68. Rejected and alone.
Having the motel room paid for made me feel less guilty. It also gave me the first indication that somebody believes in my mission. The news on CNN still covered events in Baghdad around the clock. It was astounding to see US marines playing games with local kids on the side of the road. In my heightened state of awareness I amused myself playing with the names of reporters, e.g. David Bloom or Louise Frechette (Frech means mischievous in German).
The mention of Australia on CNN made me sit up: John Newcombe, the ex-tennis ace had a stroke, plus one headline in a large newspaper read “Endgame”. I had suggested a little competition - guess the endgame in my story, the closest to reality wins (Chapter 54). I let my imagination play with the name Newcombe and considered, if this journey was the start of the endgame?
My means for transport for the next leg of my pilgrimage, for lack of a better word, was parked across my motel room in the parking lot of Days Inn, Riverside. It was a red bus sign-written with one word Westmont. The leader of the group it belonged to stayed right next door of my room, which was No. 206, the same as the one I had occupied at the F1 Motel in Melbourne. I had found out that the bus belonged to a Baptist Baseball team from Westmont College, Santa Barbara.
As I looked out my window at the bus, I could not help replacing the t’s with a cross and the o with an a to create: We s (see) a cross, man on cross. I know this sounds bizarre to others, but my mind automatically played with letters. If this is a kind of madness, so be it. There are worse illnesses that are more harmful.
Beyond the bus, adjacent to a shopping complex, a string of balloons reached straight up into the blue Californian morning sky. I figured it was to promote a sale at a retail store; it was Saturday April 5th 03. The colours of the balloons were red and yellow.
I knocked on the door where the baseball coach stayed and enquired about their travel plans. They were scheduled to play a game at noon that day. I asked if there was room on the bus for me, I’d like to watch them play. He agreed, I‘d be welcome to come along. Was this my ride home?
Amongst the many peculiar incidences surrounding my short stay at the Days Inn, one triviality stayed in my mind. On the morning before my departure I felt like going for a short walk. I strolled around the motel grounds and saw two one cent coins lying on the ground. It looked like they were placed there deliberately, because they lined up parallel to the white painted line. I picked them up but didn’t think much more of it until a little later. The coach of the baseball team opened his door of room 207 as I walked past. As he did he stooped down to pick up a silver coin.
The bus was leaving the motel at 9.45 am. I had already met and talked to a couple of the players, a young man named Daniel and one Alan. I invited him to sit next to me as we prepared for departure. We talked about our families and baseball. He was from Seattle, Washington State, studying in Santa Barbara, about 1 ½ hours drive away. He was hoping to become a sports commentator on radio or TV. Another young man told me, he had lived in Murray Bridge, less than an hour by car from Adelaide, for 12 months when he was 9 years old. This seemed a friendly bunch making me feel very welcome. I found it peculiar that a night in a motel was necessary for the team, when play-off was at noon and Santa Barbara only 90 miles away?
I had no idea where the bus ride would finish at. After only 20 minutes or so, (I expected a longer trip, because the late starting time) we turned into a property on Diana Ave. still in Riverside, which I later learned is a large city within the greater Los Angeles area. Alan told me his team was playing against this University. It was the Cal Baptist University. Yes, I heard correctly, a Baptist University. My astounded mind took it all in; it felt like I was watching a screenplay, except this was for real. All seemed to fall into place. Surely this can’t be a co-incident! I could hardly find a safer place to stay than a University of the same denomination that I attended back in Adelaide. Would a place this huge find a bed for a stranger from Australia?
I sat on the stand and watched as the players unpacked their sporting gear and warmed up. Baseball looked similar to cricket, except the players run in a square instead of to and fro. Watching cricket to a non-player can be laborious. I feared this would be monotonous and considered going for a walk. But my conscience reminded me that I had said, I’d like to watch them play. It was sunny and I worried about my newly shaved head getting sunburned. It felt great, this feeling of security and belonging. Even after my miracle escape from the Red Roof Inn, Santa Ana I struggled a slightly paranoid sensation. How funny, God sending a whole baseball team to “rescue me!” Didn’t I travel with a kid’s baseball team in the plane between Adelaide and Melbourne?
After ½ hour or so I felt prompted (by a fast walking man with a backpack) to move around and take a look at the University grounds. I asked a student as to the location of the main office. The extensive level piece of land, with numerous residential and other buildings, was almost a suburb in itself. At the entrance to the admin block I spoke to a young man, Jason. He was part of the security staff, sitting on a golf buggy. He invited me to take a tour of the extensive property. We chatted about the University’s history and my reasons for visiting. He was frequently talking into his mobile telephone. Not far from the front car park we almost drove into a large swarm of bees. Jason rang and reported the potential danger to his supervisor.
We drove around the two-story residential quarters housing many of the students. Enrolment was 1500 in all, Jason told me. I was sure that during a conversation I overheard the word’s apartment 242. Would this be my home for awhile or did my ear do some wishful hearing? When my guide invited me for a free lunch in the dining room, a great sensation overcame me: this was home. Seeing the happy faces of dozens of young people gave me an incredibly warm feeling. At that moment I thought of Isobel and my boys back home. It was only a week since I had seen them, but it seemed aeons. Overcome by emotion my legs suddenly gave way. I almost fainted and had to grab hold of a chair. Thank God, I regained composure quickly.
Over a snack and a coffee in the huge hall I told Jason the reason I was in the US. I found it difficult to put even the shorter version of my story, into a 10 minute conversation. The co-incidences, the connections I saw, the whole plot were just too complex to explain in a simple, yet credible way. I couldn’t blame him, if Jason thought I am a little “unusual” or worse.
