UNITED STATES—I tried to prepare myself in the plane for the time change in order to hit the ground walking, if not running. I ate lightly and drowsed as we flew over the “pond” I wonder what wag in what century came up with that nomenclature for the Atlantic Ocean? I kept rehearsing the actions I needed to take care of in the airport upon arrival at 8:28 a.m. first exchange enough money to handle a payphone to connect with our local contact. It took a while to get the hang of the local payphone and communicate without being stymied by the code for U.S. callers.

The souvenir-store cashier, who was chatting it up with a security guard, asked where I was going. Las Rozas, I said and she reacted “That’s a very nice place,” uttered with a look containing admiration and a touch of envy. I thought, I get all the luck, ending up in Madrid’s Beverly Hills.

Our host was going out for a musical audition that day and I failed to get an answer from the number to the brother of a dear friend in Los Angeles who told me to call and I would get a ride from the Barajas airport. I felt a creeping desperation, after the smugness of travel. I was one hot minute from taking the Metro into the city and decided, on a whim, to take a gander to read all the signs the drivers were holding up for travelers they were to pick up coming up the arrivals ramp. I started at the edges where scattered family members stood. Then to be thorough about it, I went down in front of the door for exiting arrivals, and there staring me in the face was my own name on a laminated sheet of paper.

It was a dream come true—the first of many in Madrid, a place I have talk about going to since I was in high school. It turned out that Francisco and Carmen were just as desperate as I was. The mama of my friend Maria in the U.S. imagined I had lost my suitcase. Francisco was clearly a professional, wore a tie and was stern behind a pair of Prada sunglasses.

“Where are you going to stay?” asked Carmen, taking decisive steps toward the black Japanese luxury car in the parking structure. I stammered and felt like a douchebag before the sternness of Francisco. With our contact at Las Rozas out of the picture, I had a foggy picture of where I was going to stay.

No sooner had Carmen and I got situated and out spilled an invitation, “Why don’t we drive to our place and then we’ll go out for dinner.”

Out to Coto de Monterrey we went went 50 kilometers north of Madrid. The vestiges of the city dribbled away past the outskirts. A brush-covered, hilly landscape, sometimes dotted by the olive trees I observed from the passing plains; it was greener that Mexico, dryer than California that rolled by as we drove down a nice highway with sparse traffic toward an urbanizacion (gated community) that’s got a sign here a la Hollywood nestled in the foothills and it’s branded for the rich.

“People think we are rich,” Carmen said. “We are rich only in books and flowers.”

I learn more about Carmen (her daughter is in Bilbao and will have a grandchild in September, “I won’t sacrifice my life for the grandchildren, you have to live life.”

Fernando, Carmen’s mate for 28 years had a good job, but decided it would be more worthwhile to leave his job and build their house. Before I met him, I see his vegetable garden in the front yard. He is working in the blazing midday sun on redoing their swimming pool, the guts of a Jacuzzi are now exposed. He has gold glasses, a gap tooth smile and a considerable equator.

Fernando knows a thing or two about construction, testified for by the house perches at many levels on the hillside with walkway and another vegetable garden and trees that have grown up to blot out the sky and the view of the highway of the cars traveling down the highway that goes between the Cerro de San Pedro and where the sun will set tonight. Also the foliage serves to dim the traffic sound.

To be continued…

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)