Susan Straight’s Novel ‘Mecca’ Verifies Names of Inland Empire People and Places

Bill Densmore won an unusual honor: the chance to see his name in fellow Riversider Susan StraightThe novel “Mecca”.

Here’s how it happened. A conversation between Straight and Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson inside the main library still open in May 2021 was streamed live to those at home who had purchased a $60 ticket at the Riverside Public Library Foundation. I was present thanks to the foundation.

The names of the 60 donors were put in a bowl with the winner to get a cameo in “Mecca”. Lock Dawson drew the slip.

“It’s someone I know. Bill Densmore,” the mayor announced.

Straight began to think out loud: “William Densmore is a person who drives a very nice classic car. I’m thinking maybe a 1964 Impala.” Once the recording was over, she was already revising mentally: “He doesn’t have a car, he has a horse. And he lives in Norco.

I asked Straight how she would add Densmore to a novel that was essentially complete. She was doing the final edits, which meant she could swipe her name.

Eleven months later, “Mecca” was published to acclaim by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and more. I asked right after his April 14 talk on “Mecca” at UCR Arts if and how Densmore had succeeded.

She pointed me to the right pages – since then I have read and enjoyed her book – and said including it was a simple task. All she had to do was add a last name.

“I had already written the scene,” she said. “The guy’s name was even Bill.”

On pages 59-61, CHP officer Johnny Frias chases a Ford Ranger truck, filled with scrap metal, which attempts to evade him by driving away from Highway 91. The truck’s trailing muffler starts small fires as the driver speeds down dirt roads near the bed of the Santa Ana River.

A good citizen in a 2010 Chevy Silverado steps in to help.

“Blue Diamond Pool Cleaning,” the sticker read. Bill Densmore. Norco, California. The bed of the truck full of pool cleaning equipment, hoses and buckets of chemicals,” says Frias. “He came running towards me with two fire extinguishers. He shouted: ‘You name it?’ “

The two fight the fires as best they can until they realize it’s futile. Frias watches Densmore turn around in his Silverado and head to “the new subdivision” – perhaps for more pool cleaning.

I don’t know if Densmore, who spent 34 years at the Riverside County Veterans Services office, would have preferred his ride to be a classic Impala or a horse, Straight’s first two notions. But at least he’s in the book as a civic-minded citizen.

More ‘Mecca’

Besides Densmore’s cameo, Page 61 also names two fictional Riverside CHP officers, Darren Fredow and Rob Jekel. They are also internal references.

Darren and Rob, who have different surnames in real life, are friends of Straight who she said “play darts with me at Elks Lodge 643.” And the Jekel surname is a tribute to famed Riverside architect Henry Jekel, who designed some 70 Spanish Colonial Revival homes in the town.

This is a dense 951 material.

“Mecca” follows a cast of unrelated characters, including a CHP officer, a woman he once helped, a plastic surgeon, and several immigrant housekeepers, in what almost amounts to a series of short stories including the threads begin to intertwine.

Most of the novel takes place in the Inland Empire. Place names are generously dropped.

In Riverside County, readers will find Riverside, Temecula, Perris, Moreno Valley, Corona, Lake Elsinore, San Jacinto, Norco, Desert Hot Springs, Indio, Coachella, Calimesa, Anza, Agua Mansa, the Badlands, Thermal, and Mecca , the small community that gives its name to the novel.

The San Bernardino County towns of Fontana, San Bernardino, Rialto, Chino, Cucamonga, Yucca Valley, and Joshua Tree are also mentioned.

Same with institutions in both counties like San Bernardino Valley College, College of the Desert, Wigwam Motel, St. Bernardine’s Medical Center, Conroy’s Flowers, Tony’s Market, Fantasy Springs Casino, Desert Mirage High School, various Native American tribes and a few. canyons.

Also, some local supermarket chain.

“I had to put my Stater Bros. in there,” Straight said during his UCR Arts talk with interviewer Doug McCulloh, before discussing his appearance a few days earlier at Green Apple Books in San Francisco, where she had read a section that mentioned the grocery store.

“When I read ‘Stater Bros.’, everyone was, ‘What the hell is this?’” Straight said, as we at Riverside laughed. She said she explained Stater Bros. to his Fog City audience this way: “They’ve got the best meat.”


Richard and Laura Alvarez were married on June 1, 1957, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pomona. “My dad taught at Garey High School for years and my mom worked for the Pomona Unified School District,” says daughter Alicia Keetle. Sixty-five years later, Richard, 87, and Laura, 84, are still together and still live in their native Pomona. Happy birthday, you crazy kids.

David Allen writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, happily. Email, call 909-483-9339, like davidallencolumnist on Facebook and follow @davidallen909 on Twitter.

Irene B. Bowles