The California Diary: In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, people talk to me because I’m brown

In today’s installment of my bi-polar look at the Golden State, I write about those folks of like-tinted skin around here who just enjoy stopping me so that they could speak Spanish to me.

It’s mildly annoying, especially when I’m in a hurry, but overall I guess it’s nice for them to chat in their native tongue. The irony is that the first language I ever learned was Spanish. But since enrolling in public school I lost a lot of the vocabulary and now speak a version of it more closely resembling Tex-Mex.

Lemme ‘splain.

The action “to park” in Spanish is “estacionar,” not as Tex-Mexers say, “parquear,” which is adding a suffix to the phrase “to park” to sound more Spanish phoneticallly.

In any case, I’m a master of Tex-Mex language, if you remember. So during these conversations I have to reach back way deep into my memory and try to retrieve this language that I learned from my grandparents to keep up with the conversations. I have these conversations with them (on person thought I was from El Salvador), and it really refreshes my Spanish vocab.

So in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (which I absolutely don’t celebrate) I’ll keep stopping and chatting with Enrique, who will talk to me about life in Mexico, and how not to worry about those mistakes your kids will make because it’ll only make you grow older faster. Let them make those mistakes, he says, it’s theirs to deal with, not yours.

Despite chats with Enrique and the El Salvador native whose name I didn’t catch even after our fist bump when I told him I was actually from Texas, but my ethnicity was Mexican and he said in Spanish “It’s the same thing,” it’s kind of cool. Sure people dodge me when I take a stroll along the streets (OK, it happened once, but that Asian lady really bolted across the street), I really don’t notice my skin color is different.

I guess in time other folks won’t notice it, either.


The California Diary: … Not that there’s anything wrong with it

OK, I keep throwing this state under the bus for what it’s lacking, like ground beef tacos and enchiladas, lonches, sweet tea, responsible driving (much like driving in the RGV), and whatnot. But not everything I’ve experienced here stinks.

I love the weather, although I sound like the episode of Seinfeld where George Costanza was walked in on when he was just out of the pool. Temperatures are brisk overnight and in the morning, but very comfortable during the day (think 67/55). The wildlife is gorgeous. It appears that when the harbor seals are staring at you walking along the area, they really are staring at you. At least that’s what the sign said.

The seagulls are about twice the size of those found at South Padre Island, and are just as friendly as Texas gulls.

(Note: I will not discuss medicinal marijuana, plus it hasn’t been since college since I rocked the gange. But if I did, well, there’s that… )

photo (2)

I never wanted to come here before, not even to visit. I don’t know why I kept away from here, but I’m glad I changed my mind. There’s plenty to do, plenty to see, even if it’s just people-watching down Cannery Row in Monterey. It’s cool here. I like it. I think I may stay a while.

The California Diary: Back to my farm worker roots?

So, in between freelance work I do for magazines and such I actually need to find a job. I tried the local papers, but the way the newspaper business is going I wasn’t sure if I want to go back into that business, unless I’m hired as a sports writer.

So I’ve been looking into other jobs. The other day I was at Pebble Beach, taking in the greenest of greens on the golf course, the wildlife, the scenery (sigh). I told myself that if I could be a valet, a caddy or something that turns whatever service I render into any form of cash flow then I’d do it.

I’ve been to CostCo (you have no idea how many questions they ask just so you can collect stray shopping carts from the parking lot), The Home Depot, a liquor store (bad move, but they did have Miller Lite), Target (who doesn’t love to wear khakis?), and a bevy of other places.

But the better half told me, and she wasn’t kidding, that there was a spot on the radio she heard about one local farm advertising for workers. It pretty much went like this: “Go to Home Depot by 5 a.m. and we’ll pick you up.”

Now, I’m not poking fun at my fellow brownies, because I’m not. But the way that radio spot was described to me seemed to come across that way. And then I look at her and say, “Maybe I should give it a try.”

