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3-HOUR TOUR : RING AROUND THE CIRCLE : Sense of History and Community Envelop Browsers in Orange

February 04, 1993|ANNE MICHAUD

Visiting the Orange Circle always makes me feel good. I get a sense of history from the place that I only feel in one or two other spots in Orange County.

Maybe it's the stately gray Wells Fargo bank building. Maybe it's the dozens of antiques dealers that do business around the circle.

Being among so many people--pedestrians always seem to be window-shopping or holding up traffic at the crosswalks--buoys the spirit. A couple of sidewalk cafes contribute to the atmosphere of community.

Noon to 1: The best place for atmosphere in the circle is the Watson Drugs and Soda Fountain. The day I went recently, I sat at the counter, and there were two blond children with their grandmother ordering kid-size hot-fudge sundaes. The boy perched on his knees on the stool to watch the pink-fingernailed waitress fix the dessert. Real Americana.

The burger I ordered could not have been better, served fast and right off the grill, so hot I had to wait to eat it. Some may think they are a little flat, but to me they are perfect.

Pies lined several shelves behind the counter, some with whipped topping and others crisscrossed in crust. They made me think of the days before the words cholesterol and body fat were on everyone's lips.

The burger deluxe with fries is $3.85, and daily lunch specials run about $4.50. Tuesday, for example, is chicken and dumplings day, served with soup or salad and a vegetable and potato.

I hear the milk shakes taste great, especially chocolate. Dessert costs about $2.

1 to 2 p.m.: Given that antique shops populate so many of the stores in the Orange Circle, I decided to be different and check out the Army-Navy store.

Used fatigues and new clothes, too, are featured for men, women and children. The new clothes tend to carry the labels that represent casual wear in my mind--Levi's, Cherokee and Oshkosh. The same holds true of the shoes. Timberlands and Rockports and Converses color the shelves.

The store also has a wide selection of outdoor equipment, from rubber boats and sleeping bags to fishing gear and knives and guns.

The store's library, however, offers the most intrigue. Where else would you find "Flattened Fauna"? The jacket reads, "A definitive guide for the millions of people who seldom see a wild animal that has not been flattened by dozens of vehicles and baked by the sun to an indistinct fur-, scale- or feather-covered patty."

Here you will also find new copies of "Everybody's Knife Bible" and "Emergency War Surgery"; both are Green Beret handbooks. Special-interest material, to be sure, but you never know when someone will need one of these.

2 to 3 p.m.: If you only have time for one antique shop, the Orange Circle Antique Mall represents a good cross-section of merchandise. There are 75 "shops," more like stalls, on two floors.

For the price of a song ($7.50), the original Bambi soundtrack album can be had. A 7-foot wooden sea captain seeks a buyer. A child's crocheted dress drapes from a hanger. A collection of Life magazines from 1944 to 1972 covers one wall.

The old technology always gets to me in places like this. Like this RCA Victor AM radio, which would occupy the floor space of a curled Irish setter. Was this radio a marvel to its owner? How about this almond-color, plastic GE radio? At a quarter the size of the RCA, was it a marvelous innovation at one time? Did its owner feel terribly modern?

That's part of the Antique Mall's charm. It's a great place to let your mind wander.

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