On the night of April 17, 2009, I slept in my new Long Beach, California apartment for the very first time. As an official resident of the LBC, I now could now claim to have lived in every one of the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area's "regions." This allows me to accurately address the unique qualities of each region, as well as the differences between them.
One could argue with boundaries and just exactly how far the metro area spreads. For example, I included Orange County as a separate area but lump the Santa Clarita Valley in with the San Fernando Valley. I decided that I covered the entire Inland Empire by spending seven months in Pomona, ignoring the fact that other IE towns like Fontana and Riverside and Temecula couldn't be more different. I arbitrarily put Long Beach in the South Bay (I say it fits geographically no matter what others may believe.) But at this point in my life I can confidently say that I will never NEVER live in Valencia or Rancho Cucamonga or Hawthorne and this as fine of a distinction as you're going to get. So....
The 8 Regions of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, All of Which I've Lived In:
1. Orange County
2. Inland Empire
3. San Gabriel Valley
4. Ventura County
5. San Fernando Valley
6. The Westside of Los Angeles
7. The "East"side of Los Angeles
8. Long Beach/South Bay
(note: due to the unexpected massive word length of the Orange County entry below and the fact that I've had trouble coming up with interesting blog post topics lately, I've made an editiorial change. Instead of discussing all 8 regions at once, I'm making this an 8-part series. You will keep coming back every day, hoping - praying - that I'm finally getting to the weird cooked meat obsessions and civic sadness that clouded my too-many-months in Ventura County. You will then see that I did not update the blog because I likely wasted my day playing a 10-round Scramble game on Facebook with my cousin Ameer. You will try again later that night or the following day. You will continue to wait; the cycle will repeat.)
1. Orange County (1988-1990)
In August of 1988 I packed a Hyundai full of clothes and toiletries and set out from Minnesota to California. I said goodbye to Gopherland, knowing that I would really miss the place but would never be returning. After all, no one ever goes back. I was wrong. I've gone back two times and a third isn't out of the question (it could happen next month; it could happen in 2030.) Yes, I've gone home again twice.
After a few transitional weeks in my aunt and cousins' home in Anaheim (Hills), I moved into an apartment on Date Street in Brea, a town that borders Fullerton. The previous spring decided that Cal. State Fullerton would be the place where I would continue my higher education. I can't remember how I made this exceedingly arbitrary decision but I truly enjoyed my two years in the place and learned a lot about life, love, and empirical methodology.
But this isn't supposed to be my life story. This is supposed to be a comparison of the places I've lived. I'll just tackle Brea and the northern country area and I'll be succinct: Brea was (is?) awesome. Brea could be summed up by what happened on the night of October 30, 1988. My friend and roommate John and I had gone to see one of our idols - Leonard Cohen - perform at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. I still consider it one of the best concerts I've ever attended. We drove home from L.A., dutifully taking the 60 to the 57 to the Imperial Highway exit. Instead of taking a left on Imperial, we decided to drive straight into the shopping center that housed the only restaurant still open in Brea: Denny's.
(A few weeks later, we would learn of the existence of Herschel's in nearby Fullerton, the far cooler and tastier 24-hour alternative until they turned it into a f-ing Spoons. (For those of you not familiar with Orange County food culture in the mid-late 80s, Spoons was Chili's before Chili's was Chili's. Eventually Spoons became the RC Cola to Chili's Coca Cola (Applebees is the Pepsi of course.)))
We took a booth near the front of Denny's. Although I had moved to California in August, John had just arrived the night before. I'm sure it was a dizzying dazzling first 24 hours - arrive at the airport, sleep in his very own bedroom in La Casa Brea (the actual name of the apartment building; it means The House of Tar in Spanish), visit the mustard fields of his short-term childhood home in Claremont, see Leonard Cohen on his banana-T-shirted I'm the Man tour, and eat at Denny's. That would be enough for anyone. But so much more happened.
I can't remember what John and I were discussing in our booth (my memory is 70% sure that we were talking about either David Bowie's career arc or whether A Fish Called Wanda was actually funny.) Whatever it was, it fascinated the two gentlemen in the adjoining booth. They joined our conversation. We discussed our recent relocations to Brea. They welcomed us. We talked about books and museums and (still can't figure out why) Love and Rockets. They became our friends and remain so to this day, despite the lack of contact between '91 and '07. These days I see Matt and Jim come up on my Facebook page with welcome frequency. Plus, the meeting at Denny's led us to meeting Katinka and Haley. I met 8% of my Facebook friends because John and I were hungry and Matt and Jim were nice.
