João Morlett: Fourth Time's a Charm and the Link to His Ink | KCET
João Morlett: Fourth Time's a Charm and the Link to His Ink
Each week, Jeremy Rosenberg (@LosJeremy) asks, "How did you - or your family before you - wind up living in Los Angeles?"
This week he hears from restaurant manager João Morlett:
"I was born in Mexico City. I am Mexican. My whole family is Mexican.
But at the tender age of six-months-old, my mother and I moved to Sao Paolo, Brazil because my father happens to be Brazilian.
My mother -- her name is Susana -- and my father met in Mexico and he went back to Brazil after my mother had me. My mother and father never got married and when we arrived in Brazil, my father left for Germany. So I never grew up with a father; he's never been a part of my life.
My mother and I stayed in Sao Paolo until I was about five-years-old. Then we moved to Southern California. Let's call this my Arrival Number One. I have four arrivals to tell you about.
This first time I arrived happened when I was about five-and-a-half years old. We lived in Huntington Beach, where my mother was a maid for a wealthy family. We lived in the house that she cleaned and took care of.
My Aunt Esperanza helped make this happen. She and my mom have a crazy relationship. They are the only two women in a family of eight -- two boys and six girls. My aunt came to Los Angeles probably close to forty years ago. She has two daughters, Vicky and Connie. They are my cousins, but I consider them to be my sisters.
Right around when I turned six, my mom and I moved back to Mexico. Queretaro is a city about three hours northwest of Mexico City. That's where my grandparents live and that's where I consider my Mexican hometown. We stayed there until 1994, when I was fourteen.
That year, my mother was laid off from her job and she had recently become single. We needed to start from scratch again. This was a difficult place to be in. Obviously people do migrate because they are trying to make a better future for themselves. My mother and I left Mexico because we didn't think that we had a future there. That was a tough realization to come to. Unfortunately in Mexico, they discriminate against older workers. You can have all the skills in the world, but if you are older, they are going to hire someone younger.
So we moved from Queretaro to Fontana, in the Inland Empire. This was Arrival Number Two. But we only lasted six months -- we thought we had a place to live, but it turned out that we didn't.
We moved to Springfield, Missouri, which is very Bible belt, very Midwest. My mom had a friend there who she started dating. We stayed in Springfield, on and off, for the next nine years.
Even though I'd gone to school in the States only briefly, my English was pretty solid. That's because in Mexico, I'd had the privilege of going to a private, bilingual school. I learned English and Spanish simultaneously from first grade all the way through seventh grade. Unfortunately, my first language -- Portuguese -- got lost in the mix.
In 1997, my mother and her girlfriend broke up after three years together. We were faced again with the same question -- where do we start over? We returned to Fontana. We landed in the same house we used to live in until my mother and I got on our feet and got our own little apartment. My mother and I have always been kind of on our own. She's had long-term relationships, but at the end of the day, it's always been me and my mom.
We probably toughed it out in Fontana for six, seven months. And then we ended up again -- in Missouri! We really stayed for good this time -- I didn't leave until I moved to Chicago in 2003. My mom stayed there even longer. With all the moving we did, we kind of had made Springfield into our little home. So it just made sense for us to go back there.
I really fell in love with Chicago, I loved the attitude of the city.
My roommate and I lived in Wrigleyville, where Wrigley Field is, in the middle of Lakeview. And Lakeview is kind of the heart of Chicago, the North Side.
I was able to get a job within four days. I started working for California Pizza Kitchen as a server. I worked my way up into all different positions. I became a trainer for the store. I became a part-time manager. I got involved in doing "openings."
When you work for an established chain restaurant, an "opening" means that the company assembles a team of trainers to travel to a city where a new restaurant is starting. The trainers teach all the new employees and get the restaurant going.
We'd stay a month in each place -- that's two weeks of advance training and two weeks after the restaurant opens. So you see the restaurant skeleton, the bones, and then you just layer everything in there, including the people. Then you open the doors and have your grand opening. It's a very involved process.
The first openings I did were two in New York and one out here in San Luis Obispo. Then I was tapped to start doing international openings. My first was in Mexico City. Talk about full circle -- I hadn't been in Mexico in twelve years. I opened three restaurants in Mexico City and the last one of them was just miles away from the hospital where I was born.
Soon, I was doing openings in Seoul, South Korea and in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I got to go to Mumbai, India three times. I went to Shanghai, China for three months.
In 2010, while I was in Dubai, I was asked if I'd like to move out to Los Angeles and work at the corporate office. I was open and I said yes -- this is Arrival Number Four.
At first, I stayed with my family in the Inland Empire. The corporate office was right next to LAX. There were a couple of openings where I went right from the office to the terminal and got on a flight.
