Sometimes it is the simplest things that bring a character to life. This time, it brought the antagonist character of Colonel Vicki Cortez to life and made her central to my newest Miranda Chase novel, #4, Ghostrider.
We’ll skim through the early days.
In the 1930s, 200 miles south of the US-Mexican border, El Rosario was a tiny farming community trying to scrape a living from the hard land. When a traveler did stray that far down coastal Route 1, Mama Espinoza would offer them a meal in her dining room from a red house that sprawled inside the turn as Route 1 shifted from north-south to east-west. Her food slowly became a destination for the more intrepid travelers.
A History of Flight
One cool story that didn’t make it in the book.
In November, 1961, low on fuel and flying in a dust storm, a pilot and 5 passengers from San Diego made a desperate landing near El Rosario. They were rescued and fed at Mama Espinoza’s. Locals drove them 30 miles north for a place to sleep and get medical help for one of the passengers (there were no doctors in the small town). The next day they retrieved them and refueled their plane.
But the doctor returned with them to the town and saw the villages’ desperate plight (even above and beyond the terrible drought that had killed their fields and was now decimating their livestock). With what few supplies he had, the doctor treated 22 patients before departing. He promised to return.
Six small planes returned before Christmas. They brought presents wrapped by the local Boy Scout troop, food, candy, and medical supplies. The trips by the doctors became a regular routine. In fact, it inspired the doctors and pilots to found the Flying Samaritans. Their 1,500 volunteers serve 19 clinics throughout the region with both permanent and fly-in clinics. Read the full story under About the Samaritans.
It all happened because of kindness to strangers.
Bit of a Race
1967 saw the founding of what is now one of the world’s most prestigious off-road races, the Baja 1000. And the scouts made the very first check point of the race…which it’s been for the 43 years since…and counting.
It was the making of Mama Espinoza’s not simply as a place to eat good, authentic Mexican food. But also as a destination in and of itself. Her entire house has become the restaurant.
It is totally worth spending looking at the photos on their Facebook Page.
Why? Because its interior has become filled with memorabilia and photos of one of the major off-road races in the world. Top riders would bring their cars and motorcycles there to be blessed by Mama before the race. Though she recently died at the age of 109, her legacy lives on through her family and their restaurant, just at the sharp bend in Route 1 about 10 miles after you leave the Pacific Coast and turn inland.
Colonel Vicki “Taz” Cortez, Taz is short for Taser, earned her nickname fair and square. Despite being trim and under 5′ tall, she owns the ability to run over the opposition—ANY opposition. She is the primary weapon of the chief antagonist in my upcoming Miranda Chase #4 Ghostrider, three-star General Jorge Jesus “JJ” Martinez. Though he doesn’t figure into this NerdGuy.
I’m always intrigued by what characters come up with on their own. For Taz? It turns out that she has a gourmet tongue. She can find the best food, anywhere. Even in places she’s never been before.
So when I sent her to find a hideout for the general in deepest Baja, Mexico, it was she who took me on a side trip to Mama Espinoza’s. And that’s where she came to life on the page as well. That moment trickled back through the book in many ways. Even though it occurs late in the book, it’s the scene below that brought her to life while squatting in an untraveled valley deep in central Baja. (no spoilers)
When she’d first traveled here, she’d been driving. Fifty kilometers away, the nearest town, El Rosario, was a nothing place. Seventeen hundred people perched close by the Pacific, halfway down Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.
El Rosario was known for only two things.
It was traditionally the first rest stop in the six-day off-road rally race called the Baja 1000.
And it was the home of Mama Espinoza’s restaurant. Mama E. herself had died recently at the age of 109, but the kids had kept it going.
It was classic Mexico, except for the food being even better than usual. Since the 1930s, Mama E. had served meals in her home’s dining room. It had taken off in the ’60s, when it became the first checkpoint of the Baja 1000. And Mama E. had never looked back.
The house was now entirely restaurant. Painted brilliant red outside, with a half dozen long tables covered in plastic red-and-white checked tablecloths inside, it looked homey. Every wall was covered with photos of fifty years of racing. Mementos were everywhere, making it part museum as well. Racers had brought their motorcycles there to be blessed by Mama E. herself before the big races.
Taz could have moved in, if duty hadn’t called. However, she remembered the burrito trio: crab, garlic shrimp, and local lobster. She could definitely go through another set of those right now.
As she’d done all of her life, she shrugged off what couldn’t be and felt no regret. Her mother had taught her that. Take care of the now. Mama’s answer to everything. Taz had made herself an expert in dealing with the now.
Learn more about Taz in Ghostrider. Available everywhere June 23rd (including print & audio). Already on sale at Apple in a special promo.