The thing about Brea and northern Orange County in general is that it went against the stereotype of Southern California and, in particular, Orange County being a region of "the self-satisfied materialistic children of entitlement." These were the actual words of someone I went on a bad first date with in Minneapolis. Sure, that "element" existed all over the county (as it exists in the outer suburbs that ring the inner suburbs that ring Minneapolis and most major American cities.
But there was also a subculture of smart subversive savvy kids and young adults who went about operating their meticulous network of good record stores, strange restaurants, and tiny comic book stores. You'd have to go out of the way sometimes to find these places, sometimes to the grimier parts of Anaheim or the shinier parts of Garden Grove. Many of the houses in Fullerton and Brea were built when the ex-hippie baby boomers were buying property and settling in the great Valhalla between the mountains and the sea. So, by 1988, the children of these hippies were hanging out in Denny's and bridging the gap between the West Coast and the Midwest.
(Before I removed it, the previous sentence included a rather strained metaphor invoking the following: 1) the Walshes of Beverly Hills 90210; and 2) the skillful scaling of the barrier presented by the Rocky Mountains, conveniently located halfway between the West Coast and Midwest. You'll thank me for making that edit. Oh and because it's al ittle hard to see I'll just explain the picture alongside the preceding paragraph - it's a Deadhead sticker. On a Cadillac.)
If I had to rank the eight greater L.A. places in terms of where I'd live again, Brea would be in the Top 2, just behind Santa Monica. Long Beach would be recused from being placed on the list. Too soon. I'll close with 5 memories of the time I spent living in Brea:
1. After learning that Matt was performing as Santa Claus at the claustrophobically-designed Brea Mall, John and I went to go pay him a visit. He was wearing a full Santa outfit, with realiztic white beard and added padding. But to me he looked nothing like Santa. He looked like Matt.
2. Also at the Brea Mall: One Saturday afternoon, Katinka learned that boyfriend John and ex-boyfriend(?) Matt would both be unable to accompany her as she went bikini shopping. She asked me to join her. Seeing my close friend's beloved girlfriend in eight different swimsuits in the fitting room sections of three different stores was an odd experience. Today it wouldn't phase me at all. Today I can move mountains and dismantle IKEA bed frames and Google-map directions to Whole Foods stores to people 1200 miles away while I analyze survey data. But then I was a shy kid who likely overstated the importance of being chosen for the bikini shopping duty. I didn't know what to say - they ALL looked good.
3. Before John and the rest of them began to define the town, it was my childhood friend Patrick who was present in the very early days of my move. Patrick was visiting me from New Jersey. I had to go to school most days and I was using my car. So Patrick kept busy walking around the busy retail zone near my apartment. He struck up an unlikely friendship with a clerk at Tower Records named Philthy Rich (not to be confused with the hip-hop record label formed two decades later). Philthy looked like a cross between Quiet Riot's (late) lead singer and Andrew Dice Clay. Philthy was an imposing and sullen figure who performed in a local metal band, the name of which is un-Googleable. Some days later, Patrick returned to New Jersey and Philthy was never seen again in Tower Records.
4. Speaking of Andrew Dice Clay, one of my favorite memories of the last few months of my Brea tenure was seeing Dice's movie The Adventures of Ford Fairlane at the Brea Marketplace theater. By the summer of 1990 John had moved to Ohio, Jim was in an unknown location, Katinka was in seclusion (pregnant and kaleidoscoping), and Haley was all alone up there in the 909. Matt and I were all that was left of our golden town. Now, Andrew Dice Clay would be the last person in the world you'd expect to star in the only movie Matt and I ever saw together without John around as our sidecick. But that's the movie we picked and I can't remember Matt's opinion but I thoroughly enjoyed the film's indie cred and quirk charm.
5. The final day in Brea: late July 1990. John has flown back to say his goodbyes and to help me drive the rental truck back to Minneapolis. Yeah, I was homesick for lakes and freaking Trip Shakespeare. After loading the truck with all of my possessions, I had an errand to run. I was giving away some of my furniture and Matt had expressed an interest in my desk. So one sunny morning, as I was driving down Lambert Road approaching Brea Canyon Road I heard strange noises. A woman illegally passed me (using the oncoming traffic lanes!) to get my attention. I rolled down my window. She said "Everything is falling out of the truck." Fuck. Damn. Wow. For a block down Lambert Road, we saw it: boxes (closed and open), furniture (broken and intact), unpacked miscellany (an icebox, an overused down comforter, stray cassettes). The desk Matt Really wanted was in pieces. I think I might have just left it there. It was too hot. It was too much to handle. Luckily, that wouldn't be my final memory of Brea. A few good things happened years later.