He walked down the ramp from the airport looking haggard and confused. I'm guessing it was the same awestruck look I had when I first arrived to Manila a few years ago. Dan was losing his arrival to Manila virginity to the throng of people shouting in Tagalog, policemen blowing whistles and taxis and cars
whisking people away from the pick-up area. Walking into this chaos after 20 hours in the air was bound to be confusing.
"Hey Dan!" I yelled, waving my arm amongst the throng of people around me, all waving their arms and yelling too. His head turned and he was slowly surveying the crowd for the source of the snippet of English. He had retained his Elvis style appearance, even in the black Star Wars t-shirt. He had the mutton-chop sideburns and looked like the mid-stage Elvis, not the full blown glutton white whale Vegas
Elvis. His suitcase was a huge tan number that looked like it had seen better days. "Over here, Dan!" There was a moment of recognition and his face lit up with a huge smile.
"It's fucking Dan the Lion, not Dan. Get it right Newbie (his old nickname for me at the mental hospital)!" he said, approaching me with a huge smile and hugging me tight. For as fucked up as Dan was and as baffling as the things he would say and do were, I realized I liked the guy. He was always true to himself and he came a long ways to see me. "This place is awesome!" he shouted, with a crazed glint in his eyes. "Un-fucking real!"
"Yes, it's a lot to take in at first, but you'll get used to it." I told him, as we walked to the van. I unlocked the hatch and threw his monster suitcase in. "That thing's huge!"
"I picked it up at a yard sale for two bucks. So you have a van? Damn, Tim, you're like a big-shot here."
"Because I have an old work van?"
"Yeah, can I drive it?" he asked. I had to admire the way he plunged into new experiences with both feet. A saner person would wish to avoid driving in Manila at all costs, if they were newly arrived, but not Dan.
"Sure buddy, it's a standard though, plus it's only fair to warn you that driving here is way different than driving back in the states."
"As long as you tell me where to turn, we're golden. Mac said that you wanted me to be your driver, so I want to learn
the ropes, earn
my keep, so you like having me here. That flight was long!"
"Did they have good food?"
"It's hard to shit in one of them airplanes!"
I chuckled as he started up the van, put it into reverse like a pro, and backed into the passenger side door of a police car. "Oh fuck," I said, as we both checked our necks for whiplash at the same time. "Just wait here." I got out of the van and could tell the cop was not too happy at all. "Officer, I'm very sorry. We did not see you behind us," I pleaded.
"Licenses and passports," he demanded, in a no-nonsense tone.
"It was my fault, officer," said Dan, approaching him from the driver's side. The dent in the door panel was noticeable, but not major, about the size of a grapefruit.
The officer said nothing, taking our identification, he walked away to confer with a nearby officer. I decided to call Reshi, "Hey hon, we had a little mishap at the airport and accidentally backed up into a police car…." Reshi, was calm and nicely insisted to give the phone to the police officer. I approached him and interrupted his conversation, "My friend would like to talk to you, officer," I said, handing him the phone as he glared at me. He snatched it from my hand and began to bark in Tagalog. His tone quickly softened and became friendlier as he talked, then very friendly, ass kissing friendly. One can spot ass kissing friendly in nearly any language.
"I did not realize you were a friend of Reshi. I will escort your van to Caloocan." He said, respectful and in nearly perfect English.
"Damn, newbie, you really are a big-shot here," he said, before starting the van again. "I thought for sure we were going to jail and now we got us a police escort!"
Dan followed the police car without a hitch as we traveled towards Caloocan. "This place is fucking amazing, Tim, so much energy!"
"I know, I love this city. Even with the pollution, the poverty and the overpopulation. I love Manila. There's no city in the world so active with such friendly people."
"Hey, that guy's taking a shit, right on the sidewalk!" he shouted, pointing towards a a man who was squatted with his pants down, one hand holding a street pole for balance. "I have to see this," he announced, cutting the wheel while beeping the horn. Not only did we lose our police escort, but we were nearly in a collision with a fast moving jeepney as we careened across a lane of traffic before coming to a stop at the curb, right next to the man who was grunting. "Yes, you go, old man, you do your thing," coached Dan from the window, as if he were watching the game winning play of the world-series. "Yes! Oh yes!" he shouted, as brown mud ran out of the man's rear end and onto the pavement. "A runny one, nice! Well played, old man, well played!"
The man pooping looked at Dan with a combination of bewilderment and annoyance. His confusion increased when Dan left the vehicle and ran to him, smiling and saying "That was great man! Fucking outstanding!" The guy was trying to get his pants back up as Dan clapped him on the back in a congratulatory manner.
"Uhm, Dan, not to spoil your party or anything, but we're double-parked and blocking traffic." I said, trying to divert his attention.
"Old man, you rock, sir," He said to the man, while pointing at him for emphasis. "You are a hero; a renegade and a pioneer!" he shouted, before returning to the van. The man shook his head, giving a flapper gesture with his arm and promptly walked away. "Okay, now, which way were we going?" he asked me.
When we arrived to the warehouse, I asked Dan if he thought he could handle being a driver in Manila.
"Yeah man; I didn't even wreck once, except for bumping that cop car, but that don't really count because it happened in a parking lot," he reasoned.
"You did pretty good," I replied, "We just need to work on not stopping anywhere or any time you see something you think is interesting."
"Yeah, but that guy was a trooper, just taking a shit on the corner like that, damn," he said, as we approached the warehouse door. "Hey, that cat barrel is cool!" He said, pointing to the burn-barrel. I was quite startled to see the image of a cat's face, detailed even down to the whiskers, burned into the side of the barrel. I walked over for closer inspection, running my hand along the rusted and still warm metal surface. I was kind of like the image some might claim to see of the Virgin Mary in a piece of burnt toast. It could have been a fluke, a coincidence, but the detail was too exact. It was a replica of the mangled cat's face, minus the 1000 peso bill cigar.