The air was heavy with dust and smoke. It was eight in the morning. EDSA was already swarming with vehicles and the swell of commuters thicken. The summer heat intensified the dread of waiting for a ride to work. I opened the ridesharing app to see if the fare is well within my budget. It wasn’t. It was too much that I asked for a miracle in the middle of vitriol and vespers of fellow commuters. My body was already having its second shower courtesy of my sweat and I can feel my soul slowly scalding from the summer scorch.
I guess the heavens favored me today. A fairly new Toyota sedan was empty and there I hailed with my crossed fingers. He stopped. He opened the door. I hopped in smiling knowing that my body was now saved from that strife of life. AC was set to high. My entire body was cloaked in the delight of that comfort and I immediately become oblivious to the excessive blow of car horns, unruly buses, and the curses and frustrations of others as we started to go our way.
I thanked him for not refusing me. He acknowledged my gratitude with a smile and a phrase that he’s just doing his job. His name is Jose Sandrijas, 46 years old. And this is his story.
8:15 AM, Project 8 to Kamuning, Quezon City
Jose was quiet at first, staring at the traffic situation, assessing if EDSA would be a smart choice or if he must defer to his navigational app. I normally place my headphones immediately as soon as I strap the seatbelt on. I go through my playlist and decide which list of songs best suit my feeling. Today, I decided not to listen to anything. Something about Jose I found interesting. He’s not your usual angst-laden, fidgety, frustrated driver. He was composed. Or perhaps he’s used to this and he just arms himself with extra lengths of patience.
I started to talk to him asking him about his day. And so I begin to learn how Jose wakes up early everyday so he can get more passengers so he can meet his boundary early on. He lives in Balintawak, right where the garage of the taxi he drives is found. Every day he wakes up to the full view of carmageddon. The volume of traffic in that area reminds him of the struggles he had growing up. He battles that war every day. Armed with hope and motivation and wanting to make something for himself, he wins consistently, however taxing and grueling it can be. He is about 5’4 and from the look on his face, he could use more sleep. I asked him what got him into driving as a means of income.
He’s been living in Manila for 22 years. Eleven years ago, he was a driver for a prominent family. He remembers how it was fun for him to drive for the family, particularly for the children. They were kind, generous, welcoming, and treated him more than just a driver. He was able to see the city in full view and memorized all the shortcuts and which ways would get them to their destinations quickly. He was happy with his job until he was caught in a crossfire between family members. He had nothing to do with the family feud. Dismayed as he was, he packed up his things and left his job. Losing his job didn’t break his heart. But the sadness of the children who loved him like a true family member yelling out, “Manong, don’t leave!” did.
We were able to drive past Project 8 with ease. From the inside, we can see the gathering of public and private vehicles along Kamuning. And the air still was heavy with heat. You can actually see it in waves, like tiny flares from our celestial ball of fire. We turned right, eluding EDSA completely to find a better route, if ever that was a possibility in the rush hour. The route was new to my eyes. As Jose shifted gear, he continued his story. After leaving his previous job, he drove for a bank executive in Ortigas. His new boss wasn’t exactly like the last. She was stern, demanding, and often irritable. There were days he would be at the receiving end of callous and unkind words even if he never did anything wrong.
8:45 AM, Aurora, Cubao.
On a rush hour, Aurora Blvd was rather welcoming, much to Jose’s delight. His face flashed a smile probably relieved from the pain of possibly enduring another volume of angry and frustrated motorists. It was never easy for him in the beginning to be a taxi driver. He even asked his friends how it was being a taxi driver. He was told that it was a shifting job. There will be no definite time offs and sometimes he could be driving for 24 hours. Driving has been the most convenient source of income for Jose. This time around, he will be driving for different people. The first two weeks proved to be quite a challenge. He had to remap the city and learn all its alleyways and avenues. He had to endure the continuous long drive and worst of all, passengers who were either inconsiderate or rude or sometimes too bossy. Despite all the difficulties taxi driving entailed, it never fazed him.
He said the challenges of being a taxi driver were nothing compared to what he had to go through growing up. In grade school, he had dreams, just like most children. He was the fourth among five children. Second to the youngest, he was the most persevering to do something better with his life, for his family. Graduating from grade school, he was excited to start his secondary education. Sadly, he was advised by his father to stop schooling as he was told, “You will only become a farmer anyway so no point in going to school anymore.” His father’s decision was heavy on his heart, what his father clung to him all his life. With only an elementary education, he wondered how he can achieve his dreams. He moved to the city, a couple of hours away from his hometown and worked as an assistant in a kitchenette, earning a measly Ph 1800.00. He would send most of his earnings to his family, only saving enough for himself to get by. As he was remembering the days of making ends meet, he paused while the car stopped to give way for pedestrians.
9:00 AM, San Juan.
His father passed away when he was in his teens. A couple of years after, his mother remarried, and he instantly, became an elder brother to six half-siblings. The needs of the family grew larger and larger. They had no savings. He only had a menial job. He earned only enough for one person. His elder siblings couldn’t do much to help. He decided to do something about it. He was aware that his elementary education couldn’t get him far. But confident in whatever he had learned that it might be enough, he found himself in Manila. Often his older brother’s advice would come back to haunt him. “You will only struggle in Manila.” But his persistence was stronger. His will to do better was greater. Even if he knew no one. Even if he didn’t have any relatives. Much less friends. He depended on the kindness of strangers. He walked around Manila looking for a job, to no avail. He then found himself in Makati. He chanced upon a man whose shoulders carried sacks of vegetables. He felt the man needed help. Jose approached him and offered a helping hand. Moved by the gesture, the man offered Jose food. Jose’s priority was to find a job but the man insisted. A bit hesitant, Jose accepted the offer. The man then asked what was he doing in Makati. Jose told the man that he’s there in dire hopes of getting a job.
