Trading the Suburbs for the Seaside
by David Lacy
When I moved to Orange County nearly five years ago I essentially traded my suburban Northern Californian experience for a suburban southern Californian one.
In 2006, I moved from a college suburb with swaths of tract neighborhoods (can you say Wildhorse? Mace Ranch?) to a college suburb seemingly on STEROIDS with tract neighborhoods abundant. (Ahhh, the myriad shades of beige abound!)
Irvine, CA = Davis, CA on crack, and I mean that as both a compliment and an insult.
Both cities are remarkably safe, overgrown with parks and athletics fields, and host schools where students take their L.S.A.T.s before they even take their driver’s license exams. Eating disorders are rampant in both towns and the biggest decision a young person must make occurs on his or her 16th birthday: Mercedes or BMW?
(Careful now! Your decision will have significant impacts on your identity for years to come!)
When I was living in Irvine, I frequently drove out toward the neighboring coastal towns and cruised passed the far more uniquely anomalous abodes, the independent shops, the “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants, and I imagined – even if only for brief moments — what it would be like to live in some of these more discrepant communities.
I envisioned apartments barely larger than refrigerator boxes, furnished with small TVs topped with metal bunny ears resting haphazardly on plastic milk crates, and sand-crusted boogie boards stacked in the closet that doubled as a living room. I dreamt of jogging on the beach every morning and taking naps with the soundtrack of waves in the evenings.
Who needs a meditative CD of the tides to induce slumber when you have the Pacific Ocean in Dolby Surround Sound?
Unfortunately, Irvine was prohibitive enough when it came to the cost of living; locales like Laguna Beach or Balboa Peninsula, then, were most certainly far outside the parameters of my economic reality.
And then a funny thing happened.
I simply decided to make it within my economic reality.
By the end of 2010 I was practically climbing up the walls of my Irvine apartment, scratching frantically and furiously to escape the perfectly-landscaped-and-manicured-“Stepfordian-bubble” that had encompassed my existence to date (since sixth grade onward anyway.) I was exhausted by codes, uniformity, homeowners’ association rules, and the rigid boxing-in of nature, even in places where the scenery should have been allowed its free reign. Little things began to nag at me: the streets were too gridded; the stoplights were too long; the restaurants were too “chain-y.”
Around this time a friend informed me of a small free-standing unit available for rent in Laguna Beach next door to her own place.
Impulsively – but not regrettably – I leapt on the offer.
My Laguna residence is admittedly a tad larger than the romanticized studios I had walked past several years prior. I have a bedroom, a fireplace, a garage, hardwood floors, and – best of all – large windows that offer a panoramic view of the neighborhood and a small glimpse of the sea. But it was also built in the 1940s and as a result comes with all of the “charms,” i.e. inconveniences, a 70-year-old home has.
For the time being however, all that matters to me is that it’s NOT suburban. I needed a reprieve from suburbia, a suburban “detox,” so to speak.
Whereas I sometimes feel the senses are numbed and muffled in suburbia, the opposite is actually the case on the coast. Here, we’re on stimuli overload. Head out on any given day and you’re almost certain to encounter all of the following (just for fun, make a Scavenger Hunt of the things mentioned below and see how many you can “check off” in a span of two hours):
Surfers unfazed by inclement weather; beach cruisers sailing past the boardwalk with baseball cards clacking rhythmically in the spokes; pick-up games of volleyball on Main Beach; jam-packed bar patios (this occurs by 10 a.m. typically); hickory and pepper smoke emanating from residential barbecues; fishermen loading up their metal buckets with flapping, scaly captives; pungent wafts of weed fumes fanned outward through open windows; beach bonfires charring either breakfast chorizo or nighttime marshmallows; blues, rock, and reggae pulsating electronically out from downtown taverns; and folksy strums from random street vendors with acoustic six-strings.
We’ve also got kites, dolphins, whales, clowns, skaters, artisans, bakers, craftsmen, jugglers, gays, straights, surfers, yuppies, hippies, celebrities, starving students, entrepreneurs, activists, musicians, wind chimes, world-class chefs, long boards, khaki-colored tans, potheads, billionaires, Ferraris, and banged-up Honda Civics.
I suspect many of these things (sans dolphins) exist in suburbia as well but that they’re more hidden and subtle. In the suburbs, the surfer goes home at the end of her day and tucks her car into the garage, closes the door behind her, and shuts the blinds to the world around her.
On the coast we OPEN things up: The beach is our backyard. Mi Casa es su Casa. This latter phrase has literally been the case between several friends and neighbors and myself.
And maybe that’s what all of this longing to move to the seaside for so many years was really all about.
It’s not inherently about stimuli overload. Not on the surface anyway.
It’s about the need to open up what the suburbs have spent so much time and energy closing.