On this week’s episode of Caló, host Oscar Rodriguez breaks down the meaning of the words “ruca” and “ranfla.” The first word is a term of endearment for a woman, and “ranfla” is a way to refer to the car you drive.
You can hear Caló every Tuesday on Marfa Public Radio during “Dos Horas con Primo.”
By Oscar Rodriguez
“Hey, vato, let’s go cruising in my ranfla and check out las rucas,” Tudy told his young cousin, Stevey.
It was an early Sunday afternoon in April — sunny, breezy and cool. The two cousins had just finished the borgas Tudy had bought them at the drive-in near the biggest intersection on the main drag.
They went there to run into other vatos or rucas, but nobody had shown up. The only rucas they saw were the two attendants taking orders. Tudy thought he recognized one of them, Oralia, 2 to 3 years behind him in high school. But he wasn’t sure. It had been a long time. He looked at her for a suspended moment, wondering. The woman caught him with the corner of her eye and looked away conspicuously.
Embarrassed, Tudy put on his dark tint sunglasses and looked down at his dashboard the rest of the time he was eating.
The drive-in was strange for sure. It seemed out of place. An old heavy industrial building in a retail strip. Maybe, at one time, a mechanic shop or an old gas station. Tudy thought he remembered even a scrap parts lot being there some time in his youth. He imagined a winding dusty road, leading to it becoming a drive-in food place, even empty as it was.
“Eeee, de aquellas that I don’t have to be trucha about my ranfla in this drive-in,” said Tudy. “And we’re parked right in the middle of shade.”
“Uhuh, but we’re far away from the trash can,” said Stevey, pointing to a can on either side several car widths away.
“So?” asked Tudy. “Just throw it pa’que (so that) La Oralia has to pick it up.”
“What? Litter? That’d be mean,” said Stevey.
“Pos, she’s been all gatcha (mean) too,” said Tudy.
He drove forward through the shaded parking on the opposite side of the lot and eased his shiny white 1964 Ford Comet coupe onto the main drag. It was in immaculate shape, and no wonder because it went into mothballs just months after it was bought new.
Tudy and Stevey cruised to the vuelta, the turnaround in their cruise route, without saying anything.
At the vuelta, Stevey spoke up. “So how was it, uh, being away such a long time?”
“Oh, you get used to it, watchas,” said Tudy.
“And then you come back and nothing’s changed, right?” asked Stevey.
“Pos I can see change de a’madres (of the biggest order),” said Tudy.
“I see you’ve grown a lot bigger. And places like this I don’t remember. What was this changarro before it was a drive-in?”
“It was a lot of things, then it opened as this. I think it’s the first time there’s been food here,” said Stevey.
“When was that?” asked Tudy.
“Oh, just recently, like a weekend or two ago,” said Stevey.
“Órale, that’s why they don’t have any customers,” said Tudy.
Stevey didn’t say anything. So far, he hadn’t seen any of his friends cruising. But their big brothers were out and about for sure.
People in cool lowriders and trucks drove past in both directions. A lot of stares from everybody.
“Eeee, all the rucas are already with vatos,” observed Tudy.
Stevey turned his head to the window on his side of the care and winced.
At the next vuelta, a lowriding El Camino SS with four very young women crowded into the single bench seat wove around them. They too stared at the Comet. Tudy thought they were looking at him, and he raised his left elbow and half-clenched his fist in the old bad boy wave from back in the day.
Nobody waved back.
Stevey looked out his window again.
“Hey, las voy a pescar,” said Tudy, trying to catch up with them and smiling broadly and showing the shinny metal in his teeth. “You know them?”
“No. They’re bigger than me,” said Stevey.
“Oh, órale,” said Tudy, looking ahead at the El Camino and closing the distance between them.
He caught up with the car and slowed his speed to stay at par with the El Camino.
“Hey, what’s going on?” Tudy called out at the women, picking up where he left off almost eighteen years earlier.
The women froze. They stared straight ahead and didn’t look at him or at each other.
“Cool ride, esas,” Tudy tried again to engage them.
They didn’t try to evade him in the El Camino, but they kept staring ahead.
Tudy got the hint and backed off.
They did another slow, slow vuelta. Then at a traffic light in the middle of the route, they caught up with another car full of young women in a big grandma car. They too seemed to be doing la vuelta.
Tudy had seen them from afar and made sure to align with them on his side of the car. Everybody looked Tudy’s car over, but never made eye contact with him. Tudy smiled at them, but only an elementary schoo-age girl reciprocated. He then saw grandma was at the wheel, who scowled at him pointedly as if to say, “you better back off.”
Tudy frowned and looked down at his dashboard. The wait at the intersection was going to be long.
“Que onda, I’m getting the ojo (evil eye) from everybody?” asked Tudy.
Stevey didn’t answer.
“Everybody’s checking out my ranfla, even the rucas, but they don’t want to see me,” complained Tudy.
After more silence, Stevey said, must be they don’t like your car, cuz,” said Stevey, that or they don’t recognize you since you been gone so long.”
“It’s rucas and ranfla, huerquito (kid),” said Tudy, a little frustrated. “Didn’t your carnales (brothers) teach you anything?”
“I think it’s because the rucas don’t like your ranfla, primo,” said Stevey sarcastically.
“Pos maybe no, but I bet I know them. Maybe their jefitos (fathers) too,” said Tudy.
“I don’t know,” said Stevey. “If they did know you, they’d also know why you’ve been gone so long.”
“Y?” quipped Tudy.
“And they might be afraid,” said Stevey.
“Scamados? Of what? It was self-defense, and I got out early on good behavior, watchas,” said Tudy.
The light finally turned, and Tudy peeled the Comet’s tires across the intersection. Then they went around a half vuelta in silence.
When they came to the drive-in again, the traffic light at the intersection was red. Tudy looked back at the drive-in as they waited.
“Watcha, nobody’s at the drive-in even now,” noted Tudy.
“What did you say que era?” asked Tudy.
“A lot of things,” answered Stevey.
“No. Just before the drive-in?” asked Tudy.
“It was closed,” said Stevey.
“And before that?” asked Tudy.
“I think a video store,” said Stevey.
“And before that?” Tudy went on.
“An apartment house,” said Stevey.
“A cantón?” asked Tudy incredulously.
“Well, it was also kind of a motel, too,” said Stevey.
“What? Renters and overnighters together?” asked Tudy.
The light turned green, and Tudy sped across the intersection. He looked over at his young cousin and thought he was having trouble understanding the kid because he was a full generation younger than him. Stevey looked back at him as if waiting for Tudy’s light to turn on. And finally it flickered.
“Oh!” exclaimed Tudy, then asked, “so you said it then became a video store?”
“Well, they then began renting movies, too,” said Stevey.
Tudy frowed his forehead and made his bandana dance a little.
“Sura those kinds of movies,” said Tudy. “Now I get it.”
“Uhuh,” confirmed Stevey.
“Sssssss,” Tudy shushed himself. “Then it’s not that the rucas don’t like my ranfla,” said Tudy. “It’s that me and my ranfla are quemado, cause we were seen at that place everybody still thinks is a dirty movie place.”
Young Stevey looked out the window again.