I wasn’t kidding, either. It’s not that the job market here is very bad, it’s competitive, sure, but I figured I’d probably be paid in cash, potentially daily, and I’d get a workout in.

Now, I know what you may be thinking. “Oscar, you’ve been a journalist for over 20 years. Those sensitive hands couldn’t handle the labor, and that back isn’t what it used to be.”

Well, you’d be right, but I’ve done this work before. I’ve done the sun-up to sun-down work in the Texas heat, eating bean tacos for breakfast lunch and dinner (yes, this is why my people are called beaners). I’ve stepped on a few snakes, and fallen asleep underneath my grandpa’s pick-up during a lunch break.

The tenured pickers out in the strawberry fields will poke fun of me relentlessly, I know. They’re going to chastise me for not being brown enough (my white friends have described me as either white, or a coconut), make fun of my slowness, and maybe bark at me a time or two. I’ve been through it, I can handle it. Half the time I don’t understand them, anyway. I don’t speak proper Spanish, I speak Tex-Mex.

In any case, I wouldn’t mind working in the air conditioned confines off a nice newsroom or office. But if I have to hit the crops, I will.

The Journalist Files: Hablas Valluco?

Here’s a story I co-wrote with a former co-worker some years ago. We were discussing it one day over tacos and a haze of cold Tecates at lunchtime (note really, but it makes the scene all thatt much cooler). This actually became some sort of e-mail chain and it made my way a few times. Only one person realized that I actually had a hand in writing this, and we even had telephone calls from all over the country asking for interviews.

The term “Valluco” refers to those that reside or are from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas — the four southernmost counties — and these words are used daily.

Yeah, like we were experts … :

(Note: Don’t remember the date of publishing, but it was before 2007)


Here is a list of colloquialisms that are often used by Rio Grande Valley residents. Such words can often be heard around colonias, barrios, el correo (post office), H.E.B or convenience stores (Note: words are followed by English translation and then in proper Spanish):

Sangrona — conceited; engreído

La wifa — wife; esposa

Pisto — shot of alcohol; trago

Sangre de chango — iodine; yodo

Menso — idiot; idiota

Es bien menso. (He’s an idiot.)

Mochate — share; compartir

You bought pizza? Mochate con un slice!

Cuete — drunk; borracho

Kiko se puso bien cuete.

Destrampado — drunk; borracho

(Note: See cuete)

Iscreen — ice cream; helado

Chiflado(a) — spoiled; niño (a) malcriado(a)

Chamorro — calves (legs); pantorrilla

Chanclas — flip-flops; sandalias

Papel — newspaper; periodico

Rata — thief; ladron

No te aguites — Don’t be embarrassed; avergonzar

Vistas — movie theater; cine

Tickete — ticket; boleto

Guajolote — turkey; pavo

Turnio — cross-eyed; bizco

Someone with a lazy eye would bereferred to as “Turnio”

Simón — yes; si

Did you bring lunch today? The response is, “Simón.”

Chansa — chance; opportunidad

Dale chansa. (Give him a chance.)

Sonso — silly; bobo

Someone runs into a sliding glass door and the response would be: “Sonso!”

Vironga — beer; cerveza

Traime una vironga. Bring me a beer.

Frajo — cigarette; cigarillo

Mochate con un frajo. May I please have a cigarette?

Guines — frank, hot dog; salchicha,

perro caliente

Cayke — cake; pastel

Troca — truck; camioneta

Mapear — to mop; trapiar

Encuerado — naked; desnudo

Codo — short for the Spanish word, “Codicioso,” means stingy, greedy

Watcha — look; mira

Hay te watcho — see you later; hasta luego

Calar —To try something; Lo voy a probar

Chamba — job; trabajo

Horquia — clothespin; pinza para tender ropa

Blanquillos — eggs; huevos

Biles — bills; cuentas

Ya me voy a pagar los biles.

Parquear — to park; estacionar

No hay room para parquear? (Is there any room to park?)

Safada(o) — off his or her rocker; loco(a)

The Martinez boy was trying to stick histongue in the electrical outlet again. Thathuerco esta safado.

