One of the things that amazes me about the Philippines is the ingenuity of the maintenance men around here. I say men because I have never seen a Filipina mechanic. I did see a woman pedaling one of those for-hire tricycles the other day. One among a thousand or so.
Some of the coconut trucks on Mindanao are older than Yamashita's grandfather. They are little more than an iron body, some bald tires, and six cylinders pounding forever up and down roads I can't drive on with my Honda Civic. The truck ride matches the road exactly, for there are no springs and the steering wheel is wobblier than grannies knees. Somehow the driver always manages to have a cigarette dangling from his lips as he wrestles the beast up and down rutted mountain roads. The coconut pickers in back are joking on the way up and sleeping on the way back even though their ride bucks wilder than a wild bronco at the Calgary Stampede.
Who are the geniuses who keep those monsters rolling? The windshields are cracked and the body is mostly weld. The machine creaks like my arthritic knees on a rainy day and the gears can only be shifted by heavy muscle with a greasy grind. Man, put those mechanics in charge of government. We'd at least have some problem solvers in place instead of the do-nothings there now, hired because they were someone's nephew and having the job skills of an amoeba.
Every now and then, I take the kid down to the dock to watch the ocean and the boats. It is a totally invigorating experience for you can see the ring of mountains to the right, Leyte off in the distance across the Biliran Strait, and a variety of boats rolling with the waves, from the scheduled Super Ferry to freighters that keep our remote metropolis stocked with goods, to inter-island craft that have 10 to 30 seats, a patch of shade for the passengers, and a diesel engine that was probably taken from a coconut truck.
The inter-island passenger boats are cool. They get people around our island and to Tacloban quicker than that rutted national highway winding through the hills. Plus they don't have to go through Limon, Leyte, the armpit of Spanish Asia. There is a great canvas awning in the middle covering the rows of seats. I wonder if they serve mint juleps, with little pink umbrellas sticking up and lots of clinking ice? Possibly not.
When we transferred from Zambales to the Visayas, we drove down in the Honda and wedged it into the dark cavernous belly of a great iron ferry to get from Luzon to Samar. There were three inches to spare between my polished black mirror finish and a dilapidated rusty tour bus on one side and a hulking rusty dump truck on the other.
The national color of the Philippines ought to be Rust.
The boat ride across was slow and easy, but it sent about 10 people dashing to the CR to upchuck. I always thought a boat should feel light. Rather like a balsa wood cork, bopping easily, a ballerina atop the waves. But my God, this thing was a big chunk of massive steel plates and rivets the size of Uncle Pete's oft-broken nose. Torpedoes couldn't sink that thick mass of metal . . . but a stiff breeze might. It was like riding in a huge steel coffin, truly. And the goliath had not been painted since Aquinaldo commissioned it, I'd guess. Or when Marcos bought it off the Japanese scrap piles. I'm not sure about the history.
Fresh is not an adjective you'd use anywhere on a ferry boat.
One of the big arguments I have with my wife now and then is what we are going to buy as our second car. She wants one of those cute multicabs that look like one of Junior America's toy cars on steroids. They are spiffy, for sure; we like the van or half-van. But I want a Jeepney. I want one loaded with chrome and lights and flashy purple and green, a big one. It can be old, but I'd remodel it. Put in a big engine and air conditioning for the back, where I'd have my bar and lounge chair, and a bed to the side. Jose the driver would have to crank that rig over the mountains on our monthly trek to Tacloban and I'd snooze most of the way. If I were single I bet I could pick up chicks in a beautiful beast like that. Sorta like the "Woodies" of the 60's that you'd see at Redondo Beach, those station wagons with wood panel sides that the surfers would drive. They always had blondes in bikinis bopping out of them.
Somehow I think we are getting a multicab.
I dunno. I read BongV and benigno bitching about the Jeepney as proof of the backwardness of the Philippines and I tend to think they would not make very good poets. They have no sense of the beauty to be found in the ruts and roots of real life, no appreciation of the valor to be found in an old diesel that is still cranking its pistons up and down after all the years, all the work. No sense that the real heroes in the Philippines are the mechanics who keep this beautiful junk rolling.
The place may not hum and certainly not purr, but it chugs along quite nicely, thanks.
I much prefer it to the mass of polished metal and plastic sitting on a Los Angeles Freeway every day, going nowhere.
A tip of the San Mig to all the mechanics of the Philippines! Salud!!