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Always Running | Study Guide

Luis J. Rodriguez

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Always Running | Chapter 6 | Summary



Luis Rodríguez's mother, María Estela, is concerned about her 16-year-old son, who is at loose ends since being expelled from Mark Keppel High School. She enlists the aid of Mr. Rothro, a former principal at Rodríguez's elementary school. Rothro visits Rodríguez in the family garage, where Rodríguez lives at his mother's insistence, and offers to do what he can to help. He asks about Rodríguez's old Underwood typewriter, and Rodríguez tells him he is writing a book about "what I've seen, what I feel, about the people around me. You know—things."

Afterward, Rodríguez's father, Alfonso, takes Rodríguez with him to the college at which he works and enrolls him in nearby Taft High School. This means a new routine for the teen—up at 4:30 each morning, classes during the day, hanging out at the college library until Alfonso is off work, and returning home after dark. As the only Mexican at Taft, Rodríguez stands out. He is not permitted to take the classes in which he is interested (such as photography, art, and literature) because he does not have the necessary prerequisites. He does manage to get into an English literature class but is told to leave after an argument with the teacher. One day he attacks a student he thinks is talking about him. Several teachers are needed to pull him off the boy, and the school designates him as "violent and uncontrollable." Then there is a two-month teachers' strike. When school resumes, Rodríguez does not return. His exposure to literature while attending Taft has whetted his taste for reading, however. He makes frequent use of L.A.'s libraries, exposing himself to the works of classic British and American writers.

One evening as Christmas approaches, Rodríguez's friend Chicharrón and another young man named Arnie visit him in his garage room. The three go out together and eat at a nice restaurant. When the bill arrives it becomes obvious that Arnie is expected to pay, but he has no money. Chicharrón and Arnie slip out, but Rodríguez is detained by "two Frankensteins." They take him to the restaurant's back office, where a manager named Charles Kearney tells him that he has called the police. He asks Rodríguez why he ordered and ate a meal without paying, and Rodríguez replies that he was hungry and had no money. He adds that he does not like jail or being beaten by cops, but "[t]hat's the way of the neighborhood."

A police officer nicknamed Cowboy, whom Rodríguez knows, arrives. His contempt for Chin (Rodríguez) is obvious, and Kearny decides not to press charges. Cowboy becomes angry and storms out. Kearny tells Rodríguez to go and never return to his restaurant. Rodríguez thanks him and leaves. Outside he meets Chicharrón, who is holding a metal pipe. (Arnie has fled.) Chicharrón tells Rodríguez that he had planned to attack Cowboy when they came out of the restaurant. The two leave the scene, fearful that Cowboy will return.

The following summer, Chente Ramírez, a community organizer whom Rodríguez has befriended, offers Rodríguez a job cleaning up and maintaining local public parks and alleys. The catch is that he must also return to school in the fall. Rodríguez stays busy with the job during the day and with volunteer work on evenings and weekends. He also takes up boxing under the tutelage of local boxing club owner Daniel Fuentes (and sponsored by Rubén Navarro, a successful featherweight). Rodríguez's mother (María Estela), brother (José René (Joe)), and sisters (Ana Virginia and Gloria Estela), show up to watch his first bout. He loses, injuring his nose badly in the process. When he sees his mother afterward, he can tell she has been crying.

Sometime later, Rodríguez's friends Yuk Yuk and Daddio drink several pints of tequila and steal a car. It begins to rain as they drunkenly attempt to rob a convenience store. Someone shoots at them, and they flee. Police cars and a helicopter pursue them, and they reach 120 miles per hour before crashing. The medical examiner describes their remains as "nearly disintegrated."

Rodríguez begins attending a study group called the Collective, led by Ramírez. Members study and discuss the "dynamics of social revolution." The location is a secret, and the real names of the participants are not spoken over the telephone. At Rodríguez's fourth or fifth session—he is not certain which—he is hallucinating and unable to connect with what is being discussed. It is obvious to everyone that something is wrong, and after the meeting Chente demands to know what. Rodríguez admits he has taken drugs, and Chente tells him that he must choose between succumbing to insanity or working for a better world.


Rodríguez is 16 in this chapter, which places the narrative in the year 1970. Notably, this chapter is the only point in Always Running where Rodríguez mentions either of his parents making a proactive attempt to help him. The meeting between Mr. Rothro and Rodríguez reminds the reader that the young Rodríguez has an active mind and a pronounced creative streak. His attempt at writing a meaningful book (a very early version of Always Running, it seems) parallels his pursuit of the saxophone in Chapter 4. Later, he will explore and achieve success in other avenues of artistic expression.

Rodríguez's father, Alfonso, takes an active role in raising his son for virtually the only time in the book, setting him up in a decent high school after his expulsion from Mark Keppel in Chapter 4. Rodríguez's interest in bettering himself is strong enough that he agrees to a routine that goes from before dawn to after dark in order to resume taking classes. In what has become a pattern, however, Rodríguez's attempt at formal education is thwarted both by an inadequate system and by his own inability to keep his temper in check. Still, it is his choice to not return to Taft High School after the teachers' strike.

The episode in the restaurant again demonstrates the LAPD's flawed approach to handling minority crime, as do the violent deaths of Rodríguez's friends Yuk Yuk and Daddio. In Chapter 3 Rodríguez describes the police as "just another gang," adding, "We even give them names. There's Cowboy, Big Red, Boffo and Maddog." In this chapter he encounters Cowboy, whose contempt for him and intent to harm him are so obvious that the restaurant manager from whom Rodríguez has stolen takes pity on the teen (much to Cowboy's resentment). Yuk Yuk and Daddio do not fare as well in their encounter with the law; the high-speed chase in the rain ends in their deaths.

Community organizer and activist Chente Ramírez emerges in this chapter, as earlier, as a ray of hope for Rodríguez. Here, Ramírez gives Rodríguez the chance to take on legitimate work and return to school. He also helps connect Rodríguez with a local amateur boxing program, which gives Rodríguez the opportunity to channel his aggressive tendencies in a more socially acceptable direction. The fact that all of the Rodríguez family (except Alfonso) come to watch his first bout indicates that they are still willing to support any effort at self-improvement, despite all that has happened.

The reader might have misgivings about another aspect of Rodríguez's relationship with Ramírez—his involvement with the Collective, a secretive revolutionary group. On the other hand, the group's confidentiality might be justified as a rational reaction to the local authorities'—the LAPD, in particular—organized and consistent efforts to keep L.A.'s minority communities in their place.

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