As Gil and Rosie headed out onto the complex series of freeways that honeycombed the greater Los Angeles area, heading first north then east, the traffic was not as bad as he had feared nor was it as good as he had hoped. It was now past four o’clock of a Friday in mid-June, and the laughably named rush hour was already in full swing. Nevertheless he was gratified to be able to keep a steady forty-five-to-fifty mile per hour pace and hoped for better as the traffic thinned the further inland one went.
Rosie, in the bucket seat beside him, was alternating between breathless observations of the passing scenery and looking down at the map and notebook papers in her lap. Gil had given her the directions that Richard Ellsworth had scrawled for him indicating the best route to Las Claritas, the little mountain town that was their destination and where Gil had never been before. Gil soon found that Rosie, for a non-driver, was very good at giving him directions, not only saying them clearly, but anticipating freeway entrances and exits with enough warning that he could safely maneuver into the proper lane.
Now as a long stretch of more or less continuous freeway opened up before them, they both relaxed and began to make small talk. As Rosie stretched and luxuriated in the mid-afternoon sunshine and much fresher air (now that they had left smog-ridden LA behind), Gil couldn’t help frequently glancing at her out of the corner of his eye. She was, he thought, quite something, her lithe body and creamy brown complexion seemingly perfectly attuned to the rhythms of the car.
Finally he decided to get down to business. “So,” he said, “Rosie m’dear, what’s your story, morning glory? I mean, I know you didn’t come all the way to our fair city just to be a temp secretary now, did you?”
Playing along because she was really beginning to enjoy herself, she gave him a warm smile and said, “Okay, you got me there. Want to know my dirty little secret?”
Gil raised his eyebrows and replied eagerly, “Yes, tell me, please do.”
She gave a little laugh and said, “Well, I’m probably like just about all the other young women in this town. I came here to be an actress.”
“Is that right?” responded Gil, somewhat disappointed that the dirty secret wasn’t any dirtier. “I guess that comes as no surprise.” He took his right hand off the wheel and waved it in the air. “After all, this town’s full of ’em.” Then, becoming a little more serious he said, “So you’ve been here about a year, is it?” She nodded. “Um, had any good parts? You studying with anybody?”
“Well,” she said, “not much really. I’ve managed to do a little extra work and I’ve even gotten a few walk-ons.”
Gil nodded knowledgeably but remained quiet.
“I’m studying nights at Stella Adler near where I live. It’s kind of expensive but I think it’ll be worth it in the long run. I’ve already learned so much.”
Hmm, Gil thought. Maybe I can turn this to my advantage. “You know,” he replied casually, doing his best to keep his eyes on the road and off of Rosie’s body, “this little film we’re doing, you know, the one with the script we’re gonna work on over the weekend…” She nodded to show that she was with him so far. “Well,” he continued, “it actually hasn’t been cast yet. I don’t see why I couldn’t talk to LouAnn, she’s our casting director you know, and have you kind of, well, you know, read for her? She might be able to set you up with a small role but with enough lines to make it worthwhile. Something like a secretary, a nurse, that sort of thing.”
“Wow,” she responded, genuinely appreciative. “That would be terrific. I just know I could do it.”
Fine,” said Gil, “I’ll set it up for sometime next week when we get back. If you’re good enough, we might just be able to help you get your SAG card.”
“Gosh, it’d be great to be able to get into the union,” she enthused. “I’ll work real hard and make sure that I don’t do anything to make you think I’m not a real professional.”
“I’m sure you won’t,” responded Gil with a verbal pat on her head. Changing the subject he said, “So I noticed that you’re, um, uh, well…”
She noticed him looking at her intently, but seeing he was unable to complete his thought she came to his rescue. “Um, you probably noticed that I’m Latina, huh?”
Relieved, Gil said, “Um, yeah, I was just wondering if you, uh, came here from Mexico or were you actually born here.”
She shook her head sadly and said in a low voice, almost to herself, “Why do they always say that?”
“I’m sorry?” Gil said, “What was that?”
Totally mindful of Gil’s previous offer, Rosie replied kindly, “Well, Gil, it’s just that if a person has brown skin like I do then all you—how should I put it?—white people seem to think she’s Mexican.”
“You’re not?” Gil couldn’t stop himself from blurting.
