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Caló: ¿Qué onda?

This episode is about the word, onda. In modern Spanish it means wavelength or radio signal. In Caló it refers to the state of one’s mind or that of the ambiance. It evolved in Caló around the same time the term ‘groove’ emerged in colloquial English. Today it’s a general greeting and an inquiry: you say “que onda” to ask how somebody is doing or about the prevailing groove.

By Oscar “El Marfa” Rodriguez

It was a weird onda for Boy in the parking lot of the concert venue.

The razita, his crew of friends, from OJ had come to town to attend the Santana concert, and they were acting like they were hanging out at the plaza in OJ — non-stop joking and constantly pushing and thumping each other. They were a ruckus in a calm sea of pedestrians flowing to the entrance of the arena — loud, colorful, with pointed and high-heeled cowboy boots, everybody walking by turned to look at them.

“Qué onda with people staring at us?” asked one of the razita.

“Pos, they’re looking at your white pants, vato. They’re probably saying qué onda with that ruco who never gets dirty at the ranch,” somebody joked.

Everybody laughed uproariously. Boy couldn’t help but laugh too, but he also stood back from the pack a little.

“Qué onda with you Boy?” somebody asked.

“Oh sí, he’s looking like he’s never been to OJ. Like he’s in another onda. But we know you, Boy. Hey everybody, this vato’s with us,” another crew member yelled so everybody passing by could hear. Everybody laughed again.

“Pos, you think it’s time to go in or what?” asked Boy.

“Not yet. Carlos is the last act, and the first act hasn’t even started yet,” one of his friends said.

“But the first acts are good, too,” said Boy.

The razita didn’t hear. They were gawking a young woman pacing up and down a row of tighly parked cars.

“Qué onda with the blonde?” one of them said.

“She’s in a bad onda,” another one of them said.

“Ask her qué onda,” somebody told Boy.

Boy looked over at the woman. Her blushed face contrasted starkly with her otherwise pale skin.

“Miss, you OK?” asked Boy.

“Yes. No. I’m blocked in. Anyone of you own the cars around mine? I can’t wait until the concert’s over. I just came to drop off friends. Not even supposed to be here,” said the blonde, her voice cracking.

“She said she’s not going to the concert and can’t wait,” Boy told his friends.

The pack understood the onda from her distressed voice.

“Tell her we’ll get her car out,” said several of the boys said at once.

“They said they’ll get you out,” Boy translated.

Before she could react, half the pack went on one side of her car and the other half on the other side.

She looked on incredulously.

The boys then started rocking her car up and down. With each upswing, they inched the car out until it was free.

The blonde thanked the boys profusely, jumped in her car and drove off.

“Buena onda,” said Boy. “Let’s go hear Santana.”

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