66. Sing to John Enway.
The night before the pastor had given no indication, if he was going to return or offer any assistance beyond this point. During my early morning prayer session I was made aware that I would not see him again. Why I was being rejected, as it were, only came to me much later, after returning to Australia. For the moment I had plenty of time to contemplate why and where to next.
I checked out late and enjoyed a free coffee in the foyer. Should I return to the mega-church I had been the day before and knock again on their door? No, I was not comfortable with this thought. I flicked through a magazine to pass the time. Would I be picked up by someone? Across the foyer area I saw a large sheet of paper scattered on the floor. I picked it up, but did not throw it in the bin. On it was printed in large letters the words Santa Ana. Will it mean anything later?
My taxi driver Sing had given me his business card the day before. It stated specifically that he does not service John Wayne Airport. I liked the word Wayne, twisting it into ‘en way’ just to be playful. But why did Sing mention on his business card that he does not service that airport? I ordered a cab and asked specifically for cab 31. Sing was from India, I found out, his wife was coming shortly to join him in the US after 13 years separation.
My intention was to be dropped at the Hof Restaurant for some lunch. But I changed my mind and asked Sing to drop me at John Wayne airport. I felt that the cool reception from LA churches meant that I ought to fly out of California to somewhere else; but how? Contrary to the info on his business card, he agreed to take me to John Wayne Airport. The taxi fare was exactly the amount of money I had left in my pocket, bar two dimes to make a phone call. I joined the United Airlines queue. It was a very slow one and I had a chance to talk to a few people. One lady in a red costume listened attentively, as I told her where I was from etc. When I found out she was a Christian I told her that I was looking to fly out from here, but had no idea where to and what with?
She said she worked for Campus Crusade for Christ, a huge international organization for Christian University students. Her boss was not well to take a trip scheduled for the next day. She was returning the tickets for a refund. My little brain started thinking: Perhaps these are my tickets to fly away to another place. I didn’t really care where it would lead to, as long as I would be away from LA and feeling safe. But the lady did not offer any tickets to me. My answer was a different one that day.
Once again I spotted a person that looked very familiar. The man in his mid sixties, his snow white hair and peaceful looking face was a split image of my psychiatrist, whom I had seen regularly for two years previous. I knew it was not him, but still marvelled at the resemblance. His name was Downey.
An airline employee walked towards the long queue of potential travellers. She said that one must obtain a booking (buy a ticket) before joining the queue. I knew this included me; I had no ticket, just faith that it would all work out OK. I knew I was wasting my time here, in the wrong queue. Since I had no cash I decided to try to obtain some more money from the ATM downstairs. As I put my card into the slot, worrying again about Isobel, I noticed that the previous customer had left his printout in the slot. I took it and read it - Downey Bank - was all I took note of. “How strange, I must visit that bank!” I thought.
There was only a small amount in the account. I withdrew 40 dollars and bought a hot dog and a drink. I had not eaten anything since arriving in the US 30 hours earlier. It also paid for the fare to my next destination. I believed I was being led to the Red Roof Inn in Santa Ana, the one written on the piece of paper I’d picked up two hours earlier. It was a very short ride in a Mini Bus, far too short to warrant the 15 dollar fee. My plan was to try to reactivate my Visa Card to obtain credit. Perhaps the Downey Bank would assist me doing this? The receptionist at the Red Roof Inn offered to look after my luggage, so I find it easier walking to the Bank. It turned into a long and eventful walk.
The name of the road was E.Dyer Ave. Was this a bad omen? In the back of my mind I was still unsure if I was safe walking the streets alone. It took almost an hour to get to Albertson shopping centre where the Bank was located. I enjoyed the weather and the opportunity for the exercise. Outside some business premises I saw a large piece of plastic littering the nature strip. I had already walked past, but felt compelled to turn back to pick it up, which I did. I stuck my head through the door of the upholstery place and asked: “I picked this up, where can I drop it?” A perplexed, young man directed me to a large bin behind the building.
This little interlude drew my attention to a car parked opposite. I crossed the road and gazed with glee at the well kept 1968 Mercedes Benz with a for sale sign in the window. In my youth this model was the car of my dreams. For a few moments seeing the car I toyed with the idea of buying an old bomb and driving it around the country. But I would not feel safe and I was not a tourist. A car, especially this car, was out of the question.
A little further on balloons attracted my attention to a small fast food place. I was thirsty so I entered and purchased a soft drink. As I sat down on a table in the corner by the window, I noticed a full glass of water placed there. It reminded me that it was exactly 24 hours that I was asking for a glass of water, but never received one.
The bank staff at the Downey Bank could not help me at all. I phoned the Australian emergency number and after much negotiation had a thousand Australian Dollars transferred. At least my immediate needs would now be met.
Back at the Red Roof Inn, I paid for one night and phoned Isobel. She never received the important message that I was not going to arrive on the plane from Melbourne. Did my relatives in Sydney not take me seriously? Isobel even had me reported as a missing person! She must have been frightened. I explained to Isobel that I purposely did not phone before leaving, because I feared she would have me arrested, if that was possible. Speaking to Isobel filled me with enormous doubts and shook my confidence to the core.
Between praying and contemplating my next move, I watched the latest developments in the Iraqi war on CNN News. I had boldly declared to the lady in the queue at John Wayne airport that the war would be over in a couple of days. During one prayer session I pictured US troops moving freely around the centre of Baghdad. This is why I was so optimistic about the outcome of the war. Now the allied tanks were rolling towards the Iraqi capitol in a very critical phase of the two week old conflict. I earnestly prayed, along with many millions in the West, that the war would be over with as little bloodshed as possible.
I wrote in my diary quoting Job from the Old Testament: “Though HE will slay me, yet will I trust HIM. HE has not let me down.” I knew God answers sincere prayer.
