Chapter 14

The moment I set foot inside the hotel, icy air removes any drowsiness the extreme heat outside may have given me. They seem to have perfected air-conditioning down here. It’s not this cool in the offices or restaurants in Arizona.

The lobby is gi-normous. The floor is black marble tiles with white and gold veins and flecks. The sofa’s are all plush white, and there are black throw pillows with gold tassels at each corner. There is a scattering of dark wood tables, some with magazines and newspapers on top of them. It looks like bus loads of people cold sit and talk, or read in here. Where they would get the buses—I don’t know, but they could get dropped off here while they wait to get checked in. At the far end is the reception desk, and then off to the right appears to be a lot of plants and music.  I wonder how much it costs to stay here. Oh, that reminds me. How many pesos are there in a dollar? I should probably go to a bank and switch the money so when they say something costs so many pesos, I can give it to them and they won’t try to take advantage of me when they see I have American money and no friggin clue what the conversion rate is.

I make my way through the expanse of the lobby to the reservation desk. A nice looking brunette in a dark blue suit and long straight hair pulled back behind her ears, smiles and looks up at me from her computer.

“Hi, do you have a reservation?”

I have no idea what to say. How do I word this? I’m looking for my father, sounds pathetic. Do you know any of these people, sounds like a detective. Should I ask for him by name? That at least sounds normal. I’m taking way too long to answer her. She must think I’m deaf or something. “Hi, sorry. . . um, does an Armando Veela work here?”

“I’m sorry sir, I don’t recognize that name. Does he work in the hotel or the restaurant?”

“I. . . either. . . um . . . I mean, I don’t know.” Get a grip Frank, “I’m looking for my . . . uncle. I haven’t seen him for a long time. The last I heard he was working in a hotel or restaurant in Guadalajara.  Do you recognize any of these people?”

“Any of these people?”

Oh crap. “Yeah, I haven’t seen some of my relatives in a long time and I’m trying to look them up, you know, find my roots.” Roots? Did I actually say roots?

“Maybe you should talk with a manager, perhaps he could help you.”

“Great. That would be fine, I mean fine, that would be great.” I’m coming off as a complete idiot. I can’t believe I’m sweating in this chilly room?

“Can I tell him your name?”

“Frank. Frank Veela.”

“Veela?”

“Villa, Frank Villa.”  Great. Now she thinks I don’t even know my own name. She waves to a tall, black-haired man in a light colored suit and dark tie. I hope he’s the manager and not a hotel-bouncer-guy.

“Frank . . . Villa here is looking for his uncle, perhaps you can help him?”

“Possibly.”

Wow, give the cologne a break. “ His name is Armando Villa. Here is a picture. I haven’t seen him in a long time and the last I heard he was working in a hotel or restaurant around here, so I thought I’d ask around and see if anyone recognized an old photo of him.” There, that sounded normal.

The manager’s neatly trimmed mustache purses up for a second as he looks hard at the photo, and then he looks back at me, and his impeccably trimmed eyebrows get a little screwed up, then he looks back at the photo again. I’m impressed by his haircut. Every line is straight and sharp. I bet when he goes in for a haircut; he gets his whole head done at the same time.

“He is the Groom, no?”

“Yes, you know him?” Could it be this easy? A chill runs through my entire body. I might actually get face-to-face with my dad—holy shit!

“No, but I see the family likeness.”

Whew! Close one.

He points to someone in the picture. “Is that John Travolta?”

“No, he’s an uncle.”

“Oh, that white suit and black shirt. . . I’m sorry sir, I don’t recognize him, or any of these people. Perhaps you could try the police, maybe they could help you better.”

“Maybe, but first I thought I’d try some of the places he may have worked and look for find a friend or something.”

“Perhaps if you show this photo to the bartender. Gerardo is his name. He has been longer here than anyone, even myself.”

“Okay. Thanks for your help.” This guy’s English is really good. A slight accent, but I can at least understand him.

He smiles at me, but without moving his head, his eyes look at the receptionist. She returns the same expressionless look.

What was I thinking? Hello, have you seen my daddy? Oh God, this is so pathetic. I really should have thought about this on the flight over—prepared a script or something.

I follow the music around the corner and see a live Mariachi band playing on a small stage in a cafeteria-sized lounge.

The bar is very showy. All the bottles of liquor are lined up neatly above the bar, and small lights behind some of the bottles make them glow wonderful colors. The bar itself is black, with padded black leather edges to lean against, and it’s sunk into the ground so that the bartender is at eye level with the customers when they are sitting. Very classy.

The bartender sees me coming and he walks over to me. His uniform is sharp. Black pants, black vest, white ruffled shirt. When he gets right in front of me I can see him more closely. I notice this guy must go to the same barber as the last guy. Every hair on his head and face is cut very straight, and in sharp angles. It’s like somebody masked off his face and spray painted his hair on.

“Hi, what can I get you?”

Wow, what is the drinking age down here? “Hi, Gerardo? The manager said I should ask you if you know my uncle, Armando Villa.”

“Armando Villa? No senior, the name is not familiar.”

“Well, maybe you would recognize his picture.”

I hand it to him and he bends over to see it in the lights below the bar. “Which one is he?” He looks up at me and then back to the photo.  “Oh, wait, he is this one. The wedding is his.”

