Tony and I woke up yesterday morning to an email from Christian Science Monitor reporter Brad Knickerbocker telling us that the story he wrote about us was on the front page of Monday's Monitor (June 18) with three photos. [Click here to read the article.] That day's mail brought a package of stunning photos from Bob Harbison, the Monitor photographer who trailed Tony and me all over San Francisco and Muir Woods on Tony's second day in America. Tony and I read and loved the article and loved the pictures, but we have yet to find a copy of the paper.
The phone rang - Canadian Broadcasting Corporation wanting to do an interview. I agreed. But first we had to go to San Francisco. I had gotten a tick bite at Harbin Hot Springs and I wanted to have it checked out. A couple of months ago I heard a man named Dr. Raphael Stricker on NPR - Dr. Stricker is an expert on Lyme disease, which I don't need or want right now or ever. He is also the brother of my friend and agent Robert Stricker, and so I called Ray and (after Rhonda and Tony and I drove the taxi in the carpool lane into San Francisco) we showed up at Dr. Stricker's downtown office. Ray sent me around the corner for a blood test, gave me some antibiotics, said we won't know the blood test results for 10 days or so. And have fun on your trip, guys....
Tony and I literally crossed Sutter Street to the office of Juliette Sarmiento, the Filipina-American immigration attorney I had consulted with a year and a half ago regarding Tony's visa. Tony has met all sorts of Filipinos in the Bay Area, and several of them have mentioned "the green card" and I thought we should at least find out what the regulations were. Ms. Sarmiento told us that there were six or seven categories of visa, all of them complete with two or three or more sub-categories and all of them affected by different stipulations in a maze of laws and regulations that are being amended almost daily and all of which pretty much specifically exclude the possibility of Tony or his wife or kids ever coming back, except under one or two of the thousands of loopholes that exist, and by the time she was nearly done with us both of our heads were spinning and we were very, very clear that our best strategy and the best counsel she could possibly give us was, well, have fun on your trip, guys.... She did mention, as we were leaving, that there was, however, a special visa category for "famous" people. We laughed. At the Filipino Fair over the weekend it had seemed that Tony was maybe half-famous - many people knew him from the newspaper article. Others crowded around to watch the Filipino-American TV channel interview us. And as we walked out of the New Delhi Restaurant last night (visit number six) a woman on the sidewalk looked at us, directed her gaze at Tony, and said a very pointed, "Welcome to America." When we reached our cab, the parking garage was circling it, admiring the $654.50 showing visibly on the meter. (As of a few minutes ago, the meter read $800 and some dollars, but it has already been around four times, meaning that we've got a $4,800 tab going so far, and that's before you consider the meter and a half aspect - on any fare that travels more than 15 miles beyond the SF city limits a cab driver is entitled to charge 150% of what the meter reads!) When the security guard saw us his jaw dropped. "It's you two!" He had read the Chronicle story. He was from India, arrived in 1999, said he had read the story all the way through twice and then made his boss read it. He was thrilled. We were too.
Anyway, I'm out of order a bit, but... By noon yesterday we were in the office of Dr. Steven Young, ocularist extraordinaire. Tony now has a new prosthetic eye. It's great. Simply great. No matter what great things happen on this trip, I believe that this will be the best.
Unless, perhaps, you consider the dental work.
At Harbin Tony lost a cap he had on one of his front teeth. He told me he had just gotten it two months ago at home. The next day as we were driving back to SF, I received a cell phone call from Patrick Shannon. Patrick Shannon is the visionary/force of nature who dreamed up Yellow Cab Co-op back in 1978 or so, and he and his wife Catherine were the blood and sweat and ramrods who breathed and kicked it into life. They've since gone on to other pursuits. Patrick had finished my book just a couple of weeks ago and it had lit him up a bit. "Call my cousin Skiff Peters - he's a dentist up in Red Bluff - and get your butt up there and get Tony's teeth fixed," Patrick ordered me. When Patrick talks, it's often wise to listen.
Today, Tuesday, Tony and I left the house at 7, drove the taxi two and a half hours north to Red Bluff, and Tony had two root canals done. I had to get down and my knees and beg Tony and invoke the name of his wife Rita - who I promised him, if she were here, would be much more adamant about him having these root canals than I was being - before Tony's rather large reluctance dissolved. But I think what really made the difference was that he understood exactly what Dr. Peters was talking about when he used the term "massive infection." Tony was on the way to losing his front three teeth - but when he leaves for the Philippines he will be taking with him perhaps the best dental care within 100 miles of Banaue. I don't know who is paying the bill - I told Dr. Peters that if there was a bill to send it to Patrick.
Dr. Peters is another in an incredible line of benefactors/supporters/donors/enablers of this trip, this project, and I just don't know what to say that might capture how I feel about all this incredible support. As I left their office, I said, "You're God's own people," to the wonderful staff who helped us, and I think that's the most basic and obvious truth. This trip has simply blown the lid off what I think is possible in life.
One last vignette: Yesterday afternoon Tony and I went shopping for a second-hand leather motorcycle jacket for him on Haight Street - he hasn't asked for a thing, but I've worked out of him that he might like such a jacket, also a cowboy hat, a Seiko watch (the one he is pictured wearing in "our" book was stolen), and a Mikita circular saw as a gift for his carpenter back in Banaue. We saw hundreds of leather motorcycle jackets on Haight Street, but Tony has a distinct sense of his own style, and none of them were just right. We were referred by a salesperson in the Haight to a store over in the Castro - Worn Out West. We found a great selection and finally bought one. It looks great on him.
As we were driving away from the Castro, Tony said, "The nice man, older, the one who give us the discount, you think he is gay?"
I laughed, of course. I told him that I think everyone in the store was most certainly gay. Most of the people we saw in the neighborhood were almost certainly gay. I told him how much San Francisco values and cherishes the gay community, how this region is often referred to as the San Francisco Gay Area. And I told him, finally, that anyone who had seen us in the store or in the Castro - a tallish white guy a few months from 50 and a shortish Filipino man - could quite fairly have assumed that I was a gay man dressing up my imported Asian lover. Tony laughed and laughed and laughed....
Tomorrow we leave San Francisco and point the cab south down the Big Sur coast (fires in the Sierras have me thinking that Yosemite will be too smoky) and, soon, eastward. I'll do my best to keep you updated. Thanks for reading.
Oh, and by the way, after the root canals we were sitting in the Peking Restaurant in Red Bluff when my cell phone rang. I stepped out to the sidewalk to hear my publicist at Travelers' Tales say that the Philippine ambassador to the United States read the article in the Christian Science Monitor and has invited Tony and me to be his guests at lunch at the Philippine Embassy when we get to Washington...!