Gas, Food, Lodging was Allison Anders first solo project. She signed on as the director and wrote the screenplay herself, which is an adaptation of Richard Peck's novel "Don't Look and It Won't Hurt." The title of the movie refers to those omnipresent signs that direct travelers off the interstates and into travel plazas or truck stops. The highways cut through the heart of many small American towns, all dependent on a steady flow of traffic. Behind each sign, the drama of small town affairs is played out amongst the wax and wane of transitory travel and commerce.
I would be a fan of Allison Anders, even if she had never set foot in this dust blown town. Anders an American film screenwriter and director, is perhaps best known for "Mi Vida Loca" a movie that takes an eyes wide open look at gang life in Los Angeles' Echo Park neighborhood (where Anders happened to reside when the film was made) It's a gangsta paradise tale of dope sliggin' Ernesto and his mini truck "Suavecito" as told by the women in his life. "Mi Vida Loca" was a success at the box office, but it would do even better in the rental stores, becoming an established Hispanic favorite with a cult like following.
For Gas, Food, Lodging, Allison and her production team arrived in Deming in 1991 and started filming in and around town. Nora the character played by Brooke Adams is a truck stop waitress. Which made Deming's rundown and sleazy Truck Terminal the primary location for filming. The trailer park where Nora and her two daughters, Trudi (Ione Skye) and Shade (Fairuza Balk) live is located adjacent to the truck stop. Even in 1991, living there would've placed them at the bottom rung of the town's social and economic ladder.
The entire crew stayed at Deming's Holiday Inn, which was the only motel that could cater to the Hollywood folks. With a lounge/bar, a restaurant and room service, it was as close to luxury as they would get in this town. In researching this story I went there to see if after all these years I could dig up any dirt. There was one lady who started working there in 1990, that I spoke to. When I inquired about the film crew, the only thing she seemed to recall was that "The girl in The Waterboy stayed here" "Fairuza Balk?" I asked, in an attempt to jog her memory. She looked at me like I was speaking in a foreign language "I didn't know her name, but I took her room service calls, she was nice." That was the total extent of my research.
Nora and her daughters live in a small town along I-10 in Southern New Mexico. There is no mention of Deming in the movie, because the name was changed to Laramie. In all actuality the story could take place in any part of the country. The fictional town in Peck's novel is named Claypitts, "The Pearl of the Prairie" and is within a couple hours drive of Chicago. Claypitts like Deming is on an Interstate. Peck's matriarch is a hostess and waitress at the Pull off Plaza, "How's that for real class?" her youngest daughter snidely remarks.
The movie deals with the ongoing battle between Nora and her oldest daughter Trudi, who has almost no redeeming qualities, "I'm the dominant female in this house, you're both following my cycle." Trudi yells at her mother and sister. Shade escapes from the drama at home by watching old black & white Mexican melodramas at the town's nearly empty theater. Deming had such a theater once, The Luna. The English speaking (i.e. white or Hispanic) moviegoers went across the street to the Mimbres Theater (the scenes that show Shade in the theater were filmed there)
Shade plots ways to get a man back into her mother's life, so they can live like a normal family. She unwittingly sets her mom up for a dinner date with the married man Nora had just broken up with. Shade describes him this way "I could tell he was no loser. He had on the clothes of a teamster and boots from Spain... or at least El Paso" Tony Lamas, no doubt. Nora takes Ray showing up at her door in stride, leading to this classic dialogue:
Ray: What line of work are in, Ms. Evans?
Nora: I'm a brain surgeon, Raymond
Nora: How about you?
Ray: I'm a grave digger myself and I'm digging my own as we speak....rapidly.
Nora: That makes two things you do quick
Heartbroken, Shade confides in her friend, Darius a flamboyant teenager, who she discovers is gay when she tries to seduce him. As Nora had predicted Trudi gets knocked up by some British rockhound, who seemingly bails on her (after having sex with her inside an abandoned mine..kinky!)
Trudi is quickly put on a bus to Dallas (a few Deming gals made that same journey) Nora then meets up with a cocky satellite installer named Hamlet Humphrey, who after she rejects both his advances and sales pitch tells her "Maybe TV just ain't what you need, lady" Shade is now on a quest to find her daddy, John Evans (James Brolin) After a chance meeting he gives her a ride home. Later he tells her "I ain't shit... but I'm your old man, darling. (typical way for Deming dads to introduce themselves to their kids) John is living with another woman now and Shade's subsequent visit is awkward. When Shade tells Nora that she's met up with her father, Nora responds "And he doesn't even bother to call us? He just stalks us like the coward he always was!" However, all is well that ends well. Shade hooks up with Javier (Jacob Vargas), the cholo who Trudi calls a wetback at the start of the movie. It turns out that Hamlet Humphrey did have what Nora needed (and he was right, it wasn't television)
Both Nora and Shade travel to be with Trudi when she has her baby, afterwards Shade asks Trudi if she'll return to Laramie, "Laramie's a shit hole" Trudi answers "There's nothing there, except a lot of bad memories" which also happens to be the new slogan used by The Deming Chamber of Commerce. Back in Dem...err! Laramie, Shade stumbles on the truth about Trudi's baby daddy. Seems the dumbass Brit, fell into a mine shaft and was killed. That's why he never returned to own up to his responsibilities. Shade decides not to tell Trudi, at least not right away.
Richard Peck is an adequate writer and Allison Anders is always an excellent screenwriter. Anders skillfully weaves the mundane everyday routine of life in a small New Mexico town into a tapestry of quiet (and not so quiet) desperation.J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. provided some of the soundtrack music and also makes an appearance as 'The D.J. from L.A." who tries to force his way into Tanya's (Shade's other friend) house, and gets bitch slapped by John Evans, who shows up delivering liquor to underage girls, what a buzz kill.