Sunday, August 15, 2004

The Price of Paradise

People who have merely heard of Orange County, California, often have strangely inaccurate notions about it. They seem to picture it as one large subdivision filled with tanned blonds driving SUVs on the way to the mall. The movie, “Orange County,” and television show, “The O.C.,” have hardly helped that misperception. For a curative, if not necessarily typical, impression, consider my weekend.

On Friday night, Donna and I went to see The Cowboy Junkies at The Coachhouse, in nearby San Juan Capistrano. We had dinner there, before the show, and chatted a bit with the couple next to us, a marine and his date. The marine had been stationed at Camp Pendleton, the huge base just south of San Clemente, and headed out to Iraq yesterday. A very nice teenage girl watched our kids. Although she does have blonde hair and surfs, thus fitting some O.C. stereotypes, she plans a career as a church missionary.

The next morning, we took the kids to Irvine Regional Park, where we met some old friends from the Boring (a.k.a. “East”) Coast who were passing through the area on their way to Hawaii. They brought their two boys, and together we goofed around a very clean and safe playground set under spreading sycamore trees, took a ride on the miniature railroad that runs through the park, walked through the charming little Orange County zoo, and fed the ducks that patrol the park’s two lakes. We didn’t get around the pony rides, the hiking trails, the volleyball courts, or many other of the park’s astounding range of amenities.

We took the kids out to dinner last night, to Rubio’s, a SoCal franchise deservedly well-known for its fish tacos and other tasty, fresh, and economical fare. Truth be told, I slightly prefer the competing Wahoo’s, because it shows surf videos. But my daughter A.J. strongly prefers Rubio’s, because it offers a kid’s meal.

This morning I ran the dawn patrol at Sano. The surf proved dismal, so I sat on the beach and played my guitar while the sun rose, waiting to see if the rising tide would improve things. It didn’t, so I took a run along the beach, south past the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and into the adjoining San Onofre State Beach. I like how that route passes from the height of technology to a vista where wild bluffs and beaches stretch as far as the eye can see.

Upon my return to Sano (which stands for San Onofre Surf Beach), I put in a quick 15 minutes of surfing, more to rinse off than anything else. The waves remained too laid back to offer much more than wetness. The surf forecast calls for a decent swell later this week. By then, though, I’ll have started teaching again and will probably not be able to make it out, alas.

So go some of the highlights of one guy’s weekend in Orange County. You will have noted the absence of lattes, trips to box stores, or manicures at Fashion Island. What you might not have noted, however, is how often my diversions relied on commercial transactions. We paid for the dinner and show on Friday night, as well as for the kids’ babysitter. Irvine Regional Park charges an admission fee and separate fees for the train ride and zoo. We even purchased bread to feed the ducks! The family dinner out on Saturday of course cost something, but it also illustrated the market niches occupied by two competing fish taco joints. This morning’s recreations also came at a cost: I got into Sano thanks to a season pass.

That pervasive influence of market processes probably speaks more to Orange County culture than local hair fashions and slang. To my mind, it makes O.C. a well-run and pleasant place. I’d say more, but now I have to go to the pool with my daughter. I’ll pay for that, too, and happily.

No comments: