June 13, 2001: Dispatches
by Brad & Tony
On Their Trip Across America
www.bradnewsham.com

Tony is sitting next to me as I type this in my studio, talking in Tagalog to someone in Manila. He'll read and approve it or not when I'm done.

The CBS "Early Show" was filmed at 5 a.m. on the street in front of our hotel in the Tenderloin District. Several hours later we were sitting at home on the sofa with Rhonda and Sarah and Gloria, watching ourselves. It had been a stressful night - not a wink of sleep for either Tony or me. Tony was very nervous (he had enjoyed and been incredibly brilliant at all our media gigs, but this was live television, and he is less than comfortable with people looking at him and with them noticing that one of his eyes is, noticeably, a prosthetic one) while I was not so much nervous as excited. Anyway, afterwards Tony told me that he never wanted his family to see that tape. He hadn't liked the way he had come across. And, really, the tape didn't catch any of his beautiful spirit, which is a shame.

Tony fell asleep in my studio for four hours (he later said he had been bothered by the noise from the day care center next door) and I collapsed for one hour. When I woke up there was a message on the answering machine from a producer from the television show Inside Edition who had read the morning's Chronicle article. Tony and I both spoke with him - he sounded like a nice man, 30 years old, Josh Paris. I told him about Tony's soon-to-be new eye and his experience as an airplane pilot, and he was definitely interested. I told him about the great video footage I took from the back seat. He was interested in following us around for a while. I told him we were going away for a few days, we were (revising our schedule to hang around the Bay Area for a few days until Tony's new eye can be installed on Monday) not available for anything media-related until at least next Monday. We needed sleep.

In mid-afternoon we headed for Pt. Reyes National Seashore. We had been planning to camp, but since we now had a 1 p.m. appointment with the renowned ocularist Steve Young (five minutes from my house, two floors above Sarah's pediatrician's office!) a six-mile hike and camp-out was out. Plus, we were both too darned tired. I called Peter at the Pt. Reyes Seashore Lodge (we've gotten to know him since Sarah and Rhonda and I have stayed there maybe a dozen times since Sarah was born) and told him we needed a room with two beds. He said he could give us the Creekside Cottage, set off from the main lodge, and wouldn't charge us the usual $325/night rate, but would give it to us for $200. I said, bless you, thanks, see you in a couple of hours.

On the way Tony told me, basically, very politely, trying not to hurt my feelings, that he didn't want to do any more television shows, certainly not like this morning's. You can imagine the confusion and disappointment and churning in my gut when he told me that, but, clearly, that was our deal - the minute something was too much for him, it was all over. Now I would be calling CBS to tell them the deal was off. You can imagine how a struggling writer does not want to do that. But what was worse was what I saw Tony going through. He sobbed as he told me that seeing himself on tv had reminded him of how he had looked before the mugging, and how different he looked now. It took me about three minutes to get it - CBS was over. Perhaps this media stuff was all over with. Tony apologized profusely for not being up for this, I apologized profusely for what I'd put him through. Really, what a shit I was! What sort of demon would do this to a person? I felt awful, putting him in tears like that, and here he'd told me straight from his heart how it had made him feel… obviously, that CBS show ain't happening no mo'. Some people have suggested that this whole project of mine was simply an ego trip, that I was cavalierly "playing God" with someone else's life. I have often bristled at that sort of talk, but yesterday afternoon I thought that the truth was that maybe I have been playing the Devil.

When we got to Pt. Reyes there was a note from Greg and Susan, the gracious hosts of the Lodge. It said, "Dreams do come true." They'd read the Chronicle article. The room was ours for free!

And how we needed it! We unpacked, settled in, went for a hike, both of us I'm sure feeling just a little wounded and bruised. Shazam - this rocking adventure hitting its first rock! We went for a hike. Pt. Reyes was in all its shimmering golden June glory, the wheatgrasses four and five feet high and gleaming. We walked to the grove of trees where Rhonda and I were married six years ago this month. I told the story of how, five days before our wedding I came out here with a scythe at 10 pm on a full moon Monday night and whacked a big circle in the tall grass so that we could actually see each other and our guests on the wedding day.

We saw a herd of deer on the way back, some of them albino. We went to dinner at the Pt. Reyes Station House Café, where Rhonda and I had our wedding reception (the next day's Chronicle headline said exactly this: 106 degrees!). Tony and I walked in the vegetable garden the restaurant keeps out back. We went back to the lodge, and while I drifted off into a dead sleep at 9 o'clock I could hear the comforting and entertaining sound of him talking in Tagalog to someone in the Philippines. I like hearing him talk Tagalog to people - I know he is more at ease in that language and anything that puts him more at ease puts me more at ease.

I awoke at 6 o'clock in the morning, coming out of a dream in which I was standing onshore at Pt. Reyes and watching a jetliner plunge into the ocean a mile out to sea. Anyone need to interpret that one!

I cleaned up my scattered possessions, cleaned out the car, brought breakfast from the main lodge for both of us, read the morning paper, had a cup of coffee, wrote in my journal, watching the sun rising in the cool morning air. We'd set the alarm for 9 a.m., and when I tiptoed into his room at 8:50 and turned it off, Tony was still buzzing quietly in sleep. I read the whole paper (including an - surprise! -article by my buddy David Ruenzel on the op-ed page), did some stretching, and by the time Tony opened his door at 10 a.m. I felt like a new man. I could tell the adventure was back on.

We talked, packed, drove back to Oakland, chatting all the way, best friends again. Turned his three rolls of film in to a one-hour photo place, were at the Dr. Steve Young's office at the stroke of 1 p.m. Right away I knew this man was going to do a great job. He works seven days a week at this kind of work, and right now he is taking reservations for December and January. So, this is some sort of miracle in motion. That he even had time and willingness is a miracle. (By the way, he had not read the Chronicle article and didn't seem to give a damn about any sort of publicity.)

He said he would need Tony for anywhere from one hour to eight hours. I said I would go home and bring us back some lunch and be back in an hour. At home I reconnected with Rhonda and Sarah and Gloria for a few minutes and opened my mail (a $200 check from Trudy Marin, the woman who had offered us the original free eye exam) and gave a call to the producer at CBS. I said, "Lara, I'm sure that one of the 19 messages on my telephone is from you."

She said, "Brad, I have some bad news. The network is not willing to do any more segments with you." She sounded very stressed and nervous.

I said, roughly, "Lara, that's the best news I think I've ever heard." And I told her my story.

She said, "Brad, that's maybe the best news I've every heard. I was wondering how you would take this."

She's going on vacation for a week and I wished her well and she wished me a good time at Harbin Hot Springs and a great trip across the country.

A few minutes later I called Josh Paris. He said, "Oh, man, your ears must have been burning. This minute I am talking with my editor about you."

I said, "I'm going to overnight you the footage of Tony flying the plane."

He said, "I'll send a messenger to your door to pick it up."

I said, "We're going to Harbin Hot Springs for two nights."

He said, "Talk to you when you get back."

I went back to the eye doctor (two and a half hours after I'd left it). Tony and I picked up his film, some money at the bank, had a delightful sit-down-and-look-at-pictures session with Rhonda and Sarah and Gloria and… to make a long story short, we're off to Harbin now, for two nights. We have two follow-up appointments with Dr. Young, and on Monday, we think, Tony will have his new eye in place, and we'll be on our way to Yosemite, Las Vegas (no CBS, tell your friends), and points east in our taxicab (I don't think I can say this enough, or loudly enough: Jamie Maddox of Service! Taxis -you are a saint!).

Talk to you later. Hopefully my pal Mark Giorgi will find time to post this 1800 word post (I promised him 200 word posts, maximum - hah!) sometime soon.

PS: Tony had his first ride on a train going from Oakland into San Francisco recently. On the way we met a wonderful Filipino man named Ben Reyes, and he and Tony and I talked like old friends all the way to the Mission District. A woman named Nancy sitting in the seat ahead of me looked around twice with a quizzical, knowing look twice. I said, "You read the article in the Chronicle yesterday, didn't you?" She said, "Oh, yes! I knew it was you two! What an adventure you're having!"

Amen.

 
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