The Date from Hell

- BACKSEAT DRIVER By James Deakin -
A couple of weeks ago, The STAR team received a text message from our Business Motoring editor, Dong Magsajo, that read: "Guess who the back seat driver is on Valentine’s Day? It’s Deakin! I can’t wait to read what he’ll come up with. He he." I could feel the sarcasm dripping from my LCD screen. He will claim it’s pure irony, of course, but I wouldn’t have put it past him to have gone out of his way to count a year’s worth of Wednesdays and roster the writers perfectly just to make sure that it landed on me – because anyone who knows me well enough will know that I’m about as romantic as a root canal.

So please, I’m warning you in advance, don’t expect a fairy tale test drive that ends with me riding off into the sunset in a shining white BMW, carrying Miss Earth in my arms, with Air Supply belting out of a 12-speaker Harman Kardon sound system. It ain’t going to happen. Besides, where’s the contrast in that? Unlike the depressing reality of the mainstream pages or political editorials, not a single Wednesday goes by without one of us gushing about some wonderful new sports car, powerful sedan or SUV. The motoring page is already full of love (See accompanying BMW story on page C-3 for more on that – Ed.). And it’s not for any other reason except that we love our jobs and our cars. We pretend not to at times, but that is only because if we don’t, Magsajo wouldn’t pay us.

So instead of writing about love, and sounding eerily similar to every opinion page in the country, I will counter flow for a while and tell you about the worst test drive I have ever had in my life. Think of it as the automotive date from hell.

It happened around eight years ago while I was having my car serviced. As I went to collect it, the repairs were not finished yet, the car was in pieces, the roller door was locked behind it and the head mechanic had left for the day. It would have been alright except that I had an early morning radio show and I really needed my car to get me to work. They had promised that it would be ready and now I was stuck. The owner eventually came out, somewhat embarrassed, and offered me the use of a loan car. He said it was nothing fancy, but it should solve my problem of getting to work in the morning.

A very kind man. Or so I thought. As he led me out the back, I saw it. I dry reached for a moment. There she sat, a 19-forgotten something or other with a coat hanger serving as an antenna. It looked like it may have started life out as Suzuki Bravo, but then got morphed into something so hideous, that if it entered an ugly competition, it would be thrown out for being over qualified.

I was actually frightened. I almost asked if it would bite. But I needed it; trying to get a cab from inside a gated village at 4:45am was about as realistic as the Surgeon General offering you a cigarette. "I’ll take it," I said, in a trembling, oh-my-God-I-am-heartily-sorry-for-having-offended-thee tone of voice. As I climbed into the cramped cabin, color drained from my face and a wave of nausea washed through the pits of my stomach – it actually looked like they held the Mendiola Labor Day riots in there. And it smelt like it too.

The seat was welded into a one-size-fits-small position. It had a billiard ball as a gear knob; the steering wheel was wrapped up with sticky black electrical tape and carried the theme all the way through the roof lining and seats; cup holders were carved into the dash and served as cooling vents when not in use and there was a hole on the passenger’s floor that could fit a five year old child through it.

This was by far the ugliest, most pitiful, poor excuse for a vehicle I have ever seen in my life. Much less driven. Thank God it was night time. I laugh about it now, but back then, I felt that the risk of being seen in this thing would have been far more damaging to my career than a home made sex video finding its way onto the internet.

Due to the upright, semi fetal seating position, I couldn’t lift my foot high enough to depress the clutch pedal. Thankfully, the gears had about as much teeth as an MMDA officer trying to bust Mayor Binay for coding in Makati, so I was able to power shift my way clutchlessly all the way home.

I finally cleared the city and hooked up to the South Super Highway. I was totally floored, the engine was screaming like a teenage girl getting attacked in a B grade horror movie. Trucks, buses and the occasional pedestrian were overtaking me. I barely made it over the crest of the Magallanes interchange. As I built up a little momentum on the way down, I prayed that nobody cut in front of me. Judging by the brake feel, this thing felt like it needed three working days to stop. Or two weeks written notice. Either way, if I had to drive this eyesore as my everyday commute, traffic reporters would start referring to me by name.

The steering rack was so worn that it would take one and a half locks just to change lane. Actually, it had so much free play in the steering that you felt you needed a travel agent just to make it around a tight corner.

Coming through the final portion of my trip, as I approached the toll gates, the LOW BALANCE light comes on. This may not seem strange to you, but it confused me to no end because I didn’t have an E Pass.

I finally made it to the guard house of my village. The eight kilometer journey took about eight liters of gas, two liters of oil, three Our Fathers, three Hail Marys and a Glory Be. By this stage, I started to feel like I was drifting in and out of consciousness because of the combination of exhaust fumes that were seeping through the tailgate and the passenger’s floor, plus the stale scent of expired Magic Trees that were stuffed into every crevice of the dashboard. I puttered up to the barriers; needless to say, the guard stops me. He doesn’t even check who is driving. He simply signals me to turn around and announces in tagalog "We only collect recyclables on Wednesdays. Please come back then."

Ah, love is definitely out in the streets! That and just a pinch of frustration. Here are some of your Backseat Driver reactions from last week…

Calling the MMDA! Please stop G-Liner buses from making the front of Robinsons Galleria along Ortigas Avenue as their waiting station. – 09178989513

Tricycles and pedicabs are traffic hazards and obstructions. They should never be allowed along the main thoroughfares. – 09178531454

If there are patrol cars roaming the length of the C-5 Taguig area, why aren’t they apprehending the counterflowing vehicles (especially jeepneys and tricycles)? – 09178462843

You know what’s so ironic about our undisciplined jeepney, taxi, FX and bus drivers? They were all issued professional driver’s licenses. – 09178660032

Where do we report cops who say swerving or beating the red light is "reckless driving" so people will give them money instead? – 09278142001

Attention DPWH and LTO: Please paint, educate and implement proper lane driving. – 09209381770

The way pedicab and tricycle drivers behave, they think they are pedestrians who can cross the street at will. – 09209006756

Calling the attention of the MMDA. Please put more lights at the Quezon Avenue Circle pedestrian flyover to prevent holdups. Thank you. - 09279908275

Speak out, be heard and keep those text messages coming in. To say your piece and become a "Backseat Driver", text PHILSTAR<space>FB<space>MOTORING<space>YOUR MESSAGE and send to 2840 if you’re a Globe or Touch Mobile subscriber or 334 if you’re a Smart or Talk ’n Text subscriber or 2840 if you’re a Sun Cellular subscriber. Please keep your messages down to a manageable 160 characters. You may send a series of comments using the same parameters.
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