“Yeah, my uncle married my mom—I mean my mom married my aunt. No, my mom is not my aunt.” Ugh!  “These are all my relatives, do you recognize any of them? I’d really like to find them, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen them.”

“All of them?”

Oh, shit.

“You are missing all of your family?”

“Yeah, I . . . um. . . ran away from home when I was. . . young . . . ger,  and now I’m trying to find them.”  God that was stupid. He studies the photo a bit more, then hands it back to me.

“No, I do not know any of them, but that is an old photo. Sorry. May I get you a drink?”

“No thanks.” I just want to get the heck out of here.

 

 

The noon sun bouncing off all the buildings outside instantly blinds me after being in that dark bar, and the heat seems even worse after being in that refrigerator of a hotel. I wait for my eyes to adjust before going down the steps.

My stomach growls, no—roars, reminding me I haven’t eaten today. I should look for a decent restaurant. I wonder if there are any American food places around here. This lady looks friendly, I’ll ask her. “Excuse me, do you know where there is a McDonalds or Carl’s Junior—“

“Si. . . “ and that is all I understand. She is talking so fast it sounds like a kid imitating a machine gun. Bih-kih-duh  bah-kih-duh  boh-kih-duh  boo-kih-duh, bang bang bang. Is this really a language?

“Gracias.” I’ll just keep walking down this street a bit farther.

This is a strange city. Some of the streets are paved with asphalt and some of them are paved with stones. You know if they cleaned the outside of the buildings once a decade or so, this place wouldn’t look so. . . lived in.  Could use a little paint too. Why do I smell beans? Is it this city, or has Taco Bell ruined my nose?

I’ll try some Spanish on this guy. “Hi, hola. Donde esta la McDonalds?”

. . . Damn! This guy talks faster than that lady. Okay, smile and nod and keep on moving.

My watch says 3:28, but did I pass an international time zone, or did I just go straight down? Maybe there’s more time lines at the equator. Makes sense; the earth is wider at the equator and the sun would probably take longer to get around the middle than at the ends.

I’ll ask this lady, “hola. Donde esta la McDonalds?” Why did she give me that look? What the heck is she saying? Over this way? Yeah, pointing helps. Okay, Gracias.” I must be getting close.

The buildings down this street seem to be getting older and more tired. Laundry hangs out to dry above what looks like a video store. An apartment above a musical instrument store doesn’t have any curtains, and a chubby woman in a black sleeveless dress smokes a cigarette and blows the smoke out over the street.

When I turn the corner, the accordions that had been lurking in the shadows until now have all been set free and happy music is bouncing off the walls and down the street. It’s like a Mexican boom box competition with singers, accordions, and tubas adding to the cacophony of Mexican life here in the older part of the city. I can’t quite distinguish one song from another.  Accordion music, hot and muggy weather, bean scented air. . .  It’s almost like home—or is home, almost like here.

I walk a little farther, and some kids are playing stick-ball in the street, squeezed in by old cars on both sides, but they don’t seem to mind. All of the ones with long pants have holes in the knees, and the ones wearing shorts have bandages on one or both of theirs. They look like they’ve been playing all day. Someone should tell these guys it’s okay not to slide into home when you’re playing on asphalt.

“Hi guys, donde esta McDonalds?” . . . Wow, jackpot. Of course, any kid will know where McDonalds is. “Wait, wait, slow down.” That shut them up. “Donde McDonalds?” . . . Frickin-A.  All six of these little guys are talking excitedly and pointing in all different directions. I can’t make out a single word. “Gracias.”

I think this is the way back to the center of town. I cross the street at the light and after a minute I come across someone who might help me. Wait, this guy looks tough. Just look down and keep walking.  People get mugged down here all the time. I should have just stayed on the main street. I suddenly feel like I’m a junky, looking to score a McFix in the shady part of town.

I cross the street at another light and walk back towards where I think I came from. The sidewalks here are made of brick. I’ve never seen that before. Ever.

It’s so hot down here. I sure could use a soda right about now. Yeah, a couple of Big Macs and a humungous Pepsi. I’ll ask these two guys for directions.

It just occurs to me there is something strange going on around here. What’s up with all the dark colored t-shirts? It’s way too hot down here for dark clothes.  “Hola, donde esta la McDonalds?” He points down another street. Great, I haven’t been down there. Maybe this is where I went wrong. There had better be a fricking McDonalds down here or I swear. . . I mean, how can I expect to find my father when I can’t even find a McDonalds in Mexico? It should stand out amongst all the cantinas, Mexican markets, and shoe repair shops like a Nun in a crack-house.  This looks like a used record store. They still have these?

This guy looks friendly, “hola, donde esta McDonalds? “

“Hola. I don’t know, tu savy Starbucks?”

“No. Yo looking por McDonalds.”

“Yo looking por Starbucks. Tu no like Mexican comida in Guadalajara?”

“Nah, yo trabajo in Taco Bell in Arizona. Yo tango mucho Mexican comida every day.”

“Oh, si.  Yo no see a McDonalds, pero yo see yellow esta.”

“Tu mean down aquis?”

“Si, attempt-o esta.”

“Okay, gracias.”

“De Nada. Tu no seen a Starbucks?”

“No, pero, con me . . . luck-o, it’s probably next to la McDonalds.”

We both laugh. “Si,” he says.

“Well, good luck.”

“You too.”

Finally, someone who speaks regular Spanish, and at a reasonable speed too.

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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