GAYS MILLS - The year was 1980. My wife Sarah and I were taking a side trip on our family vacation to California. We left the kids with my parents in Orange County for an overnight and drove up the coast to San Luis Obispo, where I went to college (Go, Cal Poly Mustangs!).On the way up Highway 101, we stopped in a little town called Buellton for lunch. Buellton is home to a well-known restaurant known for a fairly low-brow dish: split pea soup. Pea Soup Anderson’s serves other food as well, but it’s been in business for almost 100 years and its signature dish is famous. The soup was very good, but what I remember about the stop was a rack of postcards we noticed as we were leaving.
The circular rack was filled with colorful, eye catching postcards with a sort of primitive or old-timey cartoon artwork on them. But the reason I bought several cards that day was the messages printed on them. They were wry, sardonic, witty, and humorous. In short, they were brilliant and they were made by a man named Brilliant, Ashleigh Brilliant, believe it or not. I became an instant fan of Brilliant’s work.
To this day, that restaurant in Buellton is the only place I’ve ever seen the cards for sale. They seem to be in limited distribution. But on the back of the card was an address where you could order more. I sent off for a catalog of Brilliant cards and received a list of the 7,000! cards that were available at the time. I’m sure that list grew as time went on. I ordered 40 or 50 of my favorites, I think they were 25 cents each.
I don’t know if Ashleigh Brilliant is still around. He was born in 1933 in England, migrated to the U.S. and wound up in Santa Barbara, not far from Buellton. He earned a PHD in history, but his claim to fame is the witty and wise cards that he wrote and the artwork that goes with them. He also compiled some of his favorite cards into several books, which, if you can find them, are quite entertaining. Cards can be ordered by contacting Ashleigh Brilliant Enterprises in Santa Barbara, California.
I loaned one of his books, ‘I May Not Be Totally Perfect, But Parts of Me Are Excellent,’ to my friend Judy Gill and she became an instant fan. She ordered and has loaned me a couple of Brilliant’s other books that she sought out: ‘All I Want is a Warm Bed and a Kind Word and Unlimited Power’ and ‘Appreciate Me Now and Avoid the Rush.’
By stopping for that bowl of soup years ago, I discovered a unique and booming business that capitalized on a great, simple food in a great location. However, I also discovered another unique and interesting business created and developed by a very brilliant fellow: Ashleigh Brilliant.