From road trip to road rage in just half a day (or how I went to Batangas and ended up in Quezon)

Rich New Yorkers spend their weekends in the Hamptons.
Metro Manila’s coño kids — and their coño parents — spend them in exclusive resorts in Batangas and Laguna.
For bonafide members of Quezon City’s cream of the crap — such as, for instance, myself — weekends are generally spent inside their apartments, usually in a vain search for a clean pair of underwear.
But recently, something else came up — as something always does — ensuring that my life (such as it is) hews as closely as possible to the storyline of any tacky, low-budget, late-night television sitcom.
On the last weekend of May, I got invited to a beach wedding in Batangas, prompting me to rearrange whatever passes for my social calendar.
It wasn’t difficult.
As a result, my plan to stare at the ceiling for two days was moved to the weekend previously allotted for thumb-twiddling and/or humming.
But let me just say that I almost didn’t make it to the ceremony.
However, that’s getting ahead of the story.

That’s what rich friends are for

Of the few times I visited Batangas, I never had to fork out a peso — at all — to cover costs related to food, drink, lodging, and transport.
A few years ago, after an acquaintance picked me up in a van, I spent the weekend visiting a beach, lounging in a Tagaytay condo, and — get this — drinking the night away, all for free.
All I had to do was to be my charming, sophisticated self — cracking old jokes until told to shut up and get some more ice.
Yes: that was the life.
This year, after running out of bad karma, it was payback time.
A friend, his small family, and I were offered free food, drinks, and overnight accomodations in one of the beach resorts in Batangas — all just to attend another close friend’s ceremony.
The invitation came with a set of requirements.
Besides being requested to wear linen shirts, khaki pants, and sandals, we were also asked to take care of our own transportation.
Surprisingly enough, as someone who rarely wanted to leave my apartment, this barely discouraged me from going.
After all, my fellow guest agreed to drive me to the venue since he was going on an extended vacation with his family in the area anyway.
Our small delegation included his wife and son, a smart boy who is too young to realize the repercussions of having me as his godfather.
And during that Saturday afternoon, as we were cruising along the South Super Highway, the boy’s mind was on something else: the beach.
This was manifested by his continued interest in repeating the set of instructions on how to get to the resort.
It was like clockwork.
Every kilometer, he made an announcement, telling everyone that we should get off at the Maharlika Highway exit towards Sto. Tomas, Batangas.
But the boy’s attempts to help us navigate would prove to be futile.
Even before we reached Lipa City, we discovered that half of the instructions were about as useful as a dial-up modem.
Only upon entering Lipa City proper — which was still an hour and a half away from our destination — did we realize the enormity of our troubles.
A rotunda sat on the middle of the highway, flanked by a huge McDonald’s outlet which, in turn, cut the road into two directions.
Thankfully, the instructions — posted on and downloaded from the resort’s website — made no mention of these two structures nor the general direction which we would take.
But we all ignored that setback.
All three adults in the delegation considered themselves fairly experienced travelers.
The ceremony’s best man (who was behind the wheel) once lived in the East Coast with his family and I (the groomsman) once got lost in the subway — on New Year’s Eve at that — without being mistaken for a terrorist, a panhandler, or some Filipino hick living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Years later, we missed a midnight train from Virginia to DC but our streetsmarts led us back to our hotel where our wives were waiting for us.
On separate occasions, both of us were also able to survive visiting two other continents with nothing but chutzpah and common sense to guide us throughout our trips.
But at that moment, one and half hours before the scheduled ceremony, as the car encircled the rotunda, we finally came to terms with our fate.
No amount of adventures in any foreign location were about to controvert our situation in Batangas. We were not only lost, we were absolutely, unquestionably, undisputably lost.
To quote a popular saying, we were fucked.

