"The true West differs from the East in one great, pervasive, influential, and awesome way: space. The vast openness changes the roads, towns, houses, farms, crops, machinery, politics, economics, and, naturally, ways of thinking. How could it do otherwise? Space west of the line is perceptible and often palpable, especially when it appears empty, and it's that apparent emptiness which makes matter look alone, exiled, and unconnected. Those spaces diminish man and reduce his blindness to the immensity of the universe; they push him toward a greater reliance on himself, and, at the same time, to a greater awareness of others and what they do. But, as the space diminishes man and his constructions in a material fashion, it also - paradoxically - makes them more noticeable. Things show up out here." -- William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways
I had an appointment at some archives out in a tiny barangay in Quezon City this morning, and I got there twenty minutes early. The NGO is in a big, gated villa along a gated, guarded street, so I waved the cab driver off and kept walking until I left the subdivision and entered the barangay on the other side of the gatehouse.
It was sort of stark - the pavement suddenly became uneven and rose and fell in slabs, the fences and trellises gave way to plywood and piles of rocks and trash, and the estates were replaced by alley after alley of carinderias and vulcanizing shops. And instead of the lone security guard patrolling on a bike, there were people hanging out of windows and milling around, and they were all staring at me in the way they do when I wander around looking totally lost.
I stopped at a carinderia for a cup of 3-in-1, and got to chatting with the proprietor about his time in the Navy and the three months he'd spent in Baltimore and a coastal town in Canada. He asked where I was from, and I tried to explain, but his eyes only lit up with recognition when I said it was about fifteen hours from Chicago. I found myself describing Fargo as a farming town - not really accurate at all, and hasn't been for a few decades, but calling it a city conveys the wrong impression, and calling it a small town makes people more comfortable with the fact that they've never heard of it. (And really, compared to Manila, virtually everywhere else seems pretty tranquil and idyllic.)
As I was starting to get nostalgic, the man's wife walked over and peered over her plastic glasses. "That your bible?" she asked, pointing to Blue Highways. The cover of my 1970s copy does sort of look biblical, with the sun pouring through the trees and spilling onto a winding highway. "No," I said, blushing. "Just a little reading for the afternoon." She picked it up and skimmed the back cover, nodding slowly.
And then on the way back into Manila, I read that passage about space and what it does to a person as he grows, and if it's not really a Bible, you've still got to give it props for truth and wisdom nevertheless.