Saturday, September 12, 2015

Road trip

IN the country, one of the guaranteed shortcuts for going native is to commute. Take a bus if you are that desperate.

When the husband and I returned to Badian on a Friday afternoon, we found out that, after 30 or so years, the South Bus Terminal has come full circle: from pandemonium to “world class” pretensions back to pandemonium.

Backpacking was the best way to travel in the 1980s. The Cebu City terminal for buses plying the southern route was an obstacle course favoring survivors, not beginners.

One had to be swift and nimble enough to climb and enter the bus through a window to avoid the horde clamoring at the lone entrance/exit. Or ferocious in bawling out lesser mortals lunging for the last seat.

A degree of civilization later settled in the terminal. Pre-departure comforts created the illusion that one was taking the bus to Tokyo, Rome or Ginatilan. Then management changed.

Too stiff-jointed now to fight for seats, I relied on my salt-and-pepper hair. The guard bawled out our silver-haired group because he probably assumed the elderly are all stone-deaf, but he let us in first.

Three young Korean backpackers shook their heads at the shoving. I approved of their luggage but not their choice of footwear. Those heels are not for scrambling in through a bus window.

“Do not overload” is a rule no one follows in the country. There’s a respite following a tragedy drawing a bad press and a public outcry. But in the days that follow, the normal abnormal is timeless.

Even though sidewalks overflow with vendors and their wares, pedestrians, and illegally parked vehicles, bus drivers can spot the lone person in the crowd who doesn’t have to make the right-hand pumping gesture that stands for eternal optimism: willing-to-stand-until-someone-gets-off.

So while you’ve paid and struggled for an aisle seat in an air-conditioned bus, expect to be prodded by an elbow, a hip or the entire person of the eternal optimist and his ilk, who are camped out in the aisle, along with their bags and the all-time favorite cylinder canister of cookies (after the cookies are polished off, the canister becomes a pail).

During peak season, bus aisles go the way of sidewalks in this country: they disappear after planks are pulled out from nowhere to connect the aisle seats for commuters boarding the bus along the route.

To leave the bus, passengers must clear the planks without knocking off the aisle seaters—a challenge one gets first taste of in the disorder at the Cebu City terminal, which proves the principle that for everything, including unreason, a reason.

The conspiracy not to leave any bus space unused is perfected by food vendors. When one nears Carcar City, men clamber in. They hoist huge bags of food. Their specialization is to insert this considerable load past all the animate and inanimate obstacles blocking the aisles to reach the passenger at the back of the bus who will scrutinize a tiny pack before, in keeping with the Cebuano virtue of stinginess, giving this back to the vendor because it is overpriced.

I am for free enterprise even though my principle when travelling is to minimize what I take in to limit the need for public toilets. Our “comfort rooms” deserve more than a column. Next time perhaps.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s September 13, 2015 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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