Sunday, September 09, 2007

On the road again

MANY YEARS before my pubescent raft sailed along Mark Twain’s Mississippi River with my imagined Huck and Tom... long before Jack Kerouac’s mix of decadent romanticism and wanderlust wisdom inadvertently made road journeys as the young and the restless’ ultimate cool, and William Least Heat-Moon’s “Blue Highways: A Journey into America” and Paul Theroux’s “The Great Railway Bazaar” finally ushered my wings out onto the wide, open, free highway... I have always been fascinated and intrigued with travel.
When I was about nine or ten, while serving a “weekend’s reclusion perpetua” (aka “grounded”) in my grandfather’s library, I chanced upon Italian poet Francesco Petrarca’s (or Petrarch) journals of his mighty ascent of the 6,263 ft Mount Ventoux in 1336. The dude who’s often popularly called as the “father of humanism,” states that he went to the mountaintop for the pleasure of seeing the top of the famous height—making allegorical comparisons between climbing the mountain and his own moral progress in life. The accuracy of his account is open to question (particularly the assertion that he was the first to climb a mountain for pleasure)—but then, who cares, right? At that instance, I wasn’t yet a super-pushy hotshot reporter obsessed with facts than fiction – all I cared about was that whatever I read was one of the earliest known records of taking pleasure in travel, of traveling for the sake of travel and writing about it.
So before I was “officially” called Pasckie, I was called Patrarczky, the ascetic traveller with a humanist fixation. Of course, when I entered high school and chess occupied my fancy, my Geometry tutor, Mr Victor The Hugo, “baptized” me as Spassky—not because I was a sort of a “world champ” myself. He reckoned, my meticulously planned acts of mischief was comparable to Mr Boris Spassky’s “middlegame with highly imaginitive yet usually sound and deeply planned play, which could erupt into tactical aggression.” For a time, I was lovin’ it—Spassky. But when the Russian grandmaster (world’s best at that time) was beaten by Bobby Fischer in 1972, I chucked the nickname.
Anyways, I got no choice—I had to revert back to my original Patrarczky Trip “amidst the Mississippi River on my mind” delusion. I was eleven, 2 months, 4 days old—and about 4 ft, 5 inches “tall”—when I embarked on my first official/”historical” road trip – a 250 kilometers or 155.34 miles bus odyssey from the northernmost mountain city of Baguio (where I spent most of my childhood) to the concrete jungle that was Manila. (OK, I was intent on documenting my travel, so I kept a diary.)
I painstakingly saved up a grand total of seventy-five pesos and 15 centavos—from a month’s school snacktime-spending allowance. (That’s less than $2 on present-day conversion, in case you’re wondering.) I was set to go, allright... The money was all safe and secured six inches deep down my khaki Boy Scout shorts pocket. My knapsack was carefully, methodically stuffed with Jack London’s “Call of the Wild,” two or three Mark Twain paperbacks, ripped up pages of the Petrarch piece, a Radiowealth transistor radio, two notepads, pens, few shirts (including my all-time favorite, my oversized “Who do you think you are, Charlie Brown?” blue-green baseball jersey).
Kids like me—especially the sort of “painfully cute” species that easily passes off as either a defanged leprechaun or well-behaved baby babboon—usually gets ignored by the bus conductor. Passengers below 12 years old get free rides as long as they are accompanied by adults, and they could fit their minute anatomies anywhere but the paid seats... (Y’see, I had it all figured out.) I simply buried my cares on my books and notepad—six or seven hours later of almost non-stop travel over scenic but dangerous hillside roads and dusty highways, I hit Big City Bright Lights at 5 in the afternoon. I jumped in a jeepney (10 centavos for single ride), them jumped out two blocks to our ancestral house in a suburban Quezon City subdivision.
When I showed up at the front door, hell broke loose. “Jesusmaryjoseph! Mother-of-Mercy! How did you get here?!” Yup, my Mom had to be rushed to ER due to severe heart palpitation.
That was thirty-eight years ago this month.
What was the trip all about? Well, I was intent on meeting the Honorable Mayor (of Quezon City) and present him a solicitation letter for funding, meant for a summer “little league” baseball tournament that I was organizing with three of my homeys in the mountain. Nobody in the family circle or village council seemed to take me seriously. But I wasn’t very pleased with the organization of last summer’s league that I vowed to do a better job – provided I got enough money. Apparently, my 75 pesos and 15 centavos was grossly off the mark.
