the round. After that I was free. The company would supply me with airfare back to San
Francisco—a Sausalito houseboat floating around the bluff from the Golden Gate Bridge
was my current home.
My parents, older brother, and sister-in-law welcomed me back and allowed me to regale
them with endless war stories from the road. I told them about Shelly Brandt in Los Angeles
and how she sized up to be their future in-law. I only joked about flying out to El Paso to
find her, but in back of my mind I was figuring out a plan of action. When my movie hits the
screens there will be a fabulous scene where our kids ask Shelly and I how we'd met. If I
could get myself to El Paso and actually find her—well that would be the most titanic love
story those kids would ever hear.
The next day I got the company travel agent on the phone and had her book me a round
trip ticket to El Paso. Ten days in Texas and home again for Passover. My folks started
to look at me funny when I shared my plans with them. I remembered that look from the
time I declared, while still in college, that I was taking off a semester to explore Africa; and
when after college I let them in on my plans to walk across Reagan’s America to support
global nuclear disarmament. I was already used to that look, and too old to care.
As I got off the plane in El Paso, I tried to muster up some of that giddy euphoria,
that fueled this journey. The mood pendulum had finally tocked it away. I guess
daytime plane trips have the opposite effect of late night, highway driving. I pulled
out the little Radio Shack micro recorder that would be my conduit to my progeny.
There were many sprouting "what if" questions that needed weed whacking if I was
to gain view of the road back to that better mood. What if her name was Shelly Brent,
or Braham? The bar was noisy, what if I heard it wrong? What if my brother was right
—he remembered her saying that she was from Houston. What if it really was El Paso,
but she decided to go back to L. A. after a week? What if she was lying about the whole
thing? What if she has a boyfriend who wants to punch me in the nose? All those "what ifs"
were finally vetoed by: What if I find her and she leaps into my arms and says, "What took
you so long, stranger?"
So I ambled over to the El Paso information booth in the airport and asked,
"Where do the artists hang out in this burgh?" The information lady and her friend
resembled my folks when they said, "Huh?!"
"Where's the Greenwich Village of El Paso, there must be something similar."
Again that funny look and again a chorus of "Huh?!?"
"Well, is there a youth hostel with some funky people…" I hit pay dirt with that one.
They spread out some local bus maps and schedules and after saying "Huh?!" a few
times myself, I was on my way.
My plan was to get a room, get out the phone book and ask all the Brandts in
the area if they knew Shelly. I could have saved time, money and face by doing
this from New York, but I couldn't bare the thought of coming up empty handed;
or worse getting Shelly on the line and hearing her say, "Gordon, who?…Huh?"
In the movie of my life I will only be disappointed on location, not long distance.
The hostel turned out to be El Paso’s oldest hotel with lots of charm and a well
worn hall carpet from the guest rooms to the toilet. Within 20 minutes of my arrival
I had exhausted the phone book plan. Not one lead. I had my tape recorder at the
ready to document my elation when the party on the other end was to say, "Shelly's
my cousin, you must be Gordon. You're all she ever talks about. Hold on I’ll get her."
It never happened. Now I had ten days to kill in El Paso.
Plan B came quickly and naturally. Since we met in a bar—by gism--I’ll have to
visit every tavern in town till I find her. I walked out into the dusk and got loaded
on one Texas sized mug of Mexican beer. Then I headed back to my room, feeling
Another brain storm occurred to me back in the hotel lobby. I had Tim the clerk
tell me where the live music was going to be jamming this evening. He suggested
taking a bus two miles up Mesa passed the University to Big Wally's or the Surf Club. I
figured, Shelly had been living in LA—she’s bound to gravitate toward the action. I
still don't know where my optimism was coming from but you don't look that kind of
horse in the mouth, you just kiss it once on the lips for good luck and go catch your bus.
Out the window I saw bright lights and colorful signs go by so I signaled the driver to
let me out. As I walked back toward Mecca, I noticed a San Francisco style coffee
shop called Dolce Vita pumping and heaving with activity—a wine splashed art
opening of some kind. I checked my vibe outside the door, and felt a little like a dip
stick with no oil on it. I needed a quart. The place was packed. But lo and behold
in the midst of all the folderol was a beautiful creature with Shelly Brandt’s features.
Steady boy. It could be her. The last time I saw her was in a dark drunk bar two
long months ago. I began to realize that her image had faded from my memory
where her essence always lingered.
I settled at a bilingual couples table with my dry cappuccino and watched "Shelly"
blithely negotiating the crowd gracefully offering glasses of red wine. I caught
her eye and sensed no recognition My staring must have offended her, she
avoided my table and I missed out on the free alcohol. Not a good sign, if you
believe in that stuff. I obviously do. Then something nice happened when I
walked to the counter for a large cup of coffee.
The young lady behind the counter seemed open to conversation so I let it
spill what I was doing in town. She was all over it. She grabbed a napkin
and pen in one gesture and made me dictate to her all the particulars of my
quest: My name, Shelly's name, where I could be reached, what she looked
like…at that I just pointed to the wine girl. Samantha Spade followed my finger
with her eagle eye and smiled brightly, pulling me in confidentially, "She looks
like Xosha? Ooh, cool, she's pretty!" I liked this Anna, and thought about
postponing my search for Shelly. But then she snapped into action, asking all her
co-workers and friends if anyone knew Shelly Brandt, "the girl that this guy
flew all over creation to find. He's from New York City." No leads were
generated from these efforts, but plan C was taking shape. And a cute one
Plans D and E were formulating and reformulating just as quickly. I assumed
that if worst came to worst I could scare Shelly up with some strategically
placed endearing little posters, or I could run an ad in the free weekly's classified
section. Later that night, I even left a message on a telephone dating service saying,
"I'm only looking for one girl, called Shelly Brandt, if you're not her—oh well."
I couldn't see my adventure turning into something pitiful and cliché.