“No,” she said, “I was born in San Diego. English is my first language. My parents are from Ecuador. I grew up bilingual. I can speak Spanish if I have to but I prefer to speak English whenever possible.”
“Really?” said Gil with honest fascination. “Ecuador, huh?” Again he took his right hand off the wheel and actually scratched his head. “Where is that again?” He tried to make a joke of it. “I kind of flunked geography in school, you know.”
Again she decided to take the high road. “It’s in South America, Gil, sort of between Colombia and Peru. My parents grew up in Guayaquil.” To save him further embarrassment she added, “It’s the major port on the coast.”
“Oh,” said Gil. “So how did your parents come to San Diego then?”
By way of answer she looked at the notes and at the map on her lap and said, “I think we’ve got a series of turns here that will get us on the state highway that leads up to Las Claritas, but if you want to hear my story I’ll tell it to you once we don’t have to concentrate so hard on where we’re going.”
Gil nodded his agreement, and after another ten minutes of so they emerged onto the promised state highway. This was a four-lane blacktop with a posted speed limit of 50MPH. Within a few minutes they encountered another sign which informed them that Las Claritas was thirty miles distant.
Gil looked at his watch. It was nearly six and he apparently had at least another thirty to forty-five minutes before they reached the little town’s outskirts. The highway was sloping upward at a not-very-steep but consistent angle. As they drove along, Gil noticed that the temperature, which had been in the mid-80s when they left LA, was now by the feel of it hovering only around 70, and it was sure to get cooler as they climbed.
Gil looked at Rosie, who was obviously still very comfortable and enjoying the scenery immensely, as she swiveled her head from one side to the other so as not to miss anything. “Are you warm enough?” Gil asked. “I could put the top up, you know.”
“No,” she replied, “I love it. All this fresh air compared to that stuff we have to breathe in LA. You don’t notice it so much when you’re there, but you sure notice its absence up here.”
Gil had to agree. “But now,” he said, “it looks like we’ve got a half-hour at least to kill. I think I can take it from here.” He knew that one of the best tactics to make a young woman attracted to you was to encourage her to talk about herself. “So,” he prompted, “what about that story you were going to tell me?”
“Oh sure,” she shrugged noncommitally, “that is, if you really want to hear it.”
“Sure, why not?” said Gil. “We’ve got some time to kill, and I’m not doing anything else. So tell me, how did you get all the way from Ecuador to our City of Angels?”
“Like I told you,” she replied patiently, “I’m not from Ecuador, my parents are. I was born in San Diego. Anyway, if you really want to hear about me, my story starts in Ecuador with my parents when they weren’t any older than I am now. If you wonder why I can tell this story in such perfect detail it’s because my parents told it over and over to us kids when we were little. They were, and still are, very proud of their achievements in having become American citizens. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
“Well. My story, our story, begins in Guayaquil, Ecuador. You remember my mentioning Guayaquil, the port town? Well, in 1956 my father was a handsome strapping young man of twenty-two, the same age I am now. I know what he looked like then because my mother has a big photo album just crammed with pictures all the way from then to now. So, in 1956 my father was working for his father on a fishing boat that fished the waters just off the coast of Ecuador. His father was not only a commercial fisherman but also operated a charter boat for tourists who would pay to do a little deep-sea fishing and go on excursions and stuff. But most of the time he just fished. My father was his assistant. They fished together and my father was charged with the duty of taking the fish around to the local merchants and grocery stores, as well as the restaurants and bars, to sell the fresh-caught fish for whatever he could get. Then when he had sold all the fish he would dutifully take the money back to the boat and give it to his father. It was often a long and arduous procedure though. He would go out on the boat early in the morning, returning with the catch usually just before noon, and then spend all afternoon going around from place to place trying to sell the fish.
“Now here’s where my mother comes into the picture. At this time in 1956 she was working at a small waterfront café. She was barely eighteen and the cafe was so small that during the day (which is the only time it was open) it had only three employees—a cook, an all-purpose clean-up guy who washed dishes and pots and swept and mopped the floors, cleaned the counters, et cetera, and of course my mother, who doubled as both waitress and cashier out front. The place, she told me, was so small that it had only a tiny bar with a few stools and three or four small tables, so it was easy for her to serve the customers by herself.
