Now Reading
Right place, right time

Right place, right time

Tessa R. Salazar

I now understand why we Pinoys translate ‘career’ as ‘karera’

In 2002, during a one-on-one with up-and-coming Formula 1 star Jenson Button who was at the time visiting Manila on a promotional tour, I asked, “What was your closest brush with death?”

His answer, “Probably while crossing the street earlier on in Manila,” could have certainly been construed as tongue-in-cheek. But as someone who has been driving and navigating in and around one of the world’s most maddening megalopolises for practically her entire life, I could see the truth in the racing professional’s humor. Here was a daredevil of a young man, facing death every second he was in the circuit, competing with other highly driven (pun unintended) racers at speeds in excess of 250 kph, and the thing that got him most shaken up was crossing a street in Manila.

That got me thinking. Speed doesn’t really kill. Wrong timing does. I see street dwellers cross EDSA like it was nothing, flitting across multiple lanes in perfect time with oncoming vehicles. And then I see a schoolmate of mine get sideswiped by a jeepney on a narrow two-lane street in Manila—all because that jeep and my classmate happened to land on the same spot at the same time. If we just talk about physics and not accountability, no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time.

If wrong timing kills, then certainly the right timing leads to the opposite results.

That’s where, I figure, my journey in the motoring news beat has taken me—to the right place, at the right time. Well, most of the time, I guess.

If I hadn’t been on that particular spot at that particular moment, I wouldn’t have had the chance to ambush Toyota’s top man Akio Toyoda for a revealing interview. If I were somewhere else, doing something else, I wouldn’t have had the honor of chit-chatting with F1 legends Fernando Alonso, Button, and Jarno Trulli. If I had decided to do something else, I wouldn’t have had the chance to fly to the States with Pinoy pro racers in 2013, and then break the bizarre events of a “shady race.” If I had decided to just stay in my hotel room and sleep my jet lag over sometime in 2000, I wouldn’t have had a verbal tussle with a testy European racing official during a Q&A session.

If I hadn’t been there at just the precise moment, I wouldn’t have had these stories to share with our readers.

And sometimes, what I initially considered the wrong place at the wrong time turned out to be life-enriching moments. Like the time I was held in custody for hours in an immigration office in Oman where I was scheduled to join other motoring media for an off-road driving event. The Omani immigration officer couldn’t fathom (nor accept) why a female was accompanied by another male who was not her husband (another Asian journalist who was also covering the event). Eventually, that was sorted out and I was able to join the rest of the (all-male) group. That episode provided the proper perspective and the magnitude of significance for me when, years later, Oman’s neighbor, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, finally allowed its female citizens to drive (Omani women have been allowed to drive since 1970, though).

Offroad adventure in Oman, 2006

Time is that unseen vehicle that you can’t just decide to stop and hop off from. Even when you think you’re in control when you’re behind the wheel, time is still the ultimate driver. We’re all just riding shotgun or at the back seat—depending on how invested you are in navigating the course of your own future.

I can say, my time has taken me to some wonderful journeys. I’ve driven on deserts, mountain passes, in all four seasons and on almost all continents, except South America and Antarctica. I’ve visited car museums in seven European countries, and even rented an ethanol-powered Ferrari F430 in Monte Carlo.

Time has also been a bit naughty. In 2005, during a coverage in Detroit, a US airline misplaced my luggage that contained my thermal suits and trench coats. It was blizzard season, and the airline took days to recover and deliver my bags.

In a red Ferrari in Monaco, 2012

My time with the Inquirer Motoring opened my eyes to innumerable contrasting realities. One day, I could be inside the cabin of some of the most expensive luxury vehicles, hobnobbing with the filthy rich and (maybe) famous. The next day, I would be literally rubbing elbows with tricycle and jeepney drivers. I could be test driving the latest and most refined SUV today, and then a few days later I would be pedaling my way to work, working out how to save the most on expensive fossil fuels. In college, I never did consider myself a serious student, and I did just enough to get some distinction while earning my Communication Arts degree. But this job motivated me enough to enroll in a greasy automotive technician course, and actually complete it.

I see a junction right ahead. This will be my final anniversary tour with my favorite newspaper. When I hit my 30th year with the Inquirer on February 1, 2023, I will no longer be its employee. That day, I will have to, once more, sit at the front passenger seat, and tell time where to go.

Before that happens, I will need to really give a hard look-back. In our lifetime, as we accumulate the years as well as the kilometers, the rear view mirror in our metaphorical joyride with time grows bigger, sometimes even coming to the point when it seems the rear view occupies more space than the windshield itself. Maybe Father Time is trying to tell us to consider our “what has been,” in order to determine our “what could be.”

