June 27, 2001 (1st of 2): Dispatches
by Brad & Tony
On Their Trip Across America

Littleton, Colorado (Tonight while we sleep the meter will top $12,000.)

First a request: Tony tells me that after he was mugged and hit in the face twice with a hammer by the crazy person (whose life Tony had once saved!), and after he lay at the side of the road for fifteen minutes unconscious but presumed dead (he has been told this by others -- he has no memory of it) until finally someone said, "Hey, it looks like he's breathing!" he was driven to Manila by an American Seventh Day Adventist missionary named Mark (Marc?) -- all night in the back of a pickup truck. Mark left Banaue shortly thereafter and Tony has lost complete track of him. Mark was married to a woman named Anne. If anyone knows a Mark and Anne who were Seventh Day Adventist missionaries in the Philippines in 1988, please call this information in to Christine (or anyone) at the Travelers' Tales office at 415-227-8600. I would like nothing better than to put Mark and Tony face to face on this trip. Tony would like that too.

Our trip has turned a corner. Yesterday as we left the hot springs and drove north to my friend Bird's house Tony told me that his mind was often now back in Banaue, and he finds himself wondering what his life will be like once he goes home. Will he be sitting back at the viewpoint, listening to the deafening silence, wondering if any tourists would come along, and whether or not they would be interested in his services as a guide? And what would he think of this crazy month? Would it all seem like a dream?

I told him that I have come to believe that this trip will change his life in so many ways that it's almost impossible to predict his future -- although his fortune cookie yesterday (the fortune cookies we've been having on this trip are the first fortune cookies of his life) said: "You will become the richest person in your community." For one, he's going to have a tricycle, a 155 cc motorcycle with sidecar -- transportation for his family, a permanent job for him transporting tourists or locals around Banaue. But I really think it's going to be more dramatic than that. So many people we've met on this trip have been as charmed by him as I have, and I believe that many of them, and perhaps many of the 10,000 or so people who have so far read "our" book, will go to Banaue to seek Tony out. I do not think his life will be as obscure and anonymous as it once was. I cautioned him that people he knew before he left will be jealous of him -- coming back with a new eye, a tricycle, a cowboy hat, a leather coat and a beautiful new Seiko watch (details to follow) -- and I warned him to prepare for that somehow. He said, essentially, that it would be alright with him if people were jealous of him. For so, so long now people in his community have looked sort of down on him. Carino in Los Angeles told me that Tony was "one of the lowest people in Banaue" (meant in the sense of economic position). And it will not bother Tony at all, Tony said, if suddenly people are required to have a new perception of him. Even if they think he was just lucky, even if it appears he "did nothing to earn these things," as he tells me they will surely say. (I told him that he has earned his life simply by being human, that good things come along as surely as bad things do, and it takes a big man to allow the good things the way he has done -- and he certainly has: I do not think I could allow so much love and acceptance in, but he has had the grace and sensibility to do it just perfectly.)

Today while the Manila Business Journal was on the cell phone to interview us, a call came in from the Philippine Embassy. They have invited us to a reception in Tony's and my honor at 6:30 on July 3. They will send an Embassy car to collect my family in Alexandria, Virginia (my mother, brother and his wife and two kids, my sister and her daughter -- and my own wife Rhonda and our treasure Sarah if they can possibly -- doubtful -- join us) but they would like Tony and me to come in the taxi, as it will make an excellent photo opportunity. I put Tony on the phone with the inviter, Patricia Perez, and told her to please put him at ease if possible, as he has been reluctant about this invitation.

For the several days since we got wind of this invitation Tony has been trying to talk me out of accepting it. I tell him that it is not possible. It's beyond me, it's beyond him. He can not possibly go back to Banaue now and tell people that he was invited by the Philippine Ambassador to visit the Embassy and he declined. They would not allow him to live in Banaue any more, probably nowhere in the Philippines, and he would have to leave for some other country -- and since he can not get a visa to the US unless it is under the ''famous" category, he can not come here to live. And if he would ever like his wife and kids to have a chance, a greatly improved chance, of visiting the US... well, there is no choice. He understands that this is true, whether he likes it or not. He once told me that if he was going to be famous he wanted it to be for having done something, for having "saved" someone or something.

But it's really beyond us. With all the news in the media about the "situation" in the Philippines, the kidnappings, the rumors of tourists being beheaded, the Embassy and the Philippine tourist agencies are no doubt eager for a 'good' story about Filipino-American relations, and...voila!...what's this about a rice farmer from Banaue driving across the country together in a taxicab with an American cab driver? Let's hear a little more about that.... Really, I tell Tony, he has to do this Embassy gig for his family, for his town (tourism is a major source of income for Banaue and the tourists have been thinning out quite a bit lately), for his country (tourism is way down), even for mankind. Forget about me and how much good it's going to do me, I tell Tony -- you gotta take one little hit for mankind, bro, take one for Rita, your wife, and your kids... You got no choice, Tony, brother, pal. We're going to the Embassy.

