June 11, 2001: Dispatches
by Brad & Tony
On Their Trip Across America

Is anyone reading this in Banaue?

I have had and will have few days like this one.

Last fall when I was on the radio shows All Things Considered and The Savvy Traveler, people from all over the country began to call in with offers of things for Tony and I to do when he arrived. Today we were going to take up two of those offers.

The first was the offer from a woman, Trudy Marin, who worked for an eye doctor, John S. McNamara in Daly City. Trudy had read the book and offered a free exam from Dr. McNamara. The appointment was for 10 a.m. Tony and I have not been getting much sleep, not just because we have had a lot of things to do, but because all of the things are awfully exciting. Even when we do lie down, sleep does not necessarily come. At 8 o'clock I began knocking every few minutes on Tony's hotel room door, softly at first, then a bit louder, always to no response. By 8:30 I was getting a bit frantic. I remembered that Tony had gone out to wander the neighborhood around our downtown hotel (the Monticello was so good to us) the day before. So I went circling the nearby blocks looking for him. I imagined that one of the Tenderloin homeless people had "gotten" him, and now he was dead, and soon the police would be calling, and....

At nine a.m. I asked Michael Pace, the Monticello's gracious manager, to quietly open Tony's door, and there he was, head thrown back on the pillow, asleep. When he awakened at 10 a.m. and called me, he said that he had not fallen asleep until 5 a.m. Long story short, we were on our way to Daly City by 11. They fit us in promptly. A technician, Susan, took Tony's history, determined that the sight in Tony's good eye was strong, and Dr. McNamara said that the tissue in the area around Tony's removed eye seemed to be in pretty good shape. But, said the doctor, Tony could probably use a better prosthetic eye. No, Dr. McNamara didn't make them, but he knew someone in Oakland, an ocularist named Steve Young. Yes, Steve Young.

A call was made, the situation explained. Dr. Young almost immediately scheduled three appointments for Tony. It takes three to create a new prosthesis. We're going to stick close to the Bay Area for a few days, now, and hopefully when we leave Tony will have a prosthetic eye that a stranger would find not different looking than his good eye - and which would fit his eye socket better than the present one.

When Tony learned that the prosthesis would cost $1,700 he told me that, although he would very much like that new eye, the money was a veritable fortune, and that if such an amount was going to be spent, he would want it spent on something for his family. A "tricycle" (motorcycle with sidecar, similar to the one in which I rode to the viewpoint to begin our hike in Banaue) would make a huge difference to his family, as it would ensure a livelihood for him as well as transportation, and, he said, when he heard me use the figure $1,700, it was too coincidental - that's the exact cost of a decent used tricycle. I told him, well, I'm not sure exactly where the money is coming from, but this is, after all, America, and the money for the new prosthesis will come, and, hey, you never know about the rest… Anything can happen, anything in the world can happen, I told him at dinner last night in the New Delhi Restaurant (across the street from the Monticello, a restaurant where Tony found a distinct liking for tandoori chicken - we ate there, fabulously, three times) when we had a heart-to-heart talk that I will never forget. There are few people I know with a heart like this man's....

Anyway, we're getting a new eye, folks. This is America and it would be silly of me to someday be looking back at this adventure and thinking, oh, you know, it sure would have been nice... - screw that - we're getting a new eye.

In the department of absolutely anything being possible: after we left the eye doctor's, we drove north toward Novato to take up the second offer of the day: a wonderful man named Scott Sims had called in with an offer for Tony and I to go flying with him in his private plane. Scott and I had never met - we had exchanged phone calls and email, but Tony thought this was a good thing (I didn't know if it would scare him - I was scared by a flight in a small plane years ago, and obviously I was projecting, because Tony... well, I'm getting ahead of myself).

On the way to Scott Sims' house we picked up Miriam Anisimov, who had met Tony and his wife Rita in Banaue and become friends. Miriam, who lives in S.F. now, is a Filipina married to Misha Anisimov - and when we knocked unannounced on her door at 1 p.m. and said, Miriam, want to go flying? she said what I have come to think of as one of Tony's favorite phrases: Why not? And we were off within five minutes.

