The bus ride back to Los Angeles was another pilgrimage, no less.
You count the hours, and you be kind to yourself.
You leave Williamsburg on a Saturday morning, right after the heavy rains and floods in the East Coast have gone away to hide in some other seas and lands and oceans for awhile, and you arrive in Los Angeles on the dawn of a Tuesday morning on that same day these Americanos are calling it a day because that Tuesday is the memorial of their freedom, their independence, their democractic rights, their birth as a nation, a people who know how to be one.
You count your fingers, and you realize that you have spent four days on the road, plus or minus.
It is not the arithmetic of the fingers that matters at this time.
It is the spirit of the four days of witnessing what America is like beyond the billboards, the ads, the political rhetoric about what is wrong and what is right, about what makes a nation a nation and what destroys it, about what to do with the war on terror, about what to do with this centuries of freedom gained from the motherland, the England of an empire and power and colonization-oriented supremacy all over the world, about what to do with the dollar in order to come to terms with the economic foothold the euro is gaining against it.
Away from those days, you realize the big events: the hour-long layovers to change coaches in Richmond and Dallas, that scary border check in New Mexico, past the Columbus International Border, in the middle of a vast desert with only the heat-stroked cacti and some other sturdy kandaroma-like shrubs for company.
Two of your co-passengers did not make it past the border check.
You were humbled by this incident.
You were reminded, in self-reflection, that the fate of these two men could have been yours.
You tell yourself: You are not yet a citizen so you better watch out when you go past borders.
You tell yourself: as an alien, you are living a liminal life, you are a liminoid, one who is neither here nor there. You laughed the laughter of the scared man, scared of his wits.
One, a man you met in Richmond and who talked to you in Spanish, believing that you came from some country in South America because of your dark looks and your demeanor, like one Hispanic man on the road to freedom, or in the pursuit of one.
Que bus a Dallas, por favor? he asked me, or least that was what I understood he said.
No lo se, senor, I said. Hablo Espanol un poco. I am not Hispanic.
I could have said I am still a Filipino, the word "still" underscored, but he left me to look for other Hispanic-looking passengers in that huge Richmond station.
The man had all the trimmings of a traveler like me: a maleta of all his wordly possessions double the size of my own, a toolbox, another hand-carried big bag.
He had my own skin: the dark skin of the Ilokano man who had known no snow in his youth but just the sun, the sea, the sand.
He must be in his 40s, or so I thought, in those years that a father has to look for some other creative means to send children to college.
The other man is much younger, perhaps in his 20s.
No documents for both. Nothing to show.
They got them off the bus, the border patrols, who were as mean as the desert air, the desert landscape, and the border check itself, with their questioning as if you were in a Gestapo-like cross-examination to ferret out the Gestapo notion of truth and its only brand of truth.
Oh, well, the terrorist succeeded in implanting paranoia in the hearts of the Americans.
But there are border crossings and border crossers as well.
These are ugly truths, the everyday ugly truths.
This is a psychological game of wits and war.
And if the terrorists are working on destroying the fabric of the economy, that is going to be another problem America has to address head-on.
We sped off past the border, past the heat of the check point.
I remembered Martial Law in the Philippines.
I remembered the militarization of the countryside, the hamletting of villages, the Operation Orange in the Cordilleras, the Zinundungan Valley, the Marag Valley, the loss of freedom, the loss of dreams.
I remembered the curfew hours, the ID check, the cedula, the community service for the vagrants.
We gained speed on I-10, as if in a current of motion. I looked at the desert country behind me only to see more of this desert before me that begins in Texas and ends in California, in the Palm Springs.
And then the coach conked, yanked, died, just died.
We were in the middle of the vast desert-land and the engine just died. The heat was more than a hundred and the rising sun was rising and rising and rising.
It took us three hours before the coach from Dallas got to where we were.
And we were in America with all its technological greatness, with its rockets and spaceships to boot, including this penchant to conquer other planets.
Ha, I was thirsty, the children were crying, and the next stop in Deming is hundreds of miles away.
Many passengers were fuming fire: they had to be in other terminals to catch their connecting coaches.
A. S. Agcaoili
Columbus International Border
July 2, 2006