On the Road to San Pedro

by L. Crystal Michallet

Copyright © August 18, 2002 L. Crystal Michallet-Romero

All Rights Reserved

Disclaimers: Premise: While on a vacation to watch Renée O'Connor's final performance in Macbeth, the author reflects upon the events that occurred during the trip.

Disclaimer: None needed. This is an original piece written in the style of narrative story telling.

For non-fan fiction/original works by L. Crystal Michallet-Romero: www.charani.org

All feedback welcomed at: lcmichallet@charani.org

There were several reasons why I wanted to go to San Pedro, California, to watch the last Shakespeare performance, which starred Renée O'Connor. The first reason was to be able to meet her, and hopefully, get her autograph. The second reason was to personally thank her for sharing her acting talent with us. I have always wanted to be able to thank some of the leading performers for the contributions they've made to our lives, and this, I thought, would be a perfect time to thank one of lead stars of the show.

The start of our vacation began as any planned trip begins, which means that it started the night before with the usual preparations for the journey. Invariably, my partner, Jessica, will always proclaim that we are going to "hit the road" by nine am, no earlier, no later. I always reply with my standard, "anything you say, honey." Thankfully, after our few years of living together, Jess is well accustomed to me existing in Indian Time. For those of you not familiar with Indian Time, it's an affliction similar to Polynesian Paralysis that affects the indigenous people of the Polynesian Islands. Like P.P., Indian Time tends to make us Native Americans operate on our own time frame, usually one which is much slower than other people in this country. Understanding this affliction, which I inherited through the Lakota side of my family, Jess kept her grumbling to a minimum and finally released a sigh of relief when we were on the road at eleven thirty in the morning, or thereabouts.

Without a California road map, and going by memory alone, my honey and I set out on Interstate 101 from Santa Clara, California to what I call, La La Land, land of the stars, city where dreams are made, and the capital of Disneyland. Of course, our actual destination was about 33 miles south of Los Angeles, in the seaside town of San Pedro, where the grand finale of Shakespeare's Macbeth, starring Renée O'Connor was to be performed. With the CD player loaded with the music of Wind Dancers, the music of Smoke Signals and Alica Keys, we started our drive with mixed emotions. For myself, I was excited with the prospect of finally getting to see Renée O'Connor perform, Jess, was only looking forward to our visit to the famous historical site of Olvera Street, in downtown Los Angeles.

There are two things to know about my Jessica. The first is that when it comes to Xena, the only character she truly enjoyed was Callisto, and although she loved meeting Hudson Leick in person, she is not the type that would go out of her way to attend anything related to the show. The second thing to know about Jess is that she is French Moroccan, born and raised in Grenoble, France. The latter part really wouldn't matter, except for when it comes to all things English, which to her French upbringing means that there is hardly worth praising anything which comes from the English. This includes Shakespeare. With a feud worthy of the Hatfields and McCoys, it seems like this mentality continues to this day regardless of the fact that the English and French could be distant cousins. With these two pieces of information, it stands to reason that joining me on a trip all the way to Southern California had to be worth her while, and Olvera Street was the carrot that I dangled in front of her. Of course, she really admitted that she joined me on this trip because I asked her, and for me, having her join me on a trip to see a former Xena actress performing Shakespeare, demonstrates her immense love for me.

With the music blaring out of the speakers, we made our way from 90 degree temperatures in the Silicon Valley, through the arid flat lands that reached up to 110 degrees in the shade. Each time the chants of Ulali blared from the speakers, we cranked the volume up higher and joined in the singing. When we weren't singing along to the music, I entertained Jess with some of my future story ideas that I was mulling around with. By the time we reached the infamous grapevine that leads into Los Angeles, we were both ready to reach our hotel.

As my little yellow VW bug easily climbed up the high mountain, I related the various memories that the mountain recalled to mind. I pointed out the different spots where my father's car used to overheat. I explained, probably for the hundredth time, how it was the chewing gum from me and my brother that sealed up the hole in the overheated radiator. She laughed with me at the many ways that my father always seemed to work his magic on the cars that had broken down, whenever we would come to visit family in Los Angeles. Once, he used masking tape, another time, our chewing gum, and once he even used one of my mother's hair nets. Each quick fix scheme held the aged car together until we reached our relatives.