Lipa City is Makati on Valium

As we came to grips with this inconvenient truth, we attempted to do what appeared logical to three fairly-intelligent but lost adults at that time.
We drove into the city, madly, blindly, like three mice for whom a nursery rhyme was composed.
And as we traveled on its streets, we came to realize that Lipa City was Makati on Valium.
Like the Philippines’ premier business district, it had one-way streets more common than the signature accent of Leo Martinez.
Every time we made a wrong turn, we had to go around the block just to get back to where we were.
This occurred a couple of times while looking for a P. Torres — supposedly the location of a Mercury Drug store — which would then lead us to a Padre Garcia.
However, the route information that we had failed to indicate what P. Torres or Padre Garcia was.
Were these streets, districts, or neighborhoods? Or were these simply random names of dead or fictitious people designed to confuse cityfolk confident of their navigational skills?
We didn’t know and we didn’t care.
Our goal was to get to a resort in Laiya as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, another thing got in the way.
Vehicles in Lipa City traveled at the pace of the Philippines’ judicial system.
On more than one occasion, even though the road ahead was clear of any vehicle, pedestrian, or potential road kill, jeepneys rarely accelerated.
Instead, they moved at the pace of a fully-loaded shopping cart pushed behind by a senior citizen suffering from arthritis.
After receiving directions from five to six tricycle drivers and a couple of pedestrians, we were convinced that we were on the right track.
We got on what appeared to be a national highway that we believed would take us to our final destination.
That is, until we saw a school named after a certain Governor Rafael Nantes.
In the blink of an eye, our car slowed down, moved to the shoulder, and attempted to make a U-turn. We took the wrong way and was already heading toward Tiaong, Quezon.
Good thing the driver knew who Nantes was: he was the Governor of Quezon.
Only when we reentered Lipa City did we get correct directions from an old guy on a cane, sitting on a bench by the roadside.
When we asked which way Laiya was, he was so shocked that he was able to stand up without using his cane.
He then volunteered to give us specific instructions on how to get to the resort.
His directions were proven correct.
But we still arrived an hour late.
Fortunately, our hosts waited for us, ensuring our participation in their blessed and happy ceremony.
Not long after, all of us were already enjoying the reception.
As I drank crisp, ice-cold, and most importantly — free — beer, I remembered a quote I first encountered in high school while reading Robert Ludlum’s The Osterman Weekend: “It may be better to travel, but it is even better to arrive.”
I took a long pull on my beer and got myself another bottle, hoping that the trip back to Manila wouldn’t be half as bad.
It wasn’t. I traveled with an economist.
But that’s the subject of another blog entry.
Picture of Southern Tagalog Arterial Road from Batanggenyong Online.

Holiday Road Rage

For those unaccustomed to the intricacies of Quezon City traffic, C.P. Garcia is the fastest route to Loyola Heights, Marikina City, Antipolo, and even to the famed C-5.
Since the four-lane thoroughfare has become everyone’s little secret shortcut, C. P. Garcia has been transmogrified into the street that traffic regulations forgot. (Then again, that could be EDSA but I digress.)
During rush hour, C. P. Garcia is thoroughly inhospitable, a mish-mash of flashy SUVs, dilapidated trucks, overloaded tricycles, and motorcycles carrying everything from oven-hot pizzas to day-old babies.
The holiday season only made it worse.
Any vehicle that dared enter C. P. Garcia during rush hour immediately fell prey to a kind of mechanical catatonia, in which anything with at least two wheels were absolutely incapable of forward movement.
One morning, while on an errand to buy beer, I avoided C. P. Garcia with the stealth of an errant Ninong on the run from a long-lost inaanak.
Instead of taking the avenue on the way to Cubao — where I was headed to buy party provisions — I took Commonwealth Avenue from UP, where I had earlier dropped off my wife.
All I had to do was to make a U-turn at the nearest slot, make another U-turn at the intersection of Commonwealth and Quezon Circle, bringing me to the Philcoa area.
Once I made a right on Masaya Street, I would be able to reach Kalayaan Avenue, which would then bring me straight to Aurora Boulevard.
But on that fateful day, my short trip to Cubao seemed like the road to perdition.
As I approached Masaya, I hit the signal light, indicating that I was going to make a right.
My intentions were casually ignored by a bus that cut me off.
It cruised right by, confident that its sheer size and heft allowed it to flout road courtesy.
I stopped and immediately made a left, thankful that the brakes worked, allowing me to avoid a collision.
Besides saving my life, the strategic move helped me fulfill the important role of providing joy and goodwill to my wife’s beer-drinking buddies that night.
But that would come much later.
When I veered away from the uncouth six-wheeled behemoth, I struggled to keep my cool.
After all, it was holiday season, a time when road rage and murderous intent is muted because spending Christmas in a funeral home is not a fate wished on even your worst enemies. (The arrangement sits well with undertakers working overtime though.)
But I absolutely blew my top when another bus immediately came barreling down on my left, intending to invade the lane I had already occupied halfway.
There I was, avoiding a bus-driving jerk on my right, and here was another bus, on my left, driven by a similar Neanderthal, threatening to plow into an old, rickety Toyota.
What was I to do?
I went absolutely postal.
It ticked me off, got my goat, made me fly off the handle, and countless other idioms that pop up whenever I type in the word “angry” in my laptop’s thesaurus software application.
I swerved to the left — immediately blocking the bus’ path — got off the car, and showed everyone else why I was the best argument for tighter gun control, and to a lesser degree, legalized abortion. (I’m not a gun owner, never will be.)
I went up to the bus, pointed to the driver, and asked him to step out of his vehicle. Although apologetic, he refused to open his doors and his companions — a bunch of conductors and ticket inspectors — gave me a look that said: “Would somebody please give this man his medication?”
Now, what good did that outburst do?
Absolutely nothing.
By the time I simmered down and eased the car out of the bus’ way, I was too far off to take a right at Masaya.
I was forced to enter C. P. Garcia, the very same road I had planned to avoid minutes before.
As I sat there in traffic, looking at the congestion brought about by the holidays, I said to myself: “Bah, humbug.”

