Not the mussels that taught me a lesson. By LittleGun - Own work, Public Domain
Gentle cabrones:

We showed up to dinner at a restaurant in Costa MESA that we had enjoyed before. It was definitely a too-cool-for-school hangout, one of the last gasps of the Costa Mesa 500, but my wife knew the owner, the cocktails were great, and the food was good.

We wanted steamed mussels.

We showed up early to avoid the crowds — even in the days before coronavirus, we did this. The bartender looked us up and down and sneered. Although my wife is the most beautiful woman in the world, she always dresses modestly because when we go out, it’s usually after she gets off work. Me, of course, I always dress like a cholo nerd.

We weren’t cool enough for this bartender, so his answer to our questions were dripping with dismissal. When I asked for a Bloody Mary, because I was on a Bloody Mary kick at the time, he said this wasn’t the type of bar that sold them. I asked if he could just whip something together quickly and he said he couldn’t.

My wife suggested we leave. I said we might as well eat, then get out of there. The steamed mussels were coming, after all.

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The mussels were late. There was no apology. The guy kept ignoring us. We just decided to slurp our dinner as fast as possible and leave. And then the Costa MESA restaurant owner came.

He embraced my wife, I shook his hand, and then he went behind the Costa MESA bar and whispered in the bartender’s ear. I’m assuming he told his employee that before him was Gustavo Arellano, the only food critic that mattered in Orange County, the scourge of alt-losers. Because the bartender’s eyes soon widened like a Tex Avery cartoon.

All of a sudden he refilled our waters. Became obsequious when he was once obnoxious Five minutes later, he returned with a Bloody Mary – just made with organic tomatoes, he enthused.
It was good. But he violated one of the most important tenants of my moral code: respect ordinary people.

I’m just a regular guy in life, and I ask for no favors ever – that’s not how I was raised. But the Costa MESA bartender treated me like a schmo at first, when he thought my wife and I were part of the hoi polloi. Which meant he treated others like that.

Once he realized I was a writer of some infamy, all of a sudden I’m a star?

Fuck that.

We finished our food, and never went to the Costa MESA restaurant again. But I tell what happened there to my journalism students every year, to tell them how if they ever do make a name for yourself, people will try to ingratiate themselves to you.

Don’t fall for it. Don’t believe your hype.


This is the column where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…

And…I’ve got nothing. Y’all seem to be tiring of this feature, so what should I replace it with? Or, if you have a question, ask away before I exile all this to GAG.

Got a question for Guti? Email me here.


Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:
IMAGE OF THE WEEK: Me at Farm Sanctuary in Acton, hanging out with burros. Burros are cool!

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “All the really good ideas I’d ever had came to me while I was milking a cow. So I went back to Iowa.”

Grant Wood

LISTENING:El Son de los Aguacates,” Banda el Recodo. One of the great zapateadas, here performed by the mother of banda sinaloense. The horns and winds and tambora — takes me back to the UFCW Hall in Buena Park for some wedding or quinceañera or baptism where no one wanted to dance with me. Memories…

READING: How Mexican Chicago Remembers Tenochtitlan”: Public Books combines the personal with academic with historical with essay, and this fascinating portal between Pilsen and the Aztec capital also includes straightforward reporting and urban studies — a fine article.

SHOUTOUT TO: Z, who kindly donated 50 tacos to sponsor a full month of MailChango! “To YOU, you incredible champion of all that’s good in Orange County.” OK!

Buy My New Book!

A People’s Guide to Orange County offers hundreds of blurbs to give you an alternate history of this damned land. Buy your copy from Libromobile, and get ready for our inaugural book signing March 26 at 1 p.m. at Alta Baja Market in SanTana!

Gustavo in the News

Word of the week: Gringo”: An etymologist takes delight with a recent columna of mine.

Letters to the Editor: Is ‘gringo’ offensive? That’s up to the person being called one”: LA Times readers love, hate a columna of mine.

Latinx Files: The rise of the Latinx creator”: Another LA Times newsletter you should subscribe to plugs comments of mine.

Podcasts made by and for Latinos finally make mainstream inroads”: My awesome colleague Suzy Exposito quotes me at the very end to bring it home.

CSUN Professor’s COVID Study Could Help Manage Future Pandemics”: I influence science for perhaps the first and last time.

Spanish-speaking audiences are a huge streaming market. Do media companies understand it?”: Still yet even another LA Times newsletter you should subscribe to plugs the podcast.
The Real OC”: The irrepressible Andrew Tonkovich gives love to my new co-book.

Gustavo Podcast

Latest roster of episodes for “The Times: Daily news from the L.A. Times,” the podcast that I host. Listen to them, and SUBSCRIBE. Don’t let me become the Poochie of podcasts!

Black joy in Questlove’s “Summer of Soul””: Our sibling podcast The Envelope goes deep with one of the smartest-funniest performers out there.

A labor union with your latte?”: Baristas of the world, unite!

California’s death penalty flip-flops”: Me and Patt the Hat — what else do you need?

Homeless prisoners of the suburban dream”: We run an episode of a good new KPCC-LAist Studios podcast.

Saving segregated ‘Mexican’ schools”: On the Blackwell School in Marfa, Texas.

Gustavo Stories

Grítale a Guti”: Latest edition of my Tuesday night IG Live free-for-all brings on the DESMADRE.

OC bus drivers reach tentative deal over wages, bathroom breaks”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” talks about how the OCTA came to their senses.

Champs House”: I join my fellow LA Times columnista LZ Granderson to offer live commentary of the Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl victory parade, and interview everyone from Sheila E (!) to Erin Aubrey Kaplan (!!) to Chris Draft, one of the most unsung success stories to ever emerge from Placentia.

Can a giant, empty Sears building help solve homelessness in Los Angeles?”: My latest LA Times columna breaks news of one of the most audacious plans to end homelessness that I’ve ever heard of. KEY QUOTE: “All this makes the California Aqueduct seem as big of an achievement as mowing the lawn.  And all of this, frankly, sounds delusional.”

You made it this far down? Gracias! Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram while you’re down here. Don’t forget to forward this newsletter to your compadres y comadres! And, if you feel generous: Buy me a Paypal taco here. Venmo: @gustavo-arellano-oc