And he knows it. Still, he insisted to Patricia, "No TV." He's still reeling from that silly "Hope you two don't get sick of each other a couple of weeks back" -- the parting shot from the CBS "Early Show" that still rings in our ears.

The truth is that Tony's going to love our Embassy reception. Afterwards he's going to be soaring. They tell us that there will be other people there from his region, if not from his specific town (although that too is a possibility). I know this is a good thing. Tony's starting to realize it too.

Another good thing is that we got 8 (me) and 7 (him) hours of sleep last night. We were at a cabin high on a mountain ridge at the family vacation home of my good friend Bird Nietmann, near Buena Vista, Colorado. Very peaceful, very quiet. Bird and I played college basketball together (Bird scored 32 points a game his senior year and was an All-American and later played professionally in France) and the two of us actually traveled together to Afghanistan in 1974. Bird resents me for writing him out of Tony's and my book -- but Bird had vomited all night prior to the morning I walked off into the high desert and had my epiphany, and besides, it's my and Tony's book. Bird and I told our same old polished stories, and Bird (for the last 15 years a 4th grade teacher in Hope, Idaho) and Tony got along rather famously, as did Tony and Bird's teaching colleague, Jill, who was in the area to take some courses. Tony and Jill played guitars together, and I've sworn that I'm going to have to learn how -- they sounded so great together -- and I felt left out of the fun.

This morning Tony and I drove down to Littleton, the suburb of Denver made famous by the Columbine killings. On the way, atop Loveland Pass, Tony dug into a snowbank with his bare hands, the first snow of his life. "Is very cold," he said. "I thought it would be hard. But it is very soft. And very cold." We went to the house of Brad Gillings, a man who has trekked with Tony in Banaue, and while I was double parked out front to ring the bell an unmarked police car pulled up behind our cab. A detective flashed his badge, said he was not just a detective but also the head of the Denver taxicab detail, demanded my paperwork, said he knew all the cabs in Denver and he didn't recognize the name Service! Taxi. What the hell was going on?

Well, I said, I'm driving from San Francisco to Washington D.C. with a passenger -- see that man over on the doorstep? -- and I've got a newspaper article in the trunk about our trip, let me get you a copy please... "Forget it. Just move the darn cab..."

We had Chinese food with Brad Gillings (he runs an organization named Youth International and is sending 16 people to trek with Tony in September), then headed for my gracious sister Nancy's house in Littleton. 35-40 people came over to devour a mountain of food, and to get a peek and a handshake and a gracious word from the star of the evening and to hear me babble about the BBC and the Philippine Embassy and... Tony is starting to take these little gatherings with a growing sense of ease. He is such a sport and he has made fans everywhere. Imagine if you were to put your life into the hands of a near-complete stranger halfway around the world and just go with the flow of whatever that stranger suggested. I truly do not know a person in the world I think capable of handling this amazing situation with the aplomb and spirit that Tony has shown -- and I've gone through the mental checklist of everyone I know, including probably you. I certainly could not do it. We don't know what happens in our lives when Tony gets back on the plane in 12 short days, but I do know I've got a friend for life.

People at the party tonight were not only wonderful to Tony, they were generous. We now have only 80 books left to sell (and who knows what sort of mail I've received in the PO Box back in Oakland -- see the heading titled "Participate/Buy Book" on this web site -- and the Embassy people have apparently been reading this web site, as they asked me to bring some books along on July 3). And James and Julie St. John brought a beautiful Seiko watch that took Tony's breath away when he opened the gift box.

Before I go I must mention Tim Richardson (and my niece Ashley who has let me borrow her computer). Tim is a clerk at the One Hour Photo department at the local Rite Aid. Tony and I left 4 rolls of Tony's film there this afternoon. When I looked at my watch as this evening's party was winding down it was 9 pm. Rite Aid closes at 9 pm. James and Julie St. John jumped in the taxicab while Tony stayed to shmooze with my sister and the other guests, and we drove the 10 minutes to Rite Aid. The store was closed and locked, but I jumped up on a trash can outside and rapped my keys on a high window near the office and darned if Tim Richardson didn't come out to the front door, take my money, bring back Tony's pictures, and steadfastly refuse the $20 tip I offered him. If he hadn't helped us, as so many have helped us along the way... well, we'd have had to stay here tomorrow until Rite Aid opens at 9 a.m. As it is, we're planning to jump up at dawn and speed toward Kansas City, St. Louis, NYC, and by next Tuesday evening, the Philippine Embassy in DC. We're doing it for mankind, of course.

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