March 10, 2011

Rail stories

WHENEVER I go to my appointments at the Ortigas or Makati CBDs, I always take the rail.

Most of the time, the ride is a breeze, except when it’s rush hour. Then I can hardly find a seat, and I’m squeezed in by other passengers and their humongous bags or backpacks, barely breathing.

Or before the ride, the security guards at the station entrance will make a grand display of their so-called beefed-up security (three dutdots of the magic bomb-detecting drum stick inside one’s bag instead of the usual two), which only happens for a month after a bombing or some terrorist threat, and there’s a long queue of commuters ahead of you.

I like riding the rail despite these few inconveniences because it’s fast, not having any Edsa traffic jams to contend with, and it’s a cheaper commute. It also gives me time to indulge in my favorite pastime—fantasizing that I live in New York (cue in Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” here), and I’m riding the subway, on my way from my apartment in Brooklyn (which is beside a kosher deli—I’m obsessed with Jewish neighborhoods, so sue me!) to my office in Manhattan. Or I’m in Singapore on my way from my hotel to a shopping expedition along Orchard Road.

Whatever the fantasy, it always has to be in a First World country where my fellow commuters are chic fashionistas who get in and out of the train in an orderly fashion—no pushing, please!—and speak in English or some foreign language I barely understand. (I sometimes have a Tokyo variation or London script.) All this time, of course, I’m listening to my Madonna playlist on my phone (or Lady Gaga, or Katy Perry, depending on my mood), and I’m in the zone.

Along with my excursions into Lala-land, I also like watching my fellow commuters, observing what they’re up to, to pass the time away.

There’s often the young lady in a blue dress with white hemming, in thick beige stockings shod in black sandals—a sales clerk of one of these huge department stores.

She manages to squish into the very tight space in the passenger seat, and I notice that her long rebonded hair is still wet, probably after having shampooed it with Pantene or some such shampoo that promises straight locks that shine.

She has green eye shadow. I don’t know why all the female sales clerks of this department store seem to have a preference for that color. Then she starts putting on her lipstick—why didn’t she do that at home since she did manage to put on her eye color?—and then some blush.

If it isn’t the green-eye shadowed salesclerk, there is also the hefty lesbian in a checkered polo (sometimes with the rolled-up sleeves, or sometimes in short sleeves), in jeans, with her feet shod in monstrous gray or blue sneakers. (Perhaps, she is going trekking in the hinterlands or off to a marathon?)

It never fails to amaze me that most rail-riding lesbians will insist on being classified as female when it suits them, although in the normal course of their lives, they insist on acting like males, and are often more masculine than real men. They will get into the train designated for the ladies, pregnant women and senior citizens, and use their bulk to elbow their way to any available space on the passenger seats. Uunahan ka pa! These lesbians have never once offered me a seat, unlike the men on the few occasions that I find myself in the latter’s designated carriages.

Then there are the one or two men who obviously do not look anywhere near 60, but somehow manage to sneak into our carriage, pretending they are seniors. (Only men will pretend to be old to get a good deal. Women will always pretend they are younger than they really are.) It’s a good thing that these men don’t scramble for seats and try to edge out the real seniors and the women. Often they slip into our train just to take advantage of the roomier space.

An annoying facet of the MRT-commuting life is having to hear one-sided conversations by some passengers shouting into their itty-bitty Nokias. I don’t know what possesses women to carry on long conversations over their cell phones—yes, it’s mostly women who do this—when, gathering from the one-sided discussion, you can tell it’s not even an important call, just plain tsismis.

One time I was seated at the men’s section, a woman launched into this very loud conversation over her cell phone. Ten minutes later, she was still on the phone, and perhaps because it was so early in the morning, a few men collectively shouted at the woman to shut up. I could only manage a snicker—I’m sure the chatty woman made the men think they were back at home with their nagging wives, instead of escaping to the office!

Speaking of the men’s section, I am told by some gay friends that despite their feminine inclinations, they just love being in the designated male trains, especially when it’s sardine-packed during rush hour. Hmmm...I wonder why? ;p

I have also noticed that in the few times that I’ve had to ride in the men’s carriages, there seems to be a lot of cute or smoking hot guys between 9 and 10:30 am. I don’t know why that is. And they seem to cut across income levels—there are the dudes who are off to their Makati offices, dressed in their long-sleeved polos and dark slacks, uniformed staff of some food or clothing chain, and just very ordinary types in their striped collared tees, jeans and basketball sneaks. And the college students! Ooh-lala. Just the kind that can bring out the cougar in any aging matrona. Rowr.

But after 11 am, forget it. All we get are long-haired-feeling-I’m-a-rock-star dudes, balding men, those aging or unkempt with huge backpacks (yes, they’re the guys who usually hold up the security queues), and a number of loser types. There are also a handful of who are job-hunting—probably at call centers—I can tell because they are in a “spooting” mode. But I did feel the strongest urge to tell one kid last Tuesday that a striped colored long-sleeved polo over black pinstripe pants will fail to impress the HR head. Oh wait, maybe he was going on a date. Ach!

But I like riding in the men’s trains sometimes, because more often than not, they do offer me a seat. I actually find it surprising that in this day and age, there are still a few good men who do this. Maybe I remind them of their sweet lolas or indulgent mothers, hehehe.

I have observed, however, that if these men are with their girlfriends, they won’t get up and offer any woman their seat—no, not even to pregnant women or seniors. They are just stuck there, butt firmly kissing their seat, holding hands with their girl. I often wonder how they would feel if their girlfriends remained standing the entire trip and not one man offers her a seat. I mean, I’ve seen fellow ladies stand up for other females, especially for the pregnant mommies and grannies. I also get offered a seat by other gals when I’m struggling with a lot of shopping bags and I’m in my heels, or lugging my laptop with me. Needless to say, I usually return the favor to my sister commuters, and to seniors as well.

Soon enough, my 15- to 20-minute ride to my destination is over, and I shuffle out of the train with my fellow commuters, and on to the rail platform. Up the steps we go and through the turnstile, then out the station into our disparate harried lives.

(Originally published in the BusinessMirror, March 4, 2011. My column, Something Like Life is published every Friday in the Life section of said paper. Photos from and

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