Monday, February 16, 2009

Blackout Nights on Moscow Street

Note: This piece was written back in 2000 for a column I wrote in an online magazine called "Banahaw Breeze". The magazine is no longer online as we ran out of funds and my two other friends and I couldn't generate enough ads to keep us afloat.

We used to make fun of the names of the streets at the University Village where I live. Not because the streets are given funny names but because we found most of the street names ironic--especially the streets at Phase IV.

There surely is nothing icy about Iceland Street--with all the potholes and the thick dust. Switzerland and Netherlands streets are just a few steps away from each other and you will never find anything “beefy” or “milky” about them. There were lots of cows back then all right but none of the green grassy pastures.

From Phase IV, you could take a short cut to get to Moscow Street ---but only if you had your own vehicle. If you take a jeepney to get there, the usual route was ---Madrid Street, right turn to Geneva passing by Montreal, Montevideo, Harvard, Poland and straight to Moscow. Turning left would lead to the road going out the University Village. Coming out, you'd pass by several other foreign sounding streets. (OK, point taken. I just took you to a quick tour of the village and emphasized the street names!)

My house stood along dusty-in-the-hot-months-sticky-in-the-wet months Moscow Street. Straight ahead, is an exit point going to the Diversion Road. This particular road used to be a no man’s land because of the countless gory tales of finding murder victims among the tall cogon grasses. But ever since more people started to build their houses in this area, less and less stories like this found their way to the neighborhood “broadcast stations”(read: sari-sari stores such as ours).

As a result of the energy crisis that we were all suffering from during that time, we experienced 4-5 hour blackouts on a regular (daily) basis. In the beginning it was annoying, of course, but realizing that the government could not do anything then to eliminate the blackouts, we had no choice but to grin and bear it. As we did, my sense of humor grew multiple-fold with the help of the "friendly" customer service desk of the Manila Electric Company. Along with funny tales of dealing with customer service, let me take you to moonlit (and not fluorescent/incandescent-lit) nights on Moscow street.

At the onset of a blackout, we would start dialing all three Meralco office numbers alternately even if we knew we'd never get connected right away. As the number of dark nights increased, we began to suspect that the people at the Meralco office actually get those three lines engaged even before they pull the lever down. I couldn't help but imagine that 710-4272 was engaged in a “conversation” with 710-2332 while 373-1142 tried very hard to get connected to either one of the two. These are all their numbers and because I never got connected to any of the three numbers even if I tried dialing them as soon as the lights went out, I suspect that they intentionally got the lines engaged just to keep them from getting calls from irate homeowners asking when the power will be restored.

On the plus side of these blackout nights, they introduced me to a new way of enjoying my “friendly neighborhood”. I was never very social with my neighbors and the dark and hot nights forced me to go out and catch some air outside the house. I had some gregarious time spent with the neighborhood kids who were out looking for some other things to do when they couldn’t get access to the Mexican TV telenovela star, Thalia. Before the 4-hour blackouts ended, I had been able to go down memory lane and listened to a whole repertoire of child’s play songs ranging from “six sets of playmates...” to “my mother went to the see,see,see..” and “ apple apple kiss…” I was surprised that the words to those songs hadn’t changed much from the way we sang it when we were kids. I was grinning ear to ear listening to “point to the east and point to the west, point to the one that you loved best”. A newer version of other kids songs went “boom tiyaya boom tiyaya boom yeye...”

When the kids got tired singing, they played funny bones and got themselves twisted all over with their partners.

On other nights when the neighborhood kids were not in any mood to play games, we would start singing with a good ol’ guitar. It felt good singing our hearts out once in a while and put those vocal chords into practice. I even enjoyed the sessions better as I tried playing new sounds I never tried playing before. I enjoyed Buloy and Huling El Bimbo more than the teen-agers did. It was a clear departure from the Lani Hall songs I used to sing but definitely more enjoyable---who wants to hear sentimental songs on blackout nights, anyway?

When we ran out of songs to sing and games to play, we just looked above us and gazed at the full moon. We figured out shapes from the clouds and argued whether a clump of clouds looked more like a goddess or a sea witch but changed our minds altogether when the clouds moved to assume a new shape—a dinosaur, perhaps. We all hoped to catch a falling star but we had been out of luck---not one star was scheduled to die that night.

Come to think of it, I could not recall doing this in my hometown Calamba. Either there wasn't enough view of the skies over there or I was just not looking.

Oh well, string #3 of my old guitar just couldn't bear the tension anymore and snapped and left me with one less option of something to do when the lights go out ----BUT then again...I can always sing a capella!

1 comment:

  1. I can relate to Buloy and Huling El Bimbo. But Lani Hall? Is she the one who sang Banana Bird?

    Thanks for this article. I think i can find my way to moscow, at least. Hope to see some old friends there.