Life without iPod

Cartoon courtesy of Dave Walker/

It’s not exactly an American Express card.

But I still don’t leave home without it, besides my keys, my wallet, and my notebook.

I’m referring of course to my black, four-gigabyte, second-generation iPod Nano, faithful traveling companion for the past four years (going on five, if the rechargeable batteries make it until February).

However, its power management issues were the least of my concerns four days ago.

That’s because I left it at home, depriving me of the soundtrack of my life, especially at a time when I needed it most — on a bus trip to a resort some two hundred or so kilometers north of Manila.

When I realized that my favorite gadget was not in my pockets, I did what all men my age, status, and temperament did when confronted by tribulation: I froze.

My heart raced, my mind drew a blank, and my face had a stunned look as if the world I had known had fallen apart.

Unfortunately, the real world had so far remained insensitive to the plight of literary poseurs, especially if they exhibit characteristics found only among senior citizens.

People came and went, pursuing their selfish ends, unable to comprehend, let alone sympathize with someone who was suffering in silence (i.e., myself).

The universe was cold, cruel; indifferent to those whose concerns were far more important than theirs, whose preoccupations were small and trivial.

And then slowly, it all came back to me.

I left my iPod on the bed after I loaded it with what I considered to be songs best played on road trips: Pat Metheny’s Here To Stay, Terence Blanchard’s rendition of A Streetcar Named Desire, Jackie Gleason’s take on A Taste of Honey, and an all-time favorite, The Batman Theme.

Listening to these tunes while ignoring talkative blowhards go on about corruption and rheumatism was one of the best ways to pass the time.

But there was no way I could listen to my own music that Tuesday morning.

I was already at the bus terminal, keeping an eye on the wall clock that moved close to my scheduled departure.

Initially, I wanted to make a run for it.

I thought I had enough time to grab a cab home, pick it up, and take the same cab back to the terminal.

Except that it was wishful thinking.

There was no way on earth that I could do that without missing my bus and incurring the ire of my companions.

When the bus was about to leave — and on time at that — I picked up my knapsack, climbed aboard, and braced myself for what may well be one of the longest road trips of my life.

As I settled on a window seat, I was pretty sure that I had a song handy for exactly this kind of occasion.

Except that I had no chance of finding out.

But as I said, that was four days ago.

Now I’m back to my old digs, grateful for a recharged iPod that has — besides a hard reset or two —  served me well.

Coming home had never felt this good.

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.

That’s what rich friends are for

(From the Blast From The Past Dept. This piece was first published by the Manila Times in August 2004 when a 33.6 kbps dial-up connection was considered high-tech. Picture of Ding Dong from Philam Food’s website. No transaction, financial or otherwise, has been entered upon by Philam Food and the website’s owner and manager, then and now.)

Just last Saturday, I grudgingly agreed to leave for Tagaytay together with my wife and two other couples; friends whom, for better or worse, we never got around to hang out with that much.

This is because of the six people in that group, almost everyone had work schedules that were tighter than a rusted nut: three were high-powered professionals, two were very active in the academe, while one puttered about in the apartment all day, wearing silly polka-dotted boxers and looking for snacks, preferably Ding-Dong Mixed Nuts. (Which, by the way, is one of the many fine quality Filipino products that go very well with beer. Cigarettes also go well with beer but you can t eat them.)

Anyway, I looked forward to the whole trip with the enthusiasm of former president Estrada awaiting impeachment proceedings.

As a loyal follower of the Dave Barry School of Journalism (Motto: Never leave the house), it was and still is my journalistic responsibility to stay indoors as much as humanly possible, come hell or high water, whether on weekends or weekdays, despite invitations to press conferences and events held outside my apartment.

And so far, I have been successful.

But last Saturday, I relented. Easily, if I might add.

According to Couple A, who had planned the whole Ta?gaytay excursion a month ago, Couple B and my wife and I would not incur any expense at all during the course of the whole trip. Not a centavo, they said.

The Tagaytay invitation therefore proved interesting.

If there is anything that would make me want to step out of the apartment in case of fire, an inspection from my landlord, a surprise visit from my in-laws, or an emergency beer shortage it is always the prospect of a freebie.

This explains why it is always a financially sound decision to have rich friends, as any highly paid financial consultant will tell you. Hanging out with rich friends makes mooching off a lot easier than it sounds.

For instance, rich friends offer to pick you up at your convenience, pay for expensive dinner and drinks, and take you home safely, even after you’ve become rude and drunk.

After all, what else can they expect? You’re poor. You’re supposed to be rude and drunk.

Aside from being the butt of coño kids’ corny jokes, the inability to hang out at Rockwell and drink expensive coffee at Starbucks, what else are you supposed to be? A moocher, that’s what.

And so, early Saturday morning, my wife and I were fetched by a van, which fortunately, was not driven by Vandolph.

As soon as we were cruising along the highway, I saw that half of Metro Manila also had decided to spend the weekend at Tagaytay City. Apparently, a lot of them also had rich friends.

A couple of hours later, we finally arrived in a posh Tagaytay subdivision where we spent the night drinking beer, playing some board games, and watching DVDs, at no cost to us.

Indeed, it was a typical weekend getaway made possible by having rich friends.

Thank God for poverty.