Pride in work: A cab driver’s blue-collar dreams
MANILA, Philippines - As early as 12 years old, Rex “Tata” Roble dreamed of becoming an architect. He knew he wanted to design and build structures. After high school at Maysan Valenzuela Municipal High School, he went on to college in the hope of obtaining a degree in Architecture.
But in 1990, after only a year in BS Architecture at the Technological Institute of the Philippines, his family could no longer afford to continue paying his P3,200-per-semester tuition. The work contract of Tata’s father – Paterno, a welder in the Middle East – had expired, forcing him to return home. It was difficult for him to find a job so Paterno’s 3 children had to quit school.
Forced to stop schooling, Tata tried to do his bit and help fill the family coffers, with the help of his two brothers – Romeo, the eldest, and Rojan, the youngest. Romeo stopped school even before the financial problem came. He rebelled from his parents early on and refused to study. Rojan, on the other hand, only finished high school and also needed to work.
Tata quickly tried to look for a job in factories in Valenzuela. But only a year into college, he had barely picked up any skills and was forced to settle with what was immediately available.
His friend’s father, who had a construction business, invited Tata to work for him – not as an architect apprentice or even as a construction worker, but a family driver. His boss whom he formally referred to as “Mr Ajero” found out Tata knew how to drive a little and that he needed a job.
With the help of his new employer, Tata’s basic driving skills were honed, ready for the job. Tata never felt awkward driving for his friend’s family. All that was on his mind was the need to earn. His friend was only too glad to help out, and was even happy he could bring along Tata in school and nightouts.
He accepted it to put some money in his pocket, and believed it was a temporary thing. He had planned on saving up so he could continue studying and pursuing architecture. But life had a different plan for him.
“Akala ko sandali lang, pero wala e, di talaga kinaya. Nakapag-asawa din ako noong 1995 kay Kristina kaya kinailangang magtrabaho, Kinalimutan ko ng bumalik sa pag-aaral, ang gusto ko lang noon pakasalan siya.” Tata explains. (I thought it would be temporary but he couldn’t save enough. Besides I ended up getting married to Kristina in 1995, so I really had to work. I forgot about going back to school, all I wanted then was to marry her.)
All in a day’s work
21 years later, Tata is still driving, although not as a family driver. The 3 kids he once drove for have all grown up and no longer have any need for his services. Tata had to leave his employ and applied for another job as a driver. In 2001 Tata started to drive for a taxi company, Jinjoie.
At 4 every morning, Tata’s day begins. He dresses up; wears his white button-down shirt and jeans which his wife presses, quickly eats his breakfast, grabs his water bottle and his “good morning” hand towel, and then kisses his wife and two kids good-bye.
By 5:00 am, Tata meticulously checks his cab. Water, oil, tire pressure, gas levels, odors, cleanliness are all in order. He starts his 24-hour shift from his house in Valenzuela. He waits for his first passenger at Malinta exit NLEX.
There’s actually no specific route he takes – it always differs due to the differences in destinations his passengers have. He tries to avoid specific places like Fairview and the Port area in Manila, especially during the night. Based on experience, these areas are notorious for hold-ups. And like most other cab drivers, Tata takes his lunch, dinner, and coffee breaks in carinderias.
At 5:00 am the next morning, he comes home with his earnings of P2,500, ready to surrender his “boundary” of P1,400, and gives the rest to his wife, before getting some shut-eye to prepare for the next day’s 24-hour drive. He takes an every-other-day shift – alternating 24 hours working with 24 hours of rest.
“Nakakapagod talaga kasi nga 24 oras kang nagmamaneho, pero ayos naman. Sa pagta-taxi kasi kailangan lang masipag ka para kumita. Kung baga nasasa’yo talaga kung gusto mong may maiuwi,” Tata says. (It’s really tiring because I drive 24 hours but it’s okay. In the taxi business, you really need to work hard to earn. It’s really up to you if you want to be able to bring home money.)
Tata is the commuter’s ideal driver. He takes pride in what he does, even taking the trouble to greet his passengers. He maintains the proper speed when driving, follows traffic rules, and considers the comfort of his passengers. And he tries to be fair, never overcharging or negotiating rates, never tampering with his meter.
“Ilang beses na din na may mga naiiwang cellphone sa taxi ko. Nakagawian ko na kasing sumilip agad sa likod pagbaba ng pasahero kaya nakikita ko agad at naihahabol ko sa kanila. Hindi ako nang-iisa ng pasahero, madalas nga ako pa naloloko. May mga pasahero kasi na bigla na lang bababang walang bayad at di na ako babalikan. Ganun lang siguro talaga, basta tayo hindi nanlalamang, ayos na ’yun.” Tata boasts.
(There have been several times already when cellphones have been left in my cab. I’ve been accustomed to checking the back right away when a passenger steps out that’s why I see what they leave behind and am able to quickly alert them. I don’t try to pull a fast one over passengers. Many times, I’m the one they pull a fast one on. There are some passengers who just leave without paying and don’t return. It’s really just that way maybe. But as long as I don’t get one over others, that’s fine.)
Striving to be the best
Tata, now 42, has been driving half of his life. This may not be what he hoped to be, but his job as a cab driver is surprisingly fulfilling for him.
It’s not the popular profession he aspired for, but it is a profession, he says. It brings food to the table, pays his house bills, brings his 2 kids to school, and affords the family a little luxury of watching movies, or eating out once in a while.
Driving is the only profession he knows, and Tata says he sees nothing wrong with trying to be the best cab driver he can be. – Rappler.com