July 4, 2001: Dispatches
by Brad & Tony
On Their Trip Across America

First off, a few people to thank:

-- In 1988 as I was leaving on my trip my old friend Bob Whittlesey, after hearing that I was headed to the Philippines, took me by the shoulders (maybe) and said, "You have to go to Banaue! They have the most incredible rice terraces there!" Rice terraces! Who ever thought one would or should go out of one's way to see rice terraces? But since Bob said it with such forcefulness, and since Bob has been all over the world a few times, I listened. And if I hadn't, Tony would not right this minute be out front of my brother Scott's house taking pictures of Scott using a leaf blower.

At the party at my house on Tony's third day in America, many people asked Tony if he had a business card. Tony didn't. Bob Whittlesey went home and made 500 beautiful, superb business cards -- works of art, really -- and brought them to my house. Tony has passed out about half of them now -- and they've been a staple of our trip.

-- In St. Louis we visited Mary Jo and Jim Nietmann, who are the parents of my friend Bird with whom we stayed in Colorado. They are also the parents of my first wife Beverly, and the parents of three other kids, Nancy (Bob Whittlesey's wife), and Jim, and Marilee -- in no particular order. For a number of years I was such a part of their family that... well, once, when I hitchhiked into St. Louis around 2 a.m. I just snuck into their guest room and fell asleep. In the morning I found most of them standing around the bed, looking at me, smiling, and it was okay...I think. Anyway, this morning, at a party at my mom's house in DC, Marilee and her husband David and their son Scott and Scott's sweetheart Lauren (I hope I got your name right, Lauren) were among the visitors who'd come to meet Tony. David and Marilee asked if their was anything I was hoping to send Tony home with, anything that we needed. I told them that Tony's wife Rita would be delighted by a new pair of hiking boots (she leads treks with Tony at times) and that a couple of their kids were interested in running shoes from America. David said to buy them -- he said to make sure to get good ones --and send him the bill. Blow me away any day, David, Marilee.

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.

We were in New York City 48 hours ago. We spent the morning of July 2 getting a quick tour of the Us Magazine offices from my niece, Amy; then going over to Random House where for half an hour or more Anika Strietfield -- the charming and delightful kid/editor (I think she's 25) of the paperback edition of Take Me With You -- listened to me babble, and to Tony occasionally correct my version of the stories I was telling; and then to Grand Central Station to meet my friend Janet Jensen, who was a reporter colleague of mine 25 years ago at the Sandpoint Daily Bee, in Sandpoint, Idaho.

It was a spectacular day in NYC -- a rare 70-degree July day with blue skies -- an SF day! We rode the subway to the Staten Island Ferry, past the Statue of Liberty, and back. After an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet -- Tony's favorite-- we headed in the taxi back through the Midtown Tunnel. Tony and I were discussing our impending visit to the Philippine Embassy in Washington when I made an unconscious, illegal lane change in the middle of the Midtown Tunnel and immediately there were red lights flashing in the rear view. I pulled the cab over as soon as we cleared the tunnel -- as instructed via the police-car loudspeaker. The police officer demanded my license and registration and gave funny looks to the cab.

"I'm sorry about that lane change. I wasn't thinking. I'm from San Francisco, California, and if you've got it in you to give an out-of-towner a break, I'd really appreciate that."

He took my papers, stepped back, spoke into his walkie-talkie: "Richie, could ya come ova to lane 2. Got something for ya."

While Richie was on his way, the police officer asked me: "Ya really drive this ting all da way from California?"

I handed him a newspaper article. And when Richie arrived I gave one to Richie. Richie and the first officer spread them on the trunk of the car and I watched them reading them in the rear-view mirror. They brought them around to Tony's window and held them up in front of their eyes to compare the photographs in the article with the faces in the passenger seat and behind the wheel. When they said they were going to give us a break, and after they'd marveled at the nearly $18,000 on the meter, I asked if I could take their video.

Richie said it was, unfortunately, against regulations. The other officer (I didn't get his name) said, "The heck wid dat. You could take moy video."

Unfortunately the video camera didn't work at that particular moment (I do, however, have about 20 hours of absolutely priceless video -- but I wish I'd had those two of New York's finest in the collection).

Back to George's, and while I napped Tony showed George the "correct" way to prepare rice. We packed. We drove through that spotless New York afternoon toward DC, arriving around midnight. Along the way the invitation to the Embassy hung over us like a cloud. Tony really would have rather not had it there.

