The Case For O.C. : Behind the Orange Curtain

<i> T. Jefferson Parker's two mystery novels, "Laguna Heat" and "Little Saigon," take place in Orange County. </i>

THE AGE of 4, I had the good sense to pack my family out of Los Angeles and move south to Orange County. My dad grumbled and my mother was shocked, but my brother and sister were all for it. After all, we were the future, weren’t we? That was 32 years ago, and I haven’t looked back. since. Even if I had, not much would have been visible, because the L.A. smog is so bad you need an LAPD battering ram to get through it.

Live in Los Angeles? You’ve got to be kidding. Let’s compare the basics.

THE PEOPLE: There’s one fundamental difference between L.A. people and Orange Countians. L.A. people all want to be someone else. Look at them, and, as Jim Harrison has written, “see the folly whirling in their eyes.” The waiters all want to be novelists; the novelists all want to be screenwriters; the screenwriters all want to direct; the directors all want to produce; the producers all want to keep the other guys relegated to net participation and guild minimums. Don’t believe me? Go to a Laker game. Pat Riley wants to be Michael Douglas. Jack Nicholson wants to be Magic Johnson. Dyan Cannon wants to be in high school again, mesmerizing bleachers full of male adolescents with crack pompon work and bouncy wiggles.

Now take Orange Countians. We know who we are. The blandly handsome, heavily mortgaged, marathon-running, aerospace department manager, driving to work in his Taurus, does not entertain dreams of movie making. He has weapons to build, a country to defend, a family to provide for. Or take the blond mall rat, age 16, with her squeaky voice and her eyes aflame with consumer fever. She doesn’t secretly wish to be Michelle Pfeiffer. She has actually never heard of Michelle Pfeiffer.


The loose-jawed surf dude in Huntington Beach entertains not a single thought besides the next south swell, south being to his left, he’s pretty sure, if he’s facing the gnardical tubes of the Pacific, which he usually is.

THE PLACE: Be honest, now. Would you rather spend your day in Laguna Beach or at the La Brea Tar Pits? Would you rather drive Pacific Coast Highway with the top down and your radio blasting or sit on Interstate 10 and watch the Boyle Avenue exit inch by while you wonder which of these other gridlocked sociopaths is going to pop off a couple .44 magnum rounds at you? Would you rather stroll amid the abject hideousness of Venice Beach (even the beaches want to be somewhere else!) or settle down with a dry martini in a bar with a view of Newport Harbor, the Pacific, Catalina Island, and no waiters named Darrel who want to act? Would you rather sit in a quiet patio in the Modjeska Canyon wildlife sanctuary and watch the birds come and go or sit in the lounge of the Tom Bradley International Terminal, eat a stale $2.95 croissant and watch the jets lumber through the swelling apocalyptic vapors that pass for air?

I’m trying to be fair here.

THE ATTITUDE: People in L.A. think they’re ahead of Orange Countians in all things hip and wonderful. They glow with condescension, with an arrogance that doesn’t just suggest superiority but proclaims it. A friend from L.A., visiting me when I lived on Balboa Island (ever notice how people come to Orange County to get out of L.A., but never the other way around?), remarked that he was surprised to see such a “progressive” shampoo in my shower. It mattered to him where my shampoo registered on the hipness scale. We walked the campus at UC Irvine, where I was a student, and his Bruin nose, high in the air, sniffed at the “sterility” it sensed there. Later, we took my tiny sailboat (a two-man Sears Whirlwind) into Newport Harbor, where my friend gestured at the passing boats and remarked that the Marina del Rey yachts were far more “seaworthy than gaudy, like these things.” Orange Countians have more sense than to fall for most of the embarrassing trends that flourish in L.A. For instance, nouvelle cuisine was a conspicuous and stunning flop in Orange County restaurants. For instance, attractive young women in Orange County have the guts and imagination to wear something other than Wayfarers and black leather. For instance, no man in Orange County, even in the sartorial nightmare of the early 1970s, ever wore a pair of goddamned clogs. Those were relegated to L.A., in a parade of unrepentant high-silliness from which the city has yet to recover.


THE OBVIOUS CONCLUSIONS: Los Angeles has the dirtiest air in the nation; Orange County has no smog at all. Los Angeles traffic is rivaled only by that of Manhattan; Orange County’s freeways and surface streets bustle along at over-the-speed-limit velocity 24 hours a day. Los Angeles is ugly. Orange County is beautiful. People in Los Angeles all want to be someone else because they’re miserable; people in Orange County are content to be who they are because they’re happy.

It’s clear. People in L.A. can’t face reality.

We can.