The Journey to the Heart of America

The journey took me four days, literally.

I took the Greyhound 7176 to Williamsburg, Virginia, site of many of the wars the United States had to wage before it became the nation that it is now, a nation among nations.

Virginia was also one place that had troubles with the history of slavery and then the eventual, unconditional munimission of all that which is connected to this dark history of a democratic country: from thought to practice, from idea to deed.

From Los Angeles, where there is also that sense of the colonial experience with basically the Spanish missionaries, the East Coast, the first 13 states of the U.S. in particular, share a different experience. Virginia is one of the first 13. But this is another story.

This bus trip is a dream long held, kept in my heart.

A long time ago, I had dreamed of going vagabond into the heart of the United States of America, of going the way of the participant observer and observant participant in the attempt to learn something, just something, to be jolted by realities that you do no get in your sanitized and deodorized notion of things in this country's big cities.

For in my more than three years of im/migrant life here, I have been spoiled and bastardized by the big cities--and delighted and terrorized by them as well.

But each time I go to the rural America, the heart of America, to Fresno or Stockton, for instance, there is that image of America that is evoked in me, an image not in the books, not in the glossy pages of touristy publications.

It is an image with the terror and surprise that I want to discover and then to write about.

I am looking for that reality of the image behind the 'good looks' and 'eternal youth' of Hollywood and the obsession of California for that which is beautiful on the outside, in the external--one for public relations and global consumption.

So here I am, queueing up to get my bus ticket so I could take that dreamed-of bus ride to as many states as I can cover from the fringes of the Pacific to the fringes of the Atlantic.

I understand that in the summer which this year officially began on June 21, the waters of the Atlantic in the side of the East Coast, for instance, are warmer than those of the fancy beaches of Malibu or Huntington Beach or Manhattan Beach.

I take the plunge--and I take in all: the experience and its promise, the sacrifice that this whole thing entails, justifying all these irrational acts as a writer's quirky habit of finding something to write about.

I imagine the cost it entails in terms of the tolerance and patience and prayer that I would arm myself with.

I imagine the sleepless four nights that I have to put in as my investment to have something to write about.

I imagine my teacher Bien Lumbera's apt phrase--"anong gusto mong patunayan, na ikaw ay isang protipong lagalag na Ilokano"--is also mine apart from all those who have done the same thing that I am doing now.

Carlos Bulosan did, this gallivanting, this senseless wandering, this venturing into the unknown at whatever cost.

Except that Bulosan came up with a memorable story of his experience in "America is in the Heart" and that I have yet to dream about my poor imitation.

He is a good storyteller, this Bulosan, a.k.a. Allos and I only wished I could get some of his art's spark.

Oh, boy, four days, technically.

I left Los Angeles on a Thursday, June 22.

On a rainy and sunny Sunday, June 25, here I am in Virginia.

I am in Williamsburg now, in the same city where we have the West Point.

Did former President Fidel V. Ramos ever come this place in Richmond Road where I am staying? Did he eat in these restaurants offering all these country menus?

I will have to find out.

In the meantime, I am taking my first bath since Thursday, a long hot bath on a good and clean bath tub to remove all the guilt and grime of travelling with no sleep, with a calculated ingestion of food, with endless writing on my field notebook even at the cost of calling all the nights that I was on the road as days as well.

I take all in, this experience that pampers my poor and struggling writer's soul and heart.

A. S. Agcaoili
Williamsburg, VA
June 25, 2006

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