SPECIAL REPORT: Putting Down Roots : The Times Poll : Community's Charm Is a Big Chill for One Resident


Fallbrook calls itself the Friendly Village and Deborah Avila has lived there for 15 years; but, for the life of her, she just doesn't feel very at home.

She's 40, married, and the mother of two children--a 20-year-old daughter who's on her own, and a 14-year-old son at home.

But, for any number of reasons that she's not hesitant to list, she doesn't feel rooted where she lives.

She's a statistical anomaly in North County, where among people who have lived at the same address for more than 10 years, 95% say they have settled in and feel rooted--comfortable--with their community.

But not Deborah Avila. "I feel like a stranger in my own land," she says.

This is her minority report.

"Unless you belong to the women's club or the garden club or the local church, or bingo, this is not a place conducive to meeting people. It's very cliquish.

"My son plays baseball, and I go to the games, but I think I'm seen as an older mother.

"We have neighbors. They're mostly retired. I know them by sight. We exchange Christmas cards, but that's about it. Maybe you shouldn't say 'exchange.' I send out cards, but I don't get any back.

"A lot of people who live around us just come down for the weekend from Orange County. They're weekend people, and this is their getaway. They made their fortunes in La-la land, and now they come here to relax.

"I'm from Texas. I think people are a little more trusting back there. I don't know what it is, but, when people move here, they put up fences. Everyone from Orange County has a chain-link fence around their gorgeous homes here.

"I wish that, if I needed an egg, I could go to a neighbor and borrow an egg. I don't feel I can do that. I have to drive 4 miles into town and buy an egg.

"I have plenty of time to get involved, but the garden club? I'd rather garden at home than go to a club meeting and just talk about it. I don't want to be hard on these ladies, but, really, it's the kind of thing that, if you don't show up, they talk about you.

"I live at Major's," she said of the supermarket. "They don't even ask me for my ID anymore. I should preface that by saying I'm 6-foot-2, and maybe that's why they've gotten to know me. The other people at the store, they're all very friendly. But they're meshed in their own little world. I guess I include myself in that. We have a tendency to rush around in our own little world and kind of ignore each other. I think people get defensive if the conversation goes beyond, 'Hi. How are you?' "

Church? "I'm a lapsed Catholic. I made my Easter duty.

Neighborhood watch? "There aren't any of those kinds of activities."

Entertainment? "If there was a bowling alley here, I'd bowl."

An occasional block party? "You've got to be kidding."

Why doesn't she offer to host one? "If I said 'wine and quiche,' they'd probably come. But burgers? No way."

How does she rate her civic boosterism? "I don't throw trash on the streets. I do smile when I'm out and about. I don't want to turn people away. But I'm not a great citizen, if that's what you're getting at.

Ever consider moving? "No. My son is starting high school soon, and the house is paid for."

"After I say all this, you'd probably think I'm disgruntled. I'm not. I'm a happy person. I'm an optimist.

"And I just wish sometimes for the old porch mentality, where you sit on the porch, and the kids are outside playing, and the neighbors walk by--holding hands, of course--and everything is well in the world."

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