11.09.09 – He anchored the mobile phone next to the side of his face while stumbling out of the car; we heard him whispered loudly, “Can you see me? I’m in Safeway’s parking lot… I’m the guy with the fro.” I have never met Mai, one of the models for the commercial that will be shooting in San Francisco that morning, but I thought, anyone in their right mindset would not come to a parking lot at 8:30 in the morning to be picked up an Asian guy wearing a blazer outside a red t-shirt, jeans over a pair of white leather dress shoes and a huge brown afro. Jason, our trombonist, was sprawling in the passenger seat trying to stay awake; to my right, Sara had just finished half of her sandwich, she was visibly bored. Me, I was hungry; I took the cold-meat baguette saturated with soy sauce outside to keep the car smelling like a mini boulangerie.

Thirty minutes came and gone; I finished the foot-long baguette, sip the last drop of the cold black coffee and I stuffed the emptied mug into Neil’s boot inside the trunk while he and Jason were taking pictures of each other and comparing their photographic equipments. Anxiously, I suggested to Sara that my earlier theory might be true that a rational, coherent individual would not come near our impromptu parking lot party; “May be you should call Mai so she won’t think we are a bunch of misfits.” I suggested looking over to Neil as he was smiling and waving to someone in the adjacent building peeking out from her window, whom, we all assumed was Mai. I thought, if that was her, we should raise the stakes up a notch by coming over to the building. That turned out to be a failed venture. From across the street on the opposite side to where we were gazing at some obviously entertained individual, Mai came toward us from behind. She was unusually tall; her long dark hair complements her soothing huge eyes. She smiles as if to hide her obvious uncertainty about the company that she has regrettably joined. “Do you know how to get to Twin Peaks?” Neil asked her. As she tried to orient her current predicament and hesitated for a moment it gave me enough time to interrupt, “Neil, don’t we have a GPS?”

Holding the culturally-hyped branded coffee cups, we tried futilely to anchor our protuberances stationary in the back seat as Neil and Jason navigated us toward Twin Peaks. After ten minutes of swerving and crisscrossing through the streets and tracks we began our ascent. Sara mentioned she has not drink her tea because it was still too hot, I glanced over and noticed all of us were trying to balance the liquid in our cups clutching them in front like dressed up beggars. Neil got a call on his cell, though the conversation was incoherent, I knew we were heading in the wrong direction; coffee cups still in our grasps Jason vocally steered Neil through the dense fog on the top of this vaguely visible mountain we quickly made our descend. Sara annotated again that her drink was still too hot; I told her that I could not drink mine not because it was hot but because I could not move it from its present balanced state to my mouth without dumping it onto myself. The aroma that came from the brakes fastened our backs to the seat and brought us back to the present danger; Jason observed, “The GPS said we’re moving in the right direction but time to destination is increasing.” We turned to our resident local guide to help us find the way to where the cable cars stop.

The memorable cold breeze that typified San Francisco’s morning drew me from the car; Uyen in her black and white checkered jacket greeted me with, “I got the perfect outfit for you.” My memories instantly transported me back to the H&M store where we were two days before. There I was in the dressing room with a shiny black dress shirt, two blazers of different hues, a hat and a bowtie. While trying to get the petite-sized dress shirt on, I heard Uyen’s voice from outside the dressing room door, “Paul, are you in there?” My shirt was still half buttoned, I opened the door and saw all three standing outside; James was on his Blackberry while Uyen had a bewildered look on her face gawking at me adding to my discomfort. Before I had time to react, Neil pressed his way forward and offered to fasten the bowtie for me which I tried in vain to stop him. The lone consolation was in the thought that my public embarrassment was for a good cause, but that self-righteous flame was quickly put out when James began to take pictures.

I began to question my judgment while I stood there in the middle of the city that Halloween’s morning. I did not know how I got to into a filming of a commercial for a philanthropic organization bearing the name of my homeland. On the set were young people, beautified by their love for their countrymen; determined to personify their dream in reconstructing a country ravaged by centuries of wars and unrests. They came from a place of divided ideals but are now united in a common cause to do good for a country that we all call, our mothers’ land. So, there I stood, stupefied by nameless reasons, yet I was surrounded by a people with a passion to do something extraordinary for the nation from whence they came—that was reason enough for me.

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