Monday, February 23, 2009

Subic, a plastic bag and hell on earth

Patrick Michael Balo

It was 3AM and I was in the middle of nowhere. I clutched the foot-an-a-half long branch closer to my chest and got into my car. The whispered howling of the wind through drying leaves filled my ears. As I grabbed the vial of holy water from the glove compartment, I pondered on the series of unfortunate events that led me to this moment.

Alexa, my fiancée, was supposed to leave for Subic on the 9pm Victory Liner trip because she had an event at 7am the next day. Unfortunately, her last meeting ended at 11:30pm, which meant she had not only missed the last trip of the day but that her professional reputation is now in jeopardy.

Unwilling to let something like that happen, I immediately came up with a solution that was guaranteed to earn me major pogi pints.

“Hatid na lang kita sa Subic.” I said.
“Ha? Sigurado ka?” she asked.
“Oo naman.” I declared.
“Wag na, mahihirapan ka pang bumalik eh” she demurred.
“Don’t worry about me, basta umabot ka lang sa event mo.” I said.

She gave me a smile and a hug and we were off.

By 12midnight, we were hurtling along the NLEX, blowing by trucks and SUV’s like they were standing still, fueled by desperation and Lipovitan. We took the turn to the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) at 120kph and never looked back.

By 3am, my fiancée was safely ensconced in her hotel. I watered the car, drank another bottle of Lipovitan and started on the long journey back.

And then, it happened. About 5 minutes past the Dinalupihan exit, I noticed a strange movement on my dashboard. My temperature gauge went from normal to hot-as-hell in under 5 seconds and my engine sputtered like the Marlboro Man’s last nicotine-filled gasp before finally quitting on me.

I wrestled with the wheel, trying to maneuver myself to safety. Finally, the car stopped. When the dust settled, I found myself in what should be officially dubbed as the loneliest stretch of gray asphalt on God’s green earth.

I popped the hood and tried to medic my car back to life with life-giving water. It was then that I heard it.

What did you hear, you may ask.
Nothing, you say?
Nothing. Nothing at all.
There was no sound except for the whispering of the wind, no light except for that of the moon, no other living creature except me.
And the shadows of the night.

It was the longest 45minutes of my life. My radiator was like Mt. Vesuvius, spewing steam and hot water like there was no tomorrow. I tried to water it again, only to have my car spit it back to me in like it was the devil’s own saliva. I grabbed a stick, hoping it would turn into Panday’s sword the moment I was in danger. But it was no use. The night seemed to be closing in on me.

Finally, I gave up and reached out for help. I grabbed my phone and called my fiancée, pleading with her to call in the cavalry. Yes, the rescuer has now turned into the rescuee. Two minutes later, she called back, saying an SCTEX patrol was on their way. I thanked her profusely. There was nothing to do now but wait.

Which brings us back to this moment. Me in a car, with a dirty stick and a vial of holy water for protection. It would have to be enough.

20 minutes later, the SCTEX patrol arrived. I have never been so happy to see a police car in my life. They cheerfully popped open the hood and inspected the damage. And there it was. The culprit. The cause of all this trouble.

A plain white plastic bag had entwined itself around my radiator fan, causing it to slow down. The plastic bag was entwined so tightly around the fan that the policeman had to cut it with a knife to get it off. I guess a non-functioning radiator fan at 120kph is not a good thing, not at all.

And, to make things worse, my car still would not start. A towing service came to lighten my wallet and bring me to a 24hour repair shop.

By 6:30am, I was in Mabalacat, where a mechanic was trying to resuscitate my car. It turns out I needed a thingamajig (or whatever it was) to get my car functioning properly again. Naturally, shops that had that thingamajig opened at 8am. So I settled down to a Mabalacat breakfast of really spicy meat in tomato sauce and waited for this sleepy old town to wake up.

By 8:30am I was ready to go on my way again. With a heavy heart and a lighter wallet, I bid my new friends adieu.

I arrived in Makati at 11:30am. I thought about taking a leave for the day when I received a text message from my teammate.

“Pre, saan ka na? May meeting tayo!” the text message said.

I groaned…and went to take a bath. It was going to be a long, long day.

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