Also published at GMANews.TV.

My so-called mid-life crisis


Wife and I

TEDIOUS professional obligations, internecine office politics, and intransigent subordinates have successfully transformed me into an old geezer–whiny, irritable, prone to various forms of rage (i. e., road, train, work, phone and of course, text-messaging). This is according to my wife, who has continued to look ten years younger, has managed to stay cheerful, and has successfully avoided conflict with any living entity, including but not limited to God, the Holy Trinity, and the various self-important fogeys at UP’s English Department.

Meanwhile, despite my very best efforts, I remain her diametric opposite, a slightly overweight, intense male whom many people refuse to believe is her husband.

Revealing these juicy biographical tidbits, I suppose, is my way of confessing that yes, I may already be struggling with a mid-life crisis, and no, I haven’t turned fifty yet.

But I might as well have.

Each time I climb out of bed in the morning, I immediately feel a general dissatisfaction with life and the world in general, an impression that has not been dispelled ever since I finished college and joined the workforce.

My difficult bouts of angst and anger is not in any way assuaged by a regular, two-hour, thrice a week session at the gym.

According to a friend who now has a wonderful life earning a huge salary working for a multinational firm, any physical exercise, if done repeatedly, is likely to produce some chemical in the brain, which makes you feel good.

Apparently, my brain has run out of the substance or has given up altogether.

After countless leg raises, sit-ups, and bench presses, I still feel no better than usual, only more exhausted and more inclined to produce sweat, body odor, and germs that cause athlete’s foot and jock itch (which, by the way, is worse than athlete’s foot).

This is not helped by the fact that the guys I get to hang out in the gym in between our sets are males my age who have basically the same complaints–corruption and the padrino system inside and outside government.

Take X., who from what I gather, is a jail guard who is as honest as they come.

Earning only less than P15,000 a month, X. has managed to keep body, soul, and integrity intact even though he is sometimes sent to go after dangerous criminals who were able to escape through the cooperation of their guards–the very same colleagues of X.

Now, how does one even begin to work given these conditions?

How does one continue to struggle, day after day, against a flawed system that will eventually work against your favor?

I myself have no answer. Nor does X.

But he keeps on at his job, joking that one of these days, he’ll set some Korean drug lord free so that at least he could savor some of the benefits that his colleagues have been enjoying.

Except that no one takes him seriously.

After all, if he did that, he’d move to a fancier gym, buy a new car, and get a better apartment.

But in recounting X.’s daily struggles, whether in between sets of bicep curls or turns at the stationary bike, I am reminded that my all of my angst–work-related or otherwise–are far too trivial to be indulged. While I may arguably have a mid-life crisis, I’m taking the advice carved on the paperweight of Meyer Berger, one of the New York Times’ legedary reporters: “Illegitimi non carborundum est (Don’t let the bastards wear you down).”


Photo above shows my wife and I onboard a ferry from Bellano to Bellagio in Italy. Quotation and story about Meyer Berger above taken from page 20 of John Hess’s My Times: A Memoir of Dissent bought at the Strand Bookstore in New York. (Naaks. Italy, New York, smart and pretty wife–and he says he’s unhappy.)