An Excerpt from VIDAS: Deep in Mexico and Spain: Lolo

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Publisher’s note: We are pleased to publish this excerpt from the powerful new book by Edward Stanton, VIDAS: Deep in Mexico and Spain, the first travel memoir to deal with the world’s two most populous Spanish-speaking countries in one volume. A chapter of this book has already won the 2021 Grand Prize (bronze) for Best Travel Writing in the 15th annual Solas Awards. VIDAS: Deep in Mexico and Spain represents a passage from childhood to adolescence and maturity, a tribute to nature and the open road, an exaltation of love, food, and wine, a journey from the tender, mortal flesh to the luminous world of the spirit.

VIDAS: Deep in Mexico and Spain: Lolo


Led by a coyote or smuggler, he and his followers had managed to cross the border. Then they traveled in the bed of a truck or the trunk of a car to Los Angeles, where they boarded a boat for Santa Catalina, the island about twenty miles off the coast. There, Lolo and his crew labored in the summers at a restaurant. They barely spoke English and returned faithfully to Mexico during the off-season. More than immigrants, they were like swallows migrating to California from their winter roost in Jalisco. Few people cling to their country, language, food, and customs like the Mexicans.

By luck, you found a job as a busboy that summer at the restaurant, hoping to save enough to buy a car when you turned sixteen. There you met Lolo, captain of the dishwashing team, the oldest employee of The Pancake Cottage. He was forty-five with a mop of black hair and a build like a pyramid at Teotihuacán. He was proud of both his body and his curly head that glistened with pomade. Lolo (short for Heliodoro) was a man of parts: he had been an apprentice bullfighter, a mechanic, taxi-driver, barber. He was also the hardest-working man you had ever known. Each day between June and September, he sweated for twelve hours in a steamy chamber beyond the kitchen, snatching meals there, renting a cheap room in a weathered bungalow with the members of his team. Living for almost nothing, he saved his money and returned each fall to his family and hometown, where he resumed his job as a barber. He shattered forever in your mind the cliché of the lazy Mexican.

During breaks at the restaurant, you would walk to the muggy room to speak with Lolo. If there was a lull after breakfast, we would sit down to a quick meal at the end of the counter by the kitchen. The Chicano cook from San Pedro, Art García, prepared huevos rancheros for the head dishwasher, swimming in chiles. In three summers at the Cottage, Lolo had never eaten a single pancake or waffle. In this, too, he was like so many of his countrymen–loyal to their native cooking unto death. 

As you wolfed down a stack of hotcakes, you asked him, “Why don’t you try these?”

“I don’t like that gringo stuff, Eduardo,” Lolo said. “Soy más mexicano que la tuna,” I’m more Mexican than a prickly pear.

“We have tunas in California,” you told him, “even on Santa Catalina. If you didn’t work such long hours, you’d have a chance to see them growing on the hills.”

“Then I’m more Mexican than tequila,” Lolo rejoined.

“Hell, they bottle that stuff in the States now, man,” Art chimed in, flashing his mustachioed smile that made him resemble a Chicano Clark Gable.

“Alright, so I’m more Mexican than pulque,” Lolo countered, referring to the fermented sap of the maguey plant, never exported at the time. “Don’t tell me they make that here,” he added in triumph, laughing.

“Not yet,” Art said.

With Lolo, you practiced your Spanish and repeated some of the stories you had learned from your Mexican friends in L.A. He could not believe that a fifteen year-old American kid knew tales about the peanut spouses, Don Cacahuate and Doña Cacahuata. Lolo took you under his wing, teaching you more words, turns of phrase, jokes. His favorite was a common greeting for a male friend in Mexico, when you ask, “Cómo amaneciste?”— in literal terms, “How did you dawn this morning?” (more loosely, “How did you feel when you awoke?”). The answer to Lolo’s question, his punch line, was “Like an old wagon cart, with its shaft in the air,” delivered with a suitably priapic gesture.

He and his crew howled every time we exchanged the greeting, day after day, laughing each morning like the first. For them, there was something outlandish about hearing these words from a gringo, hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles from rural Mexico where the joke must have arisen years ago. In the machista realm of the dishwashing room, it was presumed that one always awoke with an erection.

Once in a while, our days at The Pancake Cottage were harrowed by a raid. The cashier and waitresses alerted us when the suspicious characters appeared, normally a pair of crew-cut men in suits. As soon as they whispered “Immigration” to the busboys, we rushed to the dishwashing room, where we cried “La Migra!” to Lolo and his helpers. They tore off their wet rubber aprons, tossed them to us, and fled through the back door into an alley. We started washing dishes as though we had been doing it all day. For the time being, our waitresses would have to bus the tables.

After the agents had taken their time eating a hearty breakfast, then searching the kitchen and the dishwashers’ room in vain, we walked to the alley and sounded the all-clear. Lolo’s young teammates crawled out of the restaurant’s fluted metal trash cans, their clothes smeared with eggs, sausages, pancakes, and waffles, stained with butter, syrup, and bacon grease. You volunteered to hunt for their captain, who had disappeared somewhere in Avalon, the island’s only town. At his age, Lolo refused to humiliate himself by hiding in a trash can. 

You would find him sitting behind a palm tree by the bay, looking south toward the sea and Mexico. We walked back in silence.

Once we reached the alley, Lolo patted you on the shoulder without looking into your eyes. “Gracias, ’mano,”  Thanks, brother.

When he entered the restaurant through the back door, he was greeted like a hero returning from the wars. The other dishwashers, the cooks, some of the waitresses, and busboys gathered around Lolo.

“Chingada madre,” Motherfucker, he would say. “Hay que tener dignidad,” A man must have a certain dignity.

Lolo, captain of his crew and our souls, taught us many lessons that summer. He showed us a man could have dignity and more, even if he was an illegal alien and a dishwasher.


Born in Colorado and raised in California, Edward Stanton has lived in Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, and Spain. He’s the author of twelve books, some of them translated and published in Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese. Road of Stars to Santiago, the story of his 500-mile walk on the ancient pilgrimage route to Compostela, was called one of the best books on the subject by the New York Times; Stanton’s environmental novel Wide as the Wind, the first to treat the tragic history of Easter Island, won the Next Generation Indie Book Award for Young Adult Fiction and three other international prizes.

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