A day in the life of a public commuter

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Saturday, February 15, 2014


That is the gist of what it’s like to be a daily customer of public transportation: You are always waiting. First, you wait at the stop for a unit that still has space for you, your behind, and your impatience. Next, you wait for the public utility vehicle to finish filling its empty spaces with passengers so it can move on to the next stop. Third, you wait for your ride to make all of its stops until yours (including traffic!). Fourth, you wait for the jeepney driver or “konduktor” to give you your change, assuming they won’t assume it already magically appeared in your pockets. It is always a game of waiting, and this is a day in the life of a public commuter.

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the mini-world inside a PUV is through the motorela. It is the Filipino version of Thailand’s “tuk-tuk,” a shell with seats and a grimy “No Smoking” sign built around a motorcycle. It is my most favorite form of public transportation because I get to become part of every conversation, albeit indirectly. I get conversations that go:


“I broke up with my boyfriend five minutes ago.”


“Because all this time I’ve been in love with you.”

It is nearly always entertaining, like Facebook in real time and in person. This may just be because I spend so much time online that face-to-face confrontations—instead of the mainstream reactive (and potentially explosive) Facebook or Twitter posts—surprise me. I would have thought they died along with common sense and chivalry centuries ago.

Once upon a February morning, I was on my way to school. I had fifteen minutes to miraculously make it to class on time. Note: Fifteen minutes may be ample time if you are riding a taxi or driven by your father, but fifteen minutes via public transportation is like waiting for a Valentine on Valentine’s Day.

Suddenly, the jeepney pulled over momentarily and the vehicle was bombarded by the shrill sounds of street children: Two girls hopped on but did not sit down; instead, they hanged on to the posterior of the jeep while pushing their little brother onto the floor of the moving vehicle. I stared at them for several seconds; they wore skirts that billowed in the wind, their chest area on the verge of maturity. They were, minus the uniform and bulging school bag, like me.

Other passengers glanced at the triad with looks of mingled disapproval and disgust. Everyone else looked anywhere but at them as they conversed in a language that was unfamiliar to me. I could not help thinking how these people were so quick to shy away from the unconventional and pretend the marginalized don’t exist, hiding behind their earphones and looks of disinterest. When the street children left, the sound of relief resonated across the vehicle, tangible with every earlobe.

Eventually, the jeep passed by dress shop after dress shop along Capistrano St., the sequins sown daintily on several gowns winking at passers-by from their displays.

And then I started thinking about the girl who could be in that dress, if she could feel as suffocated as the lifeless mannequins striking unflattering poses. I wonder if she will enjoy her prom night or debut, and if all 18 roses will bother showing up. I wonder if she will be thinking about the statistics of other girls who wished they, too, could feel like Kate Middleton for a night. I think of her date or escort and wonder if he will be looking at her the way Disney princesses are looked at by their respective princes. I think of how far away that world of romance, glitz, and glamour is from the dusty, cramped spaces in the jeepney, half-rotting with the stench of sweat and rain.

While I was spacing out (which, by the way, you should not do at all costs!), the “konduktor” tapped me on the shoulder and handed me my change. I was immediately ticked off because I do not like it when strangers touch me; also, he handed me the wrong amount. I calmly told him that I usually only pay the six-peso student fare when traveling from Capistrano St. to school. He calmly replied I’ve been paying the wrong amount. I calmly answered that he should not give me that kind of crap because he doesn’t fool me. He was most certainly not calm about that; he muttered under his breath, like my brother when denied a treat, all the way until I reached school and got off Hell’s royal carriage. So much for feeling like Cinderella.

Whether it’s waiting for a miracle, your change, or the next big thing to happen, public transportation will always exercise your patience. It is an experience that helps you commune with the world outside classroom examples of society. And it is a lesson—a demonstration—that though you will wait until your bones rot, eventually, you will get the best part of waiting: Arriving.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 16, 2014.


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