Benson Hedges: Better Currency Than Pesos

After watching wall-to-wall football for the final week of the 2022 NFL Regular Season, and the trash-talking (sh*t talking) on the field, it reminded of an incident that could’ve ended badly but didn’t.

My younger sister is brash at times. Sometimes it’s at inappropriate times when decorum is the more harmonious route. For example, when you accidentally stumble across a basketball pick up game with dockworkers in the Philippines.

Lemme explain how we started a fight, then fled instead and finally, how a pack of Benson Hedges cigarettes held higher currency than Filipino pesos.


This snippet is a part of a story when I traveled to the Philippines in 1998. I was there with my family to inform my grandparents, etc. that my Mom had passed away from gastric cancer in December, the previous year.

I digress

My sister, my sister’s friend and yours truly were instructed to meet our family members at the local ferry terminal and escort them back to the village. A straightforward task but not straightforward execution.

Waterjet was the ferry company with a fleet of high-speed, catamaran passenger ferries for the Philippine Islands. Also the most common way to travel from island to island. At the ferry terminal, a fleet of taxis were also waiting to ferry passengers to their final destination (see what I did there? I slay myself!)

Speaking of taxis in the Philippines, there are two colors; white and yellow.

The official taxis at NAIA (airport) are the yellow ones. Yellow taxis have 70 peso flagfall, vs 40 peso flagfall white taxis. Otherwise time and distance metering is similar.

Remember that yellow taxis only get fares from the airport, they cannot legally take passengers to the airport, so their return trip is unpaid.

White taxis are often crappy cars, dirt poor drivers. A ton of history of white taxi scams at NAIA terminals 1, 2 and 3 and in general.


I had read the notice from the local municipaility that flag drops were required with no fare negotiation allowed. There was a sea of taxi drivers hard-eyeing the only 3 white people at the terminal, obviously we were young travelers of some sort therefore EASY PREY.

My sister, Charrina; her friend, Kelly; and yours truly had been raised lower middle class so we collectively had street savvy, and had situational awareness. We were cognizant of the escalation that could happen.

We anxiously waited for our family member, whom we’ve never met in-person. The ferry disembarked its passengers which ignited the frenzy of folks grabbing white taxis. We escorted our family members to the nearest taxi, instructed the driver on the destination, and the taxi drove away.

By the time we completed our task, we looked around to find only four taxis left. All drivers refused to drop the flag for us, and demanded a 500-750 pesos for the fare which was only 150-200 pesos.

Our situation was the epitome of supply and demand: we needed wheels, and there was a scarcity of them.

I grumbled under my breath a phrase that generally is followed with trouble. “Fuck it, we (insert action here)”


ON this hot and humid morning at the dock, we found ourselves walking back to the village. My sister barked out, “That was bullshit!”

I shrugged, “Actually, that’s commerce for ya. They had something we wanted, and we were not wanting to pay the price for it.”

The distance was not far for us young folk, it was the preference of riding in air-conditioning that had us incensed! Storage containers stacked neatly provided a cityscape feeling along the dock walk. We were following the path of the exiting taxis, and the big damn sign that stated: EXIT THIS WAY.

We wheeled the corner to stumble across this scene: a make-shift basketball backboard and hoop were wedged between the storage containers with a faintly chalked key on the ground. There were 5 Filipino dock workers with T-shirts on, 5 without.

Great, I mentally thought, its a basketball pick-up game.

The catcalls IMMEDIATELY started as Charrina and Kelly came into view.

  • “Hey Americana! Why you walking in this heat!”
  • “You’re so beautiful, why are you with this puta bitch of a bodyguard”
  • “We can walk you home!”

We brushed it off as you should until one of them hollered something that my sister refused to let slide: I bet that pussy is as sweet as you look.

She fired back, “You’ll never know, so FUCK OFF!”

SHIT. GOT. REAL.

Their voices fell silent, as they grabbed anything available. I noticed a worker wrapping up his dominate hand with a rusty chain like a bandage. And then they rushed us!

So our shit-talking started the fight, now we must FLEE. At top speed, we bolted towards the security guard tower, flimsy wooden gate to stop vehicles, and more importantly … the exit.

Literally this is a scene out of the Westside story, as three youngsters being pursued by a pack of gang members. Thankfully, we had a head-start and were more fleet footed than them!

As we raced out of the dock area, we were noticing it was leading us to dead end or at best a T-stop. We had to decide quickly on left or right.

In front of us was a 20-foot high concrete wall that was ridiculously long. I looked right, it was a cartoonish, Wile E. Coyote length of the wall and the left was the same.

I raced to the left; Kelly and Charrina on my heels. Our hearts are pounding, as we looked behind us. The pack is fading BUT STILL CHASING US. Along the wall, and spaced out evenly were closed doors.

Jeezus, this is my worst nightmare, I thought. As I finished my thought, I noticed the closest door was off the hinges, and jilted diagonally creating a triangle on the bottom right for an escape.

We leapt down from the concrete wall onto a busy road.

WE ENDED UP ON A FREEWAY!!

If my Mom was alive, we would’ve killed us anyway. So I led us single file along the concrete wall, while looking back to ensure those dock workers gave up the chase. Suddenly a white taxi screeches to a halt beside us.

“What the hell are you kids walking on the freeway!”

I faced the voice through the passenger side door with the window down, “Are you a taxi?”

“I am, get in,” the voice replied.

Kelly clamored into the back, Charrina followed suit with the words, “Is he gonna drop the meter?”

I glared at her, “GET IN THE DAMN TAXI!”, as I jumped into the front. The driver launched back up to speed.

He glanced over to me, as I settled down in the seat, “Where to?”

“The blah-blah hotel, please,” I requested, “We don’t have many pesos, so drop us off wherever our money gets us.”

He let out a laugh. “Well the air-con doesn’t work, and as you can see, this car has seen better days. How much you got?”

I slowly withdrew 171 pesos but my pack of Benson Hedges cigarettes fell on the floorboard.

Taxi Currency

“Tell ya what. Since my air-con is broken, and I picked you up off the freeway,” he offered, “if you throw in that pack of cigarettes and the pesos, I’ll take you to all the way to the hotel. I’ve gotta go to the garage for repairs anyways.”

“Fair enough,” I accepted. “You’ve got a deal. Can I have one more before I surrender the pack? It’s been a morning.”

He looked at me, “Sure, kid.” He looked in the backseat with the rearview mirror, “Why were you three on the freeway anyways?”

Kelly piped up, “It’s a long story, and you don’t want to hear it either!”

“I’m grateful that Benson Hedges is better currency than pesos,” I mumbled.

He ruefully smiles, “Fair enough.”

‘los; out


Published by losisthemost

"You only live once, but ... if you do it right, once is all you need" ~ I'm an active American-Filipino that has many skills I use to their best advantage.

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