Cruising 101: Shut up and drive

MY US-based brother Ronnie and I before we drove off with my new Honda Civic in December 2008. For some reason, I can’t find a picture of my first ever car, a deep teal Toyota Corolla sans power steering, locks and windows.

LET me ask you a personal question. No, I’m not going to pry into your sex life. We’ll get to that soon enough ;-). I’d like to know when and how you learned to drive.

I was reminded of this fairly common human activity called driving, which we often take for granted, recently. My Facebook friend Jojo, at the ripe old age of 42, has finally decided to learn how to drive, and is asking friends the best, safest and most economical way to do it.

He was poised to enroll at a leading driving school in Manila, but the seemingly astronomical fees it charges, P11,220 ($273) for 7 one-hour sessions and P16,000 ($390) for 10 one-hour sessions, made him think twice.

Some of his friends found the amount outrageous, and advised Jojo to learn from someone he knows–who knows–instead. Others advised him to look for lesser-known driving schools with cheaper rates.

Combination of both

I told him to do a combination of both: learn the basics first at a driving school, and then supplement it later by driving his own car (or, if someone is crazy enough to lend him, a borrowed one :-D), preferably, with a professional driver riding with him.

Not only will hiring the right driver to drive, er, walk him through the basics ensure Jojo’s safety, a competent companion will also boost his confidence and instill in him a routine as he tries to hone his driving skills as well as get accustomed to a new machine. I should know. I went through the same route myself.

Even if you take 20 one-hour sessions in a driving school, they would never be enough. Sooner or later, you would have to drive the streets alone or with a knowledgeable companion.

Although long holidays, when Metro Manila’s streets are free of the usual gridlock, are ideal scenarios for you to perfect your driving, there’s nothing better than to brave regular traffic to really bring out the James Bond in you.

Apart from Edsa on a regular day, the best places to hone your driving skills are Quiapo (on a Friday), Baclaran (on a Wednesday) and Divisoria (everyday[!], including Sundays). But one must never dare venture into these places unless he knows the basics.

MY parents, Vic and Gely, with dogs Popoya (daughter of Popoy and Pipay) and her brother  Dexter, and our then new Toyota Altis

Pedestrians matter, too

With the exception of Edsa, I haven’t heard of anyone dying in a vehicular accident in the traffic-choked areas mentioned above. But driving isn’t only about you and those inside your vehicle. Lest you forget, there’s also the safety of pedestrians to consider.

In driving, one never reacts to a situation. Instead, he anticipates—from jeepneys making sudden stops ahead of you to pick up stray passengers, to lazy pedestrians choosing to risk their lives by darting across highways instead of using the overpass.

I don’t know his aptitude as a driver (or if he had previous lessons before), but I also advised Jojo to refrain from learning the basics from a brother, father, best friend or significant other. Here’s why.

Learning how to drive can be very difficult and nerve-racking at first, especially for people with faint hearts as well as those with an unexplained natural aversion to machines. Those who possess a devil-may-care attitude are also likely to get a mouthful from their teachers.

Imagine, if it’s your boyfriend or girlfriend, who’s teaching you. It’s bound to get personal. So, to spare yourself and your loved ones the trouble, it’s best that you learn from a professional instructor.

It’s better to be yelled at and be treated like an idiot by someone you don’t know, than by someone who knows more about you than he or she should. You can only tap your parents, siblings, spouses and significant others to teach you the finer points of driving once you’re done with the basics.

And learning how to drive by opting for an automatic, in my book, doesn’t count at all. You have to learn the hard way first by familiarizing yourself with a

THIS silver baby, not the house, is for sale

stick shift. Switching to an automatic later on will be like child’s play.

Late in the day

I also decided to eventually take the wheel quite late. I was already in my early 30s when I enrolled in a driving school 15 years ago. What took me so long and what finally pushed me to go toe-to-toe, bumper-to-bumper with other drivers in Metro Manila’s horrendous traffic? Necessity.

We had a vehicle, a rundown red Volkswagen pickup, when I was in elementary school, but my folks decided to sell it before I even reached high school.

With no vehicle to practice with, the traditional route most teenagers resort to in order to learn how to drive wasn’t available to me. Decades passed before I finally decided that I’ve had enough of being refused a ride by nasty cab drivers because of my address.

Since we live in Cavite, never mind that it’s just Bacoor or the first town outside Metro Manila if you drive southwest, taxi drivers always found an excuse to either ignore me or jack up their fares.

FROM one proud owner to another, Chi Mendoza, new owner of the silver Toyota Altis

I was already a journalist back then, and, for some reason, I was able to manage covering events while taking public transport. I would have probably managed, like most of my colleagues still do, had we lived within or near Makati, where the bulk of my coverage and interviews happen.

