Privilege Blog

Chualar Of The Spirit, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:35am

As I left work last night, released with the souls of Friday, I got a text that said, simply, “Chualarrrrrrr!” Why on earth?

There’s good reason. Chualar is a little town located along Highway 101, between the San Francisco Bay Area and Santa Barbara. My sister ‘s family drove down to see my mother in Santa Barbara for Easter weekend this year. Our families say “Chualar!” to each other, by phone or text, whenever we pass the freeway exit.

The ritual began several years back when we all drove down together, my son, myself, my sister, my brother-in-law, their daughter. I think it must have been fairly soon after my divorce. The timeline of those years is blurry but I remember the trip made change clear.

You should know, upon hearing of the impending parental separation, my son had asked, “Can we still all go to Santa Barbara together?”

Anyway, that day, we drivers decided to stop for lunch in Chualar. It was uncomfortable, circling, looking for food. Even in our nondescript small Toyotas, we reeked of privilege. Chualar does not have restaurants. Chualar does have a liquor store, and a dusty parking lot. We got out of our Toyotas to check.

The wind blew.

My brother-in-law and I cocked our heads. He nodded in the direction of the freeway. I said something like, “Yeah. Let’s go.” Much left unsaid – that the region was known for drive by gang shootings, that in another reality we might have stayed in the town and committed to serving its people, that we were silly to have thought that freeway exits always mean hamburgers.

That probably somewhere in town, unrecognizable to us, there was a place to eat and the food would be great but we were on a different trajectory.

That I was recently divorced, that my son was a teenaged boy whom I adored and not much of a one for talking.

I wanted to retrieve the experience from embarrassment and nerves, find our way back to my mother’s house and the end of the road. We got in our cars. We drove. My phone rang. “CHUALAAARRRRRR!” said my brother-in-law. The prismatic kindness of families.

More recently, my son and I made the drive again. Just us. He texted my brother-in-law, as always, “Chualar!” I should ask my boy what he remembers of Chualar, except probably I know. Were he still little, I’d keep the story secret, without annotation. All meanings genial, jovial, jocular. But there’s a time to open curtains.

Turns out Chualar means Where The Chual Grows, chual being a native plant also known as “goosefoot” or “pigweed.” Thank goodness for random. Have a wonderful weekend, celebrating Passover, Easter, and small towns in Central California.

21 Responses

  1. Lisa, hope you have a wonderful easter weekend. Love this post–I love this small highlight of inside family jokes, one of the privileges of being in a family.

    xo Mary Jo

  2. I understand pigweed! I spent hours one summer weeding it from my garden that we had over-manured. Nearly a decade later, I learned that pigweed is actually an edible and delicious succulent.

    We drive through a little town named Racket on our way to the lake home. Even today, when the kids are approaching 30, they scream and holler and make a “racket.”

  3. Driving up from LA to Santa Barbara – ours was “Santa Claus Lane” ~ same sort of story, except that there were a lot of nice lunch places there, and anyway, it’s a short enough drive from LA that there’s no reason to stop for a meal. Have a lovely holiday weekend, and hope you get Monday off?

  4. We have a similar code/story except it’s about my naïveté and Paul’s tolerance . . . I’ll have seen a sign or read an ad about a local version of Chualar and a diner that serves “the best Indian curry on the island” (or in town, or in the city, whatever).
    Suffice it to say, Paul now has a few very good examples to remind me of the unlikelihood that this curry (or fluffiest cheesecake OR best burgers OR best homemade pie) is “the best ever” . . .
    I’m slowly learning to let the more appreciative citizens of the world’s Chualars keep their secret treasures of (frozen-food) dishes for themselves and just drive on by. But perhaps I could also learn to text our kids the message “Just passed the best chicken curry ever” — They’d know exactly what I mean!

    1. Realize that my longwinded response may seem to have completely missed your point. . . I did get it (especially the “transmuting the dust into gold-dust” that family stories achieve), but your memories of road trip eating (or not) triggered mine. Sorry . . .

  5. We had Dot’s diner in a trailer on the highway going north. The truckers stopped there it was a rough establishment run by a smoking woman of dubious background but my father always stopped and Mother had to grin and bear it! We kids didn’t pick up on this until we were in our teens and realized that we were not in our comfort zone at all. They had the biggest best pies we ever encountered.

    Happy Easter!

    1. Ah! Dot’s!! Only just shut down within the last 10 or so years. At least it was still going strong for the first few years we lived here. . . They did have fabulous pies!

  6. I never have anything to say except, “I love you.” Except I probably just love your writing, the you your writing reveals. Sigh. (Such good writing.)

  7. Ever since we watched “Romancing the Stone” together, my husband and I get a kick out of asking “Is thees the bus to Cartagena?” I don’t know why. We just think it’s funny.

    We were thrilled when we were in Madrid last December and saw the sign at the train station showing departures: Cartagena was third on the list!

  8. Congratulations on keeping those ties. Not easy and speaks of a generosity of spirit.

  9. We must have passed it on our way- twice. I now think every exit must have a Starbucks. Have a very nice week.

  10. I am jumping up and down with joy to read this, Lisa, oh yes, soooo great!! And heaven forbid if an object makes its way into coded family lore. Forty years ago Daddy was packing for trip to NYC, I had just been learning how to sew, so I took an empty spool of thread, wrote “I love you Daddy” with the date on it, and hid it in his suitcase. Always impishly game, he said nothing but returned this same spool w/ “I love you Flo,” hidden under my pillow. Thus was launched a 40 year tradition of adding empty spools with dated messages, and hiding the growing mass in significant places of honor for the recipient. We call them “the spools” and they have been around the world, always in a masterminded drama of discovery for the honoree-of-the-moment. They’ve been shipped cross country to be hidden inside birthday cakes, they’ve been entrusted [imagine the negotiations] to presidents of schools and colleges to be plopped on top of handed-off diplomas for nieces and nephews, in idle moments one of us will ask another “where are the spools now?” But coming upon them, when it’s your turn, finding them is always startling, astonishing, the history, the messages, the dates, the insanity of it all, this is pure Artsy Cousin Family behavior for sure! So as I say, beware attaching small objects to family lore!

  11. Ours is Harscrabble Road. Although this hardscrabble was on the completely opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum. An exit off the highway, in an area known for its great wealth, Hardscrabble road proved to be the wealthiest neighborhood of all, with no place for miles around to feed a family in a toyota with starving pre-teens. The contradiction in expectations was not lost on us and now “hardscrabble” where-ever it occurs, has become a family code, often shared, and a symbol of much.

    Oh and I learned later there was a deli, and even a McDonalds, both hidden in quaint colonial buildings without advertisements or signs of any kind. No neon. No golden arches. Just a discrete brass plaque by the door.

  12. Lisa, you and your family could have feasted on a quite healthy meal had you gathered chualar! That it is edible was a revelation to me, when last summer at my farmer’s market a vendor was selling what I always considered a weed.I tried it; remarkably, it is quite tasty but it could have been the olive oil, garlic, vinegar, salt and pepper I added!
    Read more about chualar here (maybe you already know all this)

  13. The carnitas are quite popular in Chualar. In fact people stop in Chualar just for that.

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