The Civic Smackdown

September 2010

EditorsNotePublished September 2010

When I moved to Orange County in 1985, I was a callow, faux hipster unencumbered by children and still two decades from my first colonoscopy. I worked here, but spent my weekends exploring Los Angeles. I was hanging out with people I considered extremely cool, and the very idea of Orange County made them, well, gag.

Wisdom takes time, of course. In the quarter-century since, I’ve divided my personal and professional lives between the two counties and still do. Each has its intoxicating pleasures, each its toxic realities. And I certainly do love L.A.

But I nonetheless asked writer Steven Thomas to compile this month’s unashamedly boosterish “O.C. vs. L.A.” cover story. My views about the relative merits of the two counties began to shift in 1991 when Robert Scheer, for decades the fiery liberal voice of the Los Angeles Times, penned a counterintuitive essay in Lear’s magazine. Living in Irvine at the time, he wrote: “I find it easy to be convinced that this is the best place in America to live. Not the best place to think, or to fall in love, or to dine elegantly, but simply to live, hassle-free.”

For me, it was as if Johnny Depp had declared leisure suits fashionable.

I too started noticing how comfortable Orange County felt by comparison, even as housing tracts, toll roads, and performing arts venues sprouted like mushrooms. I set aside my image of the county as the Weird Uncle Beavis of the American metroplex and eventually embraced it as a great place simply to live, hassle-free. As luck would have it, Orange County in the meantime has become a terrific place to think, fall in love, and dine elegantly. Thomas codifies those realities with facts, figures, and observed truths, beginning on Page 68 of the print issue.

Martin J. Smith

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