This is a pilgrimage of a different kind.
The sanctuary is different: it is in the mind of a writer struggling to survive.
The shrine is not a Black Stone or a Magnificent Bassilica made out of slave labor or polo from some colonized who did not have to be baptized in the first place except that the need to baptize them in the name of a white god was in the tortured mind of missionaries who did not have any idea of what hell looked like when inflicted upon others peoples of other lands.
The journey began in a poor writer's heart trying to understand many things that overwhelm him all the time.
I confess: I am that writer.
I thought that there is only one thing that will deliver me from all the torment's of a migrant's life: take this trip to the heartland of America, the heartland that still has the beat and pulse of life the cities have robbed, hostaged, shanghaied, kidnapped, or put on the e-bay for ransom.
I take the first steps of this journey.
I call up Amtrak, but my rewards could not be found.
Sorry no trace, says the email, no trace if you cannot give us the number.
The card was stolen, I tell in an impatient immigrant's anger, more to myself now. It is in the police blotter of Long Beach, this stealing of my checks and cards and identity. A police detective found this out. I am a victim here so why should I bear the consequence?
But no sweat, no, no number, no rewards.
So this is what high-technoligized life is all about: you and everyone one else is reduced to a number.
Anywhere else here in the United States, you are a number: you social security, your last four digits that you need to memorize, your zip code, your visa account number, the number to call when you pay your debts (and you have many in this plasticized life).
So I call up Greyhound, the bus company with the leaping dog for a logo.
Well, call that a capitalist's icon to suggest a service that leaps, hopefully, to the right direction.
That is the tacit text of a promised made to all clients: Bastante bueno nunca es sufficiente.
Give me that route that goes all the way to the land of slaves in the past.
Be clear, sir, says the imaginary clerk.
I say: I want the longest trip to Williamsburg. I need to be there by Sunday, June 25.
You go all the way to Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and then to Virginia.
That is all? I ask. I want more.
There is a longer route but you cannot hit Williamsburg on Sunday. You go to Alabama and others.
No, that will do for now, I say. Put me in on your bus on Thursday afternoon then.
Okey, just come in earlier to get your 'will-call ticket'.
What is that?
Your 'will call ticket', sir. This is what we term for all tickets bought on the phone.
So the pilgrimage begins.
First the packing.
Travel light, travel light, I remind myself.
The books to be read, priority.
The field journal notebooks, priority.
The writing pens, priority.
The suits to fight the cold in the East Coast, you bet you need to fight off the cold in those parts. The climate here is cranky, a friend writes. Be prepared.
I take off the thermal, I folded five long-sleeved cotton shirts for the night wear after a long day's work at a government office.
Semi-formal office wear, well, do not be like your son who goes to an interview for a teaching job in a government-run university wearing nothing semi-formal but his self-confidence and his knowledge of the subject matter he would have to talk about.
Take those you can carry, for five days, spray all the Magic you can to stiffen the collar and the sleeves, and iron, iron, iron, man!
The ritual ends with a prayer that the trip will give you insight on what is it to be a pilgrim of another land.
You are a pilgrim of life, that you know well.
Peregrines, one saint has said. Peregrinos todos, pilgrims all.
But this trip is a pilgrimage of faith as well: faith in what the future offers to countries other than your own.
Let us see, I tell myself.
This I write on my field journal to account the subject, which is me, positioning myself in all these experiences that need to be accounted in the field journal. I am pretending I am another ethnographer of the better kind.
I put my bags on the back of a truck and to the Greyhound I go, the one on the 7th and Alameda in the south of Downtown.
I smile the smile of the just, a struggling writer, but just.
Or so I can take that as a virtue I can call my own.
A. S. Agcaoili
Los Angeles, CA
June 22, 2006