From Scott Sims' house we went to the airport, three minutes away, squeezed into his four-seater Beachcraft Bonanza (built in 1949) and up we went, up over Pt. Reyes, out over the Pacific, got a 200-mile-an-hour buzz going and came in over the Golden Gate Bridge, above the traffic on the big orange beauty, below the tops of the towers, like Blue Angels, over Alcatraz, and straight up to Lake Tahoe, an hour away, Tony and Miriam chattering away in Tagalog in our earphones. I was in the front passenger seat, and over the Central Valley, Scott asked me if I wanted to fly. I took the wheel, made a couple of turns - hey, kinda interesting! - but when he started telling me about the foot pedals and how you push and pull on the steering wheel to make the nose dive or raise, I said that you know, I'm really just fine enjoying the view up here, thanks....

Tony saw the first snow of his life, streaked into the mountains around that amazing lake. We landed, had a soda, filled the tanks, got back in. I sat in back with Miriam; Tony sat in the front seat. I would have to think a long time about how to describe the beauty surrounding us on every side, top and bottom, and I'm too tired for that right now, but suffice it to say we were giddily speechless - sometimes. Over the Central Valley Scott said, "Tony, want to fly?" Later that night, over our wonderful dinner, Tony told me, "I had been observing him when we were in the back seat, how he worked the pedals, but my seatbelt kept me from leaning forward and I could not see very well, but then when I moved up front I was observing again, to the side."

Tony took that wheel, Scott told him a couple of things, and within two minutes Tony was our pilot. For the next 15 minutes at least - I've got more than an hour of spectacular video footage - Tony, my rice farmer friend from high in the mountains of the Philippines, flew us at 200 to 250 mph toward the Bay Area. Only once, I recall, did I see Scott take the controls (and I was indeed watching) and make a correction - "Hey, easy! Not that fast! I want to live to do this again, you know…" - and Tony, right there in front of me, Tony, on his fourth day in America, was sailing through the wild blue yonder, over the unterraced fields of rice (he was surprised we grow it here), over the little cities, around the bigger ones (Sacramento), with the Coast Range approaching, with Miriam and I in the back seat shaking our heads and laughing and eating Skittles. We all wore headphones, and I got a big laugh when I said into my mouthpiece, "Tony Tocdaan, now offering flying tours of the Banaue rice terraces...."

It blew my mind. And Tony took it all in stride. He's a special person, I'm telling you. Everything I've thrown at him so far, he's taken in stride, as best he can. Why not, he says. Not that it's all been easy - I mean is there any of you who could handle 150 people, all of whom have packed into a backyard halfway around the world to get a glimpse of you, a handshake, a kind word in your own second language! Hey, I've been wondering if I could take the equivalent of this if I were to ever go back to Banaue…and I don't think I could, I really don't. But Tony has. I'm actually writing this on June 12, Day 5, on an hour's sleep, and I can't begin to describe what I'm feeling. This morning, after the CBS Early Show filmed us outside the Monticello at 5 a.m., leaning on our taxi (thank you Jamie Maddox, president of Service! Taxi - you're a saint), we grabbed a copy of the Chronicle with our pictures and Rona Marech's great article on the cover of the Datebook section, switched on the meter, pulled away, rode up Powell Street over Nob Hill to North Beach, up to Coit Tower, where - after we'd finished reading the article word for word ("Tony in newspaper in America," he said from the front passenger seat, chuckling, "Tony pilot plane for 15 minutes… Jesus Christ!") - I told him the story of the wrong turn that brought me from the Central Valley to San Francisco one morning before a very similar June dawn in 1980, and then we headed down the hill, through Fisherman's Wharf, the sound of the sea lions coming through the opened windows, ("I really like it like this in the morning, when no one is here," I said. "Sometimes there are thousands of people here." Tony said: "Me, I like it you know when there are lots of people.")

For today, that's it.

Thanks for reading this far. This incredible journey continues. Off to Pt. Reyes with tired eyes and a deeply touched heart. Tomorrow: Dr. Steve Young.

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