Mara was my college roommate. We’ve been through everything, that is to say, if I killed someone, I’d call her to help me dispose of the body (This is a Grey’s Anatomy reference to the Meredith-Christina tandem. I’d like to think I make sure all my transactions are non-violent). Brussels stole her from me by dangling some super cool post-graduate degree that only bad-asses are allowed to take.
You know I don’t subscribe to something as “basic” as “falling in love”, but at some point in our lives we’re meant to eat our words (just as we’re meant to eventually say the dreaded “you were right, Mom”). But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning.
I had a return flight from Legazpi City to Manila on May 23. Legazpi City is only 2-3 hours away from my destination: Gubat, Sorsogon. What I did not have was a when to head out to Gubat from Manila. As I had just quit my day job without an inkling of a plan (THE plan, THE what-am-I-meant-to-be plan), I was certain I wanted to spend around two weeks there.
Like any good adventure (at least the ones we tend to like best), it started with “I just hopped on a bus with no ticket”.
I’m a cheapskate and by the time I decided I was ready to leave for Gubat, spending on a plane ticket was no longer an option.
I arrived at the Philtranco bus station in Pasay a little before 6:00 pm. The lines were already snaking. Based on my research, I knew the bus was set to leave at 6:30 pm. It was the only bus that would take me straight to Gubat (I’ve done the route that involved hopping on one mode of transportation to the next; I had no intention of doing that again). To add, I had a 50L heavy-duty backpack, a smaller denim nap sack, and a brown leather carryall that held my ancient, thus heavy laptop.
“Chance passenger na lang po, ma’am,” said the teller in the ticketing booth as I craned to hear his voice above the ruckus. It was Friday. Of course I had to choose a Friday to leave, just as a multitude of people were also rushing to head home to their provinces for the weekend.
And so, I did the only self-respecting thing: I lurked. I lurked beside the conductor, silently berating myself for not putting on more make-up or just generally looking more put-together (I know, I know. I shouldn’t objectify myself, even in theory. But, for the record, this was a survival call; I needed to get on that bus). I went from one bus to the other, only to have all the conductors tell me the same thing with the a matter-of-fact look that read, “It’s rush hour on a Friday; what did you expect?”.
But because God still loves me, the most wonderful thing happened. I made eye-contact with a “safe-looking” man (read: I sized him up and decided I can probably take him if he does anything stupid), looking especially stressed himself. He was in his mid-30s, lean, average height, kind face. He said to me that he too had no ticket, but that he had made an effort to tell the conductor to prioritize him. He said he’d put in a good word for me as well.
It was almost 7:00 pm. My shoulders and back were killing me. I wanted to put down my bags but we were literally by the road.
The bus’s engine started to rev up, signaling its departure. And, hand to my heart, my consciousness zeroed in to that exact moment. All my other senses went numb as my body’s vision went on overdrive.
It took less than 30 seconds: The conductor called the man I had just spoken with to take the tiny conductor’s seat by the door. He took his seat. He started talking to the driver while making a gesture towards me. The bus doors were closing— only to pop open again! “Sakay na (Get in),” the conductor said to me. With barely a nod, I leaped onto the platform where I was delegated to sit by the pile of bags beside the bus driver. Who cares if this is a 12-14-hour bus ride? I’ll take it!*
* A lady was sitting directly behind the bus driver and went down in Alabang, so I just had to endure sitting by the bags for 30-40 minutes until I got one of the best seats in the house!
I must admit, commuting is increasing my street smarts by 80% (This is because I had below average as a tween).
Moral of the story? Be quick on your feet. Get a feel of your surroundings immediately as you enter any room/place. Don’t dismiss people. Be kind, but don’t act like a sissy around them. Learn the art of conversation. There is a Hiligaynon/Ilonggo (my native language) saying that I especially like, “Unahan mo sa dungan“. Loosely translated, it means to give off an energy that makes people feel you’re a bad-ass and shouldn’t be taken lightly. It reminds me of you, Mara.
In any case, all this for a small town in the middle of nowhere. All this effort and it might not even want me there. But this is the price we pay for wanting. At the end of the day, you and I have agreed: “It’s always worth a shot”.
Sometimes I wish I could be one of those people who didn’t chase after the thrill while traveling. Between you and me, despite all these trips, I rarely go on vacations.
I miss you, Mara. These are the sort of silly adventures I miss sharing with you. The tropics is clamoring for you back if you will have it again.
Sending lots of sun, sea, and love,
P.S. I’m sending this letter through Joyce/Yeni for good measure. I’m not privy to how efficient Philippine Post is, and I’d rather this doesn’t fall in the Atlantic.
Read more about my trip in the next letter.
Do you have any interesting commute stories? I’d love to hear them.