The short and long road to getting a book

I first heard about the coffee table book, "Captured Culture: An Interpretative Portrait of Parañaque City" via the ABS-CBN News Channel. The project manager was telling program host Daphne Oseña all about it, that they only printed a thousand copies, and that it was being given for free by the Parañaque City Hall.

My mind, warped by horror stories of the bureaucracy, was already telling me, "Oh no, only a thousand copies, and you're not even a Parañaque resident!" But I told myself to give it a shot. I took note of the lady's name, and googled her. I found her name in the online community, and sent her an email explaining that I wanted the book because I was writing short stories about Southern Manila for my graduate school thesis. She promptly replied.

She told me to write the Parañaque mayor about my request. I then googled the Parañaque City website, found a "Dear Mayor" email form, and sent them another request, explaining, again, that I needed it for my thesis. I received an email from the mayor's executive assistant the next day, telling me I'd be getting a copy of the book, and to just text him before I pick it up.

Last Friday, I braved a surprisingly easy commute I'd never taken before, despite having grown up in the area: I took a tricycle from Toyota Alabang (which is actually in Las Piñas) to McDonald's Sucat (along Sucat Road in Parañaque), paid the P38 fare, and asked the driver to tell me how to get to the City Hall.

"Manila City Hall?" he replied. I had to laugh. Even he did not have a concept of Parañaque City Hall.
"Parañaque lang po!" I said.
"Ah, sa munisipyo!" he said. Then he told me to cross the road, get on a jeep, tell the driver to drop me of at "Baliwan" (which I found funny, because baliw = crazy and baliwan can mean "where the crazy people are"), then get on a tricycle and tell the driver to drop me off at the munisipyo.

I did as told*, and thirty minutes later, I was on my way from the fourth floor of the Parañaque City Hall, clutching my copy. The elevator man told me that it was a very nice book. I nodded happily. I was extremely grateful to the local government of Parañaque City, especially to executive assistant Benjo Bernabe, and my mind was dancing with ideas for my thesis.

Still giddy (a word that aptly describes me these days), I decided to meet up with Emily at the Figaro branch outside their village, the one beside the Mitsubishi Las Piñas building. I figured that would give me time with her to also talk about my ALC experience. Feeling extra adventurous, I decided to explore Sucat more and find another way to get to her part of Las Piñas. I thought back to our trips to and from the airport by car, and chose the Evacom route. Surely there'd be a tricycle there, I told myself.

And I was right. Only, the tricycle would have to traverse a long, sleepy road lined with open grassy lots on which goats fed. And the fare was P50. I keep noting the fare because it also gives a hint as to the length of the tricycle trip, ergo the distance. The fare to the village entrance to my house is only P17.50.

Before getting on the tricycle, I asked the dispatcher how to get to Alabang-Zapote Road, and he told me to just get off at the entrance of Casimiro, another village. I'm not quite sure how long it really took me to get there, 30-45 minutes probably, because half the way, I was happy with my little suburban adventure, and the other half, I was just plain noontime sleepy, despite it being a little past three in the afternoon already. I chalk it up to the summer heat.

By the time I realized I had left the book inside the tricycle, the tricycle was already a speck of green dust in my vision. For at least five seconds, I debated with myself on whether to try to even retrieve the blasted book or not. I listened to my intuition. I then asked the people at the Casimiro tricycle station (their tricycles were either painted white or orange) where the green Evacom tricycles would go after delivering passengers there. I was told that they would have to go back to their own station.

And so that's where I went.

It was a good thing the Evacom dispatcher remembered me on the merit of my asking him how to get to the Alabang-Zapote road. He even remembered that I got on tricycle no. 29, and that the driver was Rico. Another man, an old, white-haired one, took pity on me and said he would ask around if anyone had seen Rico back. One driver replied, saying that he had seen Rico, but that Rico had picked up another Casimiro-bound passenger on the way. The general consensus was for me to sit at the tricycle station, because Rico was bound to turn up there eventually, as all Evacom tricycles are wont to do.

"Baka magkasalisi kayo," the dispatcher said.

I planted my butt on the station bench, and pulled out a book. I couldn't read much, though, because of the heat and noise, and because I kept my eye open for tricycle no. 29. The old man sat beside me and said, "You know, our tricycle drivers return things passengers leave behind, even cellphones, so don't worry. Just pray that a passenger won't take your book."

Strangely, I was certain the book would turn up. Or, I was making myself certain. I practiced the Law of Attraction, via thought and prayer. After half an hour of waiting, I got a text from Emily, asking me what time we would meet. I checked my watch. Then I both prayed and imagined that I would be getting the book by 5pm.

I was on the phone with Ray, who had called to comfort (and maybe scold) me about losing the book, when Rico approached me and said he had it with him. It was a few minutes before 5pm.

Before I left, the dispatcher asked me to write my name, address, and Rico's full name and tricycle number by way of recommending him for some award for his honesty. Props to the Evacom tricycles for this system. Obviously, it works to encourage drivers to return things.

And before I boarded yet another tricycle, I went to a nearby bakery, bought pan de sal and ensaimada, and went back to the station. I approached to old man, reported that I had my book back, and asked him to distribute the bread especially to the people who helped me. As my tricycle was leaving, a woman who had been privy to my little lost and found drama called out, "Don't forget your book, okay?" I replied by grinning and tapping the book on my lap.

Back in Casimiro, as I paid the driver, he also checked my seat to see if I had left anything behind. Then he smiled at me, and said something like, "Just checking if you left anything." I laughed.

When my stories get published, I'm now dedicating it to Ray (for having always backed me), the Parañaque City Hall, and the tricycle drivers of Evacom.

* The tricycles in "Baliwan," which I later realized to be "Valley One," where my MFA classmate Razel lives, have back-to-back seats. I used to enjoy riding in tricycles like this, and would choose to sit at the back. It's a testament to how little I know about my area that I'd always thought tricycles like these to be rare in Manila.