By AA Patawaran
I used to love to drive manual. I still do, but if you live in Manila, you know why automatic is the way to go. But only two years ago, I was stick shift all the way and I was in love with my SUV, a Honda CRV the color of blood, a dull kind of red, that my niece Rafa christened Viscotti.
Viscotti and I, we had a hell of a lot of adventures. It always felt like an open ride, with the windows and the windscreen completely devoid of the palest tint. In the daytime, I got the sun in my face, woe to my skin, and at night I would leave the window open, the wind playing a big part in the 120kph drive.
The CRV could comfortably seat seven, but on short drives, it could accommodate up to 9, two small children, my nieces Rafa and Georges included. On weekends, it was easily a family car on its way to Tagaytay, but when I would drive it alone, it was fierce, fast, and furious, a tad irresponsible, devil–may-care, but only because, with my feet on the pedals, the gear going from first to fifth in seconds, I was totally in control and I’m not very good at controlling my impulses.
I’ll skip all the fun times, like cutting through Coastal Road at 2 a.m., snaking along Manila Bay where it met Laguna de Bay, or through the Skyway closer to the dark dome of sky, zigzagging to or from Baler or Baguio, or the time I watched the entire Neil Gaiman animated movie Coraline stuck in traffic between the World Trade Center on Macapagal to the LRT on Taft Avenue (That’s a stretch of Buendia just a little more than one kilometer long) or those many road trips bobbing along to the soundtrack of Ryan Gosling‘s Drive or to the newly released five-years-in-the-making Madonna MDNA album or to “All the Lovers” from The Best of Kylie Minogue.
Let me skip to the end or three years before the end, around the time Viscotti turned 10 and the problems began. I must admit that, as with any old things, I began to take the CRV for granted. No more weekly visits at the car spa, where with me watching closely and conducting the crew like an orchestra, Viscotti would get a thorough shampoo, its interiors cleaned up with heavyweight vacuum cleaners and its exteriors wiped and waxed to a gleam. I also stopped spending more money than I should to get the SUV tuned up, its oil changed, the grease washed off its engine, the patina of time wiped off the headlights, the taillights, the windshield and the windows, and the dashboard.
I made a point of never complaining about the car getting old within earshot of Viscotti. I was being silly, I know, but it was true, I’d tell a friend while driving, “I need a new car” and, no later than the next day, sometimes within hours, I would have a car problem. It wouldn’t start or the windows wouldn’t close or open or the alarm would go off or the clutch would be stuck.
In the those later years that I drove Viscotti, there had been so many inconveniences that, toward the very end, I was always worried whether or not the car could even take me to my destination. Looking back, though, I’d say that on more occasions than I care to remember, this beloved car sent me straight to the path of angels.
Or angels in disguise—and, yes, at one point, the one exception, the devil in uniform.
Viscotti was clever that way. If it must overheat, it would do so on a scary street, like just outside the derelict Coastal Mall on the intersection of Airport Road and Roxas Boulevard, hot zone of muggers. Or somewhere on Singalong Street, right at the corner where bare-chested men were huddled drinking gin. Or on the service road of SLEX just before Bicutan exit in Taguig, right where the road extended into a huge squatter colony.
Yet, in all these places, on every occasion except one, no matter what the reason Viscotti refused to move, whether a broken alternator or a leak in the radiator or a flat tire, angels came to the rescue, strangers I wouldn’t trust because their nails were lined with dirt or their shirt was rolled up to their chest or they were drinking in the streetcorner or they happened to be in the same place I was also that was dirty, crazy, smelly, and dark and decaying. Despite my unfair judgments, they helped and, I swear, though I gave them a good enough reward in the end, to help was their first impulse or their only impulse because they did the work without any assurance that I would be grateful enough. Never once did I have to get my hands dirty or even stay in the sun while these strangers did their work.
And then came the one occasion I left my car parked safe and snug under the shade of a tree all day on a Catholic school campus next to a centuries-old Catholic church, the campus manned by guards in crisp uniforms to keep “the bad people” out of the realm of priests walking about in their holy vestments and students veing shaped to behave as sons and daughters of God.
I was on my way out when I realized that my battery was drained and dead. I called for help, but minutes turned to hours and guard after guard after guard came up to me and said, in Tagalog and without a trace of the Good Samaritan in them, “Sorry there is no one to help you.” I had to call a school official, a friend of mine, before they were compelled to see what they could do to help.
Finally, as I pulled out of the campus parking lot, I found the guts to tell Viscotti, sad as I was and shaken that it was possible I could get into trouble and no one would help me, “I think I really need a new car now.”