All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012
This is a teensy little taco stand on the east side of downtown Los Angeles. They are cheap (for example: three tacos & a Coke $4 – or 4 shrimp tacos for $5) and the tacos are wonderful. These shrimp ones were spicy & light & with nothing “fishy” about the seafood. Really delicious. They offer regular canned Coke & the FAR better-for-you (in the world of sodas) Mexican bottled Cokes. Seating is in an alley corridor between the taco stand & its companion next door – a meat market. Stop into the market – if you ever go to Chapalito. It feels like something south of the border in there.
While you sit in the warped plastic seating (tipped, in some cases, at a 45 degree angle – nearly impossible to perch upon) and enjoy your tacos (and you will) – check out the murals in the alley. One depicts some kind of farm life scenario – but the artist – it seems – was too intimidated to paint hooves. All the animals (save the chickens & the dog) have their feet sort of obscured or are standing in strategically placed tufts of grass. One poor sheep in chest deep in a rough. I’ve heard human hands are hard to paint – but HOOVES?
FAR more amusing still is the Chapalita logo & mascot depiction. I speak so little Spanish (shameful – after 28 years in LA) that one can really say I know NONE – so I tried to research the word Chapalita. I know enough that the “ita” means “little” – and the feminine version – no less. I could find no translation of Chapalita so I broke it down to three choices:
Chapala – ita – which returned a definition of “Little “Chapala.” Chapala is the city close to Guadalajara, in Jalisco – so this seems a decent choice.
Chapa – lita – Chapa meaning sheet metal – so Chapalito is “little sheet metal?” I think not. Nothing girly about sheet metal.
Chapo-lita – Chapo – meaning dwarf – so Chapalito is “little dwarf.” I’m liking this version best (even if it is wrong) & I will explain why now.
Look at this mural –
Here’s what we have – an orange sun setting behind some oxblood mountains with some scattered storm clouds. Two islands in the ocean each with two testicularly-enhanced palm trees. In the foreground, we have what seems to be two rock formations bookending a pale, sandy beach. None of that raises an eyebrow, I suppose, but it is what is under the name CHAPALITA that is cryptic and around which many conspiracy theories must abound. It appears that we have a flaming raft of some sort floating in the ocean. Chest deep in lapping flames – we find an un-phased chicken. Is he impervious to the fires of the rotisserie? Upon closer inspection – he expression looks sly, wry perhaps – not angry or defiant – like he knows something we do not. Is that a goatee he sports? While he has a spiked, feather hair-do, his body seems plucked clean – or he is wearing a Nike dri-fit workout top in canary yellow. Who can be sure? What we can be sure of is that he is wearing a wilting sombrero and is pretty built – with his Popeye forearms dwarfing his shoulders. And we know why, too. He works out. In fact – he is hefting a huge barbell over his head this very moment. No CHAPALITA – “Little Dwarf” – this chicken – though he was likely given that humiliating moniker by the bigger, mean roosters he went to junior high with – roosters mocking him with a feminine insult. He took Charles Atlas’ advice & body built his way into immunity from bullies & the death by fire that awaits so many chickens of his ilk. This chicken is a bad-ass. So bad-ass that he will proudly lift his waits on a flame-engulfed raft under a banner screaming the term that once made him run away in tears – CHAPALITA! He owns it! “Fuck all you haters,” he seems to be saying. “I turned my weakness into my strength and with any luck – somebody has turned you into a taco.” Maybe those palm trees and their nuts are emblematic of more than tropical fruits?
But – whatever these murals say to you – you will leave Chapalita saying, “Damn! Those were some tasty tacos!”