Thursday, December 25, 2008

Adventures behind the Orange Curtain

For Christmas I almost always return to the home in which I grew up in Newport Beach, CA—the most conservative city in the very conservative Orange County. When Arnold Schwarzenegger defeated Gray Davis in the gubernatorial recall, the Republican side held their election night party in Newport Beach. I was horrified but unsurprised.

My parents, very possibly the most liberal household in Newport Beach, still live in the same house, have the same phone number, have the same popcorn ceilings, and almost nothing else is the same. Houses that go on the market are almost immediately torn down to be replaced with McMansions that extend to within six inches of their property line on each side. Their street is lit in a riot of color and light that rivals Disneyland's Electric Parade if only because most neighbors hire companies to design and engineer their holiday lighting installments. It is impressive if not bizarre. Conservation is not a factor here, and if there's a recession, these people are not talking.

Christmas morning was grey and drizzly but looked perfect to me for a good wog, a fast walk combined with a slow jog—the best I can do on the concrete that was once a perfect surface for roller skating but now wreaks havoc on my aging knees and joints.

I traveled up the greenbelt, a park that runs through the center of my parents' housing development and is so large that it includes not only children's' parks, soccer fields, and a community pool but an elementary school. Leaving our development, I decided that some hill would be good to warm up my hamstrings. But the road up led through the gates of the neighboring gated community. To drive through, you must use a card or be on the list of people residents have called in. This policy was very inconvenient when we were high school children trying to organize raging house parties, but somehow we always managed. If one is on foot, I wondered, can one just walk in? Without a card? Without being on the list? I turned on a street labeled Yacht Coquette to find out. Turns out in a neighborhood where a person with dark skin standing on corner has a lot of 'splainin' to do to a police cruiser on its patrol, the answer is yes, provided you look like me. The guard at the gate stepped out of his post to wish me a merry Christmas and wave me through.

Did you know that all the streets are named after some yacht? Maybe America's Cup contenders—I don't know. I turned right onto Yacht Coquette, then left onto Yacht Truant. Then Yacht Defender, Yacht Enchantress, Yacht Grayling, Yacht Maria, . . . you get the picture. Can you imagine giving directions to a house here?? "Take a right on Yacht Coquette, the left on Yacht Grayling, right on Yacht Truant, and we're the third yacht house on the left." Aren't these people embarrassed?? I'm embarrassed just jogging there.

But things got really crazy when I tried to leave the gated community. I turned a corner, jogged down a hill, and was met by an iron fence that extended not only across the street but across the sidewalk as well. And that was locked. I was locked in a gated community. Go figure. Refusing to submit to such an indignity, I decided my 46-year-old body was as capable as ever of hopping a fence. I pulled away wet shrubbery and destroyed a spider wed (sorry) to make my way up an embankment where the fence was at its lowest point . . . just as a car pulled up. The driver of course had a card, and waved me down from the embankment and through the gate ahead of him, laughing the entire time. He was older, certainly old enough to remember a life without gates.

Blogging has caused me to want to take everyday experiences and put them into words to communicate what I see, think, and feel. But it has also pushed me to go beyond this to reach for what it all means. But today I'm not sure what this all meant. Other than this is how it is here, and I live somewhere else. It must be almost time to go home to Berkeley, that often unreasonably liberal ungated place with soft dirt trails.


KatieGirlBlue said...

You're so funny. Hopping a fence to escape an idyll most of America would trample a Wal-Mart employee to live in. Unnerving, all that excess. I feel similarly in my hood, where the mountain people are being replaced by folk who prefer their houses large and inefficient, their cars to seat 12 and their children to wear Juicy track suits. It's like living on another planet sometimes, but it's good for reminding us to be constantly vigilant about what we really need vs. what we want, etc. AAAAAHHHH! Can't wait till you come to ALTA, though, which thankfully remains old school and gritty and funky and true. HUGE snows last night. The canyon is closed right now, even. Yay!

lisagh said...

Berkeley might be okay, but seriously, you should come up here. I have never in my 42 years of life even imagined, let alone witnessed such a neighborhood. I know you speak the truth, but this sounds absolutely impossible to me.

ms. mindless said...

wow. reminds me why i dislike gated communities.

Broady said...

You are hilarious. I can just see you determined to scale that fence : )

BD and I built our first home in one of those type communities... it took 9 months to build, we lived in it for 10 months before moving to a smaller, older home in an old neighborhood. There are certainly days that I cuss some of the "challenges" of living in old house and our diverse'hood, but I love it just the same and could never move back to the cookie-cutter blahdom. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course ; )

Jennifer H said...

Yacht everything, really? I can't imagine the HOA sitting around dreaming up those street names...

I love how you brought it all around at the end, and I'm very glad to have found your little part of the world here.

Deb said...

Very well written Cindy! The sad part for me is that I would have been stuck in the gated community, as my fence climbing days are long behind me at the ole' age of 37.

Plus, if I had been stuck in the gated community,I would have died from inhalation of conservative-monoxide.

KSK said...

Berkeley is great - like Boulder (where I went to college) but with good weather!