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From left to right: EB and Ching Fernandez, Bob and Mencu Sacramento, Ave and Eva Cruz, Rolly and Cora Malinis, Jun and Tess Paynor, Stan and Lolit David, Ariel and Rosanna Domingo, Ed Maranon, Archie and Rose Almario.

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“Though nothing could bring back the thrill of today’s splendor, we shed no tears, but, rejoice in the thought that for once, we were together; for a moment, we were whole”. EB FERNA


THE NORCAL PASSAGE
by EB Fernandez'71


We, the cavaliers of Southern California (SoCal), would like to extend our gratitude to the cavaliers of Northern California (NorCal) for inviting us to join their annual dinner and dance. The invite was responded with gusto and with much anticipation. After all, we had not seen each other for a couple of years now. In addition, we could hold a mini reunion of the Matatags with Archie and Rolly M up north. So, without too much hesitation, we brushed up our rubber shoes and gassed up our vehicles to brave the snowy summit of the Grapevine and the cold crosswinds of Livermore. The distance was over 400 miles, but, our fearless leader, Jun P, the Philippine Consul General of Los Angeles, dreaded nothing.

Ching and I left Chino Hills Friday, Dec. 26, 2003, at 5 p.m., almost unprepared, to join with the rest of the gang in NorCal. Ariel’s van had already left 3 hours ago. With him were Rochee, Eva, Menchu, Ave Cruz, Bob Sacs and EdMar. Our original plan was to pass the night at home; wake up early and drive up north at 4 a.m., then, join with them for lunch. It sounded like a good plan, right? Well, on the contrary, we thought it would be more fitting if we joined them for dinner tonight. Besides, whom do you suppose would classmates be talking about when one is not around? Brilliant, Watson, brilliant! We threw in our things into the van and off we went.

The elevation at the town of Gorman was 4000 feet and the outside temperature was cold. This place was at the end of a long, but, painless climb of the I-5 North from the San Fernando Valley. The drive was easy especially if you had 200 horses packed in the hood in front of you. I had always marveled at the engineering of this interstate freeway. Four lanes complete with left and right hand shoulders going north and the same breadth coming down south, winding through mountain passes, steep gorges, the Pyramid Lake and the San Andreas. At some point, you would see the opposite traffic way up on the other side of the mountain and on your right hand side. A few minutes later, voila, they’re back on your left. Did you guys notice the switch? We stopped at Gorman for a snack at Carl’s Jr. Ching’s cell rang and it was Tess P on the other line. Tess and Jun P, Lolit and Stan were just joining 210 West in San Marino. I figured they were more than a hundred miles behind us. We left Carl’s Jr. and started a short and steep decent towards the San Joaquin Valley. This part of the freeway would be most beautiful driven on a sunny day in springtime. The mountains would be adorned with golden daffodils and speckled with wild flowers of violet and blue. Well, it was now winter and dark, and today, we saw nothing but a dazzle of red tail lights rushing downhill. On the uphill was a stream of yellow and those blinding xenon lights. It was like L.A. on a rush hour. I couldn’t wait for springtime.

Traffic was flying at 80 mph, maximum was 70, but, that was only a suggestion. I learned of a parley between CHiPs and motorists, and this was widely known, that 10 miles over the speed limit was tolerated. I tried that in Texas and I was stopped by a cop whose parents happened to be Filipinos. It was my lucky day. I glanced at my rear view mirror and noticed a head light quickly gaining on me on the fast lane. I slowed down and turned on my right signal to let the car pass me. Rule of thumb, if there was a car traveling that fast, it had to be exempt by the state or federal, or, it was driven by someone who was playing smart. I asked Ching to give Tess a call and check our positions. Dang it, Jun P was only 30 miles behind us. Per Newton’s third law of motion, I estimated his speed to be at 110 mph. However, they had not stopped for gas yet. Smile, I still had a good head start. Maybe, I could play smart this time. I went 90. Again, it was my lucky day.

Anita! I missed the 880 South. I joined the 238 from the 580 West and was pondering which freeway to join next. There wasn’t very much choice, 238 south was a short stretch from the 580. Before I could make my next move, I found myself at the end of the freeway on the rightmost lane, which connected with the 880 North. It was too late, I could no longer do the left-handed California slide. I decided to drop my speed to 55 and followed the connecting lane to the right. I ended up on the wrong direction, this time I was going north instead of south. The next off-ramp was 3 miles down, double that would be 6 miles lost. Not too bad, I said, at least I knew where I am. Just a couple of hours ago, I heard of some people who were in my same situation and drove up 30 miles north to Berkeley before realizing they were lost.

