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Los Angeles vs. Orange County: Each Has Its Virtues and Vices

A USC graduate spends 10 years behind the Orange Curtain, and life is just fine, thank you very much.

May 02, 1999|JENNY BIOCHE | Jenny Bioche is Newport Beach freelance writer. She hosts "The Parent Rap" Fridays at 6.30 p.m. on 88.9 KUCI FM

It has been said that when one is tired of London, one is tired of life. I say, not true. Not unless one has first exhausted his passion for Southern California. Where else on this planet can you enjoy a multitude of metropolitan amenities--the restaurants, the entertainment, the shopping--while being equidistant from the mountains and ocean?

Yet some Southland dwellers consider themselves more privileged than others. Gather a potpourri of ZIP Codes at your next social, and you'll see the party lines quickly defined. "We live in Brentwood," versus "We live in Orange County," and wham the flag is up. He who lists the most attributes about their 'hood wins.

It very much reminded me of my own experience living in downtown L.A., as a student at USC. "You live in Watts, and you're the University of Spoiled Children" was always the analogy that threw me. Still, I was quick to herald the benefits of living in a "real world" neighborhood, unlike our cross-town rivals and their Pleasantville version of the UC system.

Living in the City of Angels has a lot to offer, especially for entertainment junkies like myself. Put up with the crime, traffic and cost of living, and your reward is being at the center of it all, according to the media. The population is so diverse that the world is literally at your back door, if you're open to exploring, culture, international cuisine and any language other than English. This was what kept the city on its toes, and me a very intrigued inhabitant.

Fast forward to college graduation, the need to work, paying my own bills for the first time. Suddenly life in Orange County suburbs seemed, well, like a nice change. More real estate for your rent, lots of families, and the promise of the good life. But it isn't just quality of life that's different; the people basically are from different planets. Now having lived 10 years in 714/949 land, a recent visit to my old stomping grounds allowed me to see "L.A. versus O.C." in three dimensions.

When I moved "down here" from L.A. in 1989, the first thing I noticed about my new neighbors was the fish symbol on all their cars. The San Diego Freeway had as many "fishermen" as it did new Honda Accords and Infinitis. I had never seen such a thing--and certainly not on the Hollywood Freeway. Being a believer myself, I at first thought this was a sure sign of happier motoring. Then I learned even the faithful tailgate, cut you off or even rear-end you without pulling over.

Today the Orange County fish have been replaced by the city decals, identifying where the driver lives: I for Irvine, LN for Laguna Niguel, and so on. It seems that we like to align ourselves with our neighborhood, and after all, anything beats the "Baby on Board" triangles of the '80s.

On Los Angeles freeways however, I saw not one decal. You almost could see them fade from the rear windows as my car edged closer to the L.A. County line.

When you stack up good reasons to live in Orange County over L.A., you'll fill a tall order. We enjoy affordable living, sometimes cleaner air, great schools, beautiful city parks, drivable freeways after commute hours, incredibly safe neighborhoods. I still remember, back in college, going out for milk at midnight and getting caught in traffic on Figueroa Boulevard.

I wasn't so worried about the jam, as I was about who might walk up to my car as I waited for the green light. My windows have never been cleaner.

But let's be fair. "So how do you like living behind the Orange Curtain?" a friend asked me, tongue in cheek. "Pink tiled roofs, hedges without a leaf out of place, don't park a truck outside your house, it's against the CC&Rs. What a way to live."

She did have a point. Still, I struggled to defend my turf.

"Um, it's nice, it's quiet, and L.A. is the only county I know of whose trendy West Side actually still enforces rent control. Not exactly free enterprise," I retorted.

Actually, Orange County and L.A. do share a lot of common ground. Both sides are avid outdoors worshipers. OK, so Big Corona is no Venice Beach (thank goodness), but the principle is the same. Likewise, indoors, everyone flocks to the mall, perfecting one's wardrobe or household decor.

And so happily, I remain in a discreet, cozy neighborhood, unlike a glamour pad in Brentwood. The reasons are many, the two most important being the ones I tuck in every night.

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