St. Louis, Missouri ($14,650.50 on the meter)
For the last year or so of this project it seems that events keep leading to a peak -- some exciting, often mind-blowing state of mind -- and then they plateau at what seems to be this book's/trip's final emotional destination. And then of course something comes along that blows everything else out of the water.
Two days ago I asked if anyone knew of a Seventh Day Adventist missionary named Mark who was married to a woman named Anne and was in the Philippines in 1988. Mark was the man who drove Tony to Manila the night he was savagely attacked in the dark and left for dead -- a "mess" -- at the side of the road for 15 minutes until a bystander noticed that Tony seemed to be sort of breathing. Other bystanders notified Tony's wife, Rita. Rita went to Mark, who had been on a trek with Tony -- the same trek I made with Tony in the book. Mark got Tony to the local clinic where literally nothing was done for him, and then Mark loaded Tony into the back of his pickup truck and drove all night to the hospital in Manila, where Tony's eye was removed. It was six months later that I met Tony in Banaue and over the years and the last three weeks I have pieced together the above details of the story, and I think, but am not positive, that I have them more or less right.
However, about the following facts I'm absolutely certain:
-- Trudy Marin is the woman who called last year to offer a free eye exam for Tony when he arrived in America. It was at the end of that eye exam (on day 4 of Tony's visit) that Dr. John McNamara suggested that Tony could get a new prosthetic eye. When I heard the $1700 price quoted and nodded the go-ahead, Trudy said, "I could help." The next day's mail brought a $200 check from her.
-- Late last night Trudy called my cell phone and said she had been raised a Seventh Day Adventist and knew the tangles of the Adventist grapevine and thought she had located the sought-after missionary, Mark Scalzi, in southwestern Michigan. She gave me a phone number.
-- This morning, before Tony and I got into the cab in Kansas City, I called that phone number and reached a dead end -- no one had heard of Mark Scalzi.
-- On the freeway I called Trudy back and asked her to do some more digging around. I told her I was willing to drive to Southwest Michigan if that's where Mr. Sclazi was, but could she please make sure?
-- Later, while Tony was napping beside me, Trudy called back: "Don't go to Michigan. He's in Moscow, Idaho. I talked to him."
Twenty minutes from St. Louis Tony and I called Mark Scalzi on the cell phone. I told him briefly who I was and then put Tony on the line and they talked for 20 minutes or so. I drove with a liquid, spongy feeling from my chest down to my toes, eavesdropping as they caught up on everything and everyone in Banaue. They had not seen or talked to each other in nine years and Tony had lost complete track of Mark. Toward the end of their chat, Tony said: "Mark, I want to thank you for what you did for me after the accident. I owe you for my life."
Later Tony said that Mark had replied, in effect, "You owe God for your life."
Tony and I have both been overwhelmed in every sense by the last twenty-one days. We have seen, heard, felt, thought more things than seem possible, and I believe that our minds have stopped processing, have clicked over into a mode labeled simply, "Absorb now, think later." I have no idea what I'm going to make of all this when Tony goes home a week from this coming Sunday. I do know that cruising down I-70 at 70 miles an hour and hearing their conversation was an awful lot to absorb.
When they were done talking I asked Mark if his schedule was free on the night of Saturday, July 7. He said he thought it was. I told him that Tony and I are having a bonfire on the beach in San Francisco that night, Tony's last night in America. I told him I would do my best to scrounge up some free airplane tickets to San Francisco for him and Anne. If I can do it, can they come? Mark said he'd love to and that he'd have to talk to Anne when she came home from work. I said I'd have to put my thinking cap on. Any thoughts, anyone?
Three minutes after the call ended we pulled into the driveway of the St. Louis home of my old friend Jennifer Hamlin (her first husband Blake Rodman was the best man at my wedding to Rhonda) and Lark Rodman (Jennifer and Blake's smashing 17-year old daughter) and Jim Pona (Jennifer's gem of a second husband). (Does it take something like this trip with Tony to make one notice how incredible all the people in one's life are? Well, it has recently become blatantly obvious that I am indeed surrounded by saints and geniuses, all of them drop dead gorgeous...) Margie Hamlin (Jennifer's mom, Lark's grandmother, and perhaps the most well-traveled person I know -- she and her husband Hank, both around 80 years old, are off to the Himalayas for the umpteenth time this fall, leaders of a tour!) jumped into the cab with all of us and we six headed right to the St. Louis Arch, towering over the Mississippi and the old courthouse and Busch Stadium where Mark McGwire smacked all those home runs a couple of summers back. By the time we'd ridden to the top, then back down, and had returned to the house for a barbecue I think everyone was running off the adrenaline high Tony and I had scored from the phone call with Mark Scalzi. Hank Hamlin and Jim's son Kevin joined us for an old fashioned barbecue on a balmy, firefly evening -- classic Midwest Americana.
-- Often I have the idea that Tony and I are just a couple of pals driving around, sampling restaurants, visiting friends. We seem like peers. I find myself thinking: We're no different. Then I try to imagine what he's thinking over there on the passenger side, with the meter whipping off 40 cents every 10 seconds or so, and I just can't even get my brain around it. In 10 days he's going back to a wife and five kids in the mountains of North Luzon. That's hard to absorb.
-- Why is gas $2 a gallon in California and $1.24 from Kansas all the way through Missouri?
-- Who is going to buy the 78 books we have left? Who is going to cough up a Mikita circular saw?
-- Tony says he had a haircut just before he left Banaue. The haircutter, a friend of Tony's, charged him 50 pesos instead of the usual 20. I asked Tony why. Tony said, "He say, 'I hear you are going to America!'" I asked: "Did he tell you before or after?" Tony laughed: "After!"
-- Yesterday my friend Mark Giorgi in Berkeley, who has guided me through what are, to me, the impenetrable minefields of email and telephone and computer technology (I send these dispatches to him, he posts them -- I wouldn't have a clue otherwise) set up an email account for Tony, who told me a couple of days ago that there are a couple of internet cafes in Banaue. You can email Tony at firstname.lastname@example.org He would like that. Mark sent Tony his first email, and Tony sent Mark a reply.
-- Big Sur, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, the Rockies. Yesterday, 78 miles east of Denver, after a half hour of silence, with the Kansas border coming at us, Tony looked over at me, puzzled, perhaps a little suspicious: "Is just flat!" he said, almost an accusation.
-- I've been encouraging Tony to become a lodgekeeper in Banaue. He tells me that for $1,500-$2,000 he can transform his house (it has a view that is not exceeded by anything we've seen so far on this trip except perhaps the Grand Canyon) into a four-room guesthouse. He recognizes that many people he has met on this trip and who have met him through 'our' book are going to be coming to Banaue to seek him out. I have told him that I don't know exactly how it will happen, but I will see that he gets that money. He said construction will take two months. You should go visit him. I'll meet you there.
-- I've taken to answering my cell phone with: "Surprise me!"