kennonroad-1918

I’ve been taught by my dad to feel out each car I drive, how to test it for the first few kilometers of a hundred kilometer trip. Seat-of-the-pants kind of drivers, that’s me and my Pop.

It was an open road back then, gas prices were low enough to make present numbers look science-fiction astronomical, and Pop even managed to get us curfew passes for those traffic-free night drives under Martial Law.

There was a year when it seemed we were in Baguio every month. We had the good old Renault 5 back then, the LeCar under American marketing guise. It had a 1.1 liter back when 1600s and 1800s were the preferred displacements for going up Kennon.

That little old car was a delight, but the devil to maintain: no parts. So we’d go on the highway with everyone admonished not to move suddenly and cause the car to drift left or right, that’s how soft the aging shocks were. I remember being all stiff with hands staying at 10 and 2 o’clock on an imaginary steering wheel long after having arrived.

I was always apprehensive at the La Union gas station, before the approaches to the climb. Will he let me drive on? Or pull over, ostensibly for a pit-stop but really for a switch up, let him take the wheel for the half hour of hair-raising turns? On those occasions when he felt I passed muster, I’d drive, and drive like the mushy springed car was on rails.

Hug the curb, he’d always say, mind your revs–the banks on Kennon Road were always good enough to let me keep that precious momentum. And my Pop’s watchful gaze? You can’t imagine the satisfaction when he finally would relax, coming back alert only when we got to the Lion and then again when we were finally on the deceptively gentle but oh too long uphill road at the outskirts of the city.

On another trip, a later trip with me older, I went up in an old Ford Escort that had no fuel gauge, a temperamental carb, and no speedometer. The fuel thing I got around by sinking a dip-stick in the tank in Tarlac. The bad carb (which made the car guzzle fuel like it was water) I fixed by simply taking off the air filter. And the speedometer? My college buddies and I solved that by signing to the lead car in the convoy (no cell phones back then). “How fast are we going?” we signed to them in front. “Pretty fast!” they’d sign back.

So you see, after decades of all that, I never thought I’d be studying a car manual for a road-trip. But I am now. Two things to nail down for the trip: max-conserve parameters and forced downshifting on an automatic transmission.

The thing about fuel efficiency is obvious. With gas now ten times what it cost back then, I’ll be looking to save each liter of the green stuff (red back then), maybe not carry too much in the tank it’d be tantamount to hauling cargo instead of being fuelled up. Good thing Pop already has me trained in mileage marks. Allow 250 kilometers each way for Baguio, he’d always say. And he’d drill me on how much fuel I’ve bought, in liters, not pesos. Off the Internet I got the car’s specs (a loaner SUV from a good soul), and with Excel I’ll do my trip and load-out plan.

The downshifting is also obvious, at least to anyone who’s had to drive down from Baguio. You can’t ride the brakes going down, not unless you want them to overheat and turn into useless glowing discs. Half the burden you have to pass to friction from an engaged but throttled down engine. I’ve always driven a manual on those Baguio trips, got the down-shifting locked in muscle memory. But this trip is with a ‘matic and I have to understand the transmission’s analogue for my instinctive stick work. So now I finally understand the mechanics of D, D3, D2 and D1.

A bit much maybe for a weekend drive up to Baguio. But it’s been a while. The last time I was up there was before our first daughter … that would make it more than a decade. And, there’re the kids—three now—who’ll be making the trip for the first time. In fact, when I was last up there, Pop was still alive.

I know that my dad, that hardy one-legged driver of anything on wheels, would approve. “Those are my granddaughters you’ll be driving son, you damned well better be careful,” I can hear him saying. “Yes Pop,” I’d say, “and hey, happy birthday by the way, sorry I forgot to call … give my regards to Ayrton Senna up there when you get the chance.”

—o0o—

This story, originally posted at http://www.mediumelectric.com on April 2, 2014

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