Uncle Guacamole Does the O.C.

I don’t know where we are.  Costa Mesa, probably.  Either that or Tustin.  Or it may be Irvine or Santa Ana or any of a dozen other places.  I really don’t know.  The car headlights (or headlight, singular, in our case, as one of ours seems to have inconveniently burned out) zig and zag, now to the left, now to the right, creating crazy quilt paths as the freeways flow into each other, exit and entrance, up over one another, down under and in and out in a sexy dance that is nighttime in Orange County.  That’s California, pilgrim.  Home of Mickey Mouse and (quack) the Mighty Ducks.

We were trying to avoid the 405 because of what happened the previous evening.  Carmageddon may be nothing but a bad memory, but we had to find out the hard way that late night construction is an ongoing process necessitating the closing of the freeway.  You can’t get there from here.  So tonight we stay off the interstate, instead wandering the local streets as the towns and cities melt one into another with nothing to show for themselves but all-night bodegas, gas stations and a 24-hour donut shop/Chinese take-out place.  I’ll take an order of tofu with eggplant and two maple bars, please.

Harbor House counter
Harbor House counter (doo wop, doo wop)

Following a lovely afternoon at the beach, we had returned to our hotel for a nap and now it was getting late and I wanted some decent food.  My wife did not feel like going out.  No, I do not want a vegetarian burrito from Del Taco across the street.  Come on, let’s go.  She griped and moaned, accused me of never being satisfied with anything, but ultimately went.  I let Google lead us to the Harbor House by the ocean in Sunset Beach.  We were both amazed by the quantity of food that they bring to the table, French toast with eggs and sausage in my wife’s case, a plateful of lovely steamed veggies and a baked potato for me.  Squaw bread on the side, which turned out to be toasted deep, dark oat bread, slightly burnt and completely delicious.  The fifties music made me feel as if we were on a date back in high school and should be sipping a strawberry milkshake, two straws.  Born too late for you to notice me, tra-la.  Ohhh, please, stay by me, Diana.  Wake up, little Susie, we gotta go home.  Out the window, the neon sign glowed and the cars floated by on the Pacific Coast Highway and yes, this was it, old time cruisin’ California or as close as you can get to it in the twenty-first century.  I wonder what it would have been like to have grown up in this place instead of in New York.

Harbor House food
Vegetarian yumminess at the Harbor House, Sunset Beach

We crawled back to the hotel on the surface streets, found the directions on my phone to not be very accurate, got lost, dead ended into a giant condo subdivision, turned around, stopped at red lights in a couple of places that looked like where you find the bodies, snaked through the quiet, late night streets until we found our way back.  In five hours, I would have to haul myself out of bed, get dressed up and head to downtown Santa Ana to sit in a room full of computers with my fellow job applicants to take a test to see which of us might be called for an interview.  I had done the same thing, in another such computer room in an industrial park in Irvine, on Friday.

In between, we had the weekend.  On Friday afternoon, we took a leisurely drive to Newport Beach, where we had lunch at Côte d’Azure out in Balboa, near the dock where the catamaran picks up passengers and ferries them to Catalina Island, out in the middle of the ocean.  We did some shopping and determined that the whipping wind made it a less than auspicious beach-going day.  Besides, an email had just come in from yet another Orange County employer to which I had applied, informing me that I had used the wrong form and would be barred from further consideration unless I completed the correct application form and emailed it prior to close of business.  Back to the hotel we go.  Purchase wi-fi access from the front desk.  Drag out the laptop.  Try to cobble together the requested information from old emails since all of my paperwork was back at home, some 450 miles north.  The hotel’s internet connection is horribly slow, Adobe Acrobat refuses to cooperate, I invent some interesting swear words under my breath.

Cote d'Azure
Cote d’Azure cafe, Balboa

By Sunday, the wind has died down some, and we head out to Laguna Beach, hoping to come upon an ideal spot to set up our beach chairs and admire the rolling waves.  Clearly, this place is loaded with money.  We creep past oddball boutiques, fancy cafés and surf shops, watch the beachgoers crossing the street wrapped up in towels and carrying surfboards.  I feel out of place, as if I have a hell of a nerve, a hick from up north, a poseur trying to infiltrate the rarefied atmosphere of the O.C.

Dana Point
Beach at Dana Point

Heading south out of town, we end up in Dana Point and stop for lunch at Hennessey’s Tavern, where we are pleasantly surprised to find a local band playing 70s and 80s favorites, the Eagles and George Michael, on the patio.

Hennessey's
Hennessey’s Tavern, Dana Point

My wife is delighted to find one of her all-time favorites on the menu, tomato soup with grilled cheese and kettle chips.  I order a vegetarian sandwich minus the dairy products and dig into the jar of Grey Poupon on the table.  This place has class.  We split an enormous order of French fries.  Full and happy, we turn north and find our spot for enjoying the sand and surf at Aliso Beach County Park.  Lots of families, coolers, kite flying and sea gulls, all overseen by the trusty lifeguard on his perch.  A ruddy-hued pigeon waddles right up to us as if to say hello, or perhaps just to beg for crumbs.

Aliso Beach
Aliso Beach County Park

Up north in the Gold Country, I miss the ocean.  And just now, right here in this place where children shout with glee, the gulls cry and wheel their arcs overhead and the waves roar out their approval over and over again, we know we have found a little piece of paradise.

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7 thoughts on “Uncle Guacamole Does the O.C.

  1. Having grown up in Orange County (mainly Santa Ana), this post makes me soooo homesick! Not that I harbor any love for Santa Ana–it’s hell on earth–but I do love that warm and fuzzy feeling one gets when they hear (or read) about the turf that formed them into the individuals that they have become. I miss the traffic. I may have hated the “Orange Crush” when I had to get to work or just wanted to be home, but there was something magical about being utterly alone with your thoughts along with hundreds of tired, hungry, and anxious people. I miss jetty fishing at Dana Point and summers bathing in the sun at Newport Beach. I miss the wild strawberries that would grow in our yard every summer. I miss…everything about it.

    Wonderfully written piece! Thanks.

    • Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Angelique. I am pleased that I was able to stir up some good memories for you. Like everyplace, Orange County has its sterling qualities as well as its challenges. I am happy to say that I found it to be a very special place that I hope to revisit at my next possible opportunity. I am so glad to have you as a reader!

  2. I lived in Dana Point for a time and even though I’m just up north, in Redondo Beach, I miss the OC beaches, especially south of Laguna. So pretty there. Glad you found the Harbor House – it’s a treasure in Sunset Beach. There are a few other oldtimer places there, too (not that my feeble brain can remember any names), but I do remember that one. I know it’s no fun to trudge down for the dog-n-pony show, but at least you guys were able to enjoy yourselves a bit, too. Keep on smelling to salt air!

    • We loved the beach! Being near the ocean refreshes my soul like nothing else. I have several job prospects in Orange County, but I have a lot of competition for them. The cost of living seems to be fairly high down there.

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