By the time we passed the town of Santa Clarita, I smiled, knowing that we were closer to our destination. As we entered the tendrils of the Los Angeles County line, my little bug shook from the numerous pot holes and cracks in the road. It appears that unlike the San Francisco bay area, the site of Cal Tran road workers leaning against their warning pole flags as they drink their Starbucks coffee is not a common occurrence, otherwise the roads of Southern California would have been as nicely paved as the freeways in the South Bay of San Francisco. Although I've never actually witnessed any Cal Tran workers actually fixing the roads, the fact that our roads were void of pot holes was enough to keep me satisfied with their mysterious ways of keeping our roads smooth. With the jarring of the car, I teased Jess and asked if she found herself homesick for the potholes of her beloved New York City, which only brought a snorting laugh as she weaved her way in and out of city traffic.

For those who are not familiar with California, one thing to realize is that like the old feud between the French and English, or the Northern States and Southern States, the politics of California have caused a form of sibling rivalry between Northerners and Southerners. Back in the eighties when a politician jokingly suggested that the state be split in half to create two separate states, there was some debate as to who would take Los Angeles. Those of us in the North argued that as they were in the south, the south is where they should stay. However, the other cities surrounding the LA vicinity wanted nothing to do with the city. I remember at the time that a friend from Fresno jokingly suggested that we give LA to Alaska as a gift, with hopes that by the time Alaska realized the gift, it would be too late, the city would already be permanently frozen to the state and would therefore, have to remain as part of Alaska. Although it seemed to make perfect sense after a few Heinekens, much to our chagrin, it was a concept that was never seriously considered amongst the politicos of Sacramento.

So like a typical northerner, every time Jess complained about the roads, or the confusing tangles of interstates and freeways, or even the fact that at seven-thirty in the evening, we were stuck in rush hour traffic, I always reminded her of all the things I was grateful for in the North. Our pristine freeways were not only void of pot holes, but our rush hour traffic ended by six-thirty in the evenings, and although we had many connecting freeways and expressways, everything was laid out in a logical pattern as opposed to the haphazard patterns in Los Angeles. This only brought silence to my honey, who has, since the time she arrived in Santa Clara, always mentioned a desire to someday move to La La land.

What should have only taken a half hour, ended up taking an hour and half. By the time we arrived at the San Pedro hotel, we were grateful to have a warm shower, and comfortable bed at our disposal. Although usually a night owl, I found myself falling asleep before Jay Leno's monologue, which is a rarity for me!

I awoke at five am the next morning. The familiar sounds of a keyboard clicking away, combined with the occasional voice of Jess on her cell phone issuing orders, pulled me from my dreams. At one point, I heard her whispered curses as she tried to coax her laptop to connect to her office at a speed greater than an ailing snail, which resulted in me grabbing the covers and pulling it back over my head in hope that I could disappear back into my dreams. Ever since the day that we've gotten together, there has never been a time when she was allowed to simply have a day off during a working day. For her, a working vacation is just that - it's spent working. This was no different throughout the whole day.

To start out the day, we drove to the nearby location of where the Queen Mary was docked. The Queen Mary is not only a historical ship, but it is larger than the Titanic. I know this because of Jess' enthusiasm to share one of her passions, which are sunken ships and especially the Titanic. She explained more than I thought was possible about the similarities and difference between the Queen Mary and the Titanic. Once she was finished taking all of her pictures, her trusty cell phone rang and before I knew it, she hopped out of the car and was removing her lap top from the trunk of the car. As she conducted her day's business while standing in the parking lot, I silently prayed that her boss would end his calls by four pm, when we planned on going to the park to save ourselves some seats for the night's performance. Thankfully, this was the last time that she had to conduct business while on our vacation.

I had decided long before we arrived that I would do everything possible to control my habit of Indian Time, even if it meant tricking myself. So rather than wait until the show was ready to start, we arrived at the park by four pm, and promptly saved our seats. There is a funny thing about human nature that I've found consistent within all groups and that is, when an opportunity exists to take advantage of a situation, there are some people who will do just that. The fans who were attending the event were no different because it was at this time that I learned that some local fans had arrived at midnight and placed their notes on the front row seats, thereby leaving the rest of us to the back benches.