“I was a cook before,”Jose informed the man. Delighted by what Jose said, he offered him the job of being a cook as he had been looking for one. “How much is your desired salary?”, the man asked Jose. He asked for Ph 4,000, a far bigger value compared to his previous earnings. The man laughed at the amount Jose asked for. He offered Jose twice his asking price. He can now send more than he ever did. That time, he was more hopeful, and more driven.
9:15 AM, still in San Juan.
Now he was earning so much more than before. This gave Jose the hope of resuming his studies. The sight of University of Sto. Tomas in Espana inspired him. In the middle of dreaming of the possibility of a better life, he received a letter from his younger siblings who fondly called him “Papang”, kindly asking if he can help them resume their schooling. He always wanted to do something to better their lives. And he always believed it always should start with him. And so he did what he believed was the right thing. He set aside his own dreams so he can make somebody else’s come true. He supported his half siblings and their educational needs. In order to make sure everything was attended to, he left the job as a cook and decided to drive for a company. His salary was tripled, providing more ease in ensuring his siblings can continue their education and the family’s needs were taken care of.
He started driving a truck. It was for long haul drives to any point in Luzon. He continued to tell me the sacrifices he had to make to see that his family wouldn’t be challenged with sustenance and other basic needs.
His navigational app, which was turned on an hour ago, asked him to turn right in 200 meters. He took a pause, grabbed his bottle of water, while, from where we were along Ortigas Ave., assessing if EDSA would be friendlier than it was previously.
9:30 AM, Ortigas Ave., corner EDSA.
Yet again, EDSA displayed upon us only the usual view; the overabundance of vehicles on both directions. Horns blaring incessantly. On the faces of those on the bus one can see the anxiety to get to their destination. Their faces of anger, frustration, and agitation. I looked towards Jose’s direction. He’s composed. He’s not really irked by what we saw. I asked him how he managed to get used to the whole situation that happens every day. He likened it to his life experiences. He emphatically said that it is always a teachable moment whenever you encounter hardships in life. The road to a better life will never be easy. You just have to make do with what is in front of you and do your best not to be frustrated by it. In his case, it empowered him.
He continued telling me how giving up his dreams was a sacrifice he will never regret. Looking back, whenever he got paid, he would budget it right away and send the larger part of it to his family in Mindanao. With whatever was left, he can live all right. He always lives within his means. That sacrifice led to his six half-siblings graduating from high school with two able to finish college. It was an accomplishment in itself, he said. “Sometimes, you have to give up your own dreams and make sacrifices so others can be okay. I could have chosen to pursue my dreams but, what would happen to my family if I did?” he shared.
9:30 AM, Guadalupe.
That was a quick drive from Ortigas Ave corner EDSA to Guadalupe. From the time he mentioned sacrifices, Jose didn’t say a word. I was just looking at him, wondering why he paused. His eyes were fixed at the long stretch of EDSA. I asked if he’s okay. He fell into silence. The most silent he had been the entire ride. You can hear a pin drop. I looked at his direction once more. His eyes started to form tears. They rolled down his cheeks. At first it looked like that scene from a movie where the character had a flashback of something so tragic and sad. That’s what Jose just had. I reached into my bag and handed him tissue. The moment he took them from my hands, he started to bawl his eyes out. He was trying to hold his tears back so he could speak but every time he would, it was broken by how crestfallen he became. My heart felt heavy at that moment, I couldn’t find the words to say to comfort him. So, I just let him let it out.
He remembered all the sacrifices he made for his family. He kept mentioning that he always wanted to do something better in life. I told him he did. He was able to send his siblings to school and provided well for his parents. The people he helped along the way will always remember him and his kindness.
9:45 AM, Paseo de Roxas.
We were near my destination. His eyes were dry now. He needed to let it all out. He said it was nice to have someone listen to his story because he kept it all bottled up all these years. He was all about work and making sure things back home were okay.
His name is Jose Sandrijas, 46 years old, about to become a father; and soon to be married, has been driving with Micab for six months. So far, Micab has been generous to Jose. As soon as he completes the required number of trips weekly, he receives an incentive from Micab. In a way or two, Micab has changed his life because he doesn’t have to drive around blocks in hopes of getting passengers. As long as he is online, he gets requests from users. Sometimes, he gets unpleasant passengers. Any other driver would have talked back or gotten into an ugly argument. Jose never thought of it for a second. It’s part of the territory. Occupational hazards as some would say. He also learns a lot from driving with Micab: from understanding the daily struggles of cab drivers, attitude of passengers, extending his patience, and understanding the need to carry on with his job. Some people struggle to work. He’s lucky he has a job that supports his daily needs.
He has so much to live for, and to work hard for. He doesn’t see himself quitting his current job anytime soon because, despite life itself, he has so much to be thankful for. His eyes gleamed at the idea of being a father and being a husband. Before I handed him the fare plus extra, I looked at my own life and how lucky I was able to attain higher educational degree which Jose always dreamed of. All problems, no matter how big or small, are still problems. Mine, honestly, are nothing compared to what he went through. I handed him my fare plus tip. He smiled, grateful that a stranger lent him his ears and wholeheartedly listened to his story. After this trip, he said, he feels more driven to do better.
As I was about to get off from the cab, I remember wasting a lot of time being angry, time I cannot ever get back. Time wasted on regret and squandered chances. I should be grateful for whatever good things have happened in my life despite my share of struggles. After listening to Jose’s story, I reminded myself that I have to look at what I have right in front of me, at what it is, and stop measuring it against what I’ve lost.
It wasn’t just a long taxi ride. It was a moment of realization and gratitude.