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The Good Luck Bus 2: Baked Into Tarts

You could not tell from the refurbished air-conditioned bus that we purchased in 2007 that it was second-hand. It looked sleek; and especially after the new design was painted on, the bus really looked… handsome!

It ran like a dream, too! My boys and I had a few chances to travel to matches in it; but we had to fall in line just like everybody else. It was being used for outings, retreats and field trips.

The bus not only looked like a dream; it was also comfortable and clean. There was a definite feel-good about looking out the window and seeing all those people by the roads gawking up at you.

By 2009, it was starting to have a few temper-tantrums. For starters, the driver always said that it was a tad laboured when climbing up inclines. There had to be a separate motor for the air-conditioning system, he would complain to anyone who cared to listen.

His wish would be eventually granted: a separate motor was purchased for the air-conditioning system. Albeit, the bus’ temper tantrums did not seem to be going away; and visits by the mechanic were becoming more frequent.

In fact, when we were due to play in a pre-season festival at the Ateneo de Manila in August of 2010, we all thought that we would be travelling in two of the school’s vans. We had been told that the bus was being repaired.

To the boys’ great delight, it was the bus instead which arrived early that morning to load everyone. I did have my reservations. I understood from what I was told just the day before that the bus was being repaired; and there seemed something so not right about the photo-finish manner with which the repairs seemed to have been finished.

Surprisingly, though, our drive to the Big City was totally uneventful. I even remember having remarked to the driver that the air-conditioning seemed to be working very well. It was even chilly inside the bus.

It was a wet day at the Ateneo and good football was just not possibly in the soggy conditions. Both our teams made it to the semi-finals; although both were narrowly beaten by their opponents. Rather than have our two teams play each other in what was effectively a scrimmage match, we told the organizers we would settle things between ourselves and head for home instead.

Great! Or so I thought to myself… We would be heading home earlier than I thought. It was also a Sunday and the boys could get proper rest for the next day’s classes.

They do say not to count your chickens…

We were supposed to stop at one of the gas stations along SLEX so the boys could get some refreshment after a day of exertions. We never got there.

“Sir,” the boy in the seat behind mine called my attention. “There’s smoke billowing from behind the bus!”

When I looked behind, true enough, there was thick white smoke coming from the bus. We had to immediately stop; and we had not even gotten to the Susana Heights exit. The boys had to be told to leave the bus immediately.

The bus had overheated. I will not get into the sordid details. Suffice it to say that the bus would not even start again; and had to be towed all the way back to Lipa.

It was suggested that we all transfer to commercial buses. That was not possible. We were in the middle of the highway and no bus would stop for us. Besides, even if they did, there were too many of us. If we had to break up the group to ride in different buses, the prospect of some of the boys travelling unsupervised was not acceptable.

The tow truck seemed the lesser of the evils.

First, an SLEX tow truck took us out of the highway and into this small community close to the highway’s exit plaza. We were told that another tow truck would take us all the way to Lipa; and, also, that we could not roll along the highway and travel instead using the old route through the towns of Biñan, Sta. Rosa, Cabuyao and into Calambâ.

That seemed a daunting prospect; and we sent the boys to scrounge for food. Fortunately, there was a couple of sari-sarî stores close to where the bus was parked. The boys made do with packets of crackers, hopiâ and instant noodles.

It was late in the afternoon – almost evening – when the other tow truck arrived to take us on the laborious trip back home. We were going so slow that a few of the boys at the rear spontaneously broke out singing end-of-May processional songs.

It was not only that we were not travelling with our own bus’ power; we were also driving through what I thought were the narrowest and most congested roads in the country!

It occurred to me that I had not travelled this route for about three decades; and I amused myself observing the roadsides and trying to recognize places that I could. But that was scant consolation!

It was also unbelievably hot inside the bus! We were being baked alive into tarts! Whoever designed the bus windows never really envisioned a situation like that we were unfortunately in at the time. The windows could not be drawn open. Everyone – to the last boy – was stripped to the waist.

But boys will be boys; and rather than fall victim to the situation, they amused themselves making fun of it and of themselves. “Jollibee!!!” everyone cried at the sight of the fast-food joint. Or, “KFC!!!”

We could not stop. We were already running badly late as things were. To stop for dinner would be foolhardy. Top speed was probably at 20 KPH. Funeral cars do better.

Finally, after a trip that took all of four hours, we were at the school gate. On any other day, when the boys disembark from a playing engagement, some like to hang around the lobby. Not this time! It was half-past-nine and everyone – but for the crackers and noodles – wanted a proper dinner.

Everyone was gone in a flash.

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