Hansen: Sí, Laguna Beach, like on TV

TULUM, Mexico — With private beaches, aqua tide pools and local lobster, there are times here when you can squint and see Laguna Beach.

At least in spirit.

The reality is a little bit different, just as the name "Laguna Beach" conjures up different realities for the world travelers who come to this beach resort 90 minutes south of Cancun.

In a completely unscientific poll, the international brand of Laguna Beach needs some work.

Nearly everyone I talked to believes Laguna Beach is either some exclusive Beverly Hills-like enclave dripping in gold, or a spindly suburb of vapid Orange County, filled with bratty kids and silicone.

A Scandinavian woman, with funny translation challenges, said she thought Laguna was "hills and very nice homes and hot palm trees."

An English woman, perhaps confusing us with Santa Monica, said we were the place with the "rickety roller coaster and nice beaches."

But it was model Anna Friden from Sweden who had the most nuanced impression of Laguna. She currently lives in New York but has traveled to Los Angeles about 10 times.

"I love it there, but I don't know that much about Laguna Beach," she said. "First of all, I love the fact that you can go hiking, swimming, surfing and drive two hours and you're in the desert. You can go skiing in the winter. You have all the different sceneries in one city."

She said there are clear differences between New York and L.A., of course, especially among her N.Y. friends, who have made certain assumptions about the West Coast lifestyle.

"People are not driven there. They don't have a goal in life," she said. "They surf. They hang around a lot. It's beautiful weather, but if you want to do something, you have to get out of there, unless you want to be an actor or whatever."

Her friend, German photographer Jaan-Eric Fischer, said L.A. was too wimpy.

"I need a pushy city," he said. "L.A. is not like that."

So it's all about brawn and movies.

Many people mentioned the MTV reality show about Laguna Beach. Others confused it with the "Real Housewives" series.

Either way, "reality" was far from the truth. Or was it?

Is the comparison fair when you are sitting on the water at world-class resorts, one in Mexico and one in California?

Both have Spanish street names and panga boats. Both have class systems, busboys who speak little to no English but are trying to learn so they can become waiters and make more money to support their family.

There are international deejays and boutique hotels, staffed by discreet concierges who have seen everything but say nothing, $20 at a time. There are the homeless and crime and questionable authorities.

The similarities, however, do not measure real scale and contrast.

In other words, while Laguna has a few homeless, the oppressive poverty in the shadows of Mexico is staggering.

Meanwhile, like in Laguna, the globe-trotting tourists are easy to spot. They have perfect leather travel bags. The more hip among them wear Elvis Costello glasses and have retro hardback suitcases with ironic stickers.

When they run on the beach, their microfibers glisten in the sun, more from the space-age technology than actual sweat. Their running shoes have just the right amount of glow-in-the-dark iridescence.

Yoga is performed with the constipated solemnity given to papal visits.

Smoking is probably one of the few things that really divides the two countries.

Of course in Laguna, smoking in restaurants is like putting a garden hose on the exhaust pipe of a global warming diesel bus. Here in Mexico, they just prefer that you don't flick your ashes in other people's food.

But seriously, the divides are deep and wide. The real reality is we live sublime, privileged lives in Laguna Beach, which is fine.

The point is, regardless of our station in life, if we live in Laguna, there is no reason to complain.

There is no reason to do anything but give thanks, learn Spanish and somehow give back a little more.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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