The Ride to Malapascua from Cebu City

by Danny Fruchter

My son, Jacopo, and I travelled to the Philippines in August, 2017. The reefs of the Philippines support some absurd percentage of all the reef animals in the world, like 70%, and we wanted to experience them while there was still time.

Cebu Island, The Philippines, August 2017

the perfect attention of my v-hire driver to the road in front of him undoubtedly kept us alive. he had an almost malay or chinese orange tinged face under orangish blond hair swept both forward and back at the same time (belying his driving style), very roundly surrounding black eyes intent only upon the surface of the road. his strong forearms were attached to his medium small build, placing both of his hands equally spaced on the upper part of his padded steering wheel with only room enough between him and it to keep his elbows close pressed to the sides of his lower torso. a smaller than 12 inch gap separated his right hand on the wheel from the central column shifter for the brief necessity of changing gears, which was directly in front of the rather pudgy young man squeezed between us, who pressed against my left arm and leg for 31/2 hours, as i was in the shotgun, ok, suicide seat. Before the lad joined our little band of wayfarers a half hour into the ride and filled what i thought was the last possible space in that toyota minivan (oh, how wrong i was on this score), the flak man/fare collector saw my discomfiture at not being able to free the safety belt from its long disused spot caught under and behind my seat, and within 15 or 20 minutes of watching my vain attempts to free it and eventual relaxation into my destiny, produced what i later came to believe was the useless, but at the time, somewhat reassuring at the moment, seat belt, after diligently working it free.  

our driver had no english that he cared to disclose; hence i cannot tell you his name. and even if i attempted it, popo would laugh at my absurd pronunciation.[1] so it’s better to just describe that goal, belied by his perfect attention, which had obviously fixed itself in his mind: to go the 150 or so kms from maya port to cebu city north bus terminal in the shortest period of time without damaging his van-for-hire (v-hire) stuffed with the maximum number of paying passengers, their luggage and a variety of local cargo. no small order as the road was at best a two-laner with dozens of towns and villages and settlements along it, and an infrastructure program insufficient to the maintenance of any constant speed for more than a minute or two…at most, even if there had been no other vehicular or human obstacles with which to contend. and that’s just how my man played it.  almost nothing moderated his maximum speed except for the actual condition of the roadbed with which he was perfectly attuned. nothing.

not bicycle cabs, nor motorbike cabs, nor motorcycles, nor bicycles, not mothers carrying babies, not schoolgirls swishing by in their plaid pleated mid-calf skirts creating a conflicting, but highly pleasing rhythm from their forward striding legs and their side-swaying hips, not big yellow intercity air conditioned buses nor pint sized open windowed gaily painted local buses stuffed with wilting people stopping suddenly to pick up or discharge, unannounced to me but magically (for often brake lights were not operational) known to him of the perfect intention, not goats, nor curs of the third world-each exactly the same morphologically with only color markings or a bewildering variety of disabilities to distinguish among them (the elsewhere ever-present rooster was the only animal not routinely side-of-the-road evident, possibly because of his value as a cock fighter or maybe just being the stupidest organism since his dinosaur ancestors roamed the earth having inherited their total inexperience with traffic), not construction gangs nor heavy equipment nor the minimally controlling (with the merest hand gestures only allowed by the 95 degree heat) flagmen, not traffic police, nor parked anything and everything, not yellow lines solid or doubled, not solid white lines around curves, not sugar cane piled just off the lane for transport by back and then trucks, not delivery trucks with a dozen rider/helpers on top of their loads under the canvass, not barbecue stands of lechon or fish or bananas billowing smoke from wet wood or cheap charcoal hard up against the road where sales were best but most dangerous (nothing ventured nothing gained), not signs or traffic lights (actually, i never saw any signs that indicated speed limits-but yields and stops and one ways existed for the amusement of the occasional reader).

there were a few things our man of the perfect intention did take into consideration: as mentioned already, the road surface itself was paramount. where it looked broken to me, he could blithely proceed at speed, calmly knowing the path was more smooth than it looked or likelier, there was a secret passage through the cracks not apparent to the casual eye (as if he were an iberian or italian explorer picking his way through an archipelago in the 16th century, unknown to other westerners). often, where the road surface seemed ok to me, he knew from previous experience, or sense of smell or a shift in the wind, that there was an unseen harm awaiting his precious van, and he avoided that damage perfectly-a thousand times at least. the road was as familiar to him as the worn carpet in his home, if he had had one. of course, there were times when he just absolutely couldn’t proceed – there simply wasn’t the needed inch on either side of his vehicle to accomplish the sorpasso a destra or the squeeze between while holding the breath or the fake right to go left or the quick dart around between opposite streams of traffic. these times were few compared to the many, many successes scored. also worth noting, instantaneously, as we would reach the actual, but unseen to the uninitiated, starting line of every village’s school zone, i sensed a slight momentary lightening on the accelerator pedal, although it was more a feeling than a speedometer recorded event. and ultimately, when we arrived at the densest, most smog-laden, diesel-belching, city arterials where movement seemed to become impossible, our man crawled up the butts of whoever was in front of him, seeming to give impetus and urgency to almost push forward psycho-spiritually even the heaviest of lumbering 18 wheelers. we moved because he made everyone move.

upon reflection, i came to understand that this driver, this working man, was an ideal; a kind of capitalist hero. for he was efficient in the extreme. where chaos existed, he managed, and managed well. he always went for the cut, the chance, the opportunity. profit required risk. life was risk! he created openings that others could not see but through which they might follow. thus, he not only exploited previously unused space, but helped others to do the same; where the ordinary following driver might have seen space for two to fit, he now could see three by the example of this single- minded productivity genius. like the pyramid schemer, he created value out of nothing.  simply out of his belief that it could be done. and not only that. he affected others. where he strode giant-like, the timid shied away, falling behind. but those who could learn from his example were emboldened to go where one man had gone before and be shown the way to a brighter future. so other drivers fell into two natural groups in the wake of their experiencing this singular man of intention: the followers and the leaders, the losers and the winners, the job creators and everyone else. boldness was rewarded, as nature intended.

i might add that while it might seem that state-promulgated regulation, or the policing of same, would only restrict such a personality, he was not an outlaw. he was simply self-regulating. and the proof of his success at being so was that we arrived in one piece and left thousands of pedestrians and drivers in our wake as whole as before he passed.

[1] * My children, Sophie aged 24 and Jacopo (Popo) aged 18, speak two ‘mother tongues’ perfectly. They also think it’s a good idea to stay away from uncomfortable social interactions. They are superior to me in this regard (as well as many others), as I only speak English at boring length, snatches of Italian and Spanish poorly, and three of four words in dozens of other languages. Added to my many linguistic disabilities in their eyes, is my audio-hampered desire to learn, and then repeatedly attempt to pronounce, the unfamiliar names of people we meet. Since we often travel together, they have ample opportunity to snicker, mock, or break out in gales of laughter at my regular, but inarticulate attempts to make social contact across the barriers of language and custom. My mispronounced names and words regularly produce reactions in my foreign interlocutors of polite confusion. Whereas I see this as an opportunity for further contact to ‘get it right’ or correct misunderstanding, they see my repetitious attempts at social contact as farcical miscalculations of louder, slower, and stupider. So it is.  

Danny Fruchter was a founder of People’s Light & Theater Co., the Coatesville Cultural Society, the International Institute for Theatre Research, and most recently, Malvern Arts.

“Occasional Writing,” a page on the Malvern Arts website, is becoming a featured blog post with the publication of this essay. Archived writings can be found at by searching Occasional Writing.