Congested hell


December’s longer dawns have its edenic charms: cooling breezes becoming chillier each passing morning and a “certain kind of dark (that) allows us to be more at home with silence.”

But hundreds of thousands of harassed commuters in the metropolis cannot embrace the charms of the crisp air and the fertile quiet, to pause and savor the winding down of the year during the 12th month — they do not have the time.

Time is a luxury nowadays for harassed commuters — even if there are foreshadowing temptations to take the necessary pause from the business of living — as another day of anxiety is inescapable in the metropolis, an anxiety of whether there is enough time to catch the bus or the UV Express in time for work or whether the gridlock is manageable.

Last week, a young worker in the metro, but who lives in Cavite, summed up on TV this routine anxiety during dawns: “I go to work at 7 a.m., but I get up at 3:45 a.m. and leave home by 5 a.m. At 5:15 a.m., I am already waiting for a ride in front of Shell Molino just outside our barangay. But that is still no guarantee that I would be able to get a ride.”

Compounding his bitterness, a crackdown on colorum or illegal UV Express vans, which for many Caviteños was a comfortable alternative public transport, made the commuting struggle even crueler.

Concerned local officials said they were trying their best to resolve the dismal lack of public transport with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, but it remained lip service: nothing will be done soon to solve the problem.

If there are bruising struggles to riding public transport for work, so there are cruelties too in going home. Our young worker wearily observed of his fellow homebound commuters: “It pains me every time I see their tired faces and their exhausted bodies, not because of work, but because they couldn’t get a ride home.”

Squandering time waiting when what one wanted was just to get home as quickly as possible is a pitiful ordeal, but our young worker left unsaid one important tragic consequence of the ordeal — he lacked sleep!

Our young worker who uses public transport is a pitiful picture, but not much better can be said either of those doing better in life, those using private cars and vehicles. The car-rider too has to wake up early to beat the traffic and helplessly mired in unmoving homebound traffic also arrives home late. And they too lack the necessary sleep.

I have yet to come across a serious study about the effects of the lack of public transport and traffic on health, but I assumed the worst of the dismal situation as it is plain to see many do suffer from sleep deprivation.

Medicine warns us of a bucketful of maladies about lacking sleep. On the somatic or bodily side, sleep researchers say anyone suffering from poor quality of sleep has increased risk in developing hypertension, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Sleep deprivation can also noticeably affect people’s performance, including their ability to think clearly, react quickly and to form memories. Moreover, it also affects mood, leading to irritability, problems with relationships and depression.

The mental ills brought on by the chronic lack of sleep is a delirium of maladies that it may even be safe to say many now are dangerously close to madness.

Yet many cite only the tremendous economic costs, running into billions of pesos, to prod authorities into doing something about the lack of public transport and traffic in the metropolis. It is as if money is the sharper prod than the brooding danger the bat crazy, now presumably countless in number, who is roving around just waiting for an excuse to explode.
Still, even more devastating than individual sickness is the further dissolution of the family bond.

Isn’t it a common complaint nowadays among those working in the capital, but living on its outskirts, that they aren’t doing much better than an overseas Filipino worker, a similar fate where either a husband or a wife hardly ever sees their children physically awake?

It goes without saying that pleasant interludes with family, like the daily convivial banter over dinner with the children, have become such a luxury for those who knew of it when they were younger that they suffer painful nostalgia.

Nostalgia has its place, but we all do need this fairly robust border separating work and family: a side of the border where family members have time after a grinding day to stretch their legs, put their hands behind their heads, close their eyes and sink into the ethereal blissfulness of a family content with themselves.

Yet this border has been made irrelevant for so many commuters. Memories of it linger though, this wistful nostalgia for a brighter and better place where “anecdotes of the human heart” take place, the poetry of the everyday, which even the poorest among us need.

Is there still hope for many of us, the unlucky caught in commuting hell? Hope we can always have as long as necessary sacrifices and adjustments are made. But we do need all the help we can get, help which we can demand from government.

So, here’s one demand – our officials responsible for solving public transport woes and traffic hell better turn themselves into angels, or else they are nothing better than accessories of the devil, who, when asked, why he insisted hell was a mere fable and why he was on earth, answered quietly: “Why this is hell, nor am I out of it!”