Grace Note from the Santa Fe Mexican Grill

Facebook just reminded me of this date from 3 years ago today. We had just finished our extravaganza tree lighting show at a high-end destination mall in Seattle, where I MC’d the show as Mrs. Santa. Ask anyone who knows me; I’m a sucker for a costume gig. My boss, event creator Karla Ross, with whom I was sharing an AirBnB house, had gotten on a plane for home early the next morning, but I was scheduled for much later in the day.  I’d never been to Seattle before, and had very much looked forward to meeting the city that had, for years, been romanticized for me by my favorite TV show at the time, Grey’s Anatomy. The truth is, I knew nothing about Seattle. And, honestly, it looked nothing like I’d seen on TV. I had flown into Sea-Tac the morning after Karla, and had taken a city bus from the airport to the job site, where I’d met up with her to go over preliminary details for the show the following day (I was not only a performer in the show; I was also her assistant). And on the bus to the job site, something turned my head to the right and landed my gaze on that magnificent behemoth of God’s creation, Mount Rainier, in the very far distance but towering over the entire city like a grown man looming over his miniature train-set town. I heard you can’t always see it; that depending on the level of cloud cover, as monstrously sized as it is, it may be invisible to the eye. So, this moment was a moment. It stole my glance for so many seconds (minutes?) that my eyes actually began to sting, until I blinked rapidly to get the juices flowing again. Most special bus ride ever.

Fun show, great success, fast forward to the morning after our big show, with Mrs. Claus’ wig packed away for the season, and I was alone in the AirBnB room, with a day ahead of me that had nothing to do with the job we’d come there for. I was being picked up by Kerry, who had moved up there from L.A. in her new state-of-the-art RV and had never looked back. I hadn’t seen her since she’d taken off for these climes a few years before. I told her to meet me at this Mexican Restaurant a block down the hill and around the corner from the AirBnB. I had to check out a good hour before she could come get me, so I figured I’d get some breakfast while waiting. I was in a fairly unattractive part of town that dashed all my fantasies about Seattle. It was the suburb of Renton, literally walking distance of the mall where the show had happened. I’d heard Renton was beautiful, but this part of town looked like one giant truck stop; the restaurant shared its parking lot with a gas station, a mini-mart, and a coffee kiosk.  It was also first thing in the morning, so as I hiked down the hill, bundled in the fleece coat I’d bought just for the trip and my duffel bag over my shoulder, with a light quilt of morning dew on my shaven head, I wondered if the restaurant would even be open.

I hadn’t experienced an ounce of rain in the two days I’d been in the city known for its rain, and I felt lucky, as rain depresses me. Yes, I know rain is good for the earth, blah, blah, blah. I recognize and appreciate any we can get, and still I say a quiet thank you whenever the sun is out and my head is dry, because the depression is real, and I’ve felt a little lost lately, and the rain never helps. I hiked down the hill and walked into the restaurant—yes, open!—a small place barely peopled at this hour, and was instantly lifted by the Christmas playlist on the speakers. Not ranchero or mariachi music bouncing the room with its infectious buoyancy, the staple of all American-soil Mexican restaurants, but Perry Como, and Nat King Cole, and lush string sections, and jingle bells peppering every song. 

I could not resist spinning the rainless-yet-serenely-overcast morning and the Bing Crosby into the crystal prism of serendipity I always believe is my little grace note from God. In the same way that rain takes me down, Christmas music, the schmaltzier the better, floods my brain with serotonin.

It was a quiet morning. Also a plus. Multi-colored string lights draped every window and threshold, the music was medicine, and I had huevos rancheros and a Mexican coffee, and I sat with a good book (essential to the grace note), while I waited for Kerry. We would shortly be on our way, just a few miles down the road, to visit the grave of Jimi Hendrix. I have a thing for cemeteries, and for visiting the burial sites of folks in history. I’ve hit a few in my life: MLK in Atlanta. Arlington Cemetery and the eternal flame of JFK. Richard and Pat Nixon at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, California. The tragic victims of the Challenger explosion in Houston. Many, many movie stars at both Hollywood Forever Cemetery and Forest Lawn in Los Angeles. And the mother lode of famous cemeteries, Père Lachaise in Paris, where I’ve placed my hand on the graves of Chopin, Edith Piaf, Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, Richard Wright, Modigliani, Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, Isadora Duncan, Maria Callas, Rossini, Moliere. And finally, I would get to see the grave of one of my musical, cultural, and spiritual idols. We would end up not only standing where Jimi lay, and ogling all the lipsticked kisses covering his black marble headstone, we would traverse the entire grounds, get grounded, enjoy each other’s company, and be reflective about mortality. But until then, in this instant, at a truck stop in Renton, I was in a state of peace I didn’t want to let go of any time soon.

The following year we did the same job, stayed in the same AirBnB house, and I tried my damnedest to recreate that moment. I wouldn’t be seeing Kerry on that trip. My only window of opportunity for Santa Fe Mexican Grill was my first night there, the night before the big show. Karla was the one who had made plans with a friend this time, so I strolled down the hill again, and ordered an enchilada plate and a margarita. Though it was the same time of year, there were no Christmas lights up, and even sadder, no Christmas music playing overhead. I ended up feeling horrible after my meal and nearly crawled back to my room and into bed, where I ended up being actually quite flu-y for the remainder of the trip. Only a couple of months later would we all be shockingly introduced to the novel coronavirus and rumblings that Seattle had gotten hit before a lot of other cities, and so I would wonder looking back.

I was doing the thing I always do; having had such a perfect moment the year before, I had to orchestrate everything I possibly could to recreate it. To cling to it. To hold on tight, as if there will never be such a moment again, therefore I need to pin it like a wrestler and force it to re-conjure. It never fails to disappoint, of COURSE, and honestly I believe that’s its brilliant design. The signal to stay present, to cherish a moment IN the moment. And then… to be able to let it go (Buddhist teachings I’ve had in my arsenal for years, yet I seem to still, stubbornly, require the lesson), to allow that moment from last year, last week, five minutes ago, to plant itself in me and bloom beautifully. Then let the petals fall, allowing the space to make way for new. Because there is always new. THAT we can count on.

And for that tiny bit of grace, I am eternally thankful.