To cut this short, I was able to raise the dough. Nah, it wasn’t because the “honorable” City Mayor signed a check or something—far from that (c’mon, you know better). Rank-and-file employees – clerks, secretaries, bookkeepers, janitors, messengers, security guards – of the Municipal Council (who thought that my little adventure was cute) chipped in money until I earned what I needed (and more), 437.45 pesos (roughly $11 in current money).
So where did Patrarczky, and his “taking pleasure in travel, traveling for the sake of travel and writing about it,” go? Well, that “high” didn’t actually leave my system—truth is, when I pored over The Italiano’s Mount Ventoux hike for the sake of hiking, I also questioned the practical validity of such self-indulgent madness. I thought out loud, “What is the point of a journey if I don’t have a mission that’d inspire it?”
At that point of my (childhood) life, I began to silently protest the wide, disturbing discrepancy between the privileged and the underprivileged. Yes, I did relish the many July and August afternoons that I spent amidst foggy, enthralling rice paddies carved out of mountain shoulders of my ‘hood – with my beloved homeys, tribal kids who seemed to be oblivious and unaffected by what’s going on down in the lowlands. With an altitude of roughly 1500 meters (5100 feet), in a greyish idyll of moist tropical pine forest, bedecked with mossy plants and orchids, the mountain region of my past was The Emerald Garden.
But then, “paradise” could be boring sometimes, right? There were days when I ran out of bonfires to build and stoke, and needed some other gig to while away the hubris, you know.
So one day, I invited almost a dozen of my homeys to watch an intramurals little league baseball game in my grade school. We had a great time, indeed—so that, the following day, we started playing our improvised, pick-up World Series—using guava tree branches as bats, and green mangoes as balls. In no time at all, we all wanted to form our own “little” Oakland A’s—and join the coming Little League Baseball Tournament of the Feast of Santa Lucia. But, alas, we needed 50 pesos as registration fee, and approximately 300 pesos more to pay the village tailor to work on uniforms. I was able to convince the Town Parish to donate bats, balls, and gloves; my Uncle Reggie Jocson (that’s his real name, pronounced “hok-son”) who was a City Councillor purchased shoes and caps. So with the 437.45 pesos that I fundraised in Manila, we still got a few dough to spare for snacks after each game.
The only bad news that greeted me when my Dad drove me back to the mountains was that – I had to serve another “weekend’s reclusion perpetua” in my grandfather’s library – as expected punishment for my “mischief.”
“Back to the library!” my Lolo (“grandpa”) hollered. Like an obedient cadet, I was like, “Yes, Lolo!” Truth to tell, I wasn’t about to complain—I was pumped up to redraft my “travel diary,” and read more of Francesco The Renaissance Dude, plus more travel literature and stuff, this time those from the Chinese – which were mostly written in narrative, prose, essay, and diary style. These included works by Fan Chengda, Xu Xiake, and the one piece that blew me apart – the “Record of Stone Bell Mountain” by the noted poet and statesman Su Shi. This “travel essay” presented a philosophical and moral argument as its central purpose.
By Monday morning—which was supposedly the expiration of my “jail-time”—I was still inside the library. Reading, writing, ruminating, planning -- planning my next road trip, especially after I read John Steinbeck’s “Travels With Charley: In Search of America,” undoubtedly a classic American road book describing the author’s journeys with his dog, Charley.
But it was Gilles le Bouvier, a mid-15th century poet, who sealed my “madness”—he wrote in his “Livre de la description des pays,” the only reason to travel and write: “Because many people of diverse nations and countries delight and take pleasure, as I have done in times past, in seeing the world and things therein, and also because many wish to know without going there, and others wish to see, go, and travel, I have begun this little book.”
Yes, I was sort of successful in my “mission” to raise money for my ball team, but what I saw while on the road—from my observation of co-travellers with their packed lunches of smoked fish and tomatoes, chickens-on-wicker-cages beside them, to the many faces of beautiful humanity waving across cornfields and rice granaries, young men pedalling on improvised bicycle sidecars, to stories that I overheard while on layovers in terminals and cantinas. These became my “real” mission. Tell the world about what I saw and experienced out there. Not really about the scenery, but mostly about the people.
But first, I had to excise enough courage and confidence that I could take the road and come out of it, in one piece—satisfied and happy—and ready to course my next journey.

