Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Taking The Wheel (Last Part)

Previously: Taking The Wheel (First Part)

Cruising the SCTEx at 100 kph, motion slows down in one's perception while speed remains unchanged. While I do not understand the physics behind the phenomenon, it happens, especially on an empty highway with little road features to get your mind distracted. But the nippy breeze coming down from the mountains was a welcome relief. The Caraballo flanks the right side of the road when you're going to Subic, with the very pillars of the expressway, planted along the foothills. Being close to the uplands, the wind carries the scent of the mountains, of undisturbed forests and razed fields, tended and watched over by the Aetas who have lived off the land for generations. Across the metal barrier to the left is the lowlands of Pampanga. The plains are a sight to behold and while visible signs of civilization point to an ever-changing landscape, the sight of Arayat shrouded in clouds, reminds you that some things will never change. 

Getting there was a journey in itself and I have a lot to be grateful. It has been two years since the Favorite Aunt thought of giving away her Toyota Revo so that my mom would have a car to use. I returned to the driving school to sign up for a refresher course. While I have always known how to drive a car, histories and the lack of confidence on the road kept me from taking the wheel. It didn't help that I have always found joy in commuting and Manila, the city that I've always known, is walkable, especially when cars are non-moving. But I could not stand having to chase taxi cabs during rush hours only to be declined to get a ride when I am with my aging mother. The indignity was unbearable, and the inconsideration of taxi drivers, even when you're with a senior woman with a disability makes your faith grow less in humanity. It didn't help that car-sharing apps like Grab could not be relied on so there were times I had to push my mom's wheelchair long distances just to find a ride home.

In the beginning, I would have wanted the Favorite Aunt's other car - the Toyota Altis. It was compact and in my head, thought, it was far easier to maneuver than a cumbersome AUV. While I have driven something bigger - like my dad's FX - I have always wondered how I would steer those family-sized automobiles with motorcycles cutting you from blind spots. And so, I let my thoughts ran across, even telling my aunt that I'd be happy to buy her Altis. But my mother's sister had other plans and looking at hindsight, wisdom sprung from her decision.

For the household had multiplied since Baby Diego was born. He was followed by Baby Castro and just last year, Baby Bella became my sister's fourth child. A five-seater car would not fit a family of 10 and this became evident last Christmas when I had to bring home four kids and four adults from my Favorite Aunt's place.

Baby steps. That was how the first days were when I finally mustered the courage to take the wheel. When my mother had to stay at my aunt's place for a week, I did my first solo practice driving and ended up at a nearby church. It was a milestone, followed by a long drive from Santa Mesa to Bicutan the next day. My aunt's driver guided me as I cruise the Skyway. 

They say that in driving school, you only get familiarized with the machine and learn the traffic signs you find along the road. Real learning comes while stepping on the gas, crossing intersections with fast-moving cars and getting to destinations on your own. And so I did, despite the setbacks of the past and in spite of the near misses that I still carelessly commit. I have been to places I would never get on foot - to Mt. Purro in Antipolo, to take the Weatherman to his retreat, to my mother's social engagements whether with friends or family, to the Manila Doctors Hospital, when Baby Bella was about to be pushed out of my sister's womb.

I have been to destinations, too many to even mention. And in every place I step my foot on after parking the car, I always carry the thought that the journeys I have been were once-upon-a-time aspirations. Whether it be that late-night cruise, days after the NLEX Connector Road was opened to the public, or that trip to Santa Clara one early morning while I did my practice driving, all I know is that there's a time and place for everything and 19 years after sneaking out my father's Toyota FX while he slept soundly in the master's bedroom, I've finally arrived at my destination.

Weeks before the first drive to Subic, I often check Google Maps to chart the next possible destination just outside the city. I was cautioned not to venture too far for I am driving a 17-year-old car. But the Weatherman had to attend a wedding and while he was fine commuting to the venue and just staying at a hotel somewhere in Olongapo - with me, I have always seen out of town trips as a chance to create those rare and memorable bondings. The Weatherman and I both enjoy road trips and him being the navigator, I knew this wedding road trip is something we do not want to miss. And so after getting permission from the Favorite Aunt herself, I brought the Revo for a last-minute checkup. Getting the green light from the mechanic, we left the city at 5 in the morning on a balmy Saturday, the first week of April. 

Subic Bay and Morong were the farthest destinations we've reached so far, farther than I've ever imagined in the one and a half years I've been driving. A record was broken. There's no longer any limit to where I can take the car.

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