I first met Kuya Alvin in 2008.
There were three of us in the pickup: Sir John Bert, Kuya Alvin, and me. We were going around Manila and Sir John Bert was endorsing me as his replacement. Kuya Alvin came off as quiet, polite, yet engaging. And he was a smooth driver.
But he wouldn’t be my real driver. Not then. Only after Kuya Bernardo left the company did Kuya Alvin become my driver.
Even after a while, my first impressions of him remained unchanged. Well, there’d be the usual jokes and comments about current events and circulating rumors. But almost everybody at the office could have a say on things, if they wanted to.
Don’t know when it was exactly but one day, when we were at the Post Office, he asked me about the songs on my MP3 player. I told him that most of them are downloaded while the rest are copied from my CDs. Shyly, he mustered the will to ask me if I could download some songs for him. I said yes but I also reminded him that there was no guarantee that I‘d find everything.
On the next mail run, I told him that I did find every song he asked for. And he was ecstatic! More so when I began sharing via Bluetooth. And even before we got back to the office, the radio was off but his phone’s speakers were on full volume.
For the next few months, that was our dynamic. He’d give me a list of songs he liked, I’d look them up and download them, Bluetooth the next time we saw each other, and he’d do the next logical thing. He would play—loudly—the new songs in front of his friends, who’d be clamoring for a copy of whatever was playing. Of course, he’d give in to their demands but one question he’d never answer: where he got a copy of the song.
Although I never really asked why, he reasoned. It was enough that someone was bothering me about searches and downloads. He didn’t want the others to do the same thing. That was too much, he said.
His requests became less and less. He was running out of songs to want. But what he wanted was to listen to his songs. He couldn’t play them at his own house since his brand of music was deemed to attract the devil. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he was saddened that none of his kids were really into rock and roll. He couldn’t get any of them to like Nirvana, Metallica, and Led Zeppelin.
Guess that’s why he took refuge in radio programs that played his type of music. And although I’m not as big as a rock fan as he was, I generally liked his selections. Plus his choice of radio stations was good: RX 93.1 and Magic 89.9 on any given day while strictly Jam 88.3 on Fridays.
Kuya Alvin wouldn’t always be my driver. Schedules and duties were reshuffled and changed.
Although he wasn’t my driver anymore, I’d still get a request every now and again from him. That was until he discovered that he could download songs using his own phone, thanks to the free Wi-Fi somewhere at the office. But he no longer downloaded for himself, since he now took requests from his friends and even his boss. I just told him where I usually downloaded the stuff I got. And it was okay.
Sometimes, when there was a scramble because someone was absent, he’d be my driver again. And he knew the drill. He’d text me that I’d be going with him (just after he had his breakfast). He’d text again or call when he was already at the lobby.
And it may be a little strange but, usually, he drives for me when it’s Friday. So that meant that we’d be listening to 90s rock music. Unless the DJ beat us to it, we’d try to give the title and artist of the song. It kind of became like a game, something to pass the traffic by.
And when songs failed us, he’d tell me stories about his home and family, boring weekends, DVD marathons, road mishaps, former girlfriends and love quarrels, and how the others have a bad choice of music. Every now and again, he’d tell me about his illness, days and nights at the hospital with his wife, and what meds and stuff he had to drink to keep himself healthy. And how he missed drinking beer and smoking, but not as much as playing basketball!
He had to live clean now. Getting regular checkups and angiograms required that of him plus a specific amount of water. It looked like it pained him to only drink so little—that or it would endanger his health.
It was always in danger. But I have always trusted that he was doing the right things right. And so were the doctors and medical personnel at the hospital. I knew that there would be times I wouldn’t see him around the office since he had those long and tiring checkups. Never knew this would be the last.
I just learned of what happened to Kuya Alvin last Tuesday this morning, while I was on the way to a building behind a hospital. (November 10, 2011)
So many memories came flooding in at that single moment. I remembered how there was this one case that a tire that he was delivering became inexplicably missing. They couldn’t prove he stole it but they still made him pay for it. One time, another driver drove the pickup through floodwater and it seeped in. Kuya Alvin was pissed off when he learned what happened—and yet was still able to make a joke of it afterwards. I was reminded of how honest, neat, effective, angry, and funny Kuya Alvin was.
When the schedule and the itinerary allowed it, he’d take the route that would pass by places that I was curious about. And the following week, I’d be regaling him with things like tigers, ferries, and museums.
One last memory I have of him stands out. Although he didn’t have to do it, he vouched for me. There was no need to—I was the one in trouble for failing to do something. He was just the driver. But he was willing to come up to our office to defend me. You don’t get drivers like that every day.
Kuya Alvin, may wherever you be have 90s rock and roll, clean cars, light traffic, great food, and a good and ready heart for you. Thanks for the songs and for being a friend.