The drive up was treacherous. A number of late model sports cars and SUV obstructed any two way traffic. As I passed Magic Castle on my way up, I could see the Chinese theater and the resplandor of Hollywood at night and even the ocean. I enjoy it every time. This was not my first time up this road. I had driven here a few times on my way to Yamashiro. I like the place not for the sushi but for the view and the indoor koi pond and garden. I knew Hollywood and could find the best taco truck, the best Thai place and even a place that served Mexican and Ecuadorian under the same roof! I have been living here for about seven years since moving from Miami. Hollywood has a mystic attraction.
I had to slow down as the numbers got closer. The street lighting is not the best in this part of Hollywood and I did not want to pass the house since a U turn was close to impossible. I found it! It was hidden; the drive way was shared with another house that sat in the front like a guarding tower in a castle. As I drove up the driveway, I could only see the garage door and the front entrance. It was one of these modern houses with an unconventional lay out, in part dictated by the terrain. It was built in the middle of a hill, fenced by the street on the front and the cannon on the back. It appeared to clinch to the ground as if to avoid sliding down the steep slope. The place was unique; it had white exterior walls and a purple door that invites you to come in. Yes, I wanted to go in but it did not happen that night.
She was ready and waiting and as I got out of the car, she emerged from behind the door carrying her luggage and ready to go. It was the first time I saw her. We spoke only a couple of times and I knew she went by two initials: MJ. It surprised me when I discover she was Asian. She spoke English without an accent and there was no hint that pointed towards her ethnic background. After all, this was not a dating service that asked you to fill up a form describing your life and aspirations. It was just a skiing trip organized by the University and I had volunteered to be a driver. My mission was to take three people with me all the way to Mammoth and once there enjoy four days of great skiing. This was my first stop and a reminder that you just never know who is on the other end of the telephone till you meet them. Maybe that why I never go in blind dates.
She was an attractive lady, probably early 40?s. She was cautious at the beginning but after confirming that I was the driver for this trip, and that I attended the University, she felt comfortable. She told me her parents are from China and she was born in Taiwan but had been living in the United States for over 20 years. She was getting a masters degree on art and already had a Masters in Nuclear Physics. She had her own real state company and was successful. I asked myself why was she going to school when she already had achieved that much. But I never ventured to asked her. When I told her that I did not have dinner, she shared some sticky rice wrapped on leaves and stuffed with pork. It reminded of the ?humitas? in my native Ecuador and the ?tamales? from Mexico.
Our next stop was Covina to pick up Roberto, a junior at the University that was going on his first skiing trip and had never seen snow. He was quiet and soft-spoken. I would even say a bit shy. He carried a bag and climbed on the back of the jeep. I calculate he was about 19. His family came out to the street and wished him well. His mother wanted to know who was behind the wheel and asked me if I was tired. I said no and assured her that I had a good night's sleep and that we should arrive in Mammoth around midnight. She advised us to stop at a hotel if we were tired and asked her son to help me stay awake. On the way to our next stop, MJ monopolized the conversation and placed Roberto and I under heavy questioning. She was very inquisitive. I concentrated on driving and following the directions to our next stop. During the questioning I learned that Roberto was born in Mexico and wanted to become a journalist. I knew he was Latino because his accent was similar to mine.
We hit traffic from Covina to Walnut, our last stop before getting on the road to the mountains. We got there twenty minutes later and found the last member of our crew sitting over a pile of luggage and supplies. He was happy to see us and exploded into a frenzy of fast talk, telling us how he thought we left him behind after we never showed up at the scheduled time and wondered why we did not call him. Kevin Wang was the youngest of the group, it was his first quarter at the University. He asked me where to sit while we tried to figure out how to fit all his belongings in the car. I deduced he was also Chinese when MJ started to tell him something in a language I did not understand and he responded with the same. Later on she told me she was asking him to leave a few items behind. He never did.
Once we hit the road we introduced each other more formally and talked about our studies and what we wanted to do. There was an Ecuadorian, a Mexican and two Chinese, brought together by our love for the snow, skiing and the fact that we were attending the State University because we could not afford USC or a private college. Our CJ-7 jeep was filled up to the top with luggage, supplies, skis and the willingness to be together during the next four days, even though we never knew each other before before. On our way up we ate chips with salsa, some Chinese cold cuts and fried bananas. We all enjoyed them and after three hours of driving and dinner Robert and Kevin felt sleep in the back seat. The next two hours were quiet and were only interrupted by intermittent questioning from MJ and a chase by a police car. We were doing 70 in a 25 mph area while passing a small town. MJ saved me from a ticket when she noticed that the police man had my same last name and presented him with the possibility of being my distant relative. He let me go.
The police incident and the mountain air made me think about the unusual group taking the trip and I arrived to the conclusion that Rodney King was right: We need to get along. For that to be possible we need dreams, goals and people that share them and are willing to join on the pursuit. It happens only in Latino LA.