We arrived at my Mom's home around midnight. My sister Nancy and her daughter Ashley had flown in from Denver (we saw them there just a few days earlier) and now we all fought for beds in the house. Tony got the booby prize, the worst mattress apparently, and now to go with his sleep deprivation he has a tweaked back muscle. He steadfastly refuses nighttime muscle relaxants or the other sleep aids that have kept me from dropping like a bomb on this trip.

Gamely, bad back and all, Tony staggered through a visit with me to the DC Mall, the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. Then a great tandoori chicken lunch in Belle View, VA. On the way back to Mom's house we talked by phone one last time to the press secretary at the embassy, Patricia Paez, who did her best to assure Tony that it would all be very cool, very casual, very low key, and, yes, no damned TV. We showered at Mom's. I have never been so much myself as I have been on this trip. I wore Teva sandals, a green polo shirt, and tan L.L. Bean jeans. I might have been going for a cab shift, and indeed I was going IN a cab -- with my cab driver's badge pinned to my shirt. Tony wore his cowboy hat.

At 6:30 we pulled through the gates of the embassy at 1601 Massachusetts -- half a mile from the White House on Embassy Row. My mom, my sister and Ashley, my brother Scott and his wife Chris and their 8-year-old Katie, me, and the star of the evening -- Tony. We were immediately besieged by reporters and love and food and laughter and disbelief and people wanting to see the meter on the cab and the odometer and a Washington, DC cab driver -- "They call me Big Josh" -- pulled into the driveway just to see what was up and although we'd been told that the event would last an hour, and "hour and a half maximum" we didn't even really get hot until about an hour and a half into it when Tony got up on the stage by himself -- after handling with grace and good humor and tact and interest and respect every single reporter (from every important Filipino newspaper or magazine) and every diplomat and every one of my family members and every one of the several DC locals who had immigrated from the mountain region of Luzon and had made their way to the reception -- and after those Filipinos had started a traditional dance with gongs and had coaxed Tony and then me to join in...well, that's when Tony (with my brother Scott at the video camera) shooed us all off the stage and showed us what a real Ifugao dance is like. For about two minutes. This brother stole the show, made the night, broke the hearts of everyone in attendance. We were still as ice, quiet as ants...one of those things you just can't believe you're seeing -- like Cirque du Soleil!

The ambassador, Ariel Abadilla, and his entire staff went out of their way to make us all absolutely comfortable. Later on the way home, Tony, emotional, told me that when he'd asked the ambassador how he, Tony, should address him, Ariel said, "Please do not call me 'Ambassador,' please do not call me 'sir,' please call me by my name." And we did. We might have just called him 'Brother,' because that's how we were treated.

It was a much more raucous ride home than the ride in had been. My mother said it was the highlight of her life.

Tony and I sat on the pavement of the driveway in front of Mom's house talking on the cell phone for an hour and fifteen minutes to Rita, to a reporter for the Philippine News, and to Fortune/Asia. I think Tony has forgiven me for dragging his ass to the embassy.

This morning 50 people showed up at 9:30 at my mother's house. Mr. Thomas Pickering -- the number two man in the State Department throughout the Clinton administration, and without whom Tony's visa would never have happened -- strolled up from down the street. We chatted like old pals. Me, Tony, Mr. Pickering. Former US ambassador to the UN, to Israel, Russia, Jordan, India, Canada (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called this afternoon for an interview [click here to listen to Brad's seven-minute CBC interview, in RealAudio] and remembered Mr. Pickering quite fondly, as has everyone I've ever mentioned his name to) and two other countries that elude me now. I'm just speechless. Tony has to be reeling also. This unbelievable story is starting to seem like simple reality to us -- but when we tell it to others we see their jaws loosening and it comes home to us.

As I've traveled across the country visiting friends of mine, it has occurred to me that if I were to show up in my normal life we would talk with each other about our problems. I have heard no one's problems on this trip. They have all just been delighted to hear about our adventure, have all been eager to help, have all been their very best selves, have all seemed relieved to have something so out of the ordinary drop into their lives, to have a rice farmer from high in the mountains of the Philippines and a cab driver from San Francisco (during this morning's party the meter clicked past $20,000) sitting in their homes.

I'm incredulous.

And maybe next time I'll get around to the blood test report from Dr. Stricker.

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