Soflamero(a) — one who is melodramatic; melodramático

Catos — punches; puñetazo

Te voy a meter un cato. I’m going to punch you.

Bien de aquellas — cool; excelente

Your new car has spinners … It’s bien de aquellas

Chillon(a) — crybaby; lloron (a)

Chillando — to cry; llorar

Feriar mi cheque — cash my check; cobrar

El bote — jail; carcel

La pinta — jail; carcel

Escuelin — school; escuela

Lonche — lunch; almuerzo

Ranfla — car; auto

Canton — house; casa

Chante — my house, my turf

Chones — underwear; calzones

Cachucha — baseball cap; gorra

Sacatines — socks; calcetines

Flacucho (a) — super skinny,

comes from the word, flaco.

Gordiflon (a) — super fat; comes from the word, gordo.

Nalgada — to spank; dar una zurra

Comelon (a) — one who eats a lot; glotón

Trailiada — thrilled; emocionada

Cuates — twins; gemelas, gemelos


Common phrases

The following are words or phrases that are very common in the area. In some cases, use of the words or phrases has been provided to clarify their meaning:


Papelera — drama queen

Pistiar — to drink alcohol (Also,

pisto means a shot of liquor)

My wife said I can’t go pistiar with you guys anymore.

Ese — dude, man.

Eh, ese, where did you get your Stacey’s from? Payless?

Vato — similar to Dude, man.

Cholo — low class

Chola — female version of cholo

Pachuco — Another term for low rider or cholo. Also called, ’chuco, for short.

Pedo — drunk; borracho … but there are a number of ways to use this word. Happy the comedian used the word to identify several situations during his acts, such as:

Estas bien pedo. (You’re really drunk).

No hay pedo. (There’s no problem).

¿Quieres pedo? (Do you want some of this?)

Puro pedo. (That’s a lie).

¿Que pedo es esto? (What’s this?)

Hasle pedo. (Make a move on him/her)

Que tanto pedo. (There’s a lot of commotion)

Tirar un pedo. (This means to pass gass)

Dolores — A person that is full of sorrow, distress. A woeful person is often referred to as Dolores.

Cuartito — A small room. In the Valley, it means the utility room or a tool shed. Nearly every family has a cuartito.

La regas — to botch something

You ate your carnalito’s birthday cake before the party, ese? La regas.

Te sales — similar to “La regas”

You stole $10 from your mom’s pursewhile she was asleep? Te sales, vato.

A todo dar — awesome It was real hot yesterday, but I jumped in my little brothers plastic pool and it felt a todo dar, ese.

Ruca — girl; chica

Vato — guy; chico

El bos — the bus; autobus

How did you get here? Me vine en el bos.

Me das ride — give me a ride

Tirar a la leon — tossed aside, to ignore something

Chimuelo(a) — missing teeth

Chamaco(a) — young boy, girl; chico, chica

Carnalito(a), carnal(a) — little brother/sister, brother/sister

Chale — whatever, or forget that You want me to mow the lawn for $10? Chale, ese, I’ll do it for $20.

Chismolero (a) — one who gossips; chismoso

Comadriando — women hanging out, gossiping

Primo — it means cousin, but can be used regarding close friends as well

Hey primo, you got five bucks you can lend me?

Mano — short for hermano, but also used among friends

Cornfleys — cornflakes; cereal

Postostes — Post Toasties; cereal

Me caes peseta/Me caes gordo—You annoy me

Mi jefita — my mother; jefa means female boss

Chongo — in Mexico and South

Texas, it mean ponytail

Sas — a thump; related to English words such as “Pow! Bam!”

He was walking in the kitchen and then, Sas! He ran into the screen door.

Palo — A sudden collision, in relation to the word Sas (In English, related to the words “Bam! And Pow!”)

Juanito was walking down the street and then, palo! El viejo Fernandez ran over him with his truck.

