Mission Viejo

The Paris of South Orange County

Photo by Jack GouldOh, benighted land! Offspring of the Philip Morris Companies Inc.'s interest in portfolio diversification! Created at a time when capitalist imperatives for profit maximization overrode all other considerations—like the need for humans to gather organically in a public space—and shaped by the Philip Morris marketing department's promise that in the product hereinafter referred to as Mission Viejo, residents "Live the California Promise"™.

Mission Viejo is, in fact, a city in hell hacked out of salt. Public spaces are rare. Sidewalks are post-nuclear-war empty. Strip malls rarely offer something you can't find everywhere else in the nation. It's as if every good and unique thing has been sifted out, and you are left here in Mission Viejo with least-common denominators. Much of what's good about the place seems accidental (see below); anything intended to produce a feeling of community (the various recreation centers, for instance, the Mission Viejo Country Club or Lake Mission Viejo—carved and filled in the 1970s even as Mono Lake was flushed to slake SoCal's thirst) reinforces through user fees and memberships the feeling that there are no people here, just members, buyers and homeowners.

But such shortcomings only make a tour of Mission Viejo more enticing for the truly adventurous, like a kid's game in which you're supposed to spot the almost indiscernible things that don't fit—the camel smoking a cigarette, the chickens driving a car. Let us go then, you and I, while this brown city is spread out to the distant sky, and see if we can find real life in Mission Viejo.


The City That Says "CONVENIENCE." Imagine our delight when we discovered Quik Serv Liquor & Mail: despite our lack of a permanent address, we could now pick up our government check and a 40-ouncer in one convenient location. 25571 Marguerite Pkwy., (949) 770-6301.


Chariots of the Gods? Check out the bizarre Mesoamerica-style script along the tops of buildings on the Saddleback College campus. The hieroglyphs—which look like stick figures having sex in TenochtitlŠn—recall T.J. Jackson Lears' notion that such random borrowing of ancient symbols is intended to lead to a feeling of deep tradition but ends up inducing "psychological vertigo." We're pretty sure that in Olmec, it reads, "Man, it's fucking hot up here." 28000 Marguerite Pkwy.What Sign Are You? Oh, sure: Saddleback College's rooftop observatory features a computer-controlled Mead 16-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope on a permanent equatorial pier with remote viewing capabilities. And yes, when coupled with electronic imaging devices, the telescope provides spectacular real-time images that are displayed live in the classrooms. And we're willing to concede the thing is great for learning and school-sponsored star parties and might help us go on to Berkeley or Caltech, where we might earn an advanced degree in astronomy. But what can it tell us about the hot sex we'd like to have with that Cancer at the coffeehouse? Math and science building, Saddleback College, 28000 Marguerite Pkwy., (949) 582-4320.Font of Wisdom. Yes, we know a man's home is his crenellated abode, etc., but perhaps the only truly remarkable building in the entire city is the public library, a stone, glass and wood beauty. Yes, it has some harsh fluorescent lighting, but it also has that Progressive Era feeling that public life can transcend the private. We're especially partial to the liberal epigraphs at the library entrance—from Mencken, Vidal, FDR, