Behind the Orange Curtain
People who know the social topography of Southern California are often appalled to find out that I live in Corona del Mar, the southernmost chunk of Newport Beach. It’s fancy, to be sure, but most of coastal Orange County is regarded as a kind of cultural wasteland. While much of inland OC is varied, economic, social, and racial diversity of any kind flatten as you move closer and closer to the ocean. By the time you arrive at Ocean Drive in our fair hamlet, you are suddenly confronted with a terrifying vision of twenty-first century American prosperity: orangey older men who work as “entrepreneurs” with second wives half their age, women who are uniformly blonde, nipped, tucked, and Xanax-zonked in between their numerous yoga classes. The children shriek unpleasantly while playing and otherwise act strangely morose, despite their obvious lack of want for anything. Migrant workers do virtually all of the domestic and manual labor, and there is a quiet exodus of people of color every single weekday at four p.m. While many people have observed the aggression that ordinarily placid Californians exhibit on the road, OC drivers are entirely oblivious to the presence of other vehicles, that is, when they aren’t being outright malicious in their leased Lamborghinis. The OC is a perverse realization of Louis C.K.’s funny observation of late capitalism: everything is amazing, and nobody is happy. So much so, in fact, that the phrase has become our shorthand for our neighbors’ bad behavior at the Fashion Island Whole Foods.
Kvetching aside, coastal OC is among the most beautiful places in the country, and a dream for people who enjoy being outside as much as we do. We are a five-minute drive from Crystal Cove State Park, which boast four miles of undeveloped beaches and serves as the trailhead for miles upon miles of hiking along the canyons and ridges of the hills between Newport and Laguna Beach. We hike or beach (that can be a verb, right?) there several times a week, often doing a loop in Moro Canyon that culminates with a view of the coast stretching from Dana Point all the way to the Pacific Palisades. Many of our days end with a leisurely stroll to Corona del Mar State Beach, where we watch predictably gasp-worthy sunset over Catalina Island while dolphins and seals swim around at the entrance to Newport Harbor. The green markets, especially the one at UC Irvine, are the biggest and best I’ve ever seen. Our library in Newport Beach seems to be the only public library in America that is expanding and improving as the city grows. There’s a lot to recommend Corona del Mar, even if we do often feel like anthropologists in our own community. At any rate, it appears that we are here for at least the short duration, so we might as well enjoy it.