Darn! I kept on calling Ariel’s cell and nobody was answering. I needed to get in touch with Archie for directions to his place. Double darn!! Archie is Navy and he might give me all this weird naval instructions. I hurriedly cranked my wits to do instant recall on my OJT experience. Aha! “Port” was “Left”, it had the same 4 letters. “Starboard” was, of course, the right side. Nah, I didn’t think he was that weird, he only had two left feet. Other than that, the guy’s okay. I had been on the road for more than 6 hours, I wondered how far away down was Hayward?

Five, six, seven and eight. I started with my left foot forward. This one was easy. Didn’t we all start with our left foot forward? Then, we had to make the ladies turn. Wait a minute, this was not taught in our silent drill. “Squads right”, maybe, or “To the rear”, but, turn? We spent the night learning the Salsa. We did not want to quit. The beat was infectious to a point of contagion. We memorized moves one, two, three and four. How about that number five move, ha? Okay, give it to me. Ave and Eva were our DI’s. Both husband and wife were exceptional dancers and very good dancing instructors. Salsa was fun, but, not with two left feet. Archie and Rose, a very graceful dancer, prepared a sumptuous dinner for us. A few minutes later, Jun P and company arrived. They were just a short distance behind us. Wow, I love that “Consul” plate.

Dancing stopped at around 2:00 a.m. We headed for Marriott Courtyard in Newark (California). Marriott was about a 5-minute drive from Archie’s place, but, some people could make that in 10 minutes, especially, if one was dyslexic. Anyway, we were all billeted on the 5th floor. Our rooms were either adjacent or opposite each other. It was now Saturday, Dec. 27, 2004. In a few hours, we had to wake up and make our trip to Stanford University in Palo Alto. I turned the heater on; went to bed and slept. Ching was already in la-la land. Five, six, seven and eight. I danced myself to sleep and was dead to the world one more time.

We drove off in two vehicles. The first was a full sized van and loaded with all mistahs. The second was a brand new minivan filled with all misstahs. We maintained a good separation from the other half, that way we men could all say, “Yes, dear”, in unison. Smile! The drive to Palo Alto was scenic. We were awed at the picturesque landscape as we entered the University grounds of Stanford. It was a good thing PMA did not have this kind of wide spaces. Plebes would have been “enjoying” running around the garden before every mess formations. One round could have been a good mile. By the way, they did not have a sundial to spit-shine.

The edifices on Stanford grounds were of Greco-Roman design. The columns were definitely Corinthian, although, the arches were rested on an Ionic base instead of Doric. Ariel was so amazed at my proficiency, he thought I was just fooling around. Jun P, who stayed in Italy for 2 years as Ambassador, validated my amplification. Mistah, we could ask Jun P again. Smile! The University chapel was adorned with mosaic tiles in gold. The painting on the facade depicted “The Sermon On The Mount”, with other religious figures posed at an angle as if waiting for the cameraman to say “Say cheese”. Fronting the chapel was a vast plaza the size of Boromeo field. It was paved with 4x4 brick tiles, probably made from a local quarry and grouted with moss. Very artistic and original, indeed, imagine a moss grout?

Now, who left these sunglasses here? The place was very touristy, people from different race and origin came in. I guess in Stanford white people are the immigrants. Back in the chapel, a wedding ceremony was just concluded. While the newlyweds were busy filling up their wedding album, the ’71 ladies took advantage of the situation by taking digital pictures in front of the limousine before the bride and groom could take a ride. The limo driver was at the center and flanked on the right by; Menchu Sacramento, Ching Fernandez, Rose Almario and Rochee Domingo. On the left were; Eva Cruz, Lolit David, Cora Malinis and Tess Paynor. The gentlemen were in front cheering the team to the delight of everyone. The driver was smiling from ear to ear.

Our plan was to proceed to San Francisco to feast on Dungeness crabs. Now, ladies, what happened to that proposal ha? On our way to The Fisherman’s Wharf, Archie pointed to us a portion of the San Andreas Fault that was filled with water from the Sacramento River. Surely, there was a body of water below us and the vista was awesome. We were now at a site where the Pacific tectonic plate grinds off with the American plate. Could the water aided in cooling off the rocks below? My mind wandered deep down into the earth’s crust. Then, I woke up amidst a barrage of cell phones ringing simultaneously. Apparently, the ladies decided to call all of us at the same time. Their voices were clear and very suggestive. “Oy, di na lang daw sa piserman’s warp. Bibili na lang daw ng sipuds sa 99 market”. Oh my God, there goes my Dungeness crab. My instincts told me to argue, however, you did not want to argue with a person who had your phone number, especially if that person was your wife. In the end we had our final say, “Yes dear, exit na tayo”, and we proudly said that in unison. We ’71 gents were always proud and coordinated.

