70. Smart and final - wherever life takes you.
The cheaper price of the room reflected the quality. The shower did not work I found out the next morning. But I had another complaint to make to the management of the motel with the nice name. Surfing the TV with the remote I was suddenly confronted with a vile sex scene. Of course I had a choice to watch it or not, but the damage was done within the second my brain took to decipher the picture. Had my 13-year-old son been with me and seen this one second scene, who knows what seed it would have sown in the mind of an innocent child? A tiny seed can grow into a deadly weed and spread to pollute vast regions. I was sure that piping this kind of program into the motel’s TV channel was illegal and told the reception clerk. How crude our society has become! We have degraded the most beautiful form of communication between and man and a woman into a spectator sport.
During an earlier short stroll I had seen a building on Magnolia Ave. and thought it was a newspaper office. I still had the letter to the media to deliver. When I got there after checking out of the Sands Motel, I found out it was a Credit Union. So I asked about taking out a loan. This was not possible for non-residents, which is what I expected. The girls were very helpful, looking up the LA Times phone number and directed me to the Kaiser Permanente across the street to use the public phone. (Kaiser means ‘Emperor’ in German). I had no clue what this huge building was until I saw the “Urgent Care” sign. For the most part of that morning I sat in the foyer of this huge hospital thinking, waiting and writing my diary.
There were many little things I saw and allowed my mind to play with that I had written 3 1/2 pages before 10 am. (If I reported every detail, this story would be three times its size). I phoned a reporter from the LA Times with the lovely name Wellman, but soon realized I was not getting anywhere. I had reached the stage of asking for help from the US authorities, so I dialled 911. The officer answering took me seriously enough to send out a patrol vehicle. A teenage, coloured boy wearing a basketball hat took a photo of me while I waited for the police.
To make myself better understood I wrote a short note, ready to hand to the police patrol officer. I was basically asking for help, either to receive asylum or to get a safe passage to a German Consulate. (I figured that failing to be heard in the US, authorities from my country of birth would show interest in my case). In the note, I specifically asked to not contact the High Commission for Australia. As the officers and I talked, my hawk eye spied a second patrol car at the end of the street. A further fact caught my eye. The whole street was tree lined. All of them, as far as I could see, had a yellow ribbon tied around the trunk. It was to show support for the troops in Iraq, I was told.
The police officer read my note and spoke on the two-way radio for a long time. I heard none of it. After 10 minutes or so he asked me to wait a little longer; his boss was coming to interview me. Both officers then questioned me for 15 minutes, obviously at a loss what to do with me. They were very courteous and friendly. “Perhaps, ring the FBI”, the senior officer suggested and gave a phone number to contact. I dialled the number. The FBI agent listened to my request and said I could come and talk to them, if I wished. The FBI office was on the other side of Riverside. It took almost 45 minutes on the bus. I entertained myself by talking to a nice, single mother. We talked about life and family, even showed each others pictures of our children.
The bus driver was unsure about the exact location of the FBI office. She directed me to a building on the right hand side of the road. To get to these offices I had to pass a parked bus. It could not be missed, because it was big and red and had Red Cross written all over; it was the kind in which people donated blood. (Don’t they pay to donate blood in some countries?) I entered through the front door and wandered around the corridors of what looked like a computer training firm. A reception clerk finally pointed to a large, modern office complex on the other side of the wide road as the address I was looking for. In the meantime the bus had gone.
Unlike the workplace where I had just been, security here was strict; “empty all the contents of your pockets; leave you luggage here, please walk through this metal detector” etc. The officer interviewing me looked very experienced. He ushered me into an interview room with not a picture on the wall or a paperclip on the desk. He locked his eyes into mine, as if his eyes did the listening. There was not much discussion; he grasped quickly what I had to say, my tale, why I regarded myself as a whistle blower and why I came to the US. After ½ hour or so he concluded that there was nothing he could do, because it was a matter for the Australian authorities. I fully understood and thanked him for his time. It felt good to at least have had a listening ear by someone important.
I caught the number 25 bus back towards downtown Riverside. Through the bus window I could see the large ‘C’ sitting serene on the hillside. It was visible for miles. I was not quite fast enough to get a good shot with my new camera. On the way I checked out the Big L Motel, just because of its name and because it was next to the Church Restaurant. It was too far out of town and for the price it didn’t look like it was good value.
My diary expressed my predicament simply and realistically: “If I run out of cash I’ll be in trouble”. But it immediately changes to a positive statement: “But God is not going to take me so far and dump me, I know, I just can’t see the end yet.”
