Greetings from Turlock, whatever the hell that is. I guess it’s the home of Cal State Stanislaus, whatever the hell that is. And it does have a branch of La Taqueria, the legendary San Francisco Mission District Mexican burrito maker that I predicted would one day be deemed America’s best burrito—and it was.
I AM A PROPHET.
I digress. I’m on the road for the fifth time in as many weeks, doing…something. I’ll be on the road next week as well. Usually accompanying me is my wife. She sets up a little office on her seat inside my dad’s GMC Yukon and works like crazy off my personal Internet hot spot.
I call ourselves a Mexican-American travel version of Nick and Nora Charles.
I always travel light—one bag, my laptop, my SiriusXM to be able to listen to Howard Stern on a continuous loop.
And my high school dreams, fulfilled.
Home is where the heart is, especially for me. I’m Orange County until I die, inshallah. My family and friends are there, my wife has her wonderful store in SanTana, and OC has been in the national spotlight this year in a way not seen in decades.
Ain’t nowhere else I want to be. But there is more to the world than Orange County—something I could not have ever imagined I’d ever finally be able to experience.
When I went to Anaheim High School in the late 1990s, California public education taught British lit for one half of AP English. I hated most of it. Shakespeare is a badass, Shaw is spectacular, and The Importance of Being Earnest just might still be the world’s only perfect play. But the Brontë sisters suck, Tess of the D’urbervilles is a bore, and Wuthering Heights still makes my head heart.
I much preferred American lit. My teacher, Miss Sinatra, seemed more enthusiastic for it. Catcher in the Rye still influences me. But it was the Beats that captured the fancy of me and my best friend, Art. He’s the one who turned me on to On the Roadby Kerouac.
We dreamed of becoming Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise, driving all around the United States to find adventure. But we were the children of Mexican immigrants, which meant we needed to get jobs during high school (hell, I started working weekends by the time I was 11). Take care of business.
Traveling was for people with no responsibilities. Americans.
As I entered my mid-20s, people who I met would mock me when I revealed I had never traveled abroad. That I had never even left California. One ex of mine basically broke up with me because I excitedly told her one day that I had met someone from La Habra for the first time in my life.
I did want to travel one day, I told them—but not now, because there was work to do. But my generation saw me as close-minded as they went off to adventure. They thought I was making excuses. That I was just a coward.
But I bode my time, and had faith—you always gotta have faith, you know?
There was another author I remembered from AP English: Robert Frost.
“Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is my favorite of his (“The woods are lovely, dark and deep…” remains one of my favorite lines of literature). But the one that has proven most influential is “The Road Less Traveled.” It was the name of my wife’s previous store, and it’s now my mantra.
I have built a career based on covering the unappreciated in America. Mexican-restaurant dynasties in small-town America. Hidden histories of Orange County. The glories of Chimayó. Up-and-coming Louisville.
My reportorial wanderlust has taken me to places I never thought of until I found the story. ICE raids in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Tombstones in Queens. The mysteries of Bend, Oregon.
Non-stop travel—my high school dreams, fulfilled. Best of all? I get PAID to do it.
It’s a point I make to kids whenever I speak to classes, from kindergarten to high school. You should all travel—but isn’t it cooler when you can make it a career? Don’t rush into travel, and don’t get broke off of it.
I mostly speak to Mexican-American classes. And the looks on their eyes when someone tells them that you can travel across the country, and even the world, and make money off of it is priceless.
Those high school dreams you had? They’re yours, for the taking. Just gotta have faith.
Alright, gotta run: Pixley’s calling me back…
Enough ranting. This was the semana that was
Listening: “Eastbound and Down,” Jerry Reed. Out of the many road-trip songs, this one is the tune that plays in my mind whenever I’m in a hurry. I still say that only Mexicans and Southerners truly appreciate Smokey and the Bandit!
Reading: “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (RAGHHHH!) Around the Bend (BRUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM……”: Tom Wolfe, RIP. I actually prefer “The Pump-House Gang,” but it ain’t available online, so gotta go with the madness that started it all.
Gustavo in the News
“Alumnus explores heritage through multimedia at Pop-Up Magazine’s LA show”: In which my old newspaper, the Daily Bruin, talks about my appearance at Pop-Up Magazine’s Los Angeles story. TRUE STORY: I was a columnist for UCLA’s student newspaper at the same time as conservative blabbermouth Ben Shapiro!
“Gustavo Arellano: the Lowdown on the O.C.”: In which the excellent new Midpod podcast (which examines key congressional races nationwide) talks to me about politics in my infernal homeland.
“Why ‘Hamilton’ Is More Than Just a Musical…It’s a Miracle”: My old music critic at my old paper intersperses my mini-review of Hamilton within her own essay on the musical.
“Can ‘chipsters’ and barrio activists find common ground?”: In which I use the sharp new TV show Vida to examine the raging debate about gentefication that’s gone on in Boyle Heights, SanTana and beyond for the past decade or so between chipsters and activists. KEY QUOTE: “Both sides are far more invested in a positive outcome than, say, transplanted New Yorkers, who call our corner markets “bodegas.” If gentefiers and their antagonistes can jointly hammer out a way forward for the barrios they profess to love, they will revolutionize the fight to protect working-class neighborhoods in cities across the United States.”
“When Memes, GIFs, and Tweets Were on Paper ~ Cal State L.A. Exhibit Highlights Chicano Newspaper History”: My latest for L.A. Taco checks out an awesome exhibit at Cal State L.A. about the history of Eastlos Chicano newspapers during the 1960s. KEY QUOTE: “The papers of then read like the memes, videos, GIFs, tweets, Snaps, and Facebook missives youth offer today. Many are photo-heavy, with pictures of young men and mujeres who look as fierce and stylish as Chavez. The pages feature poetry alongside media critiques against the Los Angeles Times; funny illustrations break up investigative stories or first-person accounts heavy on the youth lingo and outrage.”
You made it this far down? Gracias! Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while you’re down here. Buy me a Paypal taco here. Until next week! And don’t forget to forward this newsletter to your compadres y comadres!