pssst! hey, taxi!

Cabs are everywhere in Manila, except, of course, when you need them most – when you’re in a hurry, and when it’s raining.

Their other cab is called “Bridge Over the River…”

Let’s say you find one. Slipping into it, you expect a swift, safe ride to your destination in airconditioned comfort.

But have you reckoned with your taxi driver? There are two kinds: the silent type, and the not.

A quiet cabbie is restful, soothing. You tell him where you want to be taken. “Escolta?” He nods, puts the car in gear, and drives. He knows where to go, the fastest and easiest way to get there, and does not require instruction. The entire trip, not a word escapes his lips. You lean back in the seat, perhaps shut your eyes to rest them. You listen to the radio, if it’s on. The silent types usually don’t have it on; if they do, it’s tuned to a soothing station that plays pop or ballads, the volume turned down to muzak level. You use the time to rehearse your pitch to the client you’re about to meet, think about saving up for that adorable purple tote, or refine your plans for world domination.

But what if you end up with the other kind? The garrulous, talkative, just-won’t-shut-up type?

In my experience, they fall into the following classes:

  1. The Political Expert – His radio is nailed to a talk show where the host spends hours swearing at corrupt politicians. The Political Expert is well-informed on current events and can discuss issues like the global recession and the fuel price hikes knowledgeably, usually from his own point of view as a cabbie. “Tinaas na naman ng mga @##$ na iyan ang presyo ng gasolina, pero hindi tinaasan ang flagdown ng taxi!” (Those @##$ raised the price of gas, but they haven’t increased the taxi flagdown rate!) He names wayward politicos and rattles off their offenses in a derisive, chiding tone, like the one you’d use to a tall person who plays basketball badly. “Iyang si (deleted), puro pangungurakot ang inaatupag imbis na tumulong sa distrito niya.” (That (name of politician) is busy lining his pockets instead of helping the people in his district.)
  2. The Religious Nut – His radio is tuned to a religious station with a preacher explaining a Bible chapter in an excited tone, or he plays gospel music on his stereo. At first he is quiet, gauging you. Then he strikes. “Kristiyano ka ba, sister?” (Are you a Christian?) “Ligtas ka na ba?” (Are you saved?) I mistakenly debated with two. One was a Jehovah’s Witness. I presented the point of view of a Protestant and he took great delight in shooting down all my arguments, though never really seeing my point of view. The other professed to be a born-again Christian. I tried to shock him by telling him I was agnostic. He fell silent for a while; I thought I had shut up him, but no, he merely redoubled his efforts at converting an ateista.
  3. The Lonely One na Naghahanap ng Kausap (Looking for Someone to Talk To) - This one usually is heartbroken over a woman – could be his girlfriend, wife, or mistress. Knowing he will most likely never see you again and that you’re a captive audience, he pours his heart out to you, venting his ire about the woman that done him wrong, or that he done wrong to and as a consequence is suffering a (momentary) twinge of guilt or regret about.
  4. The Guy Who Loves to Hear the Sound of His Own Voice: He will talk about anything. But anything, with hardly a pause for breath. At some point, to escape the endless and boring flow of words, you will seriously contemplate jumping out of the cab, committing suicide, or strangling the driver.
  5. The Flirt – His spiel goes something like this: “Ilang taon ka na, mam? Talaga? (Insert age here) ka na? Hindi mukha. Ang ganda-ganda niyo po. May anak na kayo? Ambata niyo sigurong nag-asawa. Kumusta na po asawa niyo? Ay, hiwalay ba kayo? Puede pong malaman ang cellphone number niyo?” (How old are you, ma’am? Really? You don’t look it. You’re very beautiful. You have kids? You must have married young. How’s your husband? Oh, you’re separated? May I know your cellphone number, then?) All this delivered with a cheesy grin.

Not to reply, in Philippine culture, would be considered rude and hindi marunong makipag-kapwa (does not know how to get along with others). As a thoroughly acculturated Filipino, in all cases, my response is a stock repertoire of noncommittal phrases – “Uh huh.” “Ay, talaga po?” (Oh, really? with the honorific po as a term of respect) “Ganoon po ba?” (Is it like that?) “Grabe ‘nga ‘yang si (insert name of government official being excoriated).” (That person’s too much.) “Kawawa naman.” (Poor guy.) “Tsk, tsk.”

Both ways, you get an interesting ride. Annoying, yes; irritating, perhaps; yet always interesting. You get off at your destination refreshed, or having learned something more about the human condition.

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