Despite my optimism I knew I had barely enough money for a cheap motel. I needed another miracle if I was to stay around until my flight home in more than 3 weeks time. Whilst I would not worry about staying in a shelter for the homeless, I could see little benefit in staying around, unless I received a listening ear from the press, the government or the church. I had a few phone numbers of shelters to stay at, but my effort to contact any was again frustrating and fruitless. What was I to do next?
Milling around at the central bus station I contemplated catching the No. 1 bus and getting off at the Baptist University. I phoned their number and asked for Sean Kennedy, the name given to me the day before as the Australian head of the security department. The man I eventually spoke to did not have an Australian accent. It was the usual “we can’t help you", story. I should have known that this avenue for help had closed long before and not have wasted my money on the phone call. I was not bitter in any way towards the University, just perplexed. I walked the short distance to the Greyhound Bus Terminal and sat with my luggage in the ticket hall. Should I just catch a bus to …?
A man in a wheelchair caught my eye. He wore a sports shirt No. 51 and was reading a magazine. I got a glimpse of the headline: “How sweet it is.” I questioned him, if he knew any cheap accommodation. He told me to try the Civic Centre and gave me direction how to get there - cross Mission Inn, turn right into Third Ave. (This road would become legendary for me the next day). I could not see how the Civic Centre could help and it would already have closed. I pulled my little suitcase aimlessly around the bus station precinct, getting slightly anxious as daylight faded.
I felt just like King David must have felt, when he wrote the last verse of Psalm 119. For 175 Verses he sings praises all of God’s wonderful attributes – love, justice, mercy. He desires nothing less that to please this awesome creator of all things. In Verse 141 he declares his humility - I am small and despised. In the final Verse (176) he acknowledges that he is but a lost sheep!
A police vehicle with two officers aboard had been parked nearby for a considerable time. I walked over and asked, if they knew a reasonable, cheap place to stay. One of the police suggested a motel just around the corner, next to the Greyhound Bus depot. I regretted spending again a considerable amount of money, just for a bed for a night, but had little choice and booked in. Watching TV I tuned into an Oprah show. John Travolta was her guest. I only saw the tail end of his appearance, but I seldom saw a man as emotional in front of a TV camera. What a shame I missed the reason for his tears.
The good news again was the continuing TV coverage of the miracle of Baghdad. How I had prayed for a quick end to the conflict! What joy to witness my prayer and that of millions of Christians around the world being answered in front of our eyes, distinctly and specifically.
Across the road was a supermarket. I crossed to buy some food. A coloured woman begged for money. When I asked, if I could get her some food, she requested me to buy her some chicken. I said I could not buy her chicken, but would buy her some bread. As it turned out, fried chicken was on special so I bought 4 pieces, intending to give her two, plus I bought some extra cakes. When I looked for her 20 minutes later she had gone. I ate far too much food that evening and had to throw away some the next morning.
It was Tue 8th April, again a beautiful day in Southern California. I stood for a moment in the parking lot and gauzed over to a small mountain range, bathed in the early morning sun. How I would have loved to take a long walk and climb it! But for some reason I still felt not like a normal tourist, if indeed I ever was a tourist on this mission. I was fighting back thoughts of doubt, plus the concern about finances plagued me increasingly. The best part of my motel experience in the US was, as you may have guessed by now, the war victory in Iraq and the free coffee in the foyer.
(Believe this or not – Exactly at the time of editing at 8.31 am, 1/5/03 I walked past the TVin the lounge room with a cup of coffee - Channel Seven’s Sunrise News showed Donald Rumsfeld addressing the troops inside Bagdad airport: “When people are writing the history books, you’ll be in it!”)
I checked out late, around 11.30 am to find a bank. Two girls directed me to the Wells Fargo (great name); I almost stood outside it already. The ATM slip confirmed what I had feared, Isobel withdrew the cash. All that was left was $ 36. (Isobel pointed out later, that she did not touch the account. I must have miscalculated or forgotten to convert AUS to US dollars). I withdrew $ 20 to at least give me money for drinks or bus fares. That night, I dreaded, I’d be sleeping in a shelter or on the street.
