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My Life as a Commuter

A second home to millions of Pinoys since the first sacadas worked in Hawaii a hundred years ago, one finds travel funds stretching as you visit aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins, who will introduce you to their friends, and friends who will introduce you to their cousins.

"What's the weather like today?" I hear this question each time we plan to go out. Need a hat, a muffler, jacket? Need an umbrella and shades? So this is the U. S. of A., where it seems one needs to make a decision about what to wear when prepping to step out of the house.

Back home, to simplify my dressing up, I've set up a color code for myself, going by "angel colors": Sunday, yellow; Monday, white; Tuesday, red; Wednesday, orange; Thursday, blue; Friday, pink and/or green; Saturday, black. The day's blessings are aplenty when I go by this color code, for the angels are pleased.

I step out of the house, walk to the LRT (light rail transit) station on Katipunan Street, just seven minutes away. I get a senior's card (20% off); this is good for 8 trips. The card is good for the 8th trip, even if the balance registers at 2 or 4 pesos (less than 10 cents). I live in Quezon City, and work in Manila. Taking the LRT cuts down my daily travel time from a traffic-tangled 1.5 hours down to 55 minutes, one way—that's worth 70 minutes less pollution round trip.

I board the train, and go for an empty seat. Or, some young person gives up his/her seat for me. When no one gets up, I smile to myself and say I'm not looking so senior today.

Since five years ago, I've been fortunate to be able to take time off to travel. A previous job posting had given me ample opportunity to visit at least a dozen countries in Asia. So, a trip to the U.S. is welcome reward after tedious office work every year or two.

Comes the family network that is boon to every traveling Filipino, especially in America. A second home to millions of Pinoys since the first sacadas worked in Hawaii a hundred years ago, one finds travel funds stretching as you visit aunts and uncles, siblings and cousins, who will introduce you to their friends, and friends who will introduce you to their cousins. I did find welcoming aunts and cousins in Chicago, New York, Virginia and Alabama during my trip in 2002, as well as cousins in Florida and L.A. who were disappointed I didn't have the time (nor the fare) to visit them. I found more kissing cousins in 2003 and 2004 in San Francisco and Las Vegas. In 2007, I was able to add Nebraska to my itinerary. And new friends to visit in West Virginia and in Concord, Massachusetts .

Arlington, Virginia has a special appeal to my wandering spirit. I've come to consider it my home-away-from-home, as travel brochures say. My cousin lives there; she's so American as far as shopping habits and time scheduling go, yet so Filipino in her friendship networks and dining fare. She won't have time to pick you up from the airport, nor send you off, as she'd be busy subbing at the canteen for a friend, or picking up her daughter and her friends. But she'll pick me up for Mass at Our Lady Queen of Peace, where the choir sings such joyful songs, and the parish priest's homily alit with friendly repartee. Or, we'll go to Mass at St. Anthony's to meet up with another cousin-to-the-fourth degree. Do I want to join her to tour the FBI, Ford Theater (where Abraham Lincoln was shot!), or the Smithsonian? Let's have lunch over at the World Bank, then to Alexandria for large pizza? And, let's drive to this and that garage sale, flea market, Off Broadway, Ikea. Or, it's hair color day. And, we're having dinner for some priests and seminarians. Better stay the night, a week or two, a month or so.

Most Sundays, we attend Mass at St. Agnes Church, though the songs are not memorable and a few homilies sound staid. But breakfast at McDo means a reserved corner of Filipinos who reign at embassy dinner tables, and a constant update on who's been in or out of the hospital, who's sibling or cousin arrived, who's visiting which cousin in which state, where we're celebrating still another birthday cum tong-its. All this over senior coffees, hotcakes with sausage, yogurt with fruit.

This weekend, we're having dinner at my friend Yuli's place, over at Loudon County, taking the Metro from Courthouse to West Falls Church, Orange line. Yuli will pick us up, and bring us back to the Metro after dinner. Yuli is the baker at fabulous Wegman's, as well as a certified chef, and wow, she prepares a mean dinner of crabs, grilled asparagus, bangus with onion-and-tomato stuffing, and fried green tomatoes!

Next weekend, we're invited to lunch at Tibett's condo. Take the Metro to West Falls Church, Orange line again. Call when you're nearing the station, show up promptly, for Tibett's eyes go white when anybody's late.

For a movie, Courthouse is within walking distance. There's sumptuous shrimp pizza or Chinese take-out on the way home. Or, take the Metro to Ballston, where we can also browse at the bookshops. Over there, parking on some days is one dollar, so if we're able to borrow a car, we just have to remember on what level we parked (and that we even used a car, bless senior moments!).

The Smithsonian is a terrific place to while away your troubles. A smooth metro ride on the orange line to the Smithsonian stop, and walk along the Mall. All exhibits are open to the public for free. The Native American Museum is a current favorite of mine; you can gather your spirits as you reflect on the history of peoples who have experienced being colonized by the sword and by the cross, Indians and Filipinos both.

On days reserved for a meeting or serious reading over at the Library of Congress, we walk to Courthouse, ride the orange line to DC and get off at Capitol South. We enter the Madison Building and take the shortcut through the underground tunnel, flash your ID, stop at the canteen for a drink, don't eat in the reading room. On the way home, take the orange line all the way to Clarendon station to buy Peruvian chicken with mild sauce and a double order of fried plantains. Walk back home; it's just one subway stop away.

The very streamlined subway system serving DC and Virginia has in fact trained me for commuting. Whereas I used to drive everywhere in Metro Manila despite its infamous traffic jams, I can now brave the commuting crowd at least on LRT 2, purple line. Now in my QC hometown, I drive my jeep (15 years old on December 28!) only on weekends.

© Rexi Cruz

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