Peanuts, sunsets, and great big ahh’s

Step out of La Salle and you won’t miss the buses that come rushing past, headed straight to Alabang. In fact, so many of them carry catchy names that make you just want to ride them; each bus with its own trademark colors. For harried students late for school – myself included – buses are part and parcel of our daily commute. You can say it’s the opposite of the LRT –an equally grueling ride at times, but one you sometimes get to enjoy sitting down (at least during non-peak hours), without being sardine-squeezed along with thousands of other passengers, leaving you hanging on to steel bars for your life, or clamoring for both air and sanity just to get down at your train stop.

Before college, I thought of having to ride the bus to La Salle every day as a daunting prospect. The only bus I learned to appreciate then was my school bus, with its innocence and comfort befitting a high school boy. A public bus was out of the equation.

Now two years into college, I have embraced bus riding with open arms (especially during rush hour). In fact I have become an aficionado of sorts.  Indeed, if bus riding were a course, I’d have a PhD.  I’ve timed my journeys to perfection, calculating the time I would reach La Salle from Point A or Point B, down to the minute, courtesy of countless tardy days and missed quizzes. But what exactly is it about riding the bus that’s worth the obsession?

An hour and twenty minutes of sitting alone in a bus will bore many to… insanity. To keep sane, one would attempt to do other activities. Listen to my Itouch? Nah, same songs again. Study my lessons? Nah, I’d get dizzy, throw up, or worse. Sleep? Nah, the ride’s too bumpy. Watch the in-bus TV? Nah, it’s the same movie they show all 365 days of the year… well, minus weekends. You could only do so much in a bus. It’s the same dilemma I have every day. So little by little, I’ve assembled my own set of random observations on the bus, bit by bit, building up an amateur ethnography of sorts, in an attempt to keep sane.

The bus ride to school isn’t the same as the journey back home. Early morning rides are more laid back, sleepy, dreamy, almost cozy and twisted at the same time, as the air-conditioning competes with the rising sun’s gentle heat on the face. Sleeping on the bus to school is easy, especially with the sleep-deprived momentum of an all-nighter. But it’s also risky, considering I could always wake up in Lawton someday, having missed my stop with my cellphone gone. So I sleep early on in the journey, embracing my bag like it’s my girlfriend, getting up when the bus reaches Baclaran, about fifteen minutes away from school, now thoroughly alert thanks to the piercing screams of the conductor, “AHH BACLARAN BACLARAN!”.  People on buses (passengers and conductors alike) often start their sentences with “AHH”. AHH TIMES na tayo! Ahh Zapote Zapote! Ahh mga Coastal dito na! Ahh mga Buenja diyan! Ahh Beto Cros! Ahh La Salle! I found this annoying at first, but have grown used to it, enjoying and expecting that sacred Ahh – a wake-up call and lifesaver for slumber-prone passengers.

I have learned that, like fancy airlines with succulent in-flight meals, buses do the same thing, with perhaps less manicured, but no-less-lovable vendors. One vendor in BUENJA would sell it with, “Ahh tubig, C2” (again, with the Ahh). Of course there’s the bus staple food of peanuts and cashews that sell for ten pesos. The most common one you’ll here is the, “Ahhh Manimanimanimani-  bagong luto yan o.” Ahhh Peapeapeapeapeapea – freshly cooked. Roughly translated.

But the catchiest one by far is this guy from Baclaran who says, “Ahh bili na kayo mani, ko sampu sampu lang. Kapag di masarap ibalik niyo lang agad. Walang katulad iyang mani ko. Ako lang po meron niyan.” (Buy peanuts here, only ten pesos, only ten pesos. No good? Get your money back! My peanuts are beyond compare. Only I sell peanuts like these.)  The ultimate marketing strategy, with a money-back guarantee to boot!

Though peanuts are a staple in bus cuisine, there are others who dare to be different. Some sell banana chips, others go for pastries, even rice cakes. And doughnuts. The coolest I’ve seen go up the bus to strut his stuff is a Mister Donut vendor. In yellow garb and visor, he comes up to the bus selling donuts in boxes, in tempting, cut-price deals. Another one from Chowking once carried with him some Chao Fan and Coke, a full meal for fifty bucks: not bad! No halo-halo though. Now that would have been something.

Again, coming home is quite different from going to school. Exhaustion mixed with relief, perhaps because work for the day is done, and the bus ride back home is the last bout of stress. The trip is a contrast of colors and words, an orchestra inside the homebound bus. While stuck in the rush-hour traffic at 6 pm, you do get to see Manila Bay in orange sunset hue. It’s a picturesque sight, yet it is there before you with only the window that stands in between. The grandeur of the sea, miles away from the Ahh’s of the morning conductor. The time to think deeply about life.

Instead of dying of boredom, why not take the opportunity to really have some food for thought? Imagine, sitting beside the window on a rainy day, seeing the agitating sea ram against the shore after you just got friend-zoned. Perfect isn’t it? Then the bus stops at Coastal Road, and the commotion breaks your meditation. Only then do you realize that it has stopped because the driver had to take a pee (Yes, this happened to me).

All in all, I’ve realized the bus isn’t about its destination at all. As the old cliché goes, it’s the journey that counts, the journey with all the Ahhs. It’s about the countless lives you touch – or bump into, literally, as you squeeze into the edge of your seat; of all the ones you meet and get to know, even without talking, all sharing the silent confidence of finally reaching the bus stop as the engine hums and the doors open in a great big whoosh.  It’s about the friends who make the journey worthwhile with their garrulousness, filling an otherwise silent bus with conversation and laughter. It’s about the cuisine, the peanuts, and the absurdity of the Ahhs and the pronunciation of bus stops.

I have developed my own philosophy: I have likened the bus ride to life, marveling, as I dom at the sunset-drenched orange sea beyond the window. The ride may be long, boring, even harrowing, but it is the beautiful people, the rich food, the orange sunsets, the house music, the picturesque landscapes, the hard-earned lessons that refresh our tired spirit when we arrive at our destination. The aim is to make the most out of that ride. We know in time, eventually, we will be home.

But not yet. Not yet.

Because you’re not yet in AHHHHHHHHLABANG.

Jonathan Mendoza

By Jonathan Mendoza

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