My commute from the Inland Empire was about fifty to sixty miles each way so I was driving between 100 and 120 miles every day. The first month, this was kind of a novelty. I was like, look at me! I'm in L.A. traffic! By month three, I was really exhausted.
So, I found an apartment with two roommates in Culver City. I was only ten minutes away from work. And that's kind of where my true Los Angeles experience began.
As a teenager, when I was living in the Inland Empire for a few months those two times, L.A. was the place to be. My friends would pile into a car and drive to the city and try to do cool things. There was such an allure. I remember one time we came to a mini-music festival, a one-day concert that KROQ was putting on.
Another time, I took the MetroLink from Fontana to see Rent at the Ahmanson Theater. I ended up missing the train back home and my mom was freaking out a bit. I got off hours early at Union Station and and I remember walking all around. I went to the Children's Museum. I went to Calle Olvera.
California Pizza Kitchen was sold in 2011 and I was a casualty. I was laid off -- me and forty other people lost their jobs. I was with them for eight years, so I definitely had a lot of loyalty. I left feeling nothing but grateful for all the opportunity -- I really loved what I did.
Now I work for a new company that I'm super-excited about, Veggie Grill. I manage our restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, next to the Arclight Theater and Cinerama Dome.
I have six tattoos on my right arm. They are each subway logos, or icons, from around the world.
My very first one, underneath my elbow, is a purple Number 7. It's for the 7 train in New York City.
I did my first opening in 2006. I was staying Queens and this was my first time in New York. The 7 train goes from Queens and drops you right in the middle of Times Square. You walk out and it's like you're in the center of the universe.
Any New Yorker who sees my arm is like, "Why you got the 7 train tattoo?" For me it was a whole story. It was my first time in New York. It was my 26th birthday. And I met Natalie Portman that night, you know?
My second tattoo is the orange letter "M" that represents Mexico City's subway. That's one of the craziest subways in the world, it gets packed like sardines, it's insane.
My third tattoo honors the Red Line in Chicago. This is the subway line that I've ridden the most anywhere. It's this one here -- the red symbol with the outline; you see the actual train, the wagon? When I lived in Chicago, I rode the Red Line everywhere. For seven years, I didn't own a car and I didn't need one. The train and even the buses were great.
Also on my left arm, here is the Seoul subway logo. They have an amazing system. Super clean. Super nice. People are so polite. And it's very easy to understand -- all the stations are in Korean and in English and they are numbered. I wouldn't have cared if it was confusing; I like a good subway map puzzle.
This tiny tattoo is the most expensive one I have. Tattoos are technically illegal in Korea. Or, tattoos are not illegal; tattooing is illegal. The only people who are allowed to do it are doctors that do like lip tattoos or eyebrows. Tattoo artists are not doctors. They work underground. So all their materials, their machines, their inks are expensive.
The two other tattoos I have are of the Dubai Metro and the Shanghai Metro. Dubai's is red Arabic text and Shanghai is an "S" and an "M." I also have the words, "Third World organized chaos" in Marathi, the language they speak in Mumbai, which is a reference to their crazy traffic. They don't have a subway yet!
I think that all this ink is like stamps on a passport. Kind of a list of my travels, of where I've lived and where I'm at.
When I moved to Culver City, it was the first weekend of December 2010.
I met my fiancé Joshua Olson on December 11, 2010. We've been together for more than two years. He's by far the best thing that's happened to me since I moved to L.A.*
For that reason alone, that's why I know I'm meant to be here. We're two kids from the Midwest. And he wanted to move to Chicago. It's like, out of all the places that we were meant to meet up, L.A. was the one.
Josh and I moved to Leimert Park. We can walk and get to an Expo Line stop. But I've only taken the L.A. subway twice. Maybe I'll spend a day soon just taking it all over. But the problem is, the train only goes from point A to point B. It's very specific and not very flexible.
Still, I've come to terms. I do think I want the Metro logo as a tattoo. The city could really benefit from having an amazing, amazing public transportation system. Maybe the tattoo is like that, a leap of faith, a hopeful act that the city will really make something important happen soon.
Putting the L.A. Metro symbol on me would really encompass the past two years. I feel like it will close a chapter of me traveling and starting a new life. And at worst, it's an 'M' - so if the subway doesn't work out I can tell people it stands for my last name."
-- João Morlett
(as told to Jeremy Rosenberg)
Top Photo: João Morlett. Photo courtesy João Morlett
Do you or someone you know have a great Los Angeles Arrival Story to share? If so, then contact Jeremy Rosenberg via: arrivalstory AT gmail DOT com. Also contact or follow Rosenberg on Twitter @LosJeremy
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