For a visitor, he splays out a wallet cushioned with other people's business cards, looking for the one he wants, and unthrottles his patter: "They wanted me to get this video (artwork) done today, but they delayed it so I could finish this. . . . Plus I got stuff going with Caltrans. They've already got a special permit. I'm waiting for the spray paint they ordered for me. . . . I'm meeting with Fox Television; they might do a show about graffiti art. . . . Just give me a call--I have a machine if I'm not at home."
Los Angeles. Ever the realm of the possible, for those willing to hang on for the ride. The patter of the street and the patter of the studio share a relentless optimism for the big break.
Both L.A. and Orange counties are built upon idealized self-image. Nothing new there--California's very name was cooked up in a 15th-Century Spanish novella that describes a rich land ruled by Queen Calafia and Amazons armed with golden spears. In 500 years, fantasy California-style has been refined and marketed to a fare-thee-well, so much so that tourism is the second-biggest moneymaker in both places.
Image sells. Rick Kenyon, marketing manager at the L.A. Visitors and Convention Bureau, is always battling Orange County for tourist dollars. In 1988, Orange County drew 35 million visitors and L.A. 48.3 million.
Clubs called LA Fitness operate in Orange County, in Riverside, in San Bernardino, everywhere but in the city of Los Angeles. Co-owner Louis Welch is among Orange County's converted. "Ten years ago, I was one of the worst. Orange County, that was worse than Siberia at the time. But things change." L.A.'s name is still golden, which explains the health club's name, but "the L.A. mentality has gone to Newport, Costa Mesa. (L.A.) nostalgia is better than the reality at this point."
Orange County has labored solemnly to cultivate some of the airs and graces that give a place character: museums, restaurants and UC Irvine, the academic magic bean thrown into a donated bean field 30 years ago that has grown into an impressive university competitive in fields such as biotechnology and literature. The bronze anteater outside the Bren Events Center is the UCI mascot. It was sculpted by the same man who created the bronze Bruin in Westwood.
As L.A. did 25 years ago with the Music Center, Orange County has sought to shed its Philistine associations as it has shed field mud from its work boots. Its lavish, privately funded $73-million Performing Arts Center is the showpiece, where only white wine is sold, lest a splash of red stain the carpeting. Its patrons like to get all gussied up; in L.A., one sees Guess? jeans in a Verdi audience. Culture vultures in Costa Mesa do not like being rebuked by carpetbagger critics who chastise them for applauding between movements; the New York Times took L.A. audiences to task for doing the same thing in the 1960s.
Orange County residents do attend more live theater, which includes dinner theater, than Angelenos, and more symphony, opera and concerts. Yet the highly praised Spike Lee movie "Do the Right Thing" closed in Orange County within a week, so fast that one black attorney complained he had to drive to L.A. to see it.
Some maintain that Orange County is still basically a cultural cipher--and some who adhere to this notion are home-grown. In a 1982 song, "O.C. Life," punk artist Rikk Agnew makes an environmental impact report on his home turf: \o7 Blocking out the real world that you seldom ever see / Pace the cage you live in with your friends and families. 714 embedded in your brain / Designer jeans and malls are all you'll ever have to gain \f7 . . ." An Irvine woman, daughter of an L.A. cop, speaking of her own Orange County-bred sons: "They think they're street-wise, but they're greenbelt-wise."
L.A. culture, too, wears some fledgling feathers. Adroit in the green arts of film and popular music, L.A. is only now beginning to cultivate opera. Art is often exported by artists who head east when they want to sell their work. Half the $100 million donated for a new concert hall were millions made on the back of Orange County's Mickey Mouse.
Angelenos take their amenities for granted. Restaurateur Evan Kleiman: "All this stuff about museums and shows in a city--if we all were to cop to the reality, we're not all going into art galleries every day. But just knowing there is such a density of stuff to do informs you by osmosis. You absorb it, you read reviews, you know what's out there even if you haven't gone to three plays that week."
Orange County's new sophistication ought to be above rivalry, but a touch of parochial defensiveness remains. A Newport Beach society woman, a former Angeleno, caught hell for even saying--never mind that she disapproved of it--that some of her friends still go to Los Angeles to have their hair styled.