As we waited the few hours until the performance began, I enjoyed myself by watching the interactions of the people around us. From as far back as I can remember, I've always been a people watcher. I can remember being a child and sitting next to my father at the local mall as we watched the people moving around us. My father taught me how to blend in, to become part of the scenery, in order that we could observe things that others would miss. As we would sit quietly watching the people moving around us, my father and I would comment on various individuals and speculate who they were, or where they had come from. Sometimes, when we were like this, the most interesting characteristics would emerge from those who did not see us watching them. We were witnesses to couples fighting, children using their ploys to get what they desired, and sometimes, we watched as the lonely walked by surrounded by people, yet yearning for company. This Shakespeare play brought out similar qualities in the fans.

I watched as the groups broke off into cliques, each person vying for the role of leader in the pack, the person who was probably a quiet introvert was suddenly brought to life as she paraded on stage, beckoning for the accolades of her colleagues. The butch dykes, dressed in their fine clothes, strutted around like peacocks as if they were the only ones in the area. And I watched as those who had even the slightest recognition within the Xena world suddenly become the center of everyone's attention as if they were visiting royalty. Through it all, I found it to be more of a typical Xena convention, and less of a Shakespeare event.

As I sat there watching everyone around me, I began to long for the days from my early twenties when I would attend Shakespeare in the Park, in San Francisco's beautiful Golden Gate park. Dressed in period costumes, my friends and I would attend the events with other people who were in SCA, the Society for Creative Anachronism. The Society for Creative Anachronism is a group which recreates the middle ages, and in particular, the renaissance era. Often times, I remember having to answer questions from other audience members who wore street clothes, unaware that we were not part of the play, but simply part of the audience as they were.

It was around five thirty that I decided to excuse myself, leaving Jessica behind at the seats. To my utter horror, the janitor had chosen this time to mop out the ladies restroom, so I, and a small handful of other women, were left to stand in line. As I stood there shifting from foot to foot, praying that the janitor would end his task soon, I began to do what is teasingly called my pp dance. It was then that I glanced up at and saw a familiar face.

Surrounded by a small entourage of women, Renée O'Connor walked across the grass. She called out to someone who had already disappeared behind the building. As I stood there doing my pp dance, I marveled at how thin she looked, and resisted the urge to run up to her and ask her to eat some more because she was too skinny. At that point, she glanced at us, then took a double take as if she wasn't certain why we were gathered at the entrance to the restrooms, or perhaps wondering who the crazy woman was who was dancing in line. Before all of this could register, the janitor finished his task and I quickly ran inside, grateful that he had finally allowed us entrance.

Once I returned to the benches, Jessica pointed to a distinguished woman. Like Renée O'Connor, the woman was surrounded by women, each one seeming to vie for her attention. It was then and Jessica explained that the woman was Sandra Wilson, Renée's mother. After retelling my own tale, my honey had a good chuckle over the first impressions that I tend to make on people.

When I sat and watched Mrs. Wilson with the fans, I began to wonder if someone could be as genuinely kind as she seemed to be. I saw how she shook everyone's hand whom she had just met, and how she made a point to ask their names, as if she were putting their images somewhere in a data bank within her memories. With a soft, yellow baby blanket over her arm, she made her way to a seat and saved it, but as the night progressed, some fans who had staked out their seats in the front had pulled her closer to the stage as if they felt that sitting in the back was beneath her. Grateful for their offer, she joined them and was able to sit near the front of the stage and closer to her daughter.

Thankfully, Jessica managed to refrain from any comments during the entire show. And although there was only one time when she broke out into a fit a giggles over the bad acting, she quickly pulled herself together in order to sit quietly through the show. From her occasional sighs, and glossy eyes, I could tell that she was not understanding the dialogue, but despite this, she was able to keep herself entertained with her own thoughts, which I'm sure if asked, would be along the lines of crazy Englishmen and their plays.

The play began just as I read it would at various list groups. The characters from the play entered the stage and began to warm up the audience. Half-way through the warm up, Renée O'Connor entered the stage with two of the actors from the play. It was then that I noticed her scanning the audience, her eyes fell exactly on the spot where her mother would have sat. When Renée O'Connor did not see her mother, a look of surprise, then a frown crossed her features as she tried to find where she had gone. For a moment, it seemed as if a panic would set in, but then she mouthed something to a friend in the audience, then became calm as her eyes fell on the new seat that her mother occupied.

