You say Rodeeo, we say Rodayo
July, 2012

Salinas, like most places, has a number of quirks known only to its denizens. For people new to our community, and for fans with more than a mapping curiosity about where they can find big time professional rodeo, here’s a modest visitor’s guide, explaining some of our local peculiarities.

We’ll start with “Big Week” itself. Decades ago, I learned that the California Rodeo annually transforms our little town into something Big, as in San Jose or Fresno. On cue, grocery store checkers and bank clerks donned western blue jeans and bandanas. “That’s pretty Big,” thought I, uncomfortably conscious of my button-down collar and khakis. Sitting at lunch on Main Street one day, I watched a mini parade of cowboys and gals clop by on horseback, promoting the Big festivities. Then came the ridiculously cute but freezing cold Kiddie Kapers parade, the Big Hat BBQ, the unmistakable aroma of hundreds of horses and steers seasoning the chill of the fog, and those big blue bottle flies. I even found myself shopping for a cowboy hat. This really was Big.

Bank tellers and cowboy parades were just prelude, however, to the multicultural linguistic calisthenics to come. You see, only in Salinas, the “Rodeeo” isn’t the same as the “Rodayo.” As you’ll hear carefully explained in the run-up to the event, “Rodeeo” is the sport. Everyone’s good with that. But our event is pronounced “Rodayo.” That’s because the Mexicans invented it and apparently put a pistola to someone’s head 100 years ago, insisting they pronounce it their way. Nowadays, we call that English as a Second Language. It’s curious that although “Rodayo” is a Mexican event, few vaqueros actually participate. They’ll put in a brief but impressive appearance then quickly make way for the professional riders, who are mostly not Mexican, from out of town, and speak with a drawl. Be patient as broadcasters struggle to report on the Rodeeo at the Rodayo. Some just give up and call it the Rodeo.

Salinas itself means “salt marsh” which sounds like a quicksand sort of cowboy trap. Also, Salinas, CA isn’t pronounced the same as Salina (“Salaiyna”), Kansas, which is how I’ve heard a few telemarketers mangle it, earning an indignant rebuke. Then there’s “Alisal,” which at first blush looks like Salinas scrambled backwards, at least that’s what I used to think. It’s actually a nice old name for a smaller community east of then-smaller Salinas, which was East of Eden. Good thing, since “East Salinas” doesn’t have exactly the same connotation as “Alisal,” which is Spanish for “alder grove.” Finding an alder grove around here is about as fruitless as looking for a salt marsh, but there it is.

Now for our quiz: tonight is the “Colmo de Rodeo” parade, a very Big deal with cowboys, horses, floats, bands and lots of waving dignitaries. You ought to go. But raise your hand if you even know what “Colmo” means. Be honest now, points will be deducted for cheating, especially if you’re a legal citizen. Hey, I had to look it up myself. “Colmo” means “the height of elegance” so tonight’s Big event is the “Height of Elegance of the Rodeo” parade. And you thought there was nothing elegant about Salinas.

Another curious local variation of Salinas is “Salas,” which is a sort of underground street name for our little ciudad. Homeys earn street cred all over the country by simply being from Salas, or by rolling through Salas to punk a rival gang or some other mischief. Whatever they’re up to is Big to them, any week of the year, so at least act like you respect them. It’ll go better for you.

Finally, no, those aren’t gunshots you hear in the middle of the night. Here in Salas, we call those firecrackers; check if everyone in the house is ok, then go back to sleep.

Cowboy up and have a Big Week, everyone.