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.