Good Friday, late afternoon.
While watching Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver," a friend of mine commented about how life of a cab driver must have been a very arduous one.
She is right.
I could say it based on the statements from the taxi drivers that I have talked to. Notwithstanding Travis Bickle's (Robert De Niro's character) mental condition to which, I'd assume, was caused by war exhaustion, the
life of a taxi driver can be tiresome and lonely. Driving around the metropolitan jungle for hours while looking for passengers is not something a college graduate with a patience level of an irate customer would like to have as a job. Long hours would have to be rendered, and daily quotas would have to bet met. Failing to do so would make them have to pay the remaining balance themselves (I forgot how the exact process goes, but you get the idea).
This is even more grueling in holidays or Saturday evenings, where most people have their days off. Not to mention that they also have to worry about experiencing misfortune at the hands of customers and unwanted elements of society.
One of those things I enjoy doing is taking the cab on late nights where trains and jeepneys would stop operating for the day. Riding a taxi made me realize that commuting in the big city can be a less strenous, if not an enjoyable activity (of course, this also considers the hefty fares). Compared to taking the MRT or the jeepney, I've always felt safe when riding a taxi. If I had lots of dough, I sure as hell would prefer to ride a cab for my "journeys."
Looking back, there were moments where I travel with my father (the most memorable one, was during the stressful enrollment process in my first year in college), and most of them involved taking a taxi. One thing I have always noticed is that he has this habit of talking to cab drivers. In almost all cases, he manages to strike a good conversation with the driver - with topics ranging from mundane affairs (the traffic, weather, those times where Manny Pacquiao is beating the crap out of his opponents, etc) to things of significant importance (politics, economics, education, etc.).
My father once told me that besides the inherent pleasure obtained from socializing, talking to cab drivers also helps you feel safe and secure.
For one thing, he said, talking to them instills that sort of trust between you and the driver. He explained that in this way, you condition yourself into thinking that nothing will go wrong. This is considering all the stories we hear from the news about customers getting robbed by cabbies, or raped if their unfortunate victimes happen to be women.
With that said, cab drivers are a very interesting lot. You will be surprised to learn about the things you learn from talking to them, just as you would to a barber.
During one of my "cab episodes," the cab driver shared his experience where he was duped by a customer by paying him counterfeit paper bills. He recounted that the bills looked genuine. It was only found out that they were fake after he handed the earnings to the station.
Another cabbie shared on how he was tricked by a customer in taking him to places and, at one opportunity, never came back to pay him the fare. To add insult to injury, his cellphone was stolen. He said (with a laugh) that he never told the people at the station about the encounter as it was "too embarrasing" to even be brought up.
Other than sharing their unfortunate experiences, they also have their two cents about the economy and politics. Sometimes, sentiments are aired regarding the government's competence (or lack thereof) in managing the country, with the common denominator being the congestions of roads and the overcrowdiness in trains.
Another topic of interest would be of home. There are a few instances where I get to talk to a cab driver of Visayan descent ("Bisaya diay ka?"). The conversation would then go on to whether I (or the cab driver) have relatives back at home and if we go home to our respective homes now and then.
In a serious note, there are also drivers who would tell me how fortunate I am that I was able to finish my education and find work. The stories would vary, but they would revolve around the same theme - their frustrations on not being able to finish college, or them not being able to afford sending their children to school. I would try to be as humble as I can be, and all I could come up with is to either tell them that I was just lucky, or try to change the topic. These are the kinds of conversations in which there never really is a "right" answer.
There really is something about enjoying a good conversation with cabbies. Sometimes, you just forget about being stuck in traffic, or being stressed out of work, or being stressed about life in general. This made me realize that even for someone who prefers people to mind their own business, there still is value to be obtained in a social exchange. To reiterate, there is a lot you can learn just by talking to them.
What was the price I paid from getting to my desired destination? - A fraction of my salary.
The value I got in return from those conversations? - Priceless.