In the summer of 1984 there were a lot of strangers wandering around my little hometown of San Elizario Texas, and when I say strangers I mean just that. My hometown was so small, back then, everyone knew everyone else. So when we saw someone we didn’t recognize it was a big deal, let alone a lot of people we didn’t recognize. We were that type of quintessential small American hometown where everybody’s parents knew everyone else’s kids. So things like “I know your dad, do you want me to tell him your breaking windows or do you want to stop?” were heard all around town by other kids parents (yes, yes I did break a couple of windows). So when trucks full of people and equipment came to town it was to say, very noticeable. Semi-tractor trailers chock full of equipment no one knew what it was going to be used for, were parked on the sides of our small two lane roads taking up perfectly good bike riding space.
Then it all began to change, my hometown that is, old storefronts that hadn’t been opened in decades were being renovated, or should I say restored to actually look old.
The roads around the beautiful old church were being covered with dirt, old telephone booths were being put up in almost every corner within a two mile radius of the town square.
Then one day another three 18 wheeler’s showed up, parked outside our house and a group of men wanted to talk to my uncle to see if they could pay him to park the three trucks full of antique cars. He of course said yes, I mean hello? Money to have three large trucks parked on three acres of land that weren’t being used, that was easy money. I woke up one hot summer morning in 1984 and as I ate my cereal, I watched from my dining room window while groups of men unloaded old vintage cars from theses semi-trucks in our back yard. In between my softball practice and hanging out with my friends we all watched our regular little town transform from what we knew to something out of the 1960’s, storefronts that lay dormant come back to life. Old signs being put up all over town to advertise Oxydol, Borax and a cola called Moxie.
Old houses getting fresh “old” paint and “vintage” cars parked randomly around the church square.
Then nothing, for weeks everything came to a standstill, the townsfolk were told to keep everything as is, that nothing should be touched and that “they” would be back. So that’s what everyone did. Then one day my dad came home and said that he had been approached by one of the “gueros” on the crew that brought the old cars to our back yard, to see if he wanted to earn some extra money on the weekends and be a security guard. My dad said yes, and then life began once again as tons of people came in huge RV’s and more semi-tractor trailers. They inundated our little town with more people than we were used to seeing on Sundays after church. My mom’s office was in an old building dating back to the l800’s which was in the town square next to our beautiful church. They transformed her office front into a café, bakery and barber shop right out of the 1960’s.
But that wasn’t even close to being the most impressive part, well at least for me it wasn’t. It was when they announced that they’d be filming a movie with a group of actors no one had heard of yet.
And again that wasn’t enough to impress me, what impressed me was that this entire film crew was being taken care of by five, FIVE large catering trucks! They made them breakfast, lunch and dinner, and they served things like t-bone steaks, shrimp cocktail, filet mignon, the biggest baked potatoes anyone’s ever seen. They had desserts like German chocolate cake, which at this point in my life I didn’t know existed! They had fruit trifle with homemade whipped cream, the very first time I had bratwurst was on this movie set, grilled served on the softest buns with real hot mustard and some kind of fries with mayonnaise (which I though was weird but ate anyway).
I was in culinary heaven! But how did the Huntress get to eat off of a movie set catering truck you ask? Well, simply put my dad had taken the gig as one of ten security guards and they got to eat from the movie catering, so that meant I did too.
So as they started to film, the hustle and bustle of the day to day work the film cast and crew would start at dawn and end….well it never ended, this was a 24/7 kind of thing. Then one day I found myself having lunch with my dad and sat at one of the picnic tables they had all around the town square. My dad finished and left and I found myself blissfully eating the biggest New York strip steak I had seen, with herb butter on top, a baked potato the size of my head and a fresh spinach salad with garlic and tomato in a lemon vinaigrette. Which normally I wouldn’t have eaten at that age because it was fresh and also spinach but once I gave it a try I was hooked. As I ate my food I was blissfully unaware of my surroundings. Then I heard a voice ask me “Excuse me little girl, is anyone sitting here?” I mean I was far from little, I was fourteen. I looked up and saw one of the actors still in his film attire, a handsome young man in a tattered tuxedo, with dirt and grime all over the white ruffled shirt, his messy hair being tossed by the light summer breeze as he held his lunch.
