THE DRIVER

Marco is his name. He arrived way ahead of his call time and when I emerged from the gate he ran from the driver’s seat to open the door of the black SUV for me. I had never met him although my mother was acquainted with him having driven her on several occasions. He had come highly recommended by the driver I knew, Ronald, who had recently driven me to the Archdiocesan Church of Nuestra Señora de Guia in Manila for a long-time friend’s wedding. Like Ronald, Marco had a mellow demeanour that made the ride to the airport far from agonizing.

He related in Filipino of how he and Ronald had recently resigned from a car rental company and moved to another company after being unable to tolerate the former company’s policies. Foremost on the list of grievances is the company’s inability to understand how taxing being on the road is. Driving around the city for more than 10 hours is, to say the least, energy-draining. That he and Ronald had to clean the vehicles after their “job order” was acceptable, but cleaning the vehicles and being sent on another job to cover the incomplete hours was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It sometimes happens that, say, a 10-hour drive becomes less than 10 hours because the client finished early. Generally, the driver should be able to go home and recharge for the next day, but not in Marco or Ronald’s case. It didn’t make any difference to their big boss, who, by the way, received full payment for the previous 10 hours, and would send them on another job.

It's no smooth ride for chauffeurs at times.

It’s no smooth ride for chauffeurs at times.

Hiring chauffeured cars has somewhat become a norm in Manila. It alleviates the undue stress of navigating the congested roads and having to look for a parking space. However, driving is more than knowing the ins and outs of the capital city of the Philippines. It entails a high threshold for traffic jams and having an affable personality. Like Jakarta, Manila is a sea of gridlocks compounded by flash floods during the typhoon season. Such gridlocks are enough to make drivers’ tempers flare up and unscrupulous taxi drivers take advantage of hapless passengers caught in the rain by negotiating exorbitant flat rates for the journey instead of using the taximeter. Being affable comes in handy for the driver struck in the knotted traffic jams. It steers him clear of unpleasant encounters, which can get ugly and violent, with road hogs and inconsiderate drivers. Moreover, an amiable disposition also guarantees repeat clients.

That Marco and Ronald were buddies didn’t escape me, as I sat quietly at the back listening to his and my mum’s conversation. I was actually impressed. After all, you can’t trust anyone these days because it’s a dog-eat- dog world. Ronald couldn’t make it this time, but didn’t want to disappoint my mum and lose her as a client, so he called on his buddy who was more than happy to cover for him.

We reached the airport smoothly and by this I mean me not having a headache – worse, vertigo – because he’d speed up only to step on the brakes abruptly every so often which, to me, is a mark of an amateur driver. Unloading my luggage from the boot, he handed it to me on the pavement of the airport’s entrance, but not before bidding me “Happy trip”. Then he was off to park and wait for my folks.

Good drivers are so hard to find these days. The ratio of unskilled drivers to amiable, professional drivers is something like a dismal nine to one. The roads are inundated by drivers who shouldn’t have been issued licenses at all.

 

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