Saturday, November 28, 2009

Translating the Translation

Twenty years ago or so, my family was traveling through California as part of our move across country. My mom decided we should take as many scenic roads as possible and forgo the interstate. She wanted us to see as much of the country as we could, none of which was visible from the interstate (unless you count rest stops and 7,000 McDonald's).

We left Monterey, California and after a day or so ended up in a little town called Tehachapi. We grabbed lunch in a local diner and enjoyed the stretch (a Ford Aerostar was not necessarily the lap of luxury when packed with four people, two cats, a dog and most of your personal belongings).

Our waitress was a pleasant but quiet woman. She was foreign, but her specific nationality wasn't clear. A thick accent was the only clue to her origins but even still we weren't sure. Of course it didn't matter... we were just curious.

My mother, deciding to engage our waitress in conversation, asked about the town's name, "Tehachapi, that's an interesting name. What does it mean?"

Our waitress paused, suddenly deep in thought, her pencil pressed on her ordering pad, looked up as though the answer was in the rafters... "Oh, it is ancient Indian word," the world wasn't quite PC yet.

"Oh?" My mother urged her on. Suddenly we needed this answer. The suspense was killing us. I looked at my brothers who, normally would be busy with crayons and "fun time" placemats, but here they were intrigued. We were learning about "Indians"!

"Yes," our waitress smiled, as though the answer had fallen into her head, "Tehachapi is ancient Indian word for, uh, um... Tehachapi."

Learning fail.

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