“One day my father came into her café and sat down at the counter. It was late afternoon on a hot midsummer day and he was sweaty and tired from fishing all morning and then tramping around town all afternoon trying to sell his fish. My mother took one look at him and liked what she saw. She went over to him immediately and asked him what he wanted. He told her that he had almost no money but could she give him a cup of coffee. As she was in sole charge of the cash register she decided that it would not only be charitable but ingratiating to give him a cup of coffee on the house, so to speak. Divining that he was probably hungry as well, she gave him with the coffee a bolillo.”
Gil interrupted her, saying, “I was with you all the way up till now. What’s a bo—bolla—what you said?”
She regarded him with considerable restraint. “A bolillo,” she said evenly, “is a Mexican hard roll, very simple, just flour and yeast, kind of crusty. You can find them in LA in any Mexican bakery and many supermarkets frequented by Latinos.”
“Oh,” said Gil meekly, “please continue with your story.”
“So anyway, my father was so grateful for this act of charity that he began coming into her café regularly whenever he was on a fish-selling mission.” She gave a little laugh. “I suspect that it was as much for the free food she kept giving him as for her beauty, even though she was only eighteen at the time and quite striking in the old pictures I’ve seen. So, as he began coming in more and more often their friendship grew. Within several months he had mustered up the courage to ask her out in the evenings when he was not otherwise engaged by his father, doing things like needed maintenance on their boat.
“This went on for a couple of years and then something happened which was to change their lives forever. His father, though still a relatively young man, not even quite fifty, had a sudden heart attack and was unable to work on the boat. He recovered but was never again able to withstand the hardships of the fishing life. So he turned the boat over to my father, who was his eldest son. My father, however, found that he was not capable of doing what his father had done for so many years. His inability to make a good living from the fishing business, plus his growing attachment to my mother, made it necessary for them to make other plans. Against the wishes of his father, my father decided to sell the boat together with the charter business to a neighbor who was eager to start his own business. The money he got from the sale of the boat and the business was a good sum in those days. It amounted to nearly a thousand dollars in US money. Dutifully my father gave half the money to his father but still had several hundred dollars left. With that and the money my mother was able to save bit by bit from working at the café, they decided to strike out to America and start a new life.
“This is the only part of the story which my mother refuses to discuss in detail, but from what I’ve gathered it was a perilous journey indeed, fraught with physical hardships and many fearful incidents, before they were able to cross the Mexican border into California.
“With the little money they had left they found temporary lodging in a boarding house on the outskirts of San Diego and took whatever jobs they could find, he as a day laborer, she as a waitress. Little by little they managed to save money and at the same time teach themselves and each other enough English to get them better jobs. To make a long story short, within a few years my father had landed a job on a cruise line that went back and forth between San Diego and the luxury resorts on Mexico’s west coast like Puerta Vallarta. Soon after that my mother got a job at Berlitz doing Spanish language instructional records. This enabled them to buy a large house in a working-class suburb of San Diego and start a family. By now it was 1960. My father was 26 and my mother only 22. By the time I appeared in 1971 they had already had five other children.
“The rest of my story is that of a normal American girl. I grew up in the seventies in what could only be defined as lower-middle class comfort, that is, I had everything I needed but nothing too excessive. I was a good student and we children were all taught bilingually, so we had no problems in school. It was in high school that I first fell in love with the theater. Our high school had a reasonably good drama department and I was given fairly prominent roles in a couple of plays and one or two musicals. By the time I graduated from high school in 1989 I knew I wanted to be an actress. With the urging of both my father and my mother and their financial help I enrolled in the theater department of San Diego State University and had the time of my life. When I graduated in ’93 I immediately set out for the bright lights of Hollywood, and so here I am. Just another hungry young actress in a cold uncaring city,” she finished with a dramatic flourish.
“That’s some story,” Gil replied and was about to say more, but just then Rosie spied a small sign at the side of the highway which read simply, “Las Claritas—Next Right”.
Gil slowed down and within a few hundred yards they both saw a narrow road that indeed branched off to the right. Turning onto it they found that within another fifty yards or so it turned sharply to the left, becoming a narrow two-lane road badly paved that slanted steadily upward at an incline of about thirty degrees.
“Gosh,” said Gil, throwing the T-bird into low gear, “some road, huh?”