Although I would have liked to say that Renée O'Connor stole the stage, I'm afraid I can't. I could tell that her lines were carefully rehearsed, the punch lines dutifully delivered and the dance completed with a stiffness that showed her awkwardness to the situation. In those few minutes of the pre-show warm up, I was witness to how very shy the actress was in front of people. So unlike the character of Gabrielle, Renée O'Connor appeared to be a quiet, introverted young woman who was doing her best to perform in a venue, which she seemed uncomfortable in. Despite this, the audience was genuinely appreciative of her delivery of the lines.

When it comes to the actual performance of Shakespeare, there were some actors who were very good, and some who were very bad. While one actor delivered his entire lines in the style of Sylvester Stallone, another had a distinct Chicano accent that kept reminding me of Cheech Marin from Up In Smoke. However, if anyone was to ask me who out of the cast has a bright future, I would offer that woman who played Lady Macduff, Angela Allen, not only mastered the diction of Shakespeare, but she demonstrated a beautiful singing voice worthy of Sara Brightman. All three of the characters who played witches, Martin Dorsla, Shauna Bloom and Betsy Moore, were captivating and always in character. David Osborne who played Siward and Antonio, was remarkable and I found myself reminiscing about the plays I watched at Golden Gate park. His diction was perfect, as was his performance and I plan to keeping an eye on him because I'm sure he has a bright future ahead of him.

As I sit here writing this, I find myself torn as to how to describe Renée O'Connor's performance. There were times when her performance knocked my socks off, times when I really felt as if she had the role of Lady Macbeth down. Yet there were other times when she slipped out of diction, but these few lapses of character are easily forgivable given that she gave her all during other parts of the play. I found myself looking from the stage to where Renée O'Connor's mother sat and was impressed by the woman's rapt attention. Although I'm sure she had seen the show numerous times,

and could probably say her daughter's dialogue by heart, Sandra Wilson sat completely engrossed with the performance. The slight smile that crossed her features each time her

daughter delivered a line made me realize how very lucky Renée O'Connor truly is to have her mother sitting in the audience to offer her support.

When the play was over and the crowd was applauding, I could not help but compare the past performances I've seen to this one. At the Golden Gate festival of many years ago,

the actors took their roles seriously enough to allow their hair to grow to the length of what it would have been during Shakespeare's time, which included their facial hair. Their delivery and diction was so well timed as to make the audience forget that it was modern day. Yet as I compare the differences, I can appreciate all that the San Pedro troupe offered. San Pedro is a small town that resembles South San Francisco, and as such, they are a not for profit group, which volunteer their time to present Shakespeare to the masses. So for what they had, they did very well and I hope they continue to offer such performances for their local citizens, hopefully without the over zealous fans of a little show that made a big hit on the television.

What might have ended up as a nice evening became a bit of a disappointment for me. As I waited in line to finally meet Renée O'Connor in person, I soon learned that those very same fans who had saved their seat at midnight, were also in the front of the lines. At the overheard conversations, I discovered that many of them lived in the area and had already seen her performance as well as received her autograph from those previous performances. With their past experience, they knew which benches would place them at a strategic advantage for meeting Renée O'Connor again. As I stood in the middle of the line, I watched as the fans in front of me allowed their friends to cut in line, until I, and many others, were no longer in the middle, but now pushed to the back of the lines. Although we were upset by this, word had spread that Renée O'Connor agreed to stay to give everyone a chance at an autograph. Unfortunately, for those of us at the end, by ten o'clock they had announced that no more autographs would be signed, and Renée O'Connor was whisked away.

More than a bit upset and dejected, I searched out my honey so that I could tell her what had happened. I found her talking with a woman who looked familiar. After a moment of standing near them, Jess introduced me to Sandra Wilson. What I learned about Mrs. Wilson is that she is a genuinely kind woman. She is the type of mother who is always there for her daughter, who supports her children in every endeavor that they do. And she is a woman who shows nothing but kindness to those who approach her. As the stage was being cleared, Jess and I hung around a bit longer. I stood near the others while Jessica was off being Ansel Adams with the nearby trees, moon or whatever caught attention. Throughout it all, I watched Sandra Wilson moving through the crowd. Her smile never wavered as she greeted her daughters fans.