When I view the rear mirror in my career journey, all I see is growth—personal growth, and the growth of this paper, my (quite literally) second home. I witnessed history being made here. I saw technology ignite and bloom. I saw the paper say goodbye to the old brick-and-mortar ways, and embrace the internet and digital age. I worked my way up, from starting out as a proofreader and desk clerk, to being a research and editorial assistant, before my old boss Cesar D. Mangawang took me under his wing and made me earn my keep as a writer for five sections—motoring, science, health, information technology, and property/real estate.

The early stage of my writing career was spent here, there, and everywhere, covering five seemingly unrelated sections, week in and week out. As it turns out, this helped me realize that all things were actually connected. The science and health beat introduced me to Filipino and foreign biochemists, nutritionists, and doctors from all over the world. The beat gave me the opportunity to pick the brains of health and medical visionaries such as former Department of Health Secretary Jaime Galvez Tan, Dr. Dean Ornish, T. Colin Campbell, professor Bharat Aggarwal and Dr. Omar Arabia. They made me realize that what we take in as food eventually comes out as our behaviors and our physical and mental health. The beat, combined with my penchant for rescuing animals, turned me into a vegetarian in 2000, and then vegan a decade later.

The property beat gave me the chance to learn that the natural world and man-made structures are always intertwined, and that one cannot be separated from the other. Attempts at doing so have always led to disaster, with humans often ending up at the losing end.

Writing for the InfoTech section in the late ‘90s and early 2000s provided me with a telling glimpse of a world so dependent on gadgets and communication devices for news and information, and how this could ultimately influence individual and social behaviors.

Eventually, these beats would either be merged into other sections of the paper, or discontinued outright. The one section that I stuck with was—you guessed it—Motoring. Without a doubt, this was the one beat that was the most fun to cover, the one which literally took me places.

I still remember my first international coverage. That was in October 2000. I was the only media delegate from the Philippines. Here was this tiny, innocent-looking twenty-something girl about to get behind the wheel of an Alfa Romeo 147 and drive it through the snaking, thousand-foot ravines in Monaco and Turin in Italy.

See Also

With Jenson Button, 2002

Imagine that. From commuting in a packed, sweaty minibus in Las Pinas along with 50 or so other long-faced passengers when I was a student, enduring the malodorous wafts of Manila Bay and avoiding eye contact with “Zest-O conductors,” to driving in style in an iconic Italian brand, visiting posh villages where philosophers like Nietzsche got inspired, and sampling wines in a premier wine-making country.

In 2003, I visited the biennial Tokyo Motor Show for the first time. It would also be my first visit to Japan. The bullet train ride was, for me, an otherworldly experience. More than being immersed in an international auto show for the first time, the crash course on the unique Japanese culture stuck with me after all these years, and made me understand and admire the idealism and vision of Japanese car brands that have decided to set up shop in the Philippines.

I’ll be facing a future that is both worrying and exciting. On a personal level, I’ll be out of a job in two months. No work, no pay. On the upside, I’m in good health, and I’ll be finally able to spend more time with people and things and animals that are near and dear. The exciting part is just around the corner.

At the GM Heritage Center, Detroit, Michigan, 2004

I’ve been in the industry long enough to assess that the world of transport has also arrived at a critical juncture, and needs to decide now what to do with current propulsion technologies in light of impending environmental issues. Transport electrification has been seen as a major solution to greenhouse gas emissions, but that also gives rise to new problems, such as the potential environmental damage of increased battery production.

In the last decade of my career with the Inquirer, I had intensified my advocacy for a well-rounded, fully sustainable, and more compassionate motoring industry. I’m glad that more car manufacturers have embraced vehicle electrification, but I’m even happier that many of them have also started using sustainable, cruelty-free materials for their cars. That means more cars are using materials not sourced from animals that were abused, harmed, and killed for their skins and other parts, in order to make leather, glue, and rubber.

A lot more still needs to be done. Aside from leather, there are stearic acid and tallow (animal fat derivatives) used to toughen tires and tubing. Steel is coated with lubricants made with animal products and even the car paint can have animal byproducts, as Kartik Chugh of the Centre for Urban Ecology and Sustainability explains.

I believe that my beloved Inquirer Motoring/Mobility section is at the perfect place and time to witness paradigm shifts in the industry as they happen. I’m proud to say I was part of this pool of talented and hard-working professionals—including past members—that secured the best seats in the house.

With that, I wish Inquirer and the Inquirer Motoring/Mobility section 37 more years of being at the right place at the right time.

MAIN PHOTO: The author drives a 1929 Praga built by the Czech Motor Co.