Rosie agreed and about fifteen minutes later the road began to level out and turned once again toward the right. At this point it widened and a long strip of low buildings could be seen in the distance. Before long they came upon another sign which read, “Las Claritas Pop. 2,370 Elev. 8,200 Ft.” Slowly they drove on until they were in the midst of newish looking buildings that seemed to have sprouted up like mushrooms on either side of the narrow highway. They passed several expensive looking hotels and motels—the Lido, the Lanai, the Fountainbleu, all of which sported gaudy neon signs, many with chaser lights and lighted marquees which proclaimed “Free Cable TV—Heated Pool–Sauna—Conference Rooms” and other enticements to tourists both pleasure- and business-bound. The only problem with the signs at these luxury hotels and motels was the fact that they also sported “No Vacancy”.
As Gil drove on, passing one luxury hotel after another, he began to despair. “Damn,” he said turning to Rosie, for he was now proceeding along the almost deserted highway at little more than a crawl. “I hope we find something soon.” He checked his watch. Although it was only about six-thirty, already the surrounding mountains were casting lengthening shadows over the various buildings and the narrow highway itself. Even though it was only a little over a week until the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and the sun was still high in the sky over the flatlands, up here the increasing shadowy atmosphere made it seem more like fast approaching twilight. He looked back at her. “If we don’t find something soon we may have to go all the way to Lake Arrowhead, and as near as I can figure that’s at least two hours from here.”
Rosie, who was rubbernecking all around entranced by the sights, showed no signs of concern. “This is such a cute little town,” she remarked, actually clapping her hands together in girlish glee. “I just know we’re going to find something soon.” She straightened up suddenly and pointed ahead towards what appeared to be the end of the strip. “I think I see something down there on the left.”
“I hope you’re right,” said Gil. “There’s also a high mountain up ahead. We’re about to run out of strip if not road.”
But as they neared the very end of the strip Gil looked to his left where Rosie was pointing and saw a very old, very quaint looking building. It looked to be made mostly of wood and was only about four stories high, though it was quite wide. There was a large old-fashioned porch roofed in by wide supporting pillars. Three wooden steps led up to this wide porch on which were arranged several old-fashioned metal patio chairs. The sign out front was a modest affair, simple thin neon tubes joined together to form the name “Hotel Remington—Always a Vacancy”. Below it simply, “A/C—Pool—TV—Bar & Restaurant on Premises”.
Gil pulled the car to a stop beside a convenience store directly across the street from the hotel and shook his head dubiously. “Well Rosie,” he said, “what do you think? It’s not exactly the luxury hotel I had in mind, you know.”
Rosie gave a slight laugh. “Oh come on, Gil,” she said, “live a little. Why, I think it looks perfectly charming, like something out of the Old West. I half expect to see cowboys sitting on the porch in boots and spurs still wearing their guns.”
Gil shrugged and then agreed, though still hesitant. “Okay, whatever you say. We can at least go in and check out the situation and if it doesn’t look good, we can have a drink and have something to eat before we hit the highway again.”
“Okay,” Rosie said, “let’s go and see.”
Gil started the car again and crossed the highway to where a single driveway stretched the twenty yards or so between the street and the hotel entrance. As he approached, Gil noticed that the driveway curved around to the right, revealing a small enclosed parking garage with room for less than a dozen cars. Pulling in he looked around and finally espied an old man in greasy coveralls ambling over to him, apparently moving on long-rusted joints.
When he got close enough the man simply looked at Gil and said, “Park your car, mister?”
Gil nodded and said, “I don’t actually know if we’re going to be staying long.”
“Ain’t nothin’ to me,” he said. “Park ‘slong as you want.” The man then directed him into one of the many empty parking spaces only a few yards away. Gil put the club on the steering wheel and then apprehensively got out of the car, Rosie doing the same. He locked the doors and then, apparently thinking twice, said to the old man, “Maybe I should put the top up, huh?”
“Do as you please,” the old man said. “But nobody causes any trouble around here.”
“Okay,” said Gil, “we probably won’t be here that long anyway.” He made a beckoning gesture to Rosie. “Come on, let’s go see what this hick place has to offer.”
Walking out of the garage and round to the hotel entrance Gil suddenly had a weird premonition and shuddered a little bit as he mounted the steps. Rosie, all smiles and oohs and ahhs, didn’t seem to notice.