The images come quickly, and suggest a spirited competition between preferred ways of living.
"I live on the coast."
Sunsets and surfer shops. Greenhouses and tomato fields. Morning traffic backing up in Encinitas and not clearing up until the Interstate 5-805 split. Lagoons and hillside condos shouldering out weathered beach cottages. June gloom, and the sun not burning through until midday--the kind of a day to go inland, to the Wild Animal Park.
"I live inland."
Night stars and agricultural supply houses. Horse corrals and avocado groves. Morning traffic backing up in Rancho Bernardo and not clearing up until the Interstate 15-163 split. The dry lake bed of Hodges, Lawrence Welk's time shares and North County Fair. Seas of tract homes and sprawling ranch houses. Hot, dry summer days that drive people inside--or to the coast.
But the distinctions go far beyond those superficial images of life on the coast versus life inland.
Although North County may be the sum of its parts, the residents of its two main geographic components--coastal and inland--hold their own sets of perceived problems, issues, values and lifestyles, a Times Poll shows.
Who's to say why the coast attracts more Democrats, fewer families, people who are more interested in their health.
For Jan Breazile, living along the coast "is like being on vacation. We're happier. I don't think we're as miserable from the heat and the turmoil of living inland."
Breazile, a legal secretary, moved to Oceanside five years ago from Oregon, ending her search for sunshine.
"I think people on the coast have a different outlook. We're probably not as energetic. I think people inland work harder. But we have more of a blithe spirit."
Why is it that the inland regions are more interested in the health of their marriages, more deeply rooted in their communities and more concerned about where their kids go to school?
Barbara Hammond has lived in a rural area north of Escondido for 10 years, preferring the inland climate to the coast's. But the difference goes beyond that, she says. "The inland people, I think, are more retired, more traditional. I associate the coast with younger people who are more active and who want to go to nightclubs--something we don't have around here."
Consider the differences.
Is inland North County more Main Street--a friendlier, hunker-down kind of a place? Residents of Rancho Bernardo and San Marcos, Escondido and Poway and the other inland communities say they feel more rooted to their communities than their counterparts on the coast.
Gold diggers might do better on the coast, though, because more than four out of 10 wage-earners make more than $40,000 a year; inland, only about a third of the residents make that kind of money.
But, if you get married and have kids, you might want to move inland so the kids will have more playmates. Among the inland residents of North County, nearly four out of 10 are married . . . with children; on the coast, three out of 10 have children. Or, would you rather have your kid on a surfboard or on horseback?
Along the coast, there are more Democrats than Republicans; inland, there are more Republicans than Democrats.
"Inland people are a little more typical 'suburban' in how they chose to live. They want a home, have a family and send them to good schools--and be more critical of them," said I.A. Lewis, who directed the Times Poll.
"Coastal residents, though, are more of an upscale, yuppie, condo kind of people," he said.
That image attracts Escondido Mayor Doris Thurston, who is cashing in on 30 years of life in the inland city to move to Cardiff.
"I don't want to sound snobbish," she says, "but I've found the coastal area to be upscale economically, intellectually, academically, culturally and in environmental concerns. It's much more of a yuppie community. Some people might not see that as an asset, but I see it as vitality."
Thurston, 60, had steeped herself in the community, served on a host of civic and cultural bodies, and, for the past eight years, has been on the City Council, including the past two years as mayor.
Although she says she will miss Escondido, where she finds that residents display altruism and a work ethic, she says too many of them are too cynical and critical. And she acknowledges frustration with what she sees as the city's failure to cope with growth and its perpetual attempts to catch up on street repair and civic work. Escondido's image bothers her, she says; the first thing one sees driving into town from California 78 is a cement plant.
Cardiff in particular, and coastal living in general, "is more laid back," she says. "It's a much more casual place to live. And culture is much more accessible on the coast."
The differences between inland and coastal residents go beyond image.