Jason and I patrolled some more of the grounds and I learned more about this well-established learning institution. At the baseball viewing area I asked him to drop me, the big game had started, and to check with administration about my request for a short stay. My spirits were more optimistic than they had been for days.
There were now a few dozen adults, some with umbrellas to provide shade, sitting and watching the baseball match in full swing. After a while I got talking to a couple sitting nor far away. They happened to be Alan’s parents. They had flown especially from Seattle to visit their son for a week. I always enjoyed meeting new people, hear about their lives and find out what makes them tick. I showed them the few photos I carried with me of my family. Alan, I found out, did not have a girlfriend. I jokingly said, as I showed the photo of Michelle, “she is also unattached. She is five years older, but you still welcome to visit us in Australia.”
Jason returned after I had watched an hour of baseball and reading the Time Magazine I had picked up at the motel. His answer was negative, “…but I ought to consider phoning my wife”. I sat there for another hour, learning not only the rules of baseball, but about life itself. My mind was a little confused. The high level of my optimistic spirit nosedived at the disappointing news. Well, there must be a plan B!
At around 3.45 pm I waved a goodbye to whoever would take notice and left the baseball area, pulling along my little suitcase. Jason was right, I ought to ring Isobel. I went to the main admin block to enquire about making a collect (reverse charge) call. Just then a lady entered a door marked Financial Aid Office. The staff member, I call her Ellen, directed me to a public telephone within the premises. It was directly outside a class room. I could see students inside listening to a lecture. After two or three tries to reach an operator, a recorded voice told me to speak up, I was speaking too softly. (I didn’t know a recorded voice can tell you to speak louder). I was already shouting, any louder I would be interrupting the lecture in progress. Wouldn’t they love to hear an argument between a crazy husband and an irate wife?
I knocked on Ellen’s door again to ask, if I could use her phone, since I was calling “collect” (no charge to the University). She denied my request. Was I being rude asking for a favour? I remembered there was another public phone I had spotted earlier. I tried there and within minutes was on the telephone to Isobel in Adelaide, where it was already Sunday morning. As I had expected, she wanted me to come home; she was worried about me. She said, she saw a doctor and was on medication. I should have known better than to tell her that there is a church over here that believes the second coming had taken place and it had to do with my writing on the website. I should have realized this fact would have been better left unsaid until a better time.
To finish the conversation on a reassuring note I told my distressed wife that I was phoning from a Baptist University. Saying this would put her mind at ease. To my own mind it was more wishful thinking. Sad and stirred I walked back to Ellen’s office: “If I could not stay here, could I perhaps speak to a counsellor?” I asked. As she answered I detected a little emotion in her face, as if holding back tears: “There is no one available until Monday and you have to make an appointment”. As a joke I asked: “Will I have to fill in a form?”
Ellen directed me to try a church on the other side of the main road; it also belonged to the Baptist faith. As I slowly toddled out the same driveway the bus had entered about 6 hours earlier, under the avenue of palm trees, I felt rejected and lonely. I thought I had found a safe haven via a truly extraordinary chain of events. Should I now say it was all a mistake? Never! I knew God had brought me thus far, but for whatever reasons, HE must have other ideas, a plan B, as it were. How the word trust kept reverberating in my mind! T r u s t ! He has never ever let me down. This was just a test. Now I needed HIM more than ever. It was unfortunate that the pain was not just for me, but for Isobel as well.
I was glad to see some life around the church on Magnolia Ave. Some kids were throwing a basketball; a few cars were in the parking lot. The front door was shut, but as I walked around the side, a door was wide open; Singing filled my ears. A rehearsal was in progress. About 15 young teenagers were dancing and singing. One wore a T-shirt with the words ‘Old man’ written on it. My spirit lifted again as I stood in the doorway watching these young people having fun. Nobody took any notice of the visitor with a backpack and a suitcase in tow.
At the conclusion I made my way towards the front where I sought out the adult leader. Of course, nobody would be attending the church office at this time. The group only hired the hall for the production/rehearsal. I enquired if anybody was able to give me a lift to the Days Inn. Having been blessed with the money the day before, it would pay almost for another night. A lady standing nearby, a parent of one of the teenagers, told me to ask her husband in the silver car outside. He would know if the motel was on their way. There was something about this lady, whose name was Robin. She was another look-alike of a politician, belonging to the Liberal Party back in Adelaide.
On the way to the Days Inn I had an inkling that the family went out of their way to give me this ride. During conversation I learned that the family was very much into Christianity, even though the production was not a church-run affair. Her husband’s name was Gary. I hoped they would offer me a bed for the night, but this was not the case. By now I had an omen that the plan was for me to not stay with a family. Before leaving I asked Gary, if He would have lunch with me the next day. I was desperate to talk to someone, a person who is a Christian and understands. He agreed to pick me up the next day.
The receptionist recognized me and allocated room No. 207 to me, the room where the Baseball coach had stayed the night before. Gary phoned me later at the Days Inn to ask if I wanted to join them for church and have lunch at their house afterwards. I eagerly agreed, not knowing what to expect. I never asked Gary what denomination they belonged to. On Sunday April 6th I would be attending one of the most unusual church services I had ever experienced in the 39 years I had been a Christian.
The miracle of Baghdad continued on CNN News. Private Jessica Lynch was still featured regularly and prominently. I wondered why she had never been interviewed personally. Did her injuries prevent her from talking to reporters? Her father, brother and mother were frequently being interviewed.
I also had a chance to attend to mundane duties, like getting some laundry done. Isobel probably believed that I was staying at the Baptist University. She would therefore be less worried about my physical safety as the state of my underwear.
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