In my first year as a law graduate of the Ateneo Law School, which was then located at de la Costa St., Salcedo Village, Makati City, I felt like Kobe Bryant on his first day as a Laker. To many of my generation, Makati was the land where the big people were. Large skycrapers, the Greenbelt Mall, and the imposing enclave of Forbes Park: these were the icons of affluence, and they were in Makati. To be in Makati was to be where the big players play. Yet, on each day of those years, the truth revealed itself about Makati. Beneath the facade of splendor and wealth is the slow drag of the working class, learning that where the big players play, the small players don’t. To get there is a nightmare. To eat there is to scrounge. And most importantly, to work there is to lose your heart.
It was the mid-90s, the heyday of the Ramos Presidency. The stock market was booming, and its boy wizards were sporting RAV4s and GLIs. Shortly after taking the bar, I took employment in a medium-size firm located near the old Ateneo, hoping I could get a piece of the corporate action. Accustomed to going to school in the afternoon on the MMDA Love Bus, I was late on my first day of work. I didn’t know the Love Bus would be scarce in the morning, so I had to take another bus with no air-con, driven by some driver who stopped everytime he saw someone standing on the roadside, even if obviously the person was not taking the bus. I felt my blood rise to my head everytime we stopped. And I would imagine myself kicking the driver off his seat, stepping on the gas and running over all the cars that blocked the bus’s way.
With me on the bus, were equally worried Makati office girls in there neat uniforms, looking at their watches from time to time. Those who could not bare it would alight, and hop on a cab mid-way at stoplight intersections. And all of us left on the bus would send them off with a glance, cursing our fate. By the time, I got to Buendia Ave., (they’ve been trying to make people call Buendia as Gil Puyat Ave., but the name simply refuses to stick), I was fifteen minutes late. I hailed one of those jeepneys plying the Washington St. Bel-Air route, and decided to hang by the rails in my long sleeves and tie. Poise was something I couldn’t afford on my first day of work. Still, I was thirty minutes late.
Going home from Makati after a hard day’s work was reliving the nightmare in the morning in reverse. The buses were packed, and traffic was bad. To negotiate a hundred meter distance in Ayala Avenue would sometimes take more than hour. And since, there was no other way to get home on a budget, there was no choice but fight for space in the bus where you could steal some sleep until you get home. I would often doze off in the bus, and would wake up just in time as the bus would drive by the corner of EDSA and Kamias Road. It was easy to mark the spot, because as the bus would pass by Nepa Q Mart, the air would be enveloped by the stink of that public market, enough to wake me up from whatever dream I had. It was a simple cue: once the air smelled of rotten fish, it was time to go.
This was how my daily routine went until I got my first salary, which helped me afford a cab ride to the office. And cabs were altogether a different game. If you were from Quezon City, and you wanted to go to Makati, the chances of a cab taking you there on a fair meter was one to four. Out of four cabs that you hail, only one would agree to take you there. Worse, the cabs were mostly old rickety Kia Prides or Toyota XEs. They reeked of leaking gas, with air-cons that rarely worked. By the time you alight from one of them, you would smell like you’ve been all over EDSA, sweaty and smelly. Some cabs would take you there at a premium, and if you could afford to burn your lunch money to get to Makati on time, you would have no choice. You get to Makati on time. You skip your lunch or feast on crackers and salty packed noodles.
Going home on a cab from Makati is an equally terrible experience. Very few cabs were willing to take people out of Makati. They preferred people who took cabs to move around Makati; as they could make more rounds, and make more money. And for ladies who manage to get a cab to take them home, sometimes it could get worse, as they end up getting raped or robbed.
That was how it went out there in Makati, enclave of the rich. The rich took their chauffered cars. The poor took the public transport that sucked. To get to Makati and enter its streets in the pre-MRT days, you had to hurdle the oppressive conditions of traffic and the madness of bus and jeepney drivers. If you had extra cash, you could take a chance on a cab, assuming you find one willing to take you there.
(Part Two: To eat there is to scrounge)