PEOPLE AND PLACES… As I hit the road, from town to town, city to city—breathless awe and quiet exhilaration overcame me. The blessed gift of experiencing people and places. When we travel, I discovered at that tender age that I wasn’t simply basking in the wonderment of the physical allure of a certain destination. I was, instead, coming face-to-face with the enticing mystery of life—without really being a part of them, yet I was so close. I could feel the intimacy but yet, I was detached. I could “touch” humanity but it couldn’t touch me. I liked it that way—that’s the only way that I could possibly protect myself from unwanted encroachments.
Sadly though, these days, that gift has since left the human spirit or got lost in the dizzying fray of current-day reasons for being. Even before 9/11 dug the Heartland’s paranoia deeper down the pits of disconnect and alienation, we have already consigned our lives inside the claustrophobic “safety” and ready-to-go convenience of utter subservience to anything push-buttoned, mouse-clicked, and “taken cared of.”
These days, I see the young savoring the inspirational hooks of “The Journal of Albion Moonlight,” Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness,” Jack Kerouac’s “Dharma Bums,” or even the more socioculturally incisive “India: A Wounded Civilization” by V.S. Naipaul and “Black Lamb and Grey Falcon” by Rebecca West – but are so scared, adamant, and suspicious of even climbing up a Greyhound to Savannah, Georgia from Charlotte, NC. In fact, “traveling” outside of the “motor box” frightens them so deeply that walking to a dumpster from their triple-locked units within the periphery of an apartment complex is such a hike that they had to drive 25 meters and 7 strides just to take care of the trash.
Everybody seems to be fascinated and mystified about venturing to the Amazon rainforests, or the pitch-dark confines of a Hindu temple in Madras, or a llama ride to Matagalpa, Nicaragua—but what’d happen in case there’s no Kleenex or condoms or mosquito repellants out in the boondocks of Kashmir, and the only way to traverse the heights of Mount Pulog is to wade through a pesky phalanx of thickes and poison ivys?
We do enjoy “Survivor” while we chomp away breaded KFCs or organic pinto beans in an air-conned abode, all doors screened against bugs – but what about doing a J. Maarten Troost road gig, as what he wrote in “The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific” and “Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu”?
What delight and pleasure are left to share the world (as Gilles le Bouvier exhorts), if all that we could document is how fast we negotiated the stairs to the top of the Statue of Liberty, or how awesome it was to watch Barry Bonds hit his record 761st homerun, or what great “smashing fun” we had at a Fort Lauderdale spring-break beach party?
How come current affinity to convenience and comfort have dissolved the inspiration of the travelogues of famous authors who wrote so beautifully about their experiences on the road – Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Hilaire Belloc, Evelyn Waugh, and François de La Boullaye-Le Gouz, whose “Les voyages et observations du sieur de La Boullaye Le gouz” is considered one of the first true travel books.