Jale — several definitions, including Tengo que ir a jalar (I have to go to work), Que es ese jale (What’s that thing?), Vengo del jale (I’m coming from work) and puro jale (A lot of jive).

Chota — the police

Hasle — the verb, to do. As in hassle call; hasle change the channel; hassle un tattoo of the Virgin Mary.

Te aventaste — you did a great job; bravo

Beepear — to beep, in the days of pagers

Cherife — the sheriff

Se le callo la garra — going too far.

I gave him $20 to spend at the carnival and told him only to spend five, pero se le callo la garra, and he spent

it all.

Saca la daga — job well done

Pepe painted my ride, ese, y se saca la daga.

Cantar — to call someone out; To incite an altercation

Meme was mad at Chito, y se las canto.

Te bañas — literally, it means bathe. But this reference is used more as term when one parts ways with someone.

Orale, Chon. I’ll see you tomorrow, eh.Te bañas.

Borlote — commotion (Kids making quite a racket in the adjoining room and parent goes to investigate)

Por que hay tanto borlote?

Pasiguate — settle down

La migra — Border Patrol

Pichioniar — To make out

Pope — wedgie

Fantocha — showoff, ostentatious

Kool ley — Kool-Aid

El HEB — H.E.B. grocery store

Donas — donuts

Piscar — to work in the fields

Bicks — Vicks

Welo, wela — short for abuelo, abuela, means grandpa and grandma

Bien arregladito — nice and tidy

Hay que chula — how pretty

Churritos — curls

Cachetón — one with chubby cheeks

Patas — means paw or animals foot but incorrectly referred to as human feet. Correct term ispie or pies.

Jambona — a thief; ladron. Also referred to as rata, which means rat.

El cucuy — most Mexican-American children have been scared by the legend of el cucuy, which pretty much means ghost or some entity you’d rather not want to see when the lights are off. Very effective with those 8 years old and under.

Chavalon — boy; niño

Wino — the English word, meaning alcoholic, is often mixed with Spanish.

Rines — rims on a car

Neta — really, for real

Muncho — means mucho, a lot, but some add an “n” in the middle.

Pipa — means pipe, like the one that is smoked but it is used to describe plumbing pipes

N’ombre — reluctant to abide

Flaco: ‘Hey Carlos, can you pass me the remote?’ Carlos: ‘N’ombre! You always put it on Lifetime.”

Palomilla — the whole family, the whole gang

Ralea — the whole family

Esquina — to give support, especially in a quarrel

Hey, vato, Chino and his brothers are coming over here to start some pedo with me. Me das esquina?

The California Diary: Where’s the damn Miller Lite?

You will read me constantly compare California to Texas, the greatest nation in the world (minus Rick Perry, Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick — the politician, not the sportscaster).

Yes, I realize Texas is not it’s own soverign territory, much to the chagrin of many right-winged maniacs, but when your state beer’s slogan is “The National Beer of Texas,” well, it has no equal. That’s Lone Star beer, by the way.

I digress…

I love the weather in California. I love the water, the time zone (it’s 5:30 p.m. here now and it’s 7:30 p.m. in Texas), but there are some things that can’t replace Texas. The food is lacking. There is nothing greater than Tex-Mex cuisine. This Mexi-Cali food is for the birds. I can’t get a ground beef taco anywhere. Or ground beef enchiladas for that matter.

I mentined before that this was a subject matter left better for another day, so I’ll stop there.

Then there’s the beer. For beer snobs, this is a great place. So many local beers and craft beers line the shelves in convenience and grocery stores. Hell, you can even find liquor on the shelves at said locations. In Texas, if you want liquor you need to go to the liquor store. So, if you like your Jack and Coke, Mojitos or whatever cocktail lights up your life, it’s readily available here.

Now, Miller Lite, however, is another animal.

Finding a few of those white labels is one of two things: Feast or famine.

Either there’s an 18 or 20 pack ready to  go behind the cooler (when really a 12 pack is all you want), or there none at all. I finally found one place two blocks away that has a good deal on those 18 packs ($12.99), or you can buy a 12-pack for $10.99. Feast or famine.