President Bush delivered a major speech from Camp De Jeune. It sounded almost like a declaration of victory. In the days following, the world would witness a turn of events that was nothing short of a miracle. The bloody battles of Baghdad, street by street, didn’t eventuate. There was little resistance to the occupying forces entering and moving around the centre of the capital, just as I had seen in my dream. Where was the enemy? God has no ‘too hard baskets’.
An item in the CNN TV coverage spoke of the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder changing his mind, saying, he now supports the removal of Saddam Hussein. I could hardly contain my excitement. It reminded me of a brief conversation I had with a lady after the prayer meeting at the Sunkist Baptist Church on my first day in the US. I said, how sad it is for a Head of State (meaning the German Chancellor) to admit he has not made up his mind about the existence of God. (This is what I had been told during my Germany trip 6 months prior).
I told the lady: “I believe God blesses a nation where the leadership acknowledges it’s reliance on almighty God. “In God we trust” does not give assurance of perfection, but at least there is a willingness to back the right horse.”
Looking out my ground floor window at the Red Roof Inn Santa Ana, I looked out into the rear car park. A few times I would spot vehicles and take note of the sign writing. One small van was from the US Beef Co., its driver sitting behind the wheel waiting (and watching?). A large truck parked behind it read: We protect you (or similar, it must have been from a Security firm). My thinking was very clear and I was in total control of my actions. Yet, there was a continuing war going on between my rational mind and the paranoid thoughts after reading such messages. ONE was in control of everything.
In the early afternoon of my second day at Santa Ana, I took a walk to the local shopping centre to buy stamps. Outside the Post Office in Santa Ana I got talking to a black man. He was begging but did not seem genuine. I usually ask people why they want money. When they say – for food, I offer to buy them some. If they go away, they were not genuine. After buying stamps the begging black man was still there, now smoking a cigarette. He took my invitation and we shared a taco at the nearby fast food outlet.
My dairy says: “I am in very good spirits, because God is my refuge and strength”. Considering my circumstances I amazed myself at my calmness so far. Back at the motel I felt increasingly uneasy. Looking out into the car park there always seemed to be vehicles parked with a driver just sitting and watching. This could have been my imagination of course. Real or imagined, it produced mild anxiety, similar to what I had experienced four years ago when I had been manic. I also noted a huge truck parked with a large sign SYSCO on the side. I decided to try and fly out to San Francisco that evening after dark.
But firstly I enquired and booked a flight in the other direction to New Orleans. I asked the reception clerk to make a forward booking for me to the Red Roof Inn in that southern city. If I was correct and being watched, setting a false trail would be a good move. I had noticed a young man, with a punk haircut, milling around the foyer area every time I was enquiring about something. I announced it very clearly, very loudly that I was intending to head south. My sister lived in Alabama. It would make sense that I was heading in that direction.
The cleaning lady wearing a red uniform placed herself outside my room almost all day. I had reasons to believe that the staff was on my team in this bizarre, real-life drama. The receptionist informed me that there was no booking available in New Orleans, but she was able to get me into Baton Rouge. She assured me it was only a couple of miles down the road from New Orleans. I was not that stupid and just smiled. Not only because Baton Rouge is at least 200 kilometres away, but the funny name, which I turned into bat on rogue!
The problem was how to slip away without being seen. The fact that the staff was playing this game with me fuelled my suspicion that I was under surveillance. In the overall picture I imagined there was a trail of corruption from Adelaide directly to Los Angeles. This is why I felt unsafe and wanted to leave this city under cover.
A thought how to leave unseen came, when I borrowed the phone book from reception. Just at that time a pizza was delivered to a motel client. Yes, why not? Order a pizza and ask the driver to make a little detour with you to the airport, a perfect camouflage! I asked for a brochure of the Pizza place.
How assuring it was to see the allied forces slowly gaining control of Iraq. The news always portrayed the exploits of British and US forces. I rang the Los Angeles Times newspaper. I said I was an Australian visiting the US and pointed out that Australian troops are also active in battle. Not one Australian soldier had been killed or injured thus far. The reporter politely took note of my comments without further discussion.
The time was nearly 5 pm, time to order my escape-pizza. I was not fond of pizza and my sneaky plan changed with one glance through the curtain of the motel window. Right at the far corner of the car park was an ambulance with the 5 letters LYNCH painted big on the side. I did not know that Lynch was a district nearby. I associated the name with a young female sergeant, Jessica Lynch, who had been rescued from Iraqi captivity under dramatic circumstances shortly before. (Jessica to me read – I see a Jess = Jesus. The name Lynch also contained interesting letters). I did not know what to do. So I walked over to my bed to pray; a good tactic in warfare, when you’re at a loss what to do.
No sooner did my knees touch the carpet and my lips say, it’s me, dad, that I jumped to my feet again - the fastest answer to prayer ever. A further glance through the curtain revealed a small silver car. It had stopped right in the line of vision between my window and the Lynch ambulance still parked beyond. All four doors of the car were opened wide. Two elderly people walked around the car as if swapping drivers. How many open doors do I want?
From then on things happened very fast. In two minutes I had finished packing my bags. I walked out into the foyer pretending to feel very ill. The new reception clerk, another nice lady, seemed to catch on quickly. She consulted with the manageress, who without asking many questions dialled 911. Before I knew it, I was interviewed by three or four officers, because not just an ambulance, but what looked like a fire engine, had arrived at the front door. Within minutes I was in the back of the ambulance telling the paramedic how much better I felt. God had answered my prayer and I recovered real quickly.
Isobel had warned me on the phone the day before: “What if you need a doctor or hospital; you’ve got no insurance?”
Is she a prophet or what?
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