Everyone knows Kookie Ramirez. At least everyone who was ever into Motorsports for the past 40 years. He was one of the legendary Pocholo Ramirez brood who all learned what the racing line was even before they learned how to drive. His was a competitive world of lap times and wheel-to-wheel dicing in powerful cars. Quite some ways off from my world of quarterly and semestral deadlines.
For five years our disparate worlds of screeching tires and clattering keyboards were to meet. In a common office and in our daily common late night commute home to our families. He was senior editor to a car magazine where I was the editor in chief. Kookie, I was soon to find out, enjoys being a take charge kinda guy, the kind who would walk into a conference in turmoil, and with booming voice holler "Hold it, guys!" He was also a safety driving teacher and like all teachers, there is never a moment when he isn't one. Which means the man was a 24/7 backseat driver, wherever he sits or walks. Here was a man wizened with years full of experience and he was not one to mince words. Needless to say, he took immense pride in his driving, as racing was in his lifeblood.
He revelled in being old, even though he was younger than me. Elderliness was indeed a badge of rank and in time, our going home were noted by our juniors with a welcome "the Geezers have left the building". And for five years, going home must have been the most frustrating daily suffering for him.
You see, being in the heart of Makati CBD not only meant molasses like traffic flow, but also a three to one parking shortage. Owing to limited parking spaces, Kookie had no choice but to be driven to office and car pool home with me as I did not live far from Residencia Ramirez. For five years the man suffered taking the co-driver's seat of my car, an excruciating indignity for someone who always was behind the wheel. He must have treasured those rare days when his wife, Menchie, would pick him up.
Having raised such respectful kids in the Bay Area from the 70s to the 90s, Kookie's languid San Franciscan driving decorum were at odds with mine. Being from the East Coast, what works in Avenida Rizal, works in Park Avenue, Manhattan. Sure, I could be California descent but on the rush hour way home via C-5 or EDSA, the genteel manners for East Greenwich, Connecticut or Connecticut, East Greenhills just doesn't cut the mustard. In his exasperation, he would always throw his hands up and say I drive like his Dad. Coming from Kookie, that was no complement.
To make matters worse, I would always take the long way round, just to keep moving, a throwback to habits formed while touring an autistic son who abhorred standing still. This meant that any change in direction of route from Kookie was guaranteed not to be followed. It must have been grating and annoying, a recipe for a daily quarrel. But it never happened. I don't know of many friendships based on the mere absence of a quarrel, but perhaps ours was that kind.
Every Christmas, year in year out, James Deakin, my executive editor and I used to play a mean trick on Kookie. Owing to our illusions of our publishing group going international, we would deliver a Christmas address to the troops translated in 3 languages. I, the indio, would utter the first sentence of the speech in Spanish. Then James, ever the pa-cute English mestizo, would stammer and translate in Tagalog. Being brought up in Australia, James would mangle the pronunciation of every word to the point that everyone was in stitches and poor old Kookie, the Franco-Spanish mestizo, also in stitches himself, wouldn't have a chance to decently deliver in English.
You bet Kookie had strong opinions. He was fiercely loyal to his friends, his sponsors, his family, his sport. He loved his late mother, who passed on while he was still a teenager. At that time, he couldn't understand how the Almighty could do that to him. So he vowed to make sure that when he had his own family, his own kids will not ever have to go through such a heart wrenching surprise. He looked with favor and admiration at his younger and more erudite brother, Georges. Kookie had strong opinions about the strong hand of the state [for] and contraception/divorce/annulment [against]. But he pined for his Bay Area life, a life he gave up because of the lure to make a life doing what he always wanted - to race in the newly minted and only racing track in the Philippines 15 years ago: The Subic International Raceway. Despite all the ups and downs of racing and making a living out of it, Kookie always found an anchor in his family. No matter what came, the family, his wife, his kids was his anchor of joy.
Sometime mid treatment of his Cancer early this year, Kookie received a 2nd wind. With his new found energy, he went around thanking all the clubs, racers, sponsors, car firms, friends, classmates and colleagues for helping him out in his trying times. Meantime, he shepherded the family to establish for them whatever possible security he can give them as the end was not a matter of if but when. Soon thereafter, Kookie, the honest realist, changed gear. From emulating Lance Armstrong's fight against cancer, he sought thanksgiving after discovering San Pio del Pietrelcina. He spent the remaining days of his life in thanksgiving.
They say you find the most uncompromising men in the sports world. And why not? A win is a win and a loss is a loss. There is no in between. In his final race, Kookie had his own formula for winning. I heard him say it to his Father as he succumbed to the Big C. It doesn't matter if other people wronged you, just forgive them and in that way you will be forgiven too. Like winning, salvation has no in between. Kookie got that absolutely right. I am doubly sure he has forgiven me too.