In my pocket I carried a booklet, a comprehensive timetable, issued by the RTA, the Regional Transportation Authority. On the rear cover was an advertisement by the RTA: Who are the unique riders? Patrons were invited to submit an interesting tale about the travellers, the VIP’s, on their buses. I had phoned them that morning from the motel, but only spoke into an answering machine. With nothing to do, I was just strolling along downtown Riverside, when an RTA bus with the number 21 went by. In my typical, impulsive fashion I decided to pay the RTA Headquarters a visit. The same girls that had shown me the bank were still nearby; they told me where to go; it was within walking distance.
From memory, the main road I first took was Orange Ave. then I was to cross Mission Inn and turn right into Third Ave. Now I recognized it as the route the young man in the wheelchair (No. 51 shirt) had described the night before. As I set off, I still had not seen a cloud in the bright Californian sky and would enjoy the relaxing walk. The name Mission Inn, sounded weird, I read as ‘in n mission’. Other names on that walk soon stuck me as both, couldn’t-be-co-incidental and peculiar. A school bus drove by with the name Laidlaw written in large letters. A Liberal Party colleague of mine, the ex-Minister of Transport carried that name.
I tried to catch it in a photo, but was too slow on the trigger. To be sure that nobody in my family would accuse me suffering delusions (or lying because I was ill) I took photos. Olsson was another odd company name; Odd, because Mr. Olson had been Premier at the same time Ms. Laidlaw his transport chief. A good friend from years ago had the habit of calling me old son. A large shed housed the business called “Fix all”. My guess was it’s a mechanical repairs business.
Crossing the road near an intersection two cyclists sat beside their bikes on the lawn opposite. One wore a green shirt. Still walking in the direction a group of small mountains, I read a sign attached to a large industrial complex on 2001 Third Ave. Unit H housed the Iverson Company, so did Unit I. The two signs were identical and looked freshly done.
I looked at the letters H & I and played a little game. They silently said - Hi! So I took a photo of them. Was this a kind of test, a practical joke or was I really, really ill?
Number 2001, 3rd Ave, Riverside, California.
Whatever it was it continued unabated. “Believer’s Faith” another sign just a little further on, before the one that made me think, it’s over soon: the writing on a large shed - Smart & Final. Was this my last day wandering the streets of LA? The circle was closing. The final clue to confirm to my perplexed mind that I was on the right road, Third Ave. was a branch of the company - Sunkist. The same name of the road and Baptist church God had led me to from Melbourne Australia to Anaheim, California, under incredible circumstances.
Because I was in an industrial district, I hardly met any pedestrians. When I spotted a lady nearby in her car I asked her to take a photo of me and the Sunkist sign. If this was all a holy joke, pure co-incident or some organized conspiracy, I did not care. All I knew, the names were real and I believed that this was the road I was to travel on that sunny Tuesday April 8th, 2003. Another few hundred metres further I realized I was close to the RTA Headquarters in Riverside, California because of the fleet of buses parked in a yard. I had walked, pulling along my little black suitcase, for 45 minutes or so.
Surely this is my final destination, I thought! Before entering the single story administration office, I was compelled to have a photo taken of the bus stop right outside the RTA premises. The slogan for the RTA ad on the bus stop could not have been more tailored to this historical moment in my life: “Wherever life takes you”. I asked a waiting passenger to take the shot. If a tree had not been in the way and the distance not been too great, the large ‘C’, the one created of stones, would have showed in the photo.
The young receptionist behind the counter appeared a little puzzled at my arrival. Little wonder; how many travellers from half-way around the world, suitcase in tow, would be walking in unannounced and want to personally tell their VIP bus- traveller’s story to win a competition? The young ladies, I think two or three came out to check me over, took details and then went back into the office area. I sat down and scribbled a few words on paper. It was not so much to win the competition, but I sensed the opportunity to again be able to tell my story. I was naïve and single minded. Perhaps, everyone who took a look at the stranger, wearing a funny (Messenger) hat, wondered about his sanity?
One young girl took a photo copy and handed the original back to me: “The competition finishes in June. You may want to check then if you have won”. I was about to tell her that I had already won and explain… but the competition closed in June. (The RTA booklet did not give a closing date).
This is where life took me on April 8th 2003.
The RTA Bus Company Headquarters,
Slowly the big picture of what this whole pilgrimage was all about crystallized in my mind. The calendar was fast approaching Easter. It took another 12 days before I would realize on Easter Monday April 21, what it was all about.
For now I had learned to follow - wherever life takes you.
Autobiography - Dieter Fischer
1. More in number 2. A sound mind 3. Now I'm found 4. Candle and the Wind
5. Realm of Nature 6. All in his Hand 7. The Wonder of it All 8. To Think God loves