The beers of choice here, aside from the craft beer, is Bud Light numero uno, then Coors Light as the runner-up. This befuddles me, but I suppose I’ll deal with it just fine.

The weather is great, the people are semi-friendly, and the groceries are a bit pricey, but I suppose I’ll do if I can open up a Miller Lite.

Going to California: Where the hell can I get a breakfast taco?

Well, I’m already here, really. I left deep South Texas what felt like three weeks and four Sundays on a five-day roadtrip where I swear I ran into Odysseus, before I drove into the Golden State about 17 days ago.

The trip was tough (I’m afraid of heights so you can imagine what I was going through at about 5,000 feet atop a mountain), it was long, and it just about wore me out. Between the Cyclops and the Sirens it took about 2 1/2 days to finally feel like my head was on straight on not on a swivel looking for the next obstacle. Of course, about 36 hours later I was on a flight from San Francisco to Nashville, but that is another story (as Stephen King often writes at the end of his novels).

The first thing I did upon driving to my destination on the Central Coast (other than being chilled to the core in September) was head to the local Safeway. Now, being from Texas, you generally shop at one place for your groceries: H-E-B. Yes, there is Wal-Mart, but I have to admit H-E-B has the freshest vegetables, and pretty good deals.

Now, I’m not promoting H-E-B, I’m just saying it’s a Texas staple, like spurs on a cowboys and and Fiesta week in San Antonio, and up until earlier this month I was also Texan.

Well, Safeway provided me an early glimpse to the differences between Texas and California. Safeway is about 1/3 the size of an H-E-B, and it isn’t the only place you can shop for groceries. There’s SaveMart and RiteAid, and they’re very nice places to shop — honest. People are generally friendly or they’re not, which is usually the case in most of the world.

But selections are limited, and it seems like there’s no rhyme or reason for shelving items (I couldn’t find any Arm & Hammer today. Trite, I know, but still…) It’s like a game of scavenger hunt where the almonds are placed next to the Hallmark cards, and the ice cream is on the rack next to the jelly. OK, that’s not the case, but I really feel like I need a map.

H-E-B, I feel, does a pretty good job stocking up on our favorites, whether that’s a variety of cookies, fajita meat, beer, bread, ice cream, … whatever.

The differences don’t stop there.

As I am constantly reminded by my better half that this is the “Salad Bowl Capital of the World,” I still found it hard paying $5 for a bag of grapes. Lettuce was a buck-and-a-half, and I was used to ponying up slightly over a dollar a head in Texas, where we aren’t the Salad Bowl Capital of the World.

(Note: Is it Capital, or Capitol? I always thought it was Capitol, but the confusion in the dictionary led me to care more about why Miller Lite is hard to come by here. Yet again, another story for another day…)

Another difference between the Golden State and the Lone Star State: more grocery prices.

I almost bought a loaf of bread upwards of $5, I nabbed cold cuts for Just shy of $5 per pound, and some dishwashing soap for about $4.

Gas right now is hovering between $3.75 and $4.25, depending how many blocks you drive around. Conversely, you can probably put on some walking shoes and hit a liquor store, convenience store, grocery store, restaurant, barber shop, etc., so it’s also easy to save cashola.

I haven’t found a decent Mexican food restaurant yet (total disclosure: I’ve only been to one, but I didn’t like the tacos, or the beans, or the rice.) They call tacos burritos here, it’s like ground beef doesn’t exist in the west, and I hear there is no barbacoa Sundays.

Speaking of Sundays, the Dallas Cowboys come on at 10 a.m. here. 10 A.M.!!!! Jesus, Mary and Joseph!

Now, the view goes to California, hands down. When I’m not having a conniption because of the high altitude, I’m enjoying the peaks and valleys, especially when they meet the ocean.

That being said, I think I’m going to love California. I just wish y’all would get your lingo correct and stop calling a taco a burrito.