January 18, 2004

I want to be somewhere

Filed under: Uncategorized — tomemos @ 2:53 pm

The other night we were driving somewhere, and we saw campaign signs for the State Assembly election, which is apparently approaching. One of the signs said, “Jim Smith [or whoever] for State Assembly: The Conservative Republican.”

That was it. That was his tagline. Not “For a Better Future” or “The People’s Choice” or something flowery like that. “The Conservative Republican.” At least you know what you’re getting. And I should be relieved that he’s “the” conservative Republican candidate; around here, I’m sort of surprised that there’s only one.

This is a really weird place to live. I’ve done an awful lot of complaining about it, but most of that has been from a consumer standpoint–no good book or record stores, no downtown area, like some sort of Zagat’s Guide to college towns. Right now I’m talking about a different kind of weirdness, one that’s shown me how atypical a lot of my experiences have been in other places I’ve lived.

For instance, there are no sirens here. I was talking to Megan on the phone (hope you’re reading this, Megan) some time ago–she lives in New Haven–and in the background I heard a police siren. It took me by surprise, because I was out of the habit of hearing them. The police cars here don’t use their sirens; twice I’ve seen one driving down the road, silently flashing its lights.

That reaction, of being surprised by something that I used to take for granted, has struck me a number of times since I moved here. One morning, about ten days after I moved here, I was walking to campus when I saw a disheveled man asleep on the grass. I was completely taken aback, even shocked; my first instinct was to make sure he was alive, and the sight kept me shaken up for the rest of the day. I come from one of the most tolerant communities in America in regards to homelessness, and therefore one with a sizable homeless population, but in just ten days I had forgotten the standard way to deal with homelessness–keep walking, let someone else worry about it. I wonder how long you could live here and never be reminded that homelessness exists.

There are no disabled people here–I’ve seen one person in a wheelchair, and it was such a rare event that I remember exactly where it was and what she looked like. There are almost no black people here, and I’m always struck by a feeling of pleasant surprise when I see a black person on or around campus. I’m not keeping some kind of PC checklist, but I grew up in decently close proximity to a race and culture that is just not represented here and it feels strange. When I went back to the Bay Area for the first time, in October, I realized how much I had taken the presence of an entire ethnic group for granted.

Now, all of the above was true about Bronxville, too, but Bronxville had a certain character and individuality that was easier to bear. I know what it is that weirds me out about Orange County: it’s not just suburban, it’s aggressively suburban, even anti-urban. Everything I associate with city life is completely absent here, both the good–a (not just ethnically) diverse population, parks, places to walk and shop and people-watch–and the bad, or more accurately the symptoms of bad–homelessness, graffiti, crime. Take all that away and what’s left is Irvine, a city defined by negatives. To be honest, I welcome the crazy Republicans, because they give the place character; everything else is people staying inside their identical houses. Mind you, I don’t come from a teeming metropolis full of dark satanic mills. I come from Berkeley, just about the most effete example of a small city there is. But Irvine makes Berkeley look positively noir.

Last quarter I was talking with a few of the Poetry MFA students, and we were complaining about all of this stuff. One of them said something that stuck with me: “I hope I never come to like it here.” That’s similar to a fear I have. I don’t think I need to worry about liking Irvine, but I am worried that I might get used to it. And that fear is mirrored by another: I’m worried that I might spend six years here without ever getting used to it.



  1. you know what? secretly HB is a whole lot better. since i started working everyone who lives in ritzy newport beach or vanilla irvine says, ohhh, you live in huntington beach? that place is AWESOME. so in other words tom, come hang out with me a little more often and we can mix it up πŸ˜‰

    Comment by alex — January 18, 2004 @ 3:11 pm

  2. Yeah, keep in mind that you’re not going to necessarily be living in Irvine all six years — I think at some point you’ll find a car and a better place to live, and become a commuter.

    It’s funny — Orange County was what I took for granted when I was growing up; I couldn’t imagine living in any other type of community. When we would visit relatives back east, everything about New York — the culture, the people, even the climate — would actually make me nervous because it was so incredibly different. Neighborhoods that weren’t completely sterile were just bizarre.

    Of course, my town did have a huge Hispanic population, but of course the Hispanics and the Whites/Asians/Others never really interacted with each other.

    Comment by julie — January 18, 2004 @ 10:13 pm

  3. To get a car, Tom must first LEARN TO DRIVE!

    Come on now. It is beyond the acceptable period of always being a passanger. We’re tired of dragging your pedestrian ass around. πŸ˜‰

    Comment by kindle — January 20, 2004 @ 10:10 am

  4. I thought the OC was awesome, like in that show.. tv wouldn’t lie, would it? Would it?!?

    Comment by kindle — January 21, 2004 @ 9:37 am

  5. Irvine sucks. We local kids have dubbed it “the bubble.”

    Comment by Carol — February 26, 2004 @ 11:02 pm

  6. Funnily enough, my college humor newspaper (which I had the pleasure of editing) was called The Bubble, also a reference to the general dead-ness of the campus and the surrounding area. It was different from Irvine, though, at least it had character.

    Comment by Tom — February 26, 2004 @ 11:19 pm

  7. Yup. I went through a huge culture shock when I moved here from LA. I briefly considered a “Homeless People for Irvine” drive.

    And it’s funny that you mention disabled people; I didn’t spot any till I started attending the local community college, where the minorities and the disabled and the poor huddle together in a sea of manicured lawns.

    Comment by Carol — February 27, 2004 @ 9:01 am

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