Stories from cramped cars

Author’s note: This article was published in UPIU.com, on Sep. 14, 2010. The original page is here.

This is a feature article that details a few of the various amusing events I’ve experienced while commuting back and forth every day.

My classmate, who gave me feedback, noted that the tone was generally light, which was both boon and bane to the story. A boon because the article and the various stories contained within were easy to comprehend and appreciate, but a bane because the tone apparently made it seem a little too trivial.

He also noted that while the stories were entertaining and amusing, the stories I told were a little negative due to the fact 2/3 of them involved a potential crime. He said that it made my stories seem like warnings (which were part of my intentions) to those who are unfamiliar with commuting in Manila.

Other things include a suggestion to include a handful of data and/or statistics that could support the background of the story, and other fleshing out of the background. (In my defense, there were some parameters with regards to word count, and I was already running over the suggested maximum as is.)

A UPIU mentor also gave me some brief feedback on the story; he said that it did suit the feature or column genre better. He found it humorous.

The story can be read after the jump.

Modern society has a love-hate relationship with public transportation. We love it because it’s a cheaper and faster way to get around, but on the other hand, we loathe it because most of the time it’s just too uncomfortable. The case is no different here in Manila – there are various transportation systems ranging from the blazing-fast light rail (LRT lines and MRT) to the iconic jeepney, and they’re both cheap and really cramped (with the exception of the LRT2, aka the “Purple Line”). Sometimes, there’s not really much to love in the hecticness of it all.

While people just use public transportation as a means of getting around, lately I’ve started to treat it as a form of entertainment. How? Simple – I’ve been watching out for little incidents that happen in my daily commute, from Sta. Rosa, Laguna, to UP Diliman in Quezon City, many kilometers apart. It’s the journey and not the destination that matters, so they say, so I look out for the little, unusual, and most definitely interesting things you don’t see happening every day. The spontaneity of human interaction is one of the things that gives life its spice. Here’s some of what I’ve witnessed or experienced so far.

The drama queen

At rush hour, the trains and the buses tend to get as tight as a can of sardines. While being compressed against your will is already bad enough, there’s a huge chance someone might accidentally step on your toes or something while trying to move around in the tight crowd. Although, when that happens, nobody really gets mad because they understand what they got themselves into.

This one lady on the train, however, didn’t take it well. It wasn’t rush hour, but a man still managed to accidentally step on her toes on his way to grab the empty seat beside her. She loudly cried out in pain and started to complain about the guy not apologizing, hoping he would get the point, but it turned out he wasn’t aware that he had stepped on her, and she wasn’t aware that he wasn’t aware. What followed next was just embarrassing for her.

She pulls out her cellphone and “calls” a friend, still loudly (and annoyingly) complaining about the guy stepping on her toes and lacking the decency to apologize. This goes on for a while until eventually, he figures out that she is talking about him, and tries to apologize as politely as he can, explaining that he didn’t know he had stepped on her. She doesn’t accept it right away, and even proceeds to make a scene, at which point all the remaining sympathy for her was gone. In the end, she was only successful in annoying those around her.

Jeepneys

All too often you’re going to feel the squeeze riding a jeep. Since it’s the cheapest way to get around, most people opt to ride jeeps, and if you ride from the terminal the dispatchers are often going to overload the jeep to maximize space and profit. Most spend jeep rides in pain and discomfort, wishing they’d get to where they’re going already.

I had this one bizarre experience a few months ago. I was on my way home, riding the jeep to get to the train, when suddenly the old lady beside me grabbed my arm and creepily whispered something about my cellphone.

I was confused and a little freaked out at first. She was telling me to put my phone in my other pocket and to be wary of the guy sitting on her other side, because she was getting down soon and she thinks he’s a snatcher. She was freaky because she kept ominously whispering “be careful” over and over.

When she got down, I got a look at the man sitting beside her, and I found that he didn’t seem to be a snatcher; in fact, he had two phones with him, not to mention he was minding his own business. Needless to say, no pickpocketing happened.

Bus shenanigans

Manila buses have long been scenes of crime and tragedy, and the Aug. 23 hostage incident did nothing to help matters. Buses are good places for criminals to work – passengers are at their most vulnerable in buses because they are at their most comfortable. I know this because my phone was pickpocketed while I was sound asleep.

The modus operandi of snatchers is to get on the bus, look for an unsuspecting victim, and get away quickly before anyone notices. I saw this in action myself. A man got on the bus I was riding one night and sat one row in front of a sleeping passenger, who was clutching his bag as he slept.

I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary until the man asked me, “Is he your companion?” to which I said “no”. I didn’t know why he asked me such a question, so I started observing him. He started to grope the other guy’s bag, possibly trying to feel for any expensive things inside (i.e. a laptop) or trying to find a way to open it. Eventually he stopped and got down from the bus, and it took me a while to realize what he was trying to do.

In another incident, two shady-looking men got on another bus I was riding, looked around, then got off soon after. Before that, one of them, who was switching seats a lot, sat beside me and told me that “they were not bad people.” I wasn’t really convinced.

Start watching

So the next time you find yourself stuck in a rut with your daily routine, hopping from trains to buses to taxis and what else have you, start watching out for drama that might break out. Sure, you may seem nosy, but they’re the ones making scenes in a public place. It should entertain you long enough to forget your boredom.

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