Rosalia Munoz had just finished cleaning the grime from her front window when a huge yellow tractor rumbled by, kicking up a cloud of dust in front of her apartment on El Camino Real in central Tustin.
"I can't afford to move, so I guess I'll just have to put up with it," she said. "But it's going to be a long time before this is all over."
Munoz's apartment is less than 50 feet from the Santa Ana Freeway, which the California Department of Transportation began widening a year ago. The project also requires realigning Munoz's street, and every weekday morning she awakens to the \o7 beep\f7 -\o7 beep-beep\f7 of the tractors' backup signals.
Munoz's daughter, Tina, attends nearby Marjorie Veeh Elementary School, and Rosalia worries about her walking home amid traffic jams and impatient drivers.
"I can't let her play outside at all," she said. "So I take her to the park now and then."
Munoz's concerns echo those of others' in the neighborhood, but most residents feel that Caltrans has a job to do and that eventually life will return to normal.
"It's hard for businesses that rely on customers from off the freeway," said Ron Little, manager of Taylor's Coffee Shop at Red Hill Avenue and El Camino Real.
The 24-hour restaurant is visible from the freeway, and the Red Hill Avenue off-ramp provided easy access. But the ramp is closed and will not reopen until 1992. The southbound lanes of El Camino Real are also blocked, and traffic has slowed to a crawl. Motorists have begun to avoid the area entirely.
"It's tough right now. We lost business when the Marines shipped out to the Persian Gulf and the construction has cut into business even further," Little said. "But that's the way it is for a lot of businesses around here. We asked Caltrans to stop moving equipment in and out of our parking lot and they complied, so at least they're listening."
In spite of its present drawbacks, this neighborhood is the place many Marines dreamed of returning to during the Persian Gulf War. The Tustin Marine Corps Helicopter Air Station is nearby, and the neighborhood is home to many military families.
There are still flags and yellow ribbons on houses and apartments, but since the war ended the tension and worry have been gradually replaced with celebrations and warm homecomings.
"I felt like we were part of history being this close to families with loved ones fighting over there," said Clarence Dill, who lives in the neighborhood. "It was a very intense time (and) I'm glad it's over."
Most houses and apartments in the area were built in the 1960s and 1970s, but there is a sprinkling of older structures, such as Tustin High School (built in the '20s).
According to Principal Duffy Clark, about 75 students from military families attend the school, which had a special Support Day for students with family members fighting in the Persian Gulf.
This year, Tustin High has eight former students attending military academies.
"Five are at West Point, and the competition to get in is incredible," Clark said. "We have a very supportive community and that's what it takes."
Seniors Laura Egendorf and David Simpson were recently named National Merit Scholarship finalists.
"That means they placed in the top one-half of 1% in the nation on the PSAT test," Clark said.
The school's Exploring College and Career Opportunities program serves as a model for other schools in the county as a way to direct low-income students toward college. Students from nearby Irvine Valley College provide after-school tutoring, and counselors arrange visits to college campuses.
In athletics, the girls' basketball team won the SeaView League championship, while the boys' team won the State Division II title. Player David Beilstein was voted Division II player of the year. The boys' coach, Tom McCluskey, was voted The Times Orange County coach of the year for 1991.
"All the excitement over the basketball teams helped keep our minds off the war and all the havoc from the freeway construction," said student Kerry Smith, who lives in the neighborhood. "It was fun cheering them on. We just have to be patient until all the freeway work is finished. Then it will be real nice around here again."
Population Total: (1990 est.) 5,806 1980-90 change: +38.3% Median Age:28.5
Racial/ethnic mix: White (non-Latino): 71% Latino: 13% Black: 3% Other: 13%
By sex and age: MALES Median age: 27.9 years FEMALES Median age: 29.4 years
Income Per capita: $15,057 Median household: $38,892 Average household: $40,235
Income Distribution: Less than $25,000: 25% $25,000-49,999: 46% $50,000-74,999: 17% $75,000-$99,999: 8% $100,000 and more: 4%