'Roads to Santiago'

Greg Gerke

One April Bill Vukovich drops out of his life in Portland, Oregon and decides to walk El Camino de Santiago (the road to Saint James) in Santiago de Compostella, Spain—one of the oldest and most sacred pilgrimages in the world. The legend is Saint James, one of the original apostles, preached there and about eleven hundred years ago a hermit saw his remains were inside the city's grand Romanesque cathedral. Ever since thousands of people walk the route that has trails all the way from Norway. Against the advice of a local priest who traveled the road many years ago Bill takes his cell phone. “You never know,” Bill says.

Bill starts just south of the French border in Valcarlos. The first day is long and hard. He is a little lonely and calls a friend after he eats a turkey sandwich in the afternoon. Bill tells him the Spanish countryside is extremely gorgeous and refers to it as ‘heaven.' He has already met a man from Australia and two women in their fifties from Akron, Ohio. The next day is a bit longer. His feet burn, there are multiple blisters. He wishes he could order a pizza. He almost asks an old man in raggedy clothes with a huge boil on his nose if there is a restaurant in Roncesvalles that delivers on the road.

Bill's first and last mistake comes on the third day. He is trying to see if he has entered a service area when Saint James walks toward him from the opposite direction, ostensibly from Santiago. “Hello sir,” he says in accented English, “I know we don't have signs up, but cell phones are strictly forbidden on the road. The waves they emit interfere with people's extra sensory perceptions often telling them how far to go for the day or where to lodge for the night and prevent some very important messages from people either ahead or behind their group from getting through. Also it disturbs the wildlife.”

“What if I go off the road to use it?” Bill asks.

“I'm sorry. This is the way we like it.”

Bill sticks his tongue between his teeth. “Listen, I know you are a big guy around here, they named the pilgrimage after you and your bones are buried in the cathedral. I certainly don't mean any disrespect but this is the 21st Century, we need our cell phones. I have friends, close friends; one just broke up with his girlfriend of two years. He is down man, way way down. He wants to know where I am if there is an emergency and I want to tell him and everyone else about my progress here.”

“Sir I have to ask you to please leave the pilgrimage route now. When tolerance is not possible, the almighty does step in.”

“Hey is there anyone you want to call? It's really fun.” Bill holds out the phone which jingles as it has picked up service. “Give it a try.”

“Sir if you don't leave the route by sundown, a great calamity will befall you.”

Bill presses his talk button. “No this is really good. Try it. Do you wanna call the Pope? Anyone. We'll do directory assistance.”

Saint James turns his head askew and though thoroughly a legitimate saint, he can still be tempted. He says, “I would like to call the author who wrote a book calling me Christ's brother.”

“Done.” They try California Directory assistance and get the number. Saint James tentatively takes the phone and explains to the author how his thesis is a total fallacy as he read half of it one night after one of the sleeping pilgrims in Santiago had the book on their person and he was want for some good reading. Saint James was tempted to burn the specious text but desisted, remembering the 7th Commandment that decrees ‘thou shall not steal.' The author asks whom he is speaking to and hangs up on Saint James when he receives the answer.

Saint James chuckles and almost tosses the cell phone but again the words of the commandment flash before him. Secretly, but eagerly, he awaits a pilgrim who will have one of the new, popular anger management books. Besides he has taking enough chances with the phone call. He reminds Bill to leave the route very soon and disappears into the forest.

As the sun is falling Bill calls a friend back home who reports to him the Los Angeles Lakers have just been knocked out of the basketball playoffs by his home team the Portland Trail Blazers. Bill rejoices and describes the giant orange orb being obscured by a far hill of trees.

Quickly and quietly an angel with no teeth falls out of the sky, scoops Bill in one arm and delivers him into traffic just outside the Lakers' basketball arena in Los Angeles, The Staples Center. Bill stands, still in shock from the lightening quick journey that aged him seven months. An irate Lakers fan, fiddling with the CD player in his car to get a comforting song on to listen to, in this case   “Angel from Montgomery,” as sung by Bonnie Raitt, runs Bill over.