This year's In The Pipeline student journalism competition produced many more entries than last year, making the judging extra tough.
In fact, this year, we have a tie for first place — a three-way tie at that.
Congratulations to Andrea Resnick and Jimmy Nguyen, both juniors at Fountain Valley High School, and to Lauren Delcoure, a senior at Marina High School. Lauren, you might recall, won the competition last year, and returned strong once again.
As I said, there were many fine entries this year, but for me, these three students produced the most compelling stories based on my assignment to write about an interesting person, place or thing in our area, shedding light with their own personal details and photography.
Here are some excerpts from the individual pieces.
Andrea took us to a private place where she enjoys some of the most authentic, affordable Mexican food in Orange County. Her writing was emotional, vivid and detailed:
"Tucked away on a residential street just past the intersection of Beach Boulevard and Slater Avenue, the Taco Truck lives up to its literal interpretation — a truck with a kitchen inside, parked along the curb. The menu, painted on the side of the truck, displays the many tasty possibilities available for hungry costumers. With a variety of dishes including tortas, tacos, burritos, flautas, and even Mexican hamburgers, there is something for everyone. One can even pick from a choice of meats such as chicken, beef, carnitas, cabeza (head meat), or lengua (tongue).
"A broad selection of Mexican sodas and common fountain drinks serve as a popular addition to the spicy meals. With such a variety of options, anyone can find satisfaction here. Being a creature of habit and an avid lover of Mexican food, the words 'cuatro de asada para llevar, por favor' are all too familiar to me, being used at every Taco Truck experience that I enjoy. When I receive my steaming paper plate or Styrofoam tray of authentic Hispanic cuisine, with its small corn tortillas, freshly grilled carne asada, sprinkled with cilantro and onions, I can't help but salivate a little. If I'm lucky enough to arrive before the free pineapple juice has disappeared, I have the perfect sidekick to my scrumptious meal. A squeeze of fresh lime and some tongue-tickling salsa are the cherry on top as I clench my much-awaited meal and assume my throne on the cement curb."
Andrea's descriptive writing made my mouth water, and I assure you I will be having lunch here one day.
Jimmy's article was a meditation on a special place where he finds peace and solitude:
"The smell of the sea water clogged my nostrils and the sea breeze blew my messy hair back. This is what it's like every time I head to my favorite spot in the city of Huntington Beach. Despite the city's crowded beach, the Santa Ana River Trail contains ocean water that creates the same feeling as being on the beach itself. Occasionally, there is a walker or cyclist, but usually I'm able to free myself from society's constraints just like Thoreau when he went to live in Walden Pond.
"After I sit down on the sidewalls of the riverbed, I'm able to let go of all my stresses, worries, and problems. The Santa Ana River Trail is actually 26.5 miles long, but the Huntington Beach strip is only about 3 miles long. A majority of the Huntington Beach natives do not even know that the river trail exists; they simply assume it's a way to divert flooding during torrential rains. One of the reasons why it's my favorite place in the city is because I can think to myself and enjoy nature at the same time … if I were to choose my lifelong career right now, then I would choose to be a nature photographer because I enjoy my experiences on the Santa Ana River Trail."
Lauren provided an up-close look at the monthly Huntington Beach Art Walk, held every third Wednesday of the month:
"Free of charge, it is held in downtown Huntington Beach and begins at the Art Center, spread out in many different venues. Many businesses, from restaurants to yoga, get involved and it is a great chance to experience a night of local, professional talent as well as enjoy downtown Huntington Beach. Every month the artists and the locations change, so there is always something new to discover. The artists themselves are present with their work. Furthermore, the artists are an assorted group of people, most recently ranging from a recent college grad to a former attorney. Art shows its beauty in many forms, from stained glass on surfboards to jewelry, illustrations, and photography.
"Visiting each station where the artists are located is like an adventure in itself. Whether it's the whole family or date night, there's something for everyone. As you venture through the Art Walk you have your pick of restaurants for a bite to eat or check out a clothing store. The artists present last time were a real treat full of extraordinary talent. Lenora Regan is a photographer but also writes custom messages in the sand. Robin Lucca was once an attorney for workers' compensation but now creates beautiful mosaics with glass she cuts herself in her garage, some of them on old surfboards."
I'm proud of these students, and all the others that submitted entries this year. Please join me in congratulating them.
Personal note: Best wishes to column reader (and my friend) Wally Benton, who just underwent open-heart surgery. I wrote about Wally and his marvelous Singing Goodtimers vocal group two years ago in this column. Wally is doing terrific, and as he picks up the paper this morning, I'd like him and his wife to know how much we've been thinking about him.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at email@example.com.