(We're sitting up in my studio at 4:50 a.m. -- we're professional non-sleepers now --and before we leave for Tony's last round of dental work in Red Bluff this morning I'm going to try a dispatch.)
First a whole list of thank-yous. I feel nothing but gratitude to the world and Life these days:
-- First to my wife Rhonda, the rock in our family, for keeping us going in every sense, for keeping us grounded, not just during the past few weeks, but during the past decade, while I've been flitting around the world and the edges of sanity. And special thanks for the very best thing in my life: Sarah.
-- To Gloria, my wonderful mother-in-law, who has so generously come to play with and care for Sarah while Tony and I have been...well, whatever it is you call what we've been doing. I hope you actually used that massage certificate I left you.
-- Did I mention Jamie Maddox enough? I've mentioned him and his Service! Taxi in every interview I've done, but not once have I seen his name show up in print or heard it on the air. He made this trip extra special -- that cab made us celebrities everywhere we met. At the gas stop in Ohio where we bought Tony's country music tapes the manager came out and told me that he had called the phone number on the side of the cab to tell them that the two guys who had stolen it were sitting in front of his gas station, but had been informed that the story was actually quite different. And yesterday when we stopped at National Airport, Steve Dabrowski, the airport policeman who came over to pretend to hassle us about being in the no-waiting zone, had actually heard us on NPR (on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) ten hours earlier and immediately recognized us because of the cab. "So you're the rice farmer from the Philippines!" he said, leaning down toward Tony's window. Jamie -- you made this trip for us -- your cab was spectacular, smooth, powerful, flawless -- and I hope this act of generosity on your part brings you many blessings.
-- And thank you, Alex, the Service! Taxis driver from Brazil (I think) who flew last night from San Francisco to Washington DC and is probably right this minute strolling around my mother's driveway inspecting the cab or perhaps taking a nap in my bed before he climbs behind the wheel and heads back to SF. I hope your trip is as smooth and fun as our trip east was -- I'm just sorry you won't get meter and a half for it (cab industry inside joke).
-- Mark Giorgi, thank you for faithfully, quickly, posting these dispatches and tinkering with the layout. From the responses I've been getting, I believe at least several hundred people have been following along, and depending on you, as I have depended on you for years now.
-- Lenny Brandreit, thank you for designing and establishing this beautiful web site -- wish I'd taken advantage of your talents much earlier.
-- And did I mention Jamie Maddox enough? Of all the people in the cab industry to whom I issued my plea, you...you the man! What are you -- crazy?
And now on to the dispatch? (Tony is sitting beside me, watching. He just said, "If I were to do this" -- and he pointed at my fingers flying on the keyboard -- "I would be very famous man in Banaue. I would be government employee." I told him that this is a normal skill in America -- no one knows a thing about planting rice or carving wood, but almost everyone takes typing for granted.)
Tony and I were so exhausted by the evening of July 4th that when it started to rain hard in the evening we were actually happy -- we guessed (incorrectly) that the DC fireworks would be canceled and went home and went to bed as the muffled thumps of freelance fireworks exploded in the background. In the morning we went with my sister Nancy and her daughter Ashley to a garden-variety VIP tour of the White House. Two great memories: looking out the back of the White House down the long elegant sweep of green that leads toward the Washington Monument and in the distance the Jefferson Memorial, all of it under a sky scrubbed clean and blue by the night's rain; and then there was the guide's story of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, enemies during their political careers, fast friends afterwards, making a bet as to which of them would outlive the other, and then having them both die on the same day, the 4th of July, 1826 -- fifty years to the day after they both signed the Declaration of Independence.
Anyway, we tore out of the White House toward National Airport where we dropped Nancy and Ashley at the airport and had our day made by the airport policeman, Mr. Dabrowski, and then on toward my mom's home where NPR's "Weekend All Things Considered" was coming to have an interview and lunch with us. The divine producer Tracy Wahl, the silent sound engineer Abdullah, and the flamboyant beauty Lisa Simeone (she even more alluring in person than in voice -- Tony says, "In the Philippines she would be one of our actress....") showed up right on time -- I showed them the cab's meter, ceremonially clicked it into the "time off" position -- bringing the total to $20,644.90. The NPR crew spent a couple of hours with us, talking, taping, eating (I'm sure the interview will be absolutely great, and I believe you can hear it on the show "Weekend All Things Considered" either this Saturday or Sunday, between 5 pm and 6 pm on most NPR stations). I won't give you a blow by blow -- you can listen -- but I will share with you one snatch that probably won't be on the five-to-six-minute segment they tell us to expect.
Tony and I had taken a five-minute break during which he asked me the question he asks me almost every time we are alone after having just met someone. "Does Lisa have family?" This is very important to him, in his culture, I am sure.
"I don't know," I said. "I'll ask." And when we went up to lunch I did ask.
"I am married," Lisa said.
"No," Lisa said. "I have five cats."
Tony said, "I have five kids...and four dogs."
I said, "No cats?"
Tony said, "I don't much like cats. They sheet everywhere."
