And this bus I was on was one of the newer, supposedly more spacious ones…

I lost interest in the movie because of the pixelation; although the TV screen was too much in-my-face for me to completely miss what was happening. I remember thinking Philip Salvador should have been drafted into the national shooting team, seeing that he did not seem to miss a shot even when he sprinting across an open field or somersaulting behind a wall. And each of those he shot salsa-ed before falling melodramatically to his death… Tsk! Pinoy movies!

We got as far as Darasâ in Tanauan before a couple of teenagers boarded to bring the passenger tally to a very impressive three. Previous to that, I was starting to like the feeling of being the only passenger in a bus. It was like being in a 45-seater taxi!

When the bus finally arrived at the stop in Tanauan, well, there was the catch… Both the driver and the conductor seemed to know everyone at the stop. A skinny female vendor got on before the bus braked to a full stop and started to shout out what she was selling when she stopped, looked at the empty seats behind the bus and uttered to nobody in particular, “Ngyeh…!!! Walang laman…”

Somebody called out to the driver, “Ika’y bumabâ muna’t maglomi!” Guess what? He did! We were just parked there for a quarter of an hour. A couple of stocky, greasy vendors even got on the seat opposite mine and totally enjoyed the movie I had lost interest in, particularly when Ipê for the nth time hollered a crackling swearword at Edu Manzano.

When Ipê did his shooting-while-somersaulting routine, the two cheered noisily! I thought the two vendors were immeasurably more entertaining than the movie, in all honesty!

After what seemed like an eternity, the driver and the conductor got back on. Just out of Tanauan, the driver opened the small window next to him. I was immediately suspicious because the inside of the bus was already quite chilly. Before long, the glands inside my nostrils picked up the scent of unpleasant bodily chemicals. That was probably the lomi

My word! There was a long line of vehicles that snaked Batangas-bound from the FPIP industrial estate in Sto. Tomas all the way to Turbina, can you believe that!? It was good to see, though, that drivers have learned not to hog all lanes – and naturally block reverse traffic – like they used to not so long ago. So, we were able to drive along on our side of the road uneventfully.

There was just one last stop before we entered the SLEX – at Turbina, where the conductor had to present his ticket machine to the inspector. I was alarmed that the driver got off the bus again – but he just probably went to pee. He was back in a fraction of the time he took at the Tanauan stop.

The ride was smooth once we got onto SLEX – and that was probably just right given the irritating stops that I had not bargained for. Heavy traffic was – at least – going the other direction; all my earlier fears, I told myself, were really quite unfounded. Along SLEX, I finally resolved just to enjoy my little outing!

Once off the bus in Alabang, I practically sprinted to the Festival Mall where I was not so much excited to meet up with my sister but to find the nearest washroom – where, because of the chill inside the bus and the delays, I pee-ed a river…





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