5/25/2013
An introduction to the gates of hell

"Kailan ba nila bubuksan ang aircon dito?" he asked. "Ang init-init na!"

He's in his 70s, I think, and he's one of the lucky few seated on the train parked at the Taft Avenue MRT station. He wasn't fully seated, though. The woman beside him - his daughter, it seems - was seated all the way though, and someone had to budge, and it ended up being him. Her daughter, his granddaughter, is somewhere in between.

On his other side is a pretty wide guy, in his late 20s, with earphones plugged into his ears, and his eyes shut.

Standing in front of him is a young boy, around 12. He was wearing a blue shirt and blue shorts and blue rubber shoes.

"Bubuksan ho nila 'yan mamaya, kapag aandar na ang tren," I told the old man.

The Taft Avenue station, you might know, is the terminus. The trains stop there and stay there a little longer. There's more time for people to pour in. It gets crowded inside, and it gets way hotter too. It's just almost four in the afternoon on Friday and, already, we're in the middle of the rush hour.

We were all packed inside the carriage. Now, I'm no stranger to the MRT, but it seems this train is more packed than ever before. So packed, in fact, that I had the urge to clutch my bag closer to my chest. Or maybe it's because I've never been here at this time. I rode the trains, from Taft to Boni, for my ill-fated radio sojourns, late in the morning or early in the afternoon, when the trains are full, but still comfortable. And it looked like it will only get worse as we reached the second station on the line. Magallanes had as many waiting passengers as Taft.

"Mukhang hindi ho mauubos 'to," I told the old man.

"Oo nga eh," he said, with a slight grin.

The train is packed, but he had a reason to feel a bit good. He accompanied his daughter (and his grandchildren) to the hospital for some check-ups. They took a cab. It was early in the morning, so they didn't have a hard time. "Kung nag-taxi kami, baka na-traffic lang kami," he said. It was a particularly terrible day on the roads. I could see it outside the train. He was carrying a huge plastic bag with what looked like meals from Jollibee, and it would've been a pain for him.

"Sa Cubao ho, sigurado, mauubos 'yan," I told him. "Saan ho ba baba ninyo?"

"Crossing," he replied. He'll have to leave a crowded train.

The train reached Ayala station, and the waiting passengers there seemed more ruthless. They pushed their way inside the doors, already packed with passengers - nobody wanted to move to the middle of the carriage, fearing they will not be able to get off at their station because of all the people - and you can hear the arguments. "Palabasin ninyo muna kami!" "Wala nang puwesto!" "Pasok lang! Sige! Pasok!" Nobody would get into the trains, and, it seems, nobody would get out, which concerned me, because I was in the middle of the carriage.

"Bakit ka kasi umalis sa puwesto mo?" the old man told his grandson in blue. "Maayos ka na d'un, eh! Okay ka lang diyan?"

The boy nodded.

"First time mo ba makasakay sa MRT?"

"Hindi naman po. Nakasakay na po ako dati sa LRT, maliit pa ako n'un..."

"Eh, maliit ka pa n'un, eh!"

The old man paused as the train reached Buendia station.

"Kapag sasakay ka sa LRT, iwasan mong sumakay sa umaga at kapag pagabi na," he told his grandson. "Rush hour kasi 'yun."

"Lalo na ngayon," I butted in, trying to be helpful. "Biyernes. Uwian lahat."

"Ay, oo," the old man said. "Sabado pa, 'yung mga trabahador."

The train left Buendia and headed towards Guadalupe. I really worried about missing my stop.

"Mabuti pa 'yung sa Santolan," he said. "Maluwag doon. Tapos 'yung aircon, malakas pa, diretso sa'yo."

"Hindi naman ho napupuno 'yun," I answered.

"Oo nga."

He must be in his 40s when the first LRT line opened. It was the final years of Ferdinand Marcos' rule. Chunks of concrete blocked the sky along Taft Avenue, making some places look more bustling, and in others, look dead. It was, if I remember correctly, supposed to run for only twenty years. I wonder what he thought then. Or how it was then. I myself was a little kid when I first rode the LRT - this was when we lived in Caloocan; I was just three, I would not remember at all.

The train stopped at Guadalupe. More passengers try to make their way in, or out, and the usual arguments erupted. "Pakiusog lang po!" "'Di na puwede!" "Excuse me! Excuse me!" I start wondering where this whole attempt at public transport for a congested urban area - one of the world's most populated, a fact Jaime Laya mentioned in his speech that I listened to earlier than day - went wrong. A lack of investment? A lack of planning? A non-lack of corruption?

But then I found a little opening, a way to inch towards the carriage's doors, the right one when I get down Shaw, so I leave the old man and go there. Slowly.

And your responses...

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