When I moved to LA, I feel like I inadvertantly chose sides in a long-standing feud: Los Angeles vs. Orange County. There is obviously a lot of history going way back, a lot of bad blood and passion. Well, I’m not from here so I don’t get it, the same way people from Texas don’t recognize the HUGE differences between Sonoma and Napa (Napa’s for auto parts – Sonoma’s the best. Even Grey’s Anatomy hunks agree! McDreamy: “Sonoma. Smaller hotels. Fewer tourists.“). So far, these are things I’ve noticed on my brief forays to Orange County.
- The highway is a lot wider.
- There is a lot of water-intensive landscaping, even in the industrial parks, but there are basically no orange trees anywhere.
- The outdoor mall in Irvine can only be accurately described as vast.
Thankfully, there is a book to enlighten us on the charms of this southern land: Orange County: A Personal History.
I found out about the newest book by Gustavo Arellano, the author of the syndicated column, Ask a Mexican, from his recent Zocalo lecture. I’ve taken to downloading the lectures as podcasts and I listen at the gym so that I’m simultaneously getting both buffer AND smarter.
The same way a good teacher can make anything interesting, so can a good writer. Gustavo Arellano is as funny as ever, plus the book has lots of my favorite stuff – history and musings on Mexican/American culture. He’s got a great section on OC religion from The Purpose-Driven Life to the Hour of Power. I’m planning a field trip to the Crystal Cathedral.
Orange County is actually part of my personal history as well. I may have been raised in Northern California, but my half-sister, Dana, grew up in Newport Beach, as did her husband. I recently visited my sister’s old haunts for the first time ever. We walked around Balboa Island and she pointed out places our dad used to go when his family vacationed down south in the summers. It was kind of surreal to be connected to a place I’d never visited.
But as Gustavo points out, we’re ALL connected to Orange County in one way or another, since it’s one of those rare American places with political and cultural influence far beyond its size. He may be the county’s #1 critic, but he’s also it’s #1 cheerleader. Read it, love it, embrace the OC. (Just don’t call it that.)