Friday night. Payday weekend.
I made plans to have dinner with a friend, uncharacteristically. On Friday nights, I would normally be found at home, watching Netflix, guzzling chips, and beckoning my cat to sit beside me (she doesn’t, that tart). I was coming from my office in Makati and decided to take a car service going to Bonifacio Global City instead of testing my luck trying to hail a cab. Since it was almost 6:00 in the evening on a Friday payday night, Uber’s surge rates were ridiculous. I turned to Grab for the first time and found the fixed fare to be more reasonable. Within five minutes, I had a driver. Excellent. Let’s call him Fred (not his real name).
When I got inside Fred’s car, I was feeling pretty good. He greeted me very warmly, and I felt comfortable enough to start a conversation with him. Fred seemed like a nice guy. We lamented the traffic a little bit, as usual, then I asked Fred about his weekend plans (because it was a long weekend weekend at that time). He said he was just staying in Manila, but if he could, he would go back to Palawan where he worked as an engineer for Hagedorn when he was younger. Palawan is one of my favourite places in the world, I told him. He started reminiscing about the days when Palawan was practically underdeveloped, and how beautiful it was before it boomed as a prime tourist destination. I thought this cab ride might be one of the bests in my book.
We were waiting for a stoplight to turn green along Makati Avenue when he asked me a really strange question. “Ma’am, Katoliko po ba kayo? (Ma’am, are you a Catholic?)” Huh? What does my religion have to do with El Nido and Coron? The evening’s first red flag went up.
“Um, yes. Kayo po? (Um, yes. What about you?)” I asked.
Fred said he was also a Catholic. “Ma’am, alam niyo po ba kung sino talaga namumuno sa mundo? (Do you know who really governs the world?)” Alarms started ringing inside my head. I checked the door locks.
When I hesitated to answer, he gave me options. “Tao? Pera? O si Satanas? (People? Money? Or Satan?)” This ride officially become weird at that point. What the fuck is going on?
I go to mass once a week, but I’m not very religious. I enjoy learning about theology, but I don’t go to worship or try to impose my beliefs or practices on anyone. I wanted to be friendly with Fred, but my religion wasn’t any of his business. I just met him ten minutes ago.
I leaned forward to check if he was doing anything suspicious like holding a cloth soaked in chloroform, a knife, or a gun. I was considering the possibility of breaking the car window by kicking it and jumping out.
If you want to know the correct answer, it’s C: Satan. Fred said Satan was in charge of the world today; that’s why people are corrupt, committing crimes, doing horrible things to each other, etc. Then he started discussing Jesus’ resurrection story. That was when he handed me a Jehovah’s Witness pamphlet that asked the same question on the front.
I recognised it immediately because I received one just like it from a nice old lady I sat beside somewhere a few years ago. When she stood to leave, she just handed me the pamphlet, smiled, and left. Fred was in full-on conversion mode.
I had watched enough FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano episodes to consider that Fred might be part of a budol-budol gang, using hypnosis disguised as religious dialogue to steal my belongings. I had a couple thousand bucks in my bag, my credit cards, and my phone, but other than those things, I didn’t have anything that might be of interest. Unless Fred enjoys Korean makeup?
He talked about a lot of things that leaned towards extreme homophobia and fundamentalism, but the point of his preaching was to prepare others for the end of times aka when Jesus comes back to rid the world of heathens and uplift the believers, effectively saving them from certain peril and death—Noah’s Ark 2.0. I asked him when that would happen. He cited Typhoon Ondoy, Typhoon Yolanda, the war in Iraq, and increased American military presence in the Philippines. He said all these events are signs of things getting bad before they get better. I only like hearing that when I’m dealing with a bad breakout.
The only things that can save people, Fred said, was the Bible and belief in the Lord. Look at Lazarus. He was as dead as a dodo, but he was brought back to life because of Jesus and his faith. Our faith, patterned after Lazarus’ faith, will save us. That would have been kind of beautiful on its own, if only he didn’t say non-believers and gay people would be swept under the rug when Jesus comes back to save those loyal to him and loyal to the Word of God.
Then came the most interesting part of the ride: Fred revealed that even the loyalists weren’t safe! Why? He described God’s master plan for the Second Coming. He would send Jesus again to weed out the unworthy from the worthy. This, we know. And He would also imprison Satan, former ruler of the world, effectively securing peace and prosperity for all mankind. However, after 100 years—I kid you not, he really did give an exact time—God would release Satan again to TEST if people were still on the so-called right path.
Here are a few questions: If God already had the power to beat Satan, wouldn’t He have done so already? What is He waiting for? I thought God was supposed to be compassionate and forgiving. Why would He deliberately test the people who love Him just to see if they were still following Him? Does this mean, for example, that World War 2, when innocents suffered and died, was a test He allowed to happen to see would pass and fail according to His teachings? Isn’t God supposed to be omnipotent anyway? And if God found out that people were disobeying Him, what would He do? He would punish them? How? A Third Coming, a Fourth Coming, centennially releasing Satan? That sounds like something a megalomaniac would do. I decided to drown Fred out just when he started close reading the Lord’s Prayer.
When we were finally in Taguig, I opened Waze to find the quickest route to the restaurant where I was meeting my friend. I cranked up the volume on my phone so Fred could hear where to turn to avoid traffic. Sometimes he followed Waze, sometimes he didn’t. Of course when he didn’t, Waze gave a new update about the time we were going to be stuck in traffic. I was already composing the strongly worded email I would send to Grab about this driver in my head. And just to rub salt on the wound, when the lights turned green, Fred deliberately slowed down to lengthen his preaching time. Cars were passing and overtaking all around us, but he continued going on his peachy pace while keeping up the one-sided conversation.
To be fair to Fred, I was impressed that he was able to deliver an hour-long sermon that had solid transitions and sense, no matter how much I try to deny it. It was also pretty interesting to see how preaching methods have evolved due to technology and modern services. I thought bringing the Word to other people meant knocking on strangers’ doors and hoping to be invited inside where they could talk about religion over coffee. I’m not sure how effective that method is in this country, but I wouldn’t invite strangers inside my home. Fred just showed me that if preachers couldn’t bring the Word to the people, then let the people come to the Word.
Traffic has gotten so bad in Manila and surrounding cities that we’re desperate for solutions that work. Grab and Uber are two great options to avoid fighting for a seat on buses or trains and hailing cabs that refuse to take passengers. When I was sure I wasn’t in any real danger inside Fred’s car, I scrapped my plan to jump out of the vehicle. No way I’m stranding myself in the middle of traffic, being one more hour late trying to find another car or cab to take me where I need to go. I was already in one, and this guy was just preaching harmlessly (annoyingly).
At last, we arrived at the restaurant. I smiled at Fred on my way out, told him to take care, and gave him a 1-star rating a few days later. I mentioned the driver’s preaching made me uncomfortable the entire ride, but the real kicker was when he deliberately slowed down on clear roads, delaying me from reaching my destination. Grab contacted me immediately about my review and assured me that they do not tolerate that kind of behaviour from their drivers, they would further investigate the matter, hope this incident won’t prevent me from using Grab again, yadda yadda yadda. I respect other people’s belief, but I really felt unsafe and uncomfortable during that ride.
Unfortunately it has turned me off quite a bit from using Grab. I think I’ll just stick to Uber next time despite the crazy fare surges.