Lisa laughed it off: "They do that."
My mom drove us to the airport (then went home to overnight me the video camera I'd left on the living room table). Tony and I made our way aboard a United flight that was only 20% full, and took window seats in empty rows. I wrote the following with Tony sitting behind me, looking out the window.
"I've been splattering some (but hardly all) of Tony's innermost thoughts and fears across this screen, and it seems only fair that I share some of my own, uncomfortable as that may be for me -- and maybe for you.
Tony is in the row behind me right now. We're both looking out the window at the Blue Ridge Mountains, farm after farm after forest after forest after little American hamlet after blue highway after clear-cut mountaintop after golf course and cemetery and trailer park and subdivision-in-the-middle-of-nowhere after reservoir after shadow-dappled river valley and hidden marijuana patch and people making love beside cool trout-filled creeks beneath flak-burst clouds that mass toward the horizon into shaving cream dense eruptions that bring Pinatubo and Mt. St. Helen's and Vesuvius and Krakatoa to mind and Dr. Stricker says that I did not get Lyme disease from the recent tick bite -- I have actually been carrying it around for some unknown period of time since some unmemorable tick bite sometime in the last months or years, causing I believe zero dramatic symptoms...although when my wife heard this news and heard that joint pain and nervous system problems are at the top of the list of symptoms she said, "Well, that explains a lot -- you're always complaining about some joint and you're just about the country's worst sleeper..." but I know those things are simply the result of 1) having a body that's aged nearly half a century and 2) my having fallen in love with the wee hours of the morning, when the phone won't ring and no one will knock on my door and the day's events and concerts have all completed themselves and Rhonda and Sarah and most of the world are in bed, asleep, and I know I'm not missing a thing anywhere and I can finally hear -- can hear the voice of my father and his parents and their great-great-great-grandparents, can hear all the way back past Mary Baker Eddy to Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson making his bet with John Adams, even back past them to Buddha and Moses, can even hear back to those first Ifugao who slipped into the mountain provinces of Luzon and dropped that first rice seedling into the first terraced rice paddy...and I wonder today at 30,000 feet about this Lyme development and what it holds for my future and I wonder if Dr. Stricker's prediction that the six-week course of antibiotics upon which I've embarked will in fact drive this sucker out of my life or will some other story unfold? I recall clearly the "deal" I made with Life, with God, on a crystalline day in the Sierras in September 1973. I had not yet been out of North America -- my departure was still a couple of months away -- but I had spent the preceding 16 months since my graduation from college growing as much hair as possible and living to the best of my ability the sex-drugs-rock-and-roll credo of my generation. I had crisscrossed the USA several times already, had inhaled and exhaled so much voluptuous scenery and flesh and herbal and highway fumes that I simply couldn't believe my great good fortune and freedom and I (actually, I just this minute helped Tony get his earphones on to watch "Sweet November" -- the in-flight movie) and I told God that all I asked of Life was that I be able to continue this bizarre and beautiful style of living indefinitely -- please spare me the indignities of a career and family that I'd seen some many of my classmates sentenced to, but just allow me to please continue on a fair number of years seeing new places and sampling new experiences and I would be absolutely satisfied to reach the age of 40, or 50, max, and then, if that was what was necessary to seal this deal, we could pull the plug on my life.... Three months later I was catapulted out of the country in the general direction of the hashish cloud hovering above Afghanistan, my long blond hair trailing behind me like ribbons, and it seemed that me and God, we had a deal going, and I was more than willing to live up to my end of the bargain.
But now, as 50 lies dead ahead, so to speak, I think a contract renegotiation is appropriate. I have stumbled upon work I love and a family that means more to me than all my globe-roaming ever did. And I want my daughter to have a father around, and I want desperately to be around her -- and for her. And around my wife, too, although that's different, and if you're a parent I think you know what I mean. So, Dr. Stricker, let's stay on top of this tick thing, whatever it seems to be.
Descending toward San Francisco International, over our gold-crusted hills, over the ramada of dozens of streaking windsurfers three miles from shore cutting the sparkling bay up into little white lines laid out on a mirror, with the distant downtown high-rises peeking through the fog, I scribbled: "It takes my breath away every time."
Tony and I have a deal: "No more media." He wants these last three days to relax and not worry about making any mistakes. And he's more than earned that.
In the car in Virginia Tony asked me if I was "worried about your disease?" I said I was. I, the cavalier, said, "Let's make a bet as to who lives the longest...."
He laughed, "No-o-o."
I counter-offered, "Let's agree to die on the same day...."
He laughed, "No-o-o."
I said, "Well then let's just agree to mabuhay!" (It's one of the four Tagalog words I know.)
"Yes," he said. "Mabuhay! Live long!"
As Tony and I set off at 6 a.m. for his last round of dental work, driving to Dr. Skiff Peters's office in Red Bluff, through the Central Valley in a non-air-conditioned two-seater 1987 Honda CRX, I think: Did I thank Jamie Maddox of Service! Taxis enough?