I nodded no, and he just sat down right next to me and began to eat, then asked “Do you live around here?” and I said “yes, just down the street.” He took a huge bite from his corned beef sandwich on rye which also was the size of my head. He looked around as he ate then said “It’s nice around here, very quiet” and I looked up taking a drink of my iced tea with lemon I said “It was, until you guys showed up.” He laughed out loud, patted me on the back and said “I suppose that’s true” and went back to eating his lunch. As we both ate in silence his co-stars came to the table and sat down with us.
One of the other actors asked me my name, I looked up at him and thought to myself man this dude has really dirty glasses on (part of his wardrobe) and I said “My names Ronnie” (that was my nickname as a kid) he then responded in a chipper voice “Hello Ronnie, I’m Judd” I said hi back as he sat down across from me. Before I knew it my table was being taken over by almost the entire cast of the film, with the exception of the big actor, who played the minister, who sat with his, I’m assuming girlfriend near one of the RV’s they stayed in. I finished my lunch and said goodbye to the group of rough and tumble guys that were sitting with me and they all turned and said bye, then Judd said “Bye Ronnie, see ya later” and I waved again and left. This is the Judd I was eating lunch with……
They filmed in my hometown for almost three weeks, and I during that time, enjoyed the perks of being fed by the outstanding catering trucks all because of my dad and his part time gig as a movie set security guard.
As the days passed and they continued filming I was always around either at my mom’s office or with my dad and of course eating from the catering truck. This is where I first tried foods I hadn’t eaten before, as mentioned the bratwurst with hot mustard, corned beef on rye, which one of the chefs on the truck said was “authentic New York” style, pasta with shrimp in garlic sauce. All the while enjoying how our dusty little town had been all dressed up to be in a big time Hollywood film.
I sat down to lunch or dinner with the “guys” from the film more than once, never realizing who they were or more importantly, who they would become. Kevin Costner ate with me on several occasions. My mom actually took a picture of me with him sitting at a wooden picnic table and he’s smiling with his hand around my shoulder. I tried in vain to look for that picture in boxes and boxes of old pictures my mom has stashed in her storage to no avail. Then before I decided to write this post I asked her about the pictures from the movie that was filmed back in 1984. She said “Oh, I threw a lot of those pictures away, those actors never amounted to much” and I almost screamed at her saying “Are you fucking serious?! You threw them away?!”
She looked at me and I took my phone and brought up a picture of Kevin Costner today and said “This is ‘the’ actor, the one in the dirty tuxedo that you though wouldn’t amount to anything, do you recognize him?” She squinted her eyes and said “Oh, that’s him?” I was furious, but what can I say? Now I have no bragging rights or proof to show anyone I had an actual picture with “the” Kevin Costner before he became famous.
The film was called Fandango, and has since become somewhat of a cult classic.
In this clip, the very first scene was shot in an even smaller town south of my hometown named Tornillo (which is screw, literally) in Spnaish. The large tree and small house or bus bench was where many of us in high school would go, sit by the small river and drink beer. But here, it’s transformed, made to look older than usual and the small two lane highway was used as a landing strip for Truman Sparks to land his plane on.
The next scene is where my dad, uncles and a lot of the towns people were used as extras for the dance/wedding scene. It was filmed at 2:30am, they shot this scene like eight times to get it right. The catering trucks were just outside camera shot and they were pumping out hot coffee, hot chocolate with whipped cream and tons of pastries to the actors and extras. This is where I had my very first European style chocolate croissant.
The gazebo in the town square was also recently remodeled, now it has wooden beams, what you see in the film with the ironwork scrolls is what I use to hang off of as a kid, like a jungle gym. I loved rollerskating in that square, this is where I learned to use a skateboard, where my friend Toni and her boyfriend Joey found me on that horrible Valentines Day and took their revenge on a Dodge Duster. I love how the church is lit up so at night you can see the soft glow of the lights through the windows.
So this is how my hometown was famous and for a few glorious weeks back in 1984, and where I was elbow to elbow as a fourteen year old, eating lunch with Kevin Costner and Judd Nelson.
Until next time remember, chin up, soldier on and watch you back!