On September 21 Arias, who speaks fluent Spanish, met Los Angeles-based photographer Ben Martin in Mexico City. Their first stop was a 14-story apartment building that had been reduced to rubble, and the first woman Arias talked to had a tale to tell—about her missing relatives. "She also said she had a son named Jonathan who survived the quake with her," he recalls. "I told her that I had had a son named Jonathan, too, but he was killed in a car accident nine years ago. I still carry his picture in my wallet, so I pulled it out and showed it to her. After that, her story just flowed out."
Returning to New York, Arias filed his story on deadline for last week's issue, but two days later he was on his way back to Mexico City, one jump ahead of Hurricane Gloria. "I had to get out of New York before the airports closed," he says, "so I kissed my wife, Joan, goodbye and flew to Chicago, connected there and went back to Mexico City."
Arias, a second generation Mexican-American, is a self-described Army brat who traveled all over the world before settling down to college at UCLA. Among his encounters: a chance meeting with Ernest Hemingway in 1959, which he re-creates in this issue (page 154). Obviously something rubbed off. Arias' first novel, The Road to Tamazunchale, was nominated for the National Book Award (now the American Book Awards) in 1975, but he claims he's been "reluctant to write another one since." Fortunately for us, he prefers the challenge of deadline reporting, even when it involves a big event far away. "I love working under pressure," he says. "All my instincts come alive on the street."
The morning after the second killer earthquake rumbled through Mexico City on September 20, writer Ron Arias was called at home in Stamford, Conn. and asked to catch the next flight out. With no time to pack, he and his VISA card headed for the airport. Thus began the two-week Odyssey that led to a story about two women united in the sorrow of lost loved ones (October 7) and this week's Scene piece (page 157) on the French rescue team that refused to stop looking for quake victims. "When I wrote the stories, I relived it all," says Arias, 43, father of Michael, a 17-year-old sophomore at Wesleyan (Conn.) University. "And I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried a few times into my typewriter."