As I watched Sandra Wilson moving through the crowd, I began to compare mother and daughter. Their smiles were so similar that on first glance, you would know who her daughter is. Yet, unlike her daughter, she seemed at ease in the crowd. She moved with little fear through the groups of women who all vied for her attention, and with each one, she was always gracious and charming. And when it came to her daughter, she was as any doting mother would be. It was then that I realized that for many people like me who have less than fond memories of our own mothers, Sandra Wilson is the type of mother whom we all wished we could have.

We finally left, tired, sunburned from being in the sun so long, and very, very exhausted. By the next day we were more than willing to make our last tourist stop, then return home. As we drove back over the pot holes in the freeway, we made our way toward downtown Los Angeles. Old L.A. is known as the Chicano section of town, with Olvera street as the main tourist attraction in the area. After getting lost a few times and taking some detours through the seedy parts of Los Angeles, we finally found our way to the historic site of the first adobe that had been built long before Los Angeles was even named.

I remembered the few times we ventured to Olvera street when I was a child. As Jess and I walked over the cobble stone streets, we watched the people moving around us. We smiled at the families dressed in their finest clothes with which to witness their children's first communion. With a mixture of tourists, and local Chicanos, Olvera street could have looked like any market place in Mexico. After we chose a place to eat brunch, we sat on the patio and had two older men sing us songs as we waited for our food. I found myself mesmerized by their fingers as they strummed their guitars. The combination

of their voices and the music reminded me of all the nights when my family joined another family for good food and entertainments.

The Rodriguez family had lots of boys and girls. Every Saturday night we would join them for a traditional feast of enchiladas, chili con carne, rice and beans and the always fragrant home made tortillas. Once the dinner was over, Mr. Rodriguez would go to the large family room and remove his accordion from its case while his sons each took out their guitars. Also equipped with his own guitar, my father would remove his and together they would tune up their instruments in preparation for the night of celebration. I can remember the anticipation I always held as the sounds of the accordion starting the tempo, then the guitars would easily join in the song that was chosen. Sometimes my father would sing alone, sometimes Mr. Rodriguez would be the solo singer, but more often, they both sang ballads that told of the fierce battles waged by our ancestors. Through those songs, I learned the history of Mexico and the Chicano community. I heard the words of valor for Pancho Villa, and I learned of the more recent battles waged by Cesar Chavez in the grape fields of Delano. From the song La Bamba, my father would always explain about the class system, which would at times keep two lovers apart.

As I sat there with Jess listening to the strong baritone voices of the singers, I was reminded of the more pleasant parts of my childhood. I remembered how my home was often times a place filled with music and celebration. I found myself realizing that despite the patches of darkness in my childhood, there were often times spotted with light that brought me pleasure.

When the morning grew hot with the afternoon sun, and we had our arms loaded with stuff which I had bought, we decided it was time to head home. As we made our way over the bumpy freeway of L.A. we grew quiet as we passed Santa Clarita and neared the grape vine. In the silence, Jess asked me if I was disappointed with Renée O'Connor and I had to answer truthfully and without thought. I was in no way disappointed with her for not staying to meet with everyone because I do understand how tiring it must be to have to greet so many fans. My disappointment was in the fans who lived in the area and made it impossible for those of us who had only one chance to meet her to get an autograph, or simply just to shake her hand, and I am disappointed with the fans who allowed their friends to cut in line, or did cut in line themselves, thereby pushing the rest of us further behind. But I am not disappointed with Renée O'Connor. Yet there is a part of me that regrets not being able to personally thank her for the contribution that she has given to us.

It was then that Jessica asked me what was the highlight of our few days of vacation. She thought I would have said Renée O'Connor's performance, but as I thought about it, I realized that although I am grateful to have been in the audience to witness her first stage performance since Xena was cancelled, this was not the highlight of my vacation. Nor was walking down Olvera street and my childhood memories. What was the highlight of my vacation was that I was able to spend it with no other person but her, and for that I will always be grateful that we had it together.

As we made our way home, I began to contemplate the weekend's events. I realized that this whole weekend was a lesson in trust and letting go. It dawned on me that although things happen that are out of our control, everything happens for a reason. Once I understood this, then letting go of any regrets or anger came easy. Although a part of me is still disappointed in the fans, another part realizes that simply being fans of a show does not exclude them from having human feelings and desires to covet what their hearts desire to the point where they overlook other fans. Understanding this makes it easier for me to move on and away from the disappointments I had after Renée O'Connor's final performance in Shakespeare's Macbeth.

The End

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