Thursday, April 19, 2007

Car Blues

The mechanic looked up from his position in from of one of the jacked up front wheels of the pick-up truck, turned to me and said with finality, "Your front suspension bushings need to be replaced. All six of them." And all I could do was sigh with resignation and nod my head.

For I suspected what the trouble was even before I came into the automobile repair shop. The fact that my suspicions have been confirmed did not in any way reassure me. The truck was staying for repairs in the shop. About five thousand pesos worth of it.

Owning private transportation in a rural town like Lianga is both, unless you are filthy rich like Bill Gates, can be both a blessing and a curse. On the plus side, you have the freedom to go anywhere you need to go at any moment and your mobility is limited only by the needed travel time to go where you want and the amount of fuel you can afford to load into your gas tank. And for most Filipinos, owning a car is a status symbol and a sign of financial prosperity and success in life.

But the car, like any other form of complex machinery, needs maintenance and repairs from time to time. And it is when the engine starts knocking or sounding weird or when something starts rattling underneath the floor when you drive that you start having headaches and begin worrying about the high costs of repair and whether you can really afford to have your own vehicle in the first place.

The fact is the situation for car owners in Lianga is not exactly normal. This part of the province of Surigao del Sur has one of the roughest, worst maintained roads in the country. Just a short distance out of the town are kilometers and kilometers of dirt and gravel roads whose dilapidated condition would make the city driver with is brand new SUV tear at his hair in frustration and curse the government and the Department of Public Works and Highways to high heavens.

Maintaining a private vehicle, therefore, or even one used for business purposes in that situation can be a daunting proposition and a very costly one at that. Only because you absolutely need to have wheels in order to be able to move around or make a living in this part of world do you spend so much time and most of your meager resources in ensuring that your car or truck is in running, if not in perfect condition.

Our family's wheels did get the repair job it needed and after a day or so it was back in service again. Now I spend, as usual, an inordinate amount of time, as I travel the rough, dusty and bumpy roads, listening for the next rattle from the body or the next hiccup from the engine. I know they will come in time and when they do, it will be another stressful and expensive trip to the repair shop.

So when you want to travel in Lianga or Surigao del Sur for that matter, take the bus or jeepney. And if you have your own car do leave it at home. Trust me, it will be a less stressful trip and you will live a little longer.

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