Odds and Ends:
I slept eight straight hours last night. It was the fourth night in a row I haven't needed a sleeping pill -- and that's a relief. I had feared that my souvenir from this trip would be a sleeping pill habit, but it appears that's not the case. My first thought in the fog of my awakening this morning was, "Is Tony awake yet?" And then I remembered, He's gone! I'm just Brad Newsham again -- time to get Sarah ready for school, time to mow the lawn and do laundry. I've got a taxicab politics meeting this afternoon in San Francisco. I've got to get back to work to pay the $5,900 Visa bill that arrived in yesterday's mail. Kerplunk! Back to reality....
Then again, the American Youth Hostel Association has invited me to address their convention in Chicago in November. Maybe reality will be different for a while yet.
Alex Cotta, the cab driver who flew from San Francisco to Virginia last Friday to retrieve "Tony's and my" taxicab called from Vacaville around 9 o'clock last night, Monday night. He had driven 800 miles for three days in a row and as he left his message on my machine was in the process of putting the finishing touches to a 600-mile day that would bring him back to the Service! Taxis lot in San Francisco. He said he'd had a wonderful, exhausting adventure, and I know the feeling. I'll go into town later today and retrieve the gear I left in the trunk of the cab. I wonder if the case of San Miguel beer that the great folks at the Philippine Embassy gave us as a parting gift is still there. I forgot to tell Alex to help himself, but I hope he did, and I hope there's at least one left.
Received an email from Hank, a stranded motorist we picked up in Missouri on June 27 or so. He said he's been having fun reading these dispatches. Haven't heard from our one hitchhiker, Hans. He said he'd email when he reached Georgia. In 5,300 miles we only saw two hitchhikers -- the other one was at a junction in Colorado and was heading in the wrong direction or we'd have picked him up also. Many of you will remember the good old days of hitchhiking, when a cross-country traveler would see a thousand hitchhikers.
Where'd they all go?
As Tony and I were rushing out of my mom's house in Virginia last week, loading our gear into her car to get to the airport to catch our flight back to San Francisco, and with the crew from All Things Considered trailing us, my neighbor, Charles Bohrer, who worked with my dad at the CIA (as did perhaps ten percent of the neighborhood dads when I was growing up), called over the fence, "Brad! Do you have a moment?"
"Just barely," I said.
"I'll be right back," he said, and disappeared into his house.
The sound engineer Abdullah brought his ever present microphone to record Charles wishing me well, telling me what a good thing it is Tony and I have been doing, and pressing a check from him and his wife Doris into my hand -- "For gas," he said. I thanked Charles and dashed for the car. Later, when I opened the check, expecting it to be another of the $50 checks that have been coming our way lately, I was shocked, and very happy, to see the extra zero. Five hundred dollars! Oh, Charles, what a minute that was!
This trip has brought out the best in everyone we've met. It's made me clear just how deep is the layering of garbage we have atop our true and higher natures. People crave to see, to hear of, to know of, to be part of something out of the ordinary, something with generosity at its core. This, I believe, is because generosity and sharing and something extraordinary are our true natures. We are numbed by the daily march of bad news through our lives -- we've begun to believe it and to fear that bad news is our fate, our nature. Not true. Not true. After this trip, I don't think I'll ever doubt that again.
I've never been a disbeliever in God. But I've never been so consciously aware as I've been on this trip -- moment by moment, miracle by miracle, kindness by kindness, lit-up face by lit-up face -- of God's presence.
What I will miss most: The extraordinary dimension that Tony and I inhabited for a month, where the ordinary laws of economics and etiquette just did not apply, where I could ask for just about anything and be given it, often for free.
Dr. Steven Young, who is making appointments these days for early 2002, gave us an appointment the very day after he heard about Tony's story, and within a week Tony had a new eye. Dr. Skiff Peters did I'm-not-sure-how-many thousands of dollars' worth of dental work for Tony and never once mentioned money. Three days before Tony arrived, Jamie Maddox bought a new cab for his company -- "Service! Taxis" -- and gave me the keys and said "Drive it as far as you want."
But maybe my favorite story of the trip happened at Hearst Castle. Two years ago, at a fundraising raffle for Sarah's preschool, Rhonda and I won passes for a VIP Hearst Castle tour, but we'd never used them. The passes were by now expired and the fine print said that tour reservations must be made at least two days in advance, but I threw them into my luggage when Tony and I left the Bay Area anyway. The next morning we were at Hearst Castle, where the parking lot was full, all the tours were sold out, and our VIP passes were not working. By 10:55 we found ourselves seated across the table from the head ranger, in her office. I told her we really would love to be on the 11 o'clock tour that was leaving in five minutes. I began telling her about our trip and was pulling out a copy of a newspaper article to wow her with when she cut me off.
"Look, I would love to get you in, but we're swamped. It's summer -- you saw the parking lot out there! We're sold out for the next three days. I may be able to get you on the 3 o'clock tour, but I just haven't got any space anywhere else."
I said: "You know, if we can't get on that 11 o'clock tour, we really can't see Hearst Castle. We have to be in Los Angeles tonight."
She said: "Really, I wish I could help you. I can't. We are really swamped."
I said, "You know, this trip has been one miracle after another. Doors have been opening, dominoes have been falling for us. This thing is bigger than me and Tony now. I have no idea what it'll be, but in the next thirty seconds something is going to happen that will get us on that 11 o'clock tour." I actually said something almost exactly like that! I know I said, "thirty seconds." Imagine the cheekiness!
The ranger fixed her mouth into a polite grimace. "I'm glad you're having such a great trip," she said. "It sounds wonderful. The truth is, I am swamped. If I could help you, I would, but I am swamped...." The phone at her elbow rang. "Excuse me," she said, and lifted the receiver. She listened for a few seconds, said, "OK." and hung up. She looked across the table. "I don't know what you guys are doing, but keep it up. We just had two 11 o'clock cancellations. Go get on the bus." She scribbled something on our passes and we were on our way.
I have made bold predictions before, but I've never been so promptly backed up by the universe. I said thirty seconds. This one didn't take fifteen seconds. I came to count on this sort of lubrication when Tony was by my side. And I'm going to miss it. (I just called Jessica who cuts my hair -- she said see can't see me until this afternoon.) I'm also going to miss knowing that you fine people who've been reading these dispatches have gone on to more interesting things. We had our fifteen minutes and then some. I won't be filing too many more of these (unless I change my mind), but I will file one after I talk with Tony on Friday. See you then.
Thanks for coming along with us.
Love, Brad (and Tony)