What taxi drivers have taught me about life

(James Lontoc/ Pacifiqa)


I’ve always known my lolo to be a sociable man. I remember when we were kids, he would take my brothers and me to the Quezon City Circle, or elsewhere during the summer, and there he would always find time to meet some random stranger. He’d engage that person in conversation and by the time they were done, he would know their life story.

Even today, my lolo hasn’t changed. When we ride cabs, lolo never fails to strike up a conversation with the man behind the wheel. He asks him where he’s from and engages him in the dialect native to the driver’s province. I’ve always admired that about him, and though I am not one to start conversations with strangers like cab drivers, I try to be more like him by listening to what they have to say. I’ve learned to take off my earphones and engage in friendly banter. At least with the chatty drivers that have so much to say. (It’s also a good safety practice to engage drivers in conversations, you’ll have a better chance of sensing suspicious behavior.)


Quite the chauvinist

One time on my way to the Mall of Asia, the driver asked me if I was meeting a girlfriend. When I told him I was meeting my kuya, I sensed his disappointment. He got into the importance of men having “fun” and boasted about his wife’s unconditional love for him despite his notorious infidelity.

“Buo parin ang pamilya ko dahil tanggap ako ng misis ko kahit kuma-kabit ako. Kasi naiintindihan nya na ang mga lalaki kailangan ng ligaya, at sa huli sakanya padin ako babalik,” said my taxi driver/ marriage counselor.

Another time, coming from work at Bonifacio Global City, the driver told me that he could only drive me to the Guadalupe MRT station because the traffic was terrible and he was starving. He complained about how much gas is used up in bumper-to-bumper situations, and raved about the injustice of the cost of fuel. We arrived at Guadalupe and as the station came into view, the driver pointed out a billboard of Jennylyn Mercado.

“Sir, pag pina-tipak ba iyan sa’yo, kakantotin mo ba?” said the driver.

I didn’t know how to respond, so he continued.

“Sigurado ako sir, masarap yan. Pero, mga pulitiko lang ang nakaka-dali jan. Swerte mo na lang, anak ng teteng ka kung pumatol sa driver yan!”

On both occasions, my sensibilities were offended. I was disappointed that there are such dickheads in the Filipino male population. Nevermind the death of chivalry which Don Quixote fought so hard to preserve. I could care less, given that even simple courtesy and respect for women is seemingly down in the dumps.

But I realized that I wasn’t without blame; I too—in everyday encounters—have viewed women in a sexual way. I would usually just shrug it off, but those two taxi rides made me see what I don’t want to become. Henceforth, I’m more conscious of my thoughts and careful of the way I look at female passersby.


Politically inclined

There are plenty “in the know” drivers because they are tuned in to news programs on their radios. More than a handful of them are politically inclined, and the opinions of those I’ve met tend to lean towards the left. I’ve met some who shared with me some of their political expertise.

A conversation I had with one driver made an impression on me, specifically because he brought up what I think of as a particularly sore topic: income taxes.

Our conversation started with Manny Pacquiao. Crawling along C5, the radio was blasting off news reports from 24 Oras about Pacman’s upcoming stint in the PBA. As a sports fan, I found his choice to enter the league as a playing coach a bad joke. I said as much. The driver agreed with me, but apparently he had a lot more to say about Pacquiao than just his jump shot.

He mentioned that Pacman shouldn’t be hounded by the BIR, because he’s brought so many honors to the Philippines. According to the driver, Pacquiao is a national hero who fought, earned, and paid his taxes in the United States.

He then transitioned to income tax. He commented that at 32%, the Philippines has the highest tax rate in Southeast Asia. Yet our nation is still categorized as a (developing) third-world country. He complained that we are stunted by poverty because of corrupt officials who pocket taxpayers’ hard earned money.

“Naghihirap ang Pilipinas dahil ang mga pulitiko lang ang yumayaman. Ang laki laki ng buwis na kinukuha ng gobyerno, pero nina-Napoles lang ng mga opisyal,” said the driver.

It was a long ride to Katipunan and this gave us the opportunity to talk about even more political issues and current events. I found most of his opinions more self-serving than leftist, but I could agree with some of his notes, like support for Senator Angara’s tax reform bill. It was an intellectually stimulating ride in which I was able to learn the insights of a blue collar worker.


Learning experience

Most taxi rides, I’d rather have the driver shut up and focus on driving. I’d pump up the volume of the music in my earphones to tune him out.

But there are times when I’ve listened to what a chatty taxi driver had to say and stepped out of the cab an inadvertently better human being.

These talks with strangers, these taxi rides, can be unexpectedly interesting. There truly is so much to learn from other people, if only we, like my lolo, learned to listen more.



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