Something to complain about

Saturday afternoon I huddled under my half-broken red umbrella, frantically waving at any vehicle that looked like a taxi. It wasn’t raining hard yet, but it was raining. Any sort of precipitation and Manila taxi drivers disappear. It took half an hour to find an unoccupied taxi, but once I did the driver asked me for 50 pesos over the meter because there was “traffic.”

Taxi drivers always moan about traffic. I’ve never understood why. Is there a magical moment of each day when there isn’t traffic in Manila? Because if there is, I would like to know. You would think taxi drivers would just consider Manila traffic an occupational hazard and get on with their day, but they don’t. They complain and ask you for more money and then when you’re stuck in traffic, they shake their heads and say, “Traffic. So much traffic.” Depending on my mood, I’ll sometimes pay a bit extra, just so I don’t have to look for another taxi.

But this time I promptly got out of the car. I didn’t care if it would take me another half hour to find a taxi, I was in no mood to be extorted by another shady driver.

I soon found a taxi driver who didn’t complain. They do exist; it’s just difficult to find them. Later the same night, my friend Juliana and I were leaving a concert in Malate when we started the taxi hailing dance once again.

The dance is familiar to most people who’ve spent more than a day in Manila. You hail a cab and tell them where you’re going. In most cities, that would be that. A price would be fixed or a meter started and you would be on your way to your next destination. But in Manila, the driver first decides to either accept or reject you. This can be a frustrating process depending on where you’re hailing the cab and where you’re going. If you’re not going in the same direction as the driver, you have to start the dance over again. But that’s only half of the process. Once you’ve been accepted, the driver does one of three things. 1) Turns on the meter (this is the preferred behavior), 2) Asks for a certain amount of money over the meter, or 3) tries to set a flat rate. You will almost always get ripped off with options 2 and 3, and just about 50 percent of the time with option 1.

Outside the club in Malate it was raining again. I was expecting a difficult time finding a taxi because I was going home to Quezon City. But I quickly found one who seemed willing to make the voyage to the suburbs.

We drove about one block when he suddenly said, “I can’t.”

“Why?” I asked, thinking he was just another complainer.

“Flooood,” he said, pronouncing the word with a long-U.

“What? No flood, look!” I said, pointing at the un-flooded asphault on Adriatico Street. Sheesh, I thought. My neighboorhood doesn’t flood very often. If there was a flood in Quezon City, Malate would be flooded too. I figured he was just trying to get out of taking me to Quezon City. Nothing new there.

“Flooooood,” he said again.

He wasn’t backing down, so I got out and hailed another taxi. The second taxi driver didn’t mention a flood, turned on the meter and we were on our way.

About 15 minutes later, the taxi skidded to a stop as the driver reluctantly drove his low, Toyota sedan through about a foot of water. I could hear him cursing under his breath.

Ooops, I thought. A flood. I guess the first driver did have something to complain about.

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