Adventures on Public Transportation

I’m a commuter. Have been all my life, except for a short period of time when I was in college, when I thought driving from home to school and back again would make things easier. It didn’t. It’s not that I was a terrible driver, it’s just that driving was both physically and mentally exhausting for me. There’s something about getting behind the wheel that immediately de-evolves people and when your driving in the city, you get tired of watching people suddenly losing their ability to distinguish between a pedestrian and an empty bag of chips.

Not that public transportation is all fun and games. Take the MRT on rush hour and you’ll find yourself having to fight your way in and out (and can’t make u my mind which is worse) of the train. Take an FX and you’ll have to worry about jerks who’ll play their music so loud it’ll bleed out of their earphones or guys who smell like they’ve plunged into a pool of cheap cologne (they must think that, like the guy in the Axe commerical, they too will turn into chocolate and women will eat them). Take a jeepney and you’ll bump into young people who clumsily hide their public displays of affection and creeps who refuse to put their cigarettes out. And no matter what kind of public transportation you take, there are many, many incidents of stolen wallets, stolen phones and groped body parts. You’ve always got be careful and it helps if you’re lucky, but beyond that there’s a certain mindset that you develop when you commute. Just as there’s a certain mindset you develop when you drive. The key may be finding out which you are better at.

There are lots of things to love about commuting, despite the stressful things that come with it. Since I don’t have to worry about driving, I can just sit and relax for the remainder of my trip. Plenty of people use the time to take a little nap, but personally I prefer reading while in transit (it’s one way to make sure I don’t finish a book to quickly). I love the feeling of competence I get whenever I commute to a previously unknown place. Whether you’re traveling locally or outside the country, you bring that little bit of confidence with you. It makes you a little bit braver, a little bit more sure that you won’t get lost, or that even if you do, you can find your way back again.

I’ve learned a lot by being a commuter, but I think what I’ve learned most of all is that people are strange. Not that I didn’t know that before, but taking public transportation has really hammered the point home. Have I told you about the time a complete stranger gave me a sunflower before getting off at Santolan/Anapolis station? Or about the time a young pregnant mother suddenly turned to me and asked if which was the better name for her baby (Martha or Kimberly)? Or the time when a couple invited me to come home with them?

Here’s another one for my records: today, an old woman told me my fortune while I was on the train. I’d been sitting next to her for while now, maybe two or three station stops, when she turned to me and asked if I could spare some change. “Magbu-bus pa kasi ako pagka baba ko eh. (translation: I still have to take a bus when I get off)” She explained that she lost her wallet and that she didn’t have a phone with her, so she couldn’t call anyone she knew to come pick her up.

She was smiling very kindly, but she looked embarrassed, so I felt sorry and thought of her working up the courage to ask me for help. I handed her some money, as discreetly as I could because I didn’t want to further embarrass her, but when she took it from me she didn’t let go of my hand right away. When she opened my hand and stared at my palm, I was too surprised to take it back from her. Besides, it really didn’t feel like she was going to do me any harm. She smiled again at me, no longer embarrassed but happy. “Palagay mo lang na hindi ka mabubuhay ng matagal, pero tatanda kang masaya. Wag kang mag-alala, magiging asawa mo yung mahal mo. Hindi pa siya gusto ng mga magulang mo pero, magugustuhan din nila siya.” (trans. You don’t think you’ll live long, but you will and you’ll be happy. Don’t worry, you’ll marry the one you love. Your parents don’t like him now, but they will someday.”)

She gave me back my hand and added that if I decide to have children someday, they will be daughters and that I should name one after my grandmother and that life would be good to her. I thanked her. She thanked me. I got off the train and walked the rest of the way to work, quietly. Even if you don’t believe any of it, hearing someone tell you something about your future leaves you with a weird feeling. Mostly, maybe because you realize you just might have one.

If I may borrow and rephrase from Blanche Dubois, I’ve always relied on the strangeness of strangers. I hope the old woman got home safely.

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