As Pacquiao succumbed to Mayweather and our beers disappeared, the Navy man told me an endearing story about a Filipino you’ve certainly heard of.
One day, he was working his regular security detail there at the visa office in the embassy.
A short, scrappy, and obviously broke Filipino with shoulder-length hair walked into the office and got in the line to apply for a U.S. visa. As we all know, it’s almost impossible to get a visa to the states unless you have a lot of money or a business there sponsoring you, so the man was out of place and doomed for the same fate as Pacquiao that day – the wrong end of a decision.
In fact, life had not been kind to him up until then. His mother died when he was a young boy, leaving his father and family with so many debts that he had to send the children away to live with various relatives. The boy soon quit school and went off on his own so he wouldn't be a burden on anyone. In the coming years, he was often homeless, sleeping on park benches and in front of friend's houses. He did odd jobs just to eat once every couple days, and even singing on the street to try and earn a few Pesos, or at the Shakey’s Pizza on Taft Street in Manila when he was 15.
When the scrappy Filipino got to the front of the line, the obviously skeptical lady working asked him why he wanted a visa. He told her that a band in America was looking for a new lead singer and was flying him out to San Francisco for an audition. The band’s guitarist had stumbled upon a video of him on YouTube covering one of their songs.
In fact, he often sang their songs with his local small-time bar band in the Philippines. He’d been part of many bands over the years that allowed him to earn enough to eat if nothing else, like Ijos, and later, the better-known Zoo Band.
There at the embassy, he told the lady in the visa office that the U.S. group was impressed when they’d heard him and seen him on YouTube that they’d sent him an email, and then an invitation to come to America and try out. He produced a tattered print out of an email that supposedly backed up his story.
It sounded so far-fetched that the lady scoffed and started reaching for the ‘Rejected' stamp to send him packing, but mockingly asked him that if he was such a good singer, why didn’t he sing one of the band’s songs right then and there? Why didn’t he sing one of her favorites, “Wheel in the Sky?”
So the scrappy man put down his things, stepped back, cleared his throat, and belted out:
“Winter is here again oh Lord,
Haven't been home in a year or more”
“I hope she holds on a little longer
Sent a letter on a long summer day
Made of silver, not of clay
I've been runnin' down this dusty road,”
Every single person in the office stopped and listened to the man. You could have heard a pin drop, according to my Navy friend who was working there.
“Oh the wheel in the sky keeps on turnin'
I don't know where I'll be tomorrow
Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin'”
When he finished his dazzling rendition, everyone there cheered and applauded. The lady working was stunned, too. She immediately grabbed the ‘Approved' stamp and emphatically OK'd his travel visa with no more questions asked.
The scrappy singer walked out of the office, past the big Navy officer on duty, smiling. He later got on that plane to San Francisco, met a guy named Neal Schon there, auditioned, and got the job. He was the new lead singer of this iconic American band that was replacing their cherubic-voiced former front man, Steve Perry.
Against all odds, Arnel Pineda, became the lead singer of Journey, a band that’s sold 80 million records worldwide and is considered one of the best of all time. They even made a movie about Pineda’s star-struck good fortune, called “Don't Stop Believin’.”