Making Traffic More Productive — For You

I drive to work everyday except Tuesdays, because we have number coding here in the Philippines, where your car isn’t allowed on the roads from 7 AM to 8 PM.

I commute on some days, usually jeep, or by rail transit (MRT) or I hitch a ride on a motorcycle, which isn’t possible now since the LTRFB has stopped Angkas, the uber for motorcycles, from operating. 

Traffic from my POV
A night scene in Manila depicting traffic

What frustrates me beyond end is the time wasted in traffic. Work has been cancelled because of the 2017 ASEAN Summit, and the roads are clear these days. It takes me 20 minutes to get home. 20 minutes! On a normal day, I spend anywhere from 2 to 4 hours a day commuting. That’s over a thousand hours wasted!

Finding a solution to traffic is problem that needs to be addressed by different sectors and in different ways. I’m not going to go into it. Right now, traffic is a reality we face everyday.

I’m sharing with you some ways I have found to help make better use of my time while stuck in traffic, waiting in traffic, etc.

Traffic at 10:44 PM :)

I am aware that some of these things cost money in terms of data use or subscription fees. Whenever possible, I’ve linked to free options, too! I hope that helps.

“Read” Audiobooks

I wasn’t a huge fan of audiobooks or thought I wouldn’t be, but I can’t drive and read at the same time. Reading books while stuck on the train is barely possible given that you’re pressed body to body, or even a jeep can be a bit of a hassle, especially if you are prone to bouts of dizziness. I have a Scribd subscription, which I tried out initially as a skeptic but so far I’m loving it. Before I bit the paid bullet, I also downloaded public domain audiobooks for free, and legally, on Librivox. The upside is it’s not as heavy as a book. It’s great for classics and poetry.

Listen to Podcasts

Another audio option, you may say? I will confess that I love talk radio, and I love podcasts. Spotify has a great list of offerings for free if you have the app on your phone, and you can download beforehand if you have a subscription. Here’s a list of the best podcasts to listen to. There are loads of different topics, and it’s a great substitute for when your playlists get boring. Right now, I’m listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History series. 


I don’t really do this. I’m lying. I occasionally stretch, but I realize it may be good to sneak in a few calf raises while standing in line, or some sit-ups while you’re stuck in that inevitable never-ending line after the Magallanes flyover, heading into Villamor.


Whipping out your phone/tablet in the middle of a commute may not be the smartest thing safety wise, but if you are in a place where you can, writing on your phone is something I used to do even when my phone was still a Nokia 3310.  You could also bring a pen and paper, especially if you take the bus and have a little space to yourself (and also if you don’t get dizzy). Writing while moving is a difficult skill to master though.

Embrace your Weirdness

I talk to myself. Well, I record myself talking. It’s weird, right? But I find it therapeutic. I talk out loud about random things. Like what I plan to write for this blog, tomorrow’s work schedule, or practicing what I should have said to the person I was pissed at yesterday.

I should point out then that I am mostly alone when I drive home, though. Most people have friends or spouses or children to talk to.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

If your friends aren’t the sort to be offended, and you have a hands-free phone, give them a call. It helps to pass the time, and keeps you and your friend entertained.

Kid Friendly Activities

I don’t have kids who need to be entertained in the backseat. So if you have some good suggestions, games or apps that help keep kids quiet and engaged during the long battle of going through traffic, let me know!


After the Life Altering Break-Up (henceforth dubbed LABU). I went through the mandatory soul-searching Activities.

I drank a lot of bad craft beer and a few good ones, a lot of whiskey, oodles of Black Label, and Double Black. I ran a 10k, tried a few new hobbies, and gave up some others.

Once, in an effort to acquire [redacted], I met up with  L –, a good friend from Baguio at a nearby mall. L — played guitar very well, but also sold [redacted] on the side for extra cash.  As I waited by the tiny Ferris Wheel, listened to the inane loop of children’s songs (these places always seem to have children nursery rhymes sung in little irritating voices). I thought. Hurrah! This is my life. My friend showed up next to me the way spies do in movies, materializing from the nether.

“Uy.” Followed by a friendly shove. L — was gaunt, but carried a beer belly around like a favorite kid.

“Beer tayo?” My treat, since I was buying.


Sometimes when I look back at periods in my life they come back like snapshots.

There was this one sad/happy day when I went to eat with A — at this cute little restaurant in Taft. It was raining, I think, but I don’t really remember. I don’t remember the food because I spent most of the meal with my head on the table, crying. I don’t remember why  (we usually have a purpose, like a gig or an inuman) we met up, but that wasn’t really important.

A lot of the snapshots involve cab drivers. Mostly because I wasn’t driving in the city yet and Manila has snarly, horrid traffic that gets exponentially worse as the weather worsens.

I once sat through a terrific lecture from this old cab driver who happened to be probably the most devoted member of Iglesia ni Kristo. First, he tried to invite me to service. When I demurred, he said. “Iha, sa simbahan mo mahahanap true love mo.*” He proceeded to tell me about his first wife, who passed away and how he met his second wife, and how lucky he was in love.

I was really sad when I got home that day, let me tell you that.

The next week or so, I was stuck in three hour traffic with an utterly insane cab driver who told me how he caught his wife cheating.

He had been deeply suspicious of an affair between wifey and neighbor, who was also one of his closest friends. It was his birthday. They had a little celebration, which became a drinking session for the adults. In time, the number dwindled as various party goers said goodbye until only the three of them remained.

