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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


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Friday, January 04, 2008

entry arrow12:46 PM | Why I Am an Eternal Pedestrian

[an update from a previous post]

The first thing that you should maybe know about me is that I don’t know how to drive a car. I’ve promised family and friends that there will come a day when I’d muster half a decision to get behind the wheel, and enjoy the freedom that only driving a car can bring. I know the mythology: driving cars bring with it a sense of controlling destiny, a means of putting under control the tyranny of distance. In some cultures, getting a license is a rite of passage, the first mark of adulthood—a driving license is, in a sense, society’s way of conferring on you its trust that you are now a responsible citizen of the world.

I believe in all that, but I still stop short of actually wanting to learn. In my life, I can only recall two instances where friends have actually started a kind of impromptu tutorial on driving. I remember one friend suddenly stopping at a wayside one quiet day in the countryside, and then telling me to get off my butt from the passenger’s seat and take the wheel. “But I don’t know how to drive,” I told him.

“It’s about time you know,” he said.

I shrugged, and said, “Okay.”

We changed seats, and I turned on the key in the ignition. It was an automatic, and so I really needed to do was to shift gears from “park” to “drive,” and then to slowly step on the gas pedal to move. I maybe moved three or six feet. And then I stepped on the brakes.

“That’s it,” I said.

“Why did you stop?”

“It’s not my car. I don’t want to risk ramming this into anything, or falling into a ditch.”

“But you were almost there!”

“Hurray.”

But I believed in my sense of caution. If it was my car, or some dilapidated contraption that deserved retirement in a junk yard, I would have continued the lesson. But it was a new Picanto, colored blue, something my friend bought from the savings of two years. I did not want a future with this new Picanto damaged in a ditch, me behind the wheel.

Besides, there seems to be no point in learning how to drive in Dumaguete, where life is all pedestrian bliss. The short distances between everything and the unimaginable overpopulation of motorized contraptions from Japan and Korea plying the narrow roads of this city basically spell out my distinct disinterest in getting behind a wheel.

It is also safe to confess that I don’t know anything about car mechanics—how it works, how the engine runs, the whole shebang. I cannot tell a carburetor from a radiator. I cannot change tires. And I don’t know the difference between diesel and unleaded petrol. Once, driving around the city with Mark who was equally ignorant about the workings of cars, we felt we needed to fill one of our tires with air, so we drove to the nearest bulkit shop we knew, and asked for a smidgen of oxygen. The greasy mechanic who attended to us asked, “Unsay pressure?” We looked at each other’s blank faces, and had no idea how to answer.

But at least Mark knew how to drive. “It’s unfair,” Mark told me once, “you’re always the passenger.” Oh, well.

“I hate Dumaguete gridlock,” I offered. “All the bad drivers!”

“But I hate the traffic, too,” he grumbled.

Dumaguete traffic—with its serpentine one-way routes, “no rules” navigation, opportunistic “parking boys,” and bumper-car mentality in the negotiation with the ubiquitous tricycle—is also a quick study into the development of road rage. The “parking boy” phenomenon is especially infuriating. We once backed out of a parking lot around midnight, and a fishy-looking boy suddenly jumped out of the shadows and started doing his hand signals, to “ease” us into the, uhm, very quiet highway. I turned to Mark, “Does he not see there’s no traffic around?” That’s not the most infuriating. Many times we are ambushed by young boys, who must not be more than eight or six years old, blowing their whistles and making some ambiguous gestures. Mark would turn to me and say, “Do they even know what they’re doing? Does this brat even know how to drive?”

All these tell me it’s better off walking through this not-so-gentle city.

You can imagine Mark and I traveling to Valencia once, to dip in the cool waters of Forest Camp. Since the town, thirty minutes west of Dumaguete, was located uphill, I told Mark maybe we should use the “powers” of the Pajero to negotiate the climb and switch to four-wheels. He did. It was a wonderful afternoon we had, swimming in the cool river waters of the Banica. And then driving back to the city, we began to hear the car making a strange screeching noise that could be heard from miles away. “What’s wrong with the car?” I asked Mark. He said, “I have no idea.”

“Maybe we should head straight to a mechanic,” I said.

“Maybe we should call my mom,” he said.

The car screeched and screeched as we made our way back to Dumaguete. People were looking at us in a funny way. It was getting to be an embarrassment.

“This is getting awkward,” Mark said.

“Oh dear God,” I said.

“I hate this car.”

“What did you do?”

“I don’t know!”

I had an inspired idea. “Maybe we should stop by my elder brother’s place. Rocky’s house is on the way. He knows about cars.”

Twenty embarrassing minutes later, we found ourselves in front my brother’s gate. “What’s the problem?” Rocky asked.

“We don’t know. We shifted to four-wheel drive, and then it’s been screeching all day long,” Mark said.

My brother Rocky took the wheel, gunned the engine, and made a simple maneuver: he drove the car backwards a few meters. “You have to do backing to unlock the gear. It was locked all the way. That was the screeching sound.” Mark and I only laughed. It rang hollow. Such is the price for embarrassment and ignorance.

Then last December, Mark and I went to my hometown of Bayawan to act as judges (together with lawyer Myrish Cadapan-Antonio and former Miss Silliman Stacy Alcantara) in their annual search for Miss Bayawan. The saga of our very eventful journey to and from the southernmost city of Negros Oriental was interesting.

Did I say saga? Let’s just call it our purgatorial ride. See, we could have taken the Pajero, but opted instead for an old Hyundai Accent—a perfectly bad choice. Because we soon learned that for each leg of the trip, we had to stop every 20 kilometers or so. The damned car kept overheating, and we had to knock on every door throughout the Negrense countryside to ask for water, which the car guzzled just like that, about 15 liters for every stop. “Damn Korean cars,” Mark said. Once, somewhere between Siaton and Sta. Catalina, a driver for the Bayawan City Hall passed us by in his shiny new pick-up, saw our predicament, and helped us out. He spouted some helpful tips a mechanic would know, but everything he said was Russian to both of us. “What did he mean about maybe there is a leak in the radiator?” I asked Mark.

“I have no idea,” he said.

It was the longest road trip in our lives.

On the way back home the next day, it rained hard, one of the car windows would not close, and we still had to make a couple of stops along the way to quench the thirsty car—all in the middle of the rain.

“Someday, we will laugh at all these,” I told poor Mark, who was, of course, driving.

“Yeah?” he said. “Well, I’m not laughing now.”

We soon safely got home.

Three days later, we remembered all that had happened, and snickered a little. Just a little.

Moral lesson: Take the Pajero for long trips. Insight: Filipinos may be the most hospitable and helpful people in the world. Every house we called on for help did not hesitate to give us all the aid we needed. It was a humbling experience.

And I still don’t want to learn how to drive.

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