Every mistah showed off his own culinary expertise. Jun P diplomatically sliced the ginger. Archie was busy drinking Heineken. EdMar was enthused in sampling the chicharon. Ariel and I took turns sampling the fins of the fried fish. They had huge fishes here in NorCal. Rolly M, Bob Sacs, Stan and Ave were like ravenous pirates eyeing on the crispy pata. I was so hungry, I imagined the raven quoting ‘liver more’. The ladies, on the other hand, took their sweet time preparing the food. Finally, we all had our fill of pritong isda, pusit, crispy pata, itlog na maalat, kamatis, patis, pinakbet, talaba, hipon, sau-sauan at marami pang iba. We ate lunch at Archie and Rose’s place the natural way, with our hands, of course. The best chow I had in a long, long time. What more could you ask, steamed rice?

We stole their attention as we entered the dance hall. Our group registered 9 Matatags with our ladies, minus one. We had with us a Consul General. The guests could not help, but, take notice of that. Also, we had with us a devastatingly dashing bachelor. The ladies could not help, but, take notice of that, as well. The rest of us were simply cool and suave in our class uniform, dark blue and double-breasted suits. Dinner was served buffet style. I could not stand up and get to the food line. Lunch was still up my throat. The NorCal hop was held at the Marriott Courtyard in Newark, CA. You wondered why we checked-in at this hotel, ha? Brilliant, Watson, brilliant! I thought of an Alumni Hall in Loakan with rooms upstairs and ballrooms downstairs. The emcees welcomed us with respect and jubilation. Lito Hernandez ’70, enjoyed himself “tackling” all of us. In the end, we, jokingly, made him squat with one leg up and had our pictures taken.

Ave was properly attired for the occasion. His black and white crocodile shoes were enough to intimidate anyone on the dance floor. Eva’s golden shoes matched her golden smile. Their exhibition dance number was, of course, worth a million golden awards. The next number was a Salsa dance to be performed by the members of the Matatag Class of 1971. We stood up, proud and coordinated as always. We did not hesitate as we proceeded into the dance floor. “Take Life”, so we said. There was no reason for us to waver. Didn’t we practice this last night? Five, six, seven and eight and the rest were full of fun memories.

Now, there were five ladies who entered the hall vying for the Miss NorCal title. Mirror, mirror on the wall, who would be the fairest of them all? The fairest would be judged by an applause from the audience. But, first, they needed to be introduced.

Miss Philippines was cavalier Bill Iban ’60 who was graceful in her beauty and style. She wore a traditional Mary Claire ensemble and elegantly stumbled with her heels while balancing a blonde wig over her crew cut. Miss Philippines was a sharp contrast to the next contestant. Miss Hawaii was cavalier Pol Aliac ’67, who came with her hula skirts, coconut shell bras and full body tan. “Tiny bubbles in the wine, make me feel happy, make me feel fine”. The Hawaiian music and lyrics were enticingly captivating as Miss Hawaii swayed her hips into the dance of the pearly shells. Then, here comes Miss India. Rudy “Irog” Ruelos ’67 was purely magan. Miss India was stoic in her style, very majestic and remote, and exuded that atmosphere of royalty never before seen in other entries from the Taj Majal. Could she be a Brahma? Holy cow!!! Mutya ng Pasig was introduced, wait a minute, and I knew this guy. Archie Almario ’71 walked in, in her Plebian smile. Whose heart would not go pump-a-pump-pump with this tantalizing beauty presented before ones eyes. The audience was salivating like a rabid cat. Mutya ng Pasig was a clear call and she would not be denied. This contest was in-the-fridge, the lights were out, and the Jell-O was jiggling. Last but not least, Miss Brazil, which was represented by cavalier Billy Enerio ’63 came in with a variety of fruits on her head. She was inarguably the fairest, but hey, who said you could make a statement? Didn’t we agree that the winner would be decided by the loudest applause? Indeed there was strength in numbers, the ‘71 spirit prevailed. Seventeen hands clapped in unison plus a rah-rah-rah, sis-boom-bah and a standing ovation brought Mutya ng Pasig into center stage. She was crowned Miss NorCal.

The rest of the evening was spent dancing, singing, holding raffles and taking pictures. Amy and Ying Palmos ’67 were delicately executing their cha-cha, tango and rhumba, international style. I gave Ying the “most improved” award. There was an official photographer who printed digital pictures in a superbly high resolution printer. As a tribute to this joyous occasion, we, the Matatags, had our pictures taken at the hotel lobby in front of a huge Christmas tree. We ended up the night planning the upcoming SoCal dinner and dance in April 2004. Hah! They ain’t seen nothin’ yet! As we waited for a brand new day, we looked forward for more passages in our lives, for more roads to take; we hoped that they might be filled with wholesome fun and wonderful memories, the same as we shared today. EB

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