Kuya Driver feigned extreme drunkenness and told them that he was tired and needed to sleep, but that they could keep drinking if they wanted. His wife even tucked him into bed and gave him a good night kiss.

Imaginin mo yun!”**

An hour later, he caught them in-flagrante delicto, on the sofa in the living room. The neighbor ran for his life, disappearing so fast he left his pants and shirt behind.

He then proceeded to drag his wife out of the house to beat her senseless in front of all their neighbors. So badly he knocked out most of her teeth! The guy was also their neighbor, and it turned out everybody knew about the affair except him.

During this cab ride, I was mostly quiet, except the horrified gasps that kept coming out of my mouth. I kept wishing that I hadn’t forgotten my headphones at the office or engaged this particular driver in conversation at all.

I think he noticed, because he tried to console me with: “I had her teeth fixed, don’t worry.”


* You will find your true love in a church. or more colloquially, I was mostly evil and wouldn’t find a good man in a bar, so I better like save myself by hanging around in a church. 

**Imagine that! 

Manila, Cataloged (Part One)


There are so many of them. In your hometown, you only ever went to six and that was when you were flush. You rotated them depending on your mood, the day of the week, how much gasoline you had or what kind of cheeseburger you were craving. Manila bars are flavored with the different cities and the different people who inhabit them. It’s a smorgasbord that pleases the alcoholic in you.

Here you travel hours to sit outside a bar in a corner alley, observing the boarded pawnshop front and thinking vaguely of stealing the books for sale on the shelves in the wall. Inside the walls are lined with disco balls, the beer is cheap and people dance in front of this impeccable, tiny DJ booth. This week a friend tells you that “The disco ball fell off and shattered. I think some drunk bastard pulled it down.”

Here, on a hot night your friend tells you, “I know a secret whiskey bar. You need a password to get in. Let’s get a few hotdogs.” You have no idea why she says hotdogs, and then later, dining on one covered in pickles you feel like your life is so good, so delicious. They keep the whiskey in a recessed, temperature controlled shelf. The odd pleasure you feel when you see it is new. So you find yourself in a corner booth with genuine leather seats your thighs keep sticking to, and you run up enormous tabs.

Your favorites are the converted houses that keep cheap booze stocked — just beer, an effort to look a bit more festive, an aloof and distant waiter. You like these bars because they feel like someone’s house. They feel like your old house, and that all your friends might just come over, if you asked.


“I hate cats.” He tells you. It’s hot and you can feel his thigh pressed against yours. This is a cat city — stray dogs don’t seem to last long enough. You spot felines everywhere, slinking through stairways, licking themselves on stoops.

Earlier that month after a long dinner, M spots a stray small cat without friends, and both of you try to rescue a kitten hiding in some bushes. You’re both unwilling to keep it, but it jumps to a ledge and hisses, and you both give up and turn away.


You miss K walking into the office and asking for coffee, and you would eat plantains and eggs that you buy from the same vendor in the street corner. You think of K hustling in Seattle, and make notes to call. You forget to call.

You want to tell her that the girl who sometimes watches the sugared banana stall gave birth, and that the baby is a boy. That the office is very empty now compared to before. That nothing much has changed in the corner of Manila that you work in. It’s still hot, the trains still don’t work. Sometimes early in the morning you can smell the coffee burning when the doors of the 7-Eleven open.

Energy Drinks

Your energy drink addiction is showing. So you always hide the evidence, but then who are you hiding it from? You buy the sugar-free Monster drink, the big blue-black one that you can drink in one sitting. You tell yourself the sugar-free thing is a good thing. For some reason, all you can think of when you drink these drinks is that terrible computer shop you used to hang out in so you could play World of Warcraft, the one next to the tattoo shop you eventually got one of your tattoos in. You think it’s probably still there, under another name. Still, there’s a plastic bag in your car full of energy drinks, and when people say your car smells sweet you tell them it’s your perfume.

Instant Coffee Mixes 

Everybody in this city drinks this terrible instant coffee mixes that you secretly love. It’s not even coffee.  It’s sugar, coffee flavoring and assorted flavors. You try not to drink them, stick to your principles. In the morning, if you’re alone and you wake up early enough, you brew yourself a cup of coffee and sit. You feel very adult, but you’ve been an adult for a long time.


A never again, in your book. Crossed out forever.


Is inevitable — don’t waste time complaining. Leave earlier or later. Make playlists to sing along to. Keep a movie to watch, or an audiobook ready. Make sure you always have gas. Drive without fear, drive like a pro. Make sure you catch the eyes of truck drivers when they try to squeeze all of the 8-wheeler bulk into the sedan-sized space in front of you. Reserve the finger for really special occasions.

Traffic Annex A: Bathroom Breaks

When in dire need, turn off engine and leave car stranded in the middle of the lane. It has been 30 minutes since last movement. Thank God you’ve been running. “We have no women’s bathroom.” The attendant says. You think of the Isuzu truck behind you plowing your car out of the lane once the lights turn green, if they ever. You think of waterfalls.

“I don’t care.” You tell them. “I don’t care.”

Traffic Annex B: Flooding

The only person who knows that you were screaming is you, and the guy sitting in the jeep in front of you who looked vaguely like he understood, but also that he was afraid. You broke out in a cold sweat when you had to maneuver the car onto this steep slope, handbrake, manual, clutch for life. Grip on the steering wheel turning your knuckles white. No one knows why you were screaming, not even you.