It was a choice between moving away from home and renting a place in Makati or staying put in Cavite and getting a car. Since my folks were starting to get on in years, leaving home wasn’t a very viable alternative. And with my two siblings now living in America, that’s no longer an option.

I’ll spare you the details of how I managed to learn and make a fool of myself in the process. That story is best saved for a future entry. Suffice it to say that a klutz and scaredy cat like me eventually learned to overcome my fears and near-zero coordination.

Liberating experience

As an incentive to Jojo to finally start the engine and step on the gas, I told him that all the trouble of learning how to drive was worth it. Apart from walking, it was one of the most liberating experiences I’ve done in my life. True, I’m now dependent on my car, but I’m no longer at the mercy of late hours, transportation boycotts and heartless cab drivers.

All this talk about driving reminds me of a good friend, which Ivy, a kindred bitch, and I love to tease. After all these years, that friend of ours has yet to overcome her fear of driving. She’s very intelligent, creative and funny, mind you, but for some reason, she can’t bring herself to start the engine, let alone sit on the driver’s seat without shaking.

I used to tell her that if jeepney and cab drivers who barely finished elementary school could do it, then so could she. She must have gotten tired of all the ribbing she got from Ivy and I that she no longer takes jokes about her aversion to driving lightly.

But that hasn’t stopped us from laughing behind her back whenever the opportunity presents itself. On the surface, and in spite of the fact that she lives in the northernmost reaches of Metro Manila, she makes it sound as if she can manage without driving. Sigh. If she only knew what she’s missing.

MY friend Ivy and I, the scourge of non-drivers with the means and the need to drive. 😀

8 thoughts on “Cruising 101: Shut up and drive

    • Your life won’t be complete unless you learn how to drive. You can have a driver later when you’re old and gray, by all means, but there is nothing like driving your own car during your prime. Take it from me. I’m not exaggerating. 😉

  1. I’ve always wanted to learn how to drive and I always stated that I wanted to be a road menace when I grow up. 😛

    Still, in my mid 30s, I still don’t know how to drive. And certainly, even if I still want to, living in a city that has amazing and efficient public transport has spoiled me. 🙂

    • We learn to drive for different reasons, but I guess the bottom line is we do it out of necessity. Some drive fancy cars to show off and get the girls, so attaining those objectives are probably necessities to them. 😀 Personally speaking, I don’t regret having to learn how in spite of the fact that owning and maintaining a car, not to mention gassing up regularly, can lead you to a state of perpetual semi-poverty. 😉 Apart from being therapeutic, driving can also be handy in an emergency. There’s no harm in learning. And the best part is, as long as you’re brave and your eyesight and mental faculties haven’t failed you yet, it doesn’t have any age limit. 😉

  2. salamat, binigyan mo ako ng pag-asa you don’t know me but we graduated at the same time at UST,and always read your articles at PDI online (Jude Mancuyas is my classmate), @ 48 i will try to learn how to drive dahil kailangan. matakutin ako and di ko alam left or right, i don’t ride sa front so parang driver ko ang husband ko. i have to look for a part time job at most of the jobs na angkop sa oras na gusto ko eh ” must know how to drive” and the school i want to go to in the fall is too far from home (mura ang tuition dito).

    • You go for it, schoolmate. A lot of spatially challenged people have difficulty figuring their left from their right. Whereas, such an ability is automatic and comes natural to most people, there are certain people who have to think first for a few seconds to make sure where there left and right are. I’ll let you in on a secret. I’m one of them. 🙂 But that hasn’t stopped me from driving. What you need is the motivation and the need to learn it. Otherwise, you’d be forever dependent on other people for you to move around. Do it at your own pace. Good luck!

  3. Just got the chance to sit down and read you blog. Like you I am a late bloomer too. At 46, I finally found the need to drive. I have always enjoyed commuting or being driven around by friends and drivers but with my new job I just had to be mobile. Funny though, I know how to drive a stick (Manual) and I did enroll in driving school where my instructor said, “Sir, ang bigat ng paa mo sa gas. Masyado mo naeenjoy ang bilis. Kailangan swabe lang. Alam ninyo lahat ng daan at pasikotsikot sa Metro Manila pati na yung mga short cut. Parang taxi driver kayo magmaneho”. When my mom heard about that, wham bam! No to driving. She wasn’t happy to learn I was a speed freak and I knew the ins and outs of Pasig, Pasay and Sta.Mesa (guess what those areas have in common?) Hahahaha! I was in my early 30’s that time. Now, after buying my classic Nissan Tsuru and having it all pimped up, I am so excited to finally drive. Just getting my second student license felt so liberating. After reading your article, I just know I am going to enjoy having the freedom to go anywhere, everywhere at anytime. Hugs! Road trip?!

    • Good to hear, Sigfred, that you’re getting the hang of driving. In whatever you do, wherever you go and whoever you’re with, it pays to always consider safety first. Enjoy your drives 🙂

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