My dad and I spent lots of time together in his old Galant wagon and, when I was a toddler, riding shotgun with him was always the highlight of my day. He would take me everywhere he went like the Star Cafe along Session Road for his morning coffee sessions with his elderly pals, the grocery store for household supplies, and to Pilong's talyer (my favorite) for routine car maintenance.
Living in a small city like Baguio has its charm, because back then there was no such thing as traffic and everything was close by. It was always a steady cruise through the meandering mountain roads, with the cool air flowing through open car windows. As a toddler, I saw dad do some out-of-the-ordinary things while driving, and as a teenager (old enough to drive by myself) I had a difficult time understanding some of his habits.
But now that I am much older, some of my dad's quirks behind the wheel are starting to make sense. Here are some recollections and lessons that make me smile, even up to today:
1. "Going up Kennon Road I stay on fourth gear the whole time," he used to brag. I didn't believe him then, but when I could drive by myself I tried it out with the wagon. He was right. I learned early on that the quickest way up a hill is to not waste any energy and be efficient. Dad may not have been a racecar driver, but he had the concept of preserving momentum down pat. Plus, the wagon has excellent pull thanks to the 4.2:1 differential.
2. Our steep driveway is a driving test and dad and I would watch first-time, out-of-town guests try to make it out of there. If the fellow could make it up, he 'passed.' If not, dad and I would laugh and brand him a 'lousy' driver. When the poor fellow gave up, dad would proclaim, "If you can beat our driveway, you will never be stranded anywhere in Baguio."
He would then get into the driver's seat and show the fellow how it was done; by using all the room available to build momentum (making buwelo) and revving the engine hard at takeoff. Don't be scared to open up the throttle when the situation calls for it, he said. By the time I was 13, I was the one teaching lowlanders who 'failed' how to conquer the driveway--and Baguio's steep hills.
3. The wagon wasn't just a family car. Dad used it to transport bags of cement, gravel, and sand to construction sites. I was amazed that the car didn't fall apart. I learned that sometimes you have to carry a heavier load than what you are used to. When the time comes, man up and just do it. The wagon never complained or broke down on dad, proof that a little faith can go a long way.
4. When I was six, dad taught me the basics of driving with manual transmission. He let me hold the gearshift from the passenger seat, and when he shouted what gear I was supposed to be in I would grab the knob with both hands and shift accordingly. He trusted his little boy, and because of that it was so fun for me, rowing through the gears while dad blasted up Kennon road from our house in Camp 7 all the way into town. This is something I will never forget. I was so little and already I wanted to drive.
5. When I was a teenager I noticed that the wagon's Saturn engine was in pretty bad shape. I wanted to take it in for an oil change but dad insisted not to. I decided not to force the issue because he was quite pissed. He just kept on adding oil to it and I couldn't understand why. Turns there is an old remedy used to temporarily cure an engine with a blow-by. I feel stupid now for thinking he didn't know what he was doing and not trusting him. Apparently, no matter how badly broken something, there is always a fix--though he did get the engine properly rebuilt eventually.
6. When dad encountered some rough road, instead of slowing down he just stepped on the gas, his rationale being the car will 'fly' over the ruts. Okay, there is some debate about the soundness of this bit of advice, but boy was it fun to be in the car with him when we hauled-ass over non-paved roads. I suppose the sooner you get past the rough parts of a journey, the better. And if you are smiling through the tough stuff, it will turn into something enjoyable.
7. Cruising is not a waste of gasoline, because when I couldn't be put to bed as a toddler, dad and mom would bundle me in blankets, put me in the back seat, and they would drive around Baguio until I fell asleep. I suppose I felt safe and secure in dad's wagon, because mom tells me that this was the only way to sedate me. I am sure that those evening drives on chilly nights weren't just for my benefit, but also for my folks to spend some quality time together once I drifted off.
8. Dad liked to use his horn a lot, and it got quite annoying when I was a teen. I figured it was much cooler to drive stealthily and not be a nuisance. But when I moved to Manila, using the horn has saved me from running over pedestrians, motorbike riders, and cyclists who don't have a clue about what is going on around them. You are a crippled motorist in the Philippines if without a horn. Try driving without one and people will just wander into your path without knowing you are there. It's dangerous.
9. Dad's friends were much older than he was, and I watched some lose their ability to drive because of bad vision or health problems. Not wanting his older friends to be left out of the morning coffee sessions, he would fetch them from their homes and bring them back afterwards. That showed me that he valued friendship. In this fast-paced world, it is hard to be there for friends I care about. But when I ride the wagon today, I am reminded about how good a buddy my dad was to his pals, and that I should be the same to mine, too.
10. When I started driving a brand-new Lancer in 1997, I ignored the wagon. To me, it was just dad's old car. But he kept driving it and taking care of it--until the day he suddenly passed away. For five years his car was left rotting away in the garage. When it was almost sold for scrap I vowed to bring it back to life. I didn't want to lose the memories that are attached to it. When something provides a link to your past, don't ever sell it, forget about it, or let it deteriorate.
A car may be a material thing, but like a photo album or heirloom, you wouldn't throw it away, would you? I have said that memories are indeed priceless, and that is why I'm saving this car from the scrap heap. Restoring his old wagon will not bring my dad back, but doing so will help keep the recollections and smiles alive. This car is like a key that unlocks flashbacks that may otherwise be lost forever. If you have a memento in your family, hold on to it. But always remember that it is much better to make new memories with the ones you love, here and now. Don't ever take that opportunity for granted.