MEANTIME, what do the “travel experts” say?
September 11th may not have fundamentally changed the American public’s desire to travel, however, it seems that the terrorist attacks combined with the slow economy has changed the ways in which people travel, from the shift to local destinations to the desire to vacation with family and friends.
“There is a new spirit of unity in all Americans, and a sense of living your life to the fullest,” said Rick Sandler, President of The Insight Group. With their renewed sense of accord, people are finding coping strategies for traveling, such as flying with their entire family or husbands and wives not flying together without the kids. Similarly, in business travel, some employees have limited their business travel to one trip per month, instead of four, according to Sandler.
“The American public is putting more emphasis on family and is going out less since September 11th. When they do go out, people are looking for entertainment that provides comfort,” said Sandler.
In a way, I kinda agree with that.
About four years ago, I booked a young Asheville-based rock band at the famous CBGB in Manhattan’s East Village. These “kids,” fresh out of UNCA, even named their band after a famous “road-writer.” I arranged their crash pad in The Bronx and prepared an after-gig party in a restaurant in Queens. Before I left Asheville—I asked the band that when they get to NY in the late afternoon, they should go and meet up with my co-producer on 51st Av afront Radio City Hall, where they’d be handed flyers to be given out to passers by near Bowery and Bleecker near CBs.
No show. They arrived at the club an hour or less – before they climbed up the stage. Reason? They brought their entire family—Moms, Dads, sisters, brothers, girlfriends, boyfriends, hangers-on—in their first-ever road gig in NYC, and spent most of the day touring the museums. For them, it was a family trip.
I was flabbergasted. I could understand the family closeness, but…

A STUDY by Yeaswich, Pepperdine and Brown (YP&B), showed that among the 18% of travelers who said the terrorist attacks would influence their future travel plans, 59% said they are more likely to vacation closer to home, while 45% are more likely to vacation visiting friends and relatives.
Few months after the aforementioned NYC trek, I heard that they had a blast having a gig in Greensboro, where most of them came from. The distance from Asheville to Greensboro is 172.8 miles, compared with 691.4 miles to The Big Apple. Quite far, I reckoned. Of course, you can quickly negotiate that distance if you take the plane. But apart from the current “hassle” on the check-in board, there’s currently an “airport meltdown” that makes flying a double/triple hassle.
According the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 25 percent of airline arrivals and 21 percent of departures were delayed from January to June of this year. With a growing number of passengers and more small jets crowding the skies, things will only get worse. Well, Congress me be flyers’ last hope, says Time. An estimated $22 billion proposal to replace the radar system with satellite communication could find more direct-routes.
Would that finally coax us to travel more places? Or we are just scared to venture out of the safe confines of our community and the super-secured four walls of our houses? We are actually VERY scared of danger that might be lurking somewhere... so we arm ourselves.
According to the Small Arms Survey 2007 by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies, the United States has 90 guns for every 100 citizens, making it the most heavily armed society in the world. Americans own 270 million of the world’s 875 million known firearms.

STARTING Sept 15, I will be hitting the road again as part of the Traveling Bonfires’ “Vagrant Wind Road Journeys 07,” which is nicknamed “The Duane Tour.” While this road saga started thirty-eight years ago on a mission to raise fund for my “Bad News Bears,” and later on evolved into a “road advocacy for global peace” and little fundraise drive to help me finance and network The Indie—this particular summer-to-fall trek is moved by my son’s current hospitalization and, ensuing recovery/therapy needs.
So from Patrarczky’s search for “moral progress,” to Spassky’s “deeply planned play” – from the glowing sunflowers along the wide expanse of Central Luzon’s ricefields bathe on summer sun, to the bloodied foothills of the Cordilleras torn by war, to the many wanderlust incarnations that I imbibed and consumed all through these years… I am on the road again in search of answers while I pose more questions.
The wide, disturbing discrepancy between the privileged and the underprivileged that I saw and experienced amidst foggy, enthralling rice paddies carved out of mountain shoulders in the tiny city of Baguio where I grew up—that spirit still guides me as I hit the road again. My mission to fundraise 437.45 pesos in the lowlands so my poor homeys could play ball with the richer kids of my childhood... remains the same. My son had to face death and survive it with shot of medicines that the privileged could only afford. That’s the story that I’d like to write in my journal, and the story that I share while on the road.
To repeat what Gilles le Bouvier wrote, “Because many people of diverse nations and countries delight and take pleasure, as I have done in times past, in seeing the world and things therein, and also because many wish to know without going there, and others wish to see, go, and travel, I have begun this little book.” There is no other way for me to experience and savor the “moral progress in life” while on the road and after the journey – but to share the world what others haven’t seen or felt or lived through.
Meanwhile, see you when I get there.


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