|Sicily 1995 Manuel Roybal, our tour guide, and me.
This morning as I was surfing the internet, I came upon a familiar face, Manuel. We go way back to the 90's when we traveled together with the Latin Locomotions and our vata loca, Sherry Coca Candelaria took us with her to the Department of Defense tour of the Persian Gulf, the Azores, Sicily, and Diego Garcia in 1995. We had all three been friends and worked together in Denver at Su Teatro a Chicano Cultural Arts Center doing comedy and teatro with the veteranos: Tony Garcia, Yolanda Ortega, Debra Gallegos, and many others.
I came across a music clip of my friend singing a blues song, I hate quelitas, spinach. I laughed so hard and felt nostalgia sweep over me. I missed him and his great voice and professional guitar playing. Then I heard him sing the next song, Simplemente, and I felt like crying and dancing and I turned serious. I heard the song I'd heard several times before on stage and felt a longing in my gut. I missed my old friend, Manuel. A song made me feel happy, sad, lonely, content, and miserable all at once. His power, his talent, his strength: his ability to move his audience to tears, laugher, melancholy.
I felt like I'd heard it for the first time and I realized how much I had taken this great musician, actor, comedien for granted. All those years of performing together all across the world, I had him next to me every day, traveled the world with him, spent time eating meals, drinking café con leche...
He moved to New Mexico when he retired. I moved to Southern Colorado and we both left Denver for a chance to be near familia. We saw each other for birthday parties and book signings but our paths took different directions and if not for Facebook, pinche, Facebook, we might have lost touch. But we didn't. We stayed amigos. We are familia. He is my brother and his wife is my sister.
He makes me laugh, cry, sing, dance, and rejoice. I love him. He means the world to me. I realized I need to take a road trip and visit him. Life is short, que no? I've lost friends who've crossed to the other side and we're not getting any younger. Actually we're getting on in years, but we still have the ability to make people laugh, cry, howl, dance, sing with our words. Me with my poetry and storytelling; Manuel with his golden voice and silver guitar fingers. He is a rare mix of genius and the magic is he doesn't know how great he is and how loved he remains after all of these years.
In 1992 I married my husband, Vince. In 1995 I left the U.S.A. for five weeks and travelled with my friends, the Latin Locomotions to the greatest places on Earth: the military bases in foreign countries. It was the happiest times of my life and I know it was because I was with two of my great friends, Sherry and Manuel. But this story is about Manuel and how he made me feel safe even though I was thousands of miles from my little casa in Colorado. He had been sober for decades. I had been sober for five years. Everyone and everywhere we traveled the soldiers partied and danced and sang and celebrated a little Chicano musica and comedy. Manuel and I drank tea and watched the soldiers revel in a little homegrown music and comedy. If Manuel hadn't been with me, I'd have been the only sober person in all of the after parties. But we enjoyed every minute and now we share our stories with anyone who will listen.
The Department of Defense paid us to travel and do what we love. Sing and perform. But we would have worked for free for the opportunity to entertain our brothers and sisters who defend our country every day and night of the year. They are heroes. They deserve a little celebration. They deserve to party and relax after a long day.
Manuel, this post is for you. A thank you for all of the times we shared, the road trips, the rides on cargo planes, the lost luggage, the time you locked yourself in your hotel room in Kuwait or wherever the hell we were that night. The stories we shared and the tears we shed, the laughter, the music, the love. Te amo, Manuel. Never forget our adventures.
Please check his music out online. You won't be disappointed.