08/24/20: Commiserations

Mandy broke the sad news to me that Route 196 was closing. In response, this morning, I suggested that we should test out Spotify’s Group Session feature, trying to keep one another company through the music.

Knowing how big Route was for that side of town—and indeed for the whole Manila music and art scene—I could tell how much the closing was affecting her, along with friends who spent many a night and peso on the Pale and the Red. I had been there a few times myself, especially when I was living in Manila throughout college and the years I spent there for work. Later on, when I was living in Norwich, I put on Marie Jamora’s Ang Nawawala for my friends and felt my homesickness flare up when the film thoughtfully depicted the characters of popular haunts around Manila. At Route 196, Gibson (Dominic Roco) worries as he waits for Enid (Annicka Dolonius), who is relatably stuck in traffic on her way to the gig. He knows just how much she wants to see Ang Bandang Shirley play “Di Na Babalik”—she needs to make it, she texts him—so that when she does eventually miss it, he finds an unconventional way to bring the intimacy of Route to her: he calls and she picks up the phone to Shirley singing her song.

I will write about place until the day I die (probably), and part of the reason I think it’s such a rich trove of subjects is precisely that it’s so subjective. After all, how else can we account for the many tributes to Route now springing up across the Internet, this one included? No one’s ever going to say the same thing, even if the words are the same. Everyone can only write from the special place they know.

When I think of Route, for instance, or B-Side at The Collective or any other place that will never see people again, I end up thinking of The Outpost. It was a bar at the end of the street where I spent my teenage years growing up, that opened right as I was entering high school. We lived on a hill back then, and going to The Outpost was just a matter of taking a quick ride down. More often than not, I remember going there with my sister Melissa because it was so easy for us to go and come back home. It might’ve even been the first nights we spent out without any parent supervision.

The main thing I remember going to The Outpost for was to see my cousin’s band. I once wrote a very thin fiction (read: nonfiction) about that cousin for a publication that sadly is also no longer in circulation, and I wrote about the influence he had on me in developing my taste and my sense of belonging in a city that, for many years, I did not think I belonged to. Going to The Outpost always felt like going to the house parties I saw in American teen movies, largely because, well, The Outpost had been a house at some point in its life, repurposed to fit a bar and a green room in its interiors, tables laid out all over what would’ve been its front yard and porch. The place was always full of people who were older than me, and therefore, cooler. I did not think to speak up because I only wanted to listen. How do I—I seemed to wonder—become cool, too? I remember guitar festivals that broke my brain, featuring up to ten guitarists playing on the same progressive rock song live. I remember freaking out to my cousin’s bandmates when another band used a Strokes song to soundcheck. I remember an outlier afternoon when my sister and I went to The Outpost for an improv workshop with Gabe Mercado of Yakult “Ok ka ba t’yan?” fame. I remember the night when I ranted to Melissa and our cousin Mon about hurt feelings, and after that night I never felt those particular feelings again.

When I left Cebu for college, The Outpost hadn’t closed yet. In fact, it was inevitably one of the places we drove past on our way to the airport, when it started to sink in that I was leaving for good. I cried silently in the front seat of the van as I pulled my gaze away from the venue, trying to steel myself: I would see it again, I thought. I mean, I must’ve gone again, with all the times I visited home during the breaks and long weekends. But altogether the nights coming home seemed quieter, tame compared to what I was experiencing in Manila. Around the same time that The Outpost had closed, my family moved away from where lived on the hill. Although Cebu is never really that big for anything to seem far from one another, our new address was out of The Outpost’s way, and we would only see it when we had reasons to drive uphill. I never let the quiet loss of that part of home get away from me, even as it morphed into a newer, unrecognizable restaurant and then gradually entered the derelict state it remains in now.

Is home really more than the sum of its parts? I’m convinced that the answer is no. Home must certainly be each part on its own, such that if you took away any bit of it, it ceases to be the same old home you know. That’s why they say you can’t go home again. That’s why Regina Spektor sang: “How can I leave without hurting everyone that made me?” We think and talk a lot about the ways in which we leave home, but we almost never think about how home leaves—or fails to leave—us. I know quite a few people in town who were made by The Outpost. I think I know of a few more who were made by Route 196, whether they were legends or up-and-comers or friends or strangers. To everyone who is feeling saddened by the particular loss of this place, I paraphrase PUP’s Stefan Babcock to offer you some consolation: as our bodies age, the feelings never will.

In point of fact, earlier this year, before there was any worry about the pandemic, my cousin’s band announced a reunion gig, since all of them happened to be in town for the holidays. The show was held at a venue that was coincidentally also a short walk away from where I currently live. When the band kicked off their first song, their lyrics suddenly came out of me and I was singing along again with a bunch of others in the crowd, most of them people I did not know. It had been almost ten years since I saw this band at The Outpost, and though I knew that I would never be able to occupy that space again, something in me felt eerily secure. My love for what that place fostered in me had survived.


As a post-script to this piece: I feel compelled to mention if you’re looking for some way to help out Route 196 amid their closure, a group called Manila Takeout has partnered with National Book Award-winning graphic novelist and illustrator Rob Cham to produce limited-edition merch inspired by Route, alongside collaborations with other artists and restaurants around Manila. Every bit of the sale proceeds go out directly to the restaurants’ staff and service teams, which sounds like an excellent way to support the people who make these places extra special.

I learned about Manila Takeout through friends who shared it on social media. If you know any similar initiatives that support these industries, particularly workers outside of Manila, please feel free to email and let me know about them. I’ll gladly amend the post to give them a plug!