I first learned to commute when I was twelve years old, when I began high school. Before that, I had taken rides on public transportation—jeepneys, buses and tricycles. But always with an adult. For the first years of my school life, school was always a walking distance from home.
Things changed, however, when I moved to another school, some 15 minutes by car from our place. Mommy and our two helpers had their hands full with my five younger siblings, and this is why she had to teach me how to commute. That year, with six children all in school at the same time (I was the eldest; the youngest had just started pre-school), my parents needed to carefully plan their expenses, and so a budget for a school bus service for me was just out of the question. (This was in the eighties, mind you, during Marcos’s Martial Law. If there was any good that came out of the era, perhaps it was the relatively low crime rate. Lawlessness was dealt with severely. Police brutality was legendary.)
Mommy taught me how to commute. She showed me where I should wait for the jeepney, how to look at the trip sign boards and decide which trip I should take, for there were several options. From our house, it would take me two short trips to school: the first is Arayat /Cubao and the second one is Sta Mesa/VMapa or Stop and Shop. The first day I commuted to school, I got there without a hitch. In the early morning, the Arayat/Cubao jeepney wasn’t even full. Most of my co-commuters were women who were on their way to Arayat Market. Then, once I got to Aurora Blvd, a Stop and Shop jeep unloaded a passenger at my stop.
But going home was just totally a different story. All Cubao-bound jeeps from Sta Mesa and Stop and Shop were all packed; men were even hanging off the back of the vehicle. And the college girls aggessively jostled for the empty seats. They were bigger, stronger and not so mindful if they pushed or stepped on somebody just to get a seat. To cut a long story short, I wasn’t able to commute home on my very first day of school at St Paul College, QC (now St Paul University) even if I patiently waited almost a couple of hours for a ride, from our dismissal at 4 PM till around 6 PM. Before it turned completely dark, I decided to start walking home. By the time I got home (it took me all of forty minutes), I was so hungry, tired and frustrated. I cried.
The next day, my dad told me to try another route, which took longer. It involved taking the jeep up to its terminal in Cubao (Sta Mesa-Yale) and transfer to another jeep (Yale-UST/Espana) in another terminal beside Mercury Drug. It sounded more sensible. It worked. And it had another advantage. My Cubao stopovers encouraged me to explore the place. In between terminals, there were a lot of interesting shops. I was like Alice in Wonderland. Cubao started my life-long love affair with discounted books (at National then still at the Araneta Coliseum, and Alemar’s where the provincial bus terminal is now) and more importantly, second-hand books at a little shop called BookSale.” I remember the cheapest paperback I bought was Php 1 and it was Peter Benchley’s “Jaws”, which I never read.
Once in a while I come across some gems, and today I had some time to scan a few pages of a wonderful book I found in one of my secondhand book-shopping jaunts, a German children’s book entitled “Pluk van de Petteflet” witten by Annie MG Schmidt and wonderfully illustrated by an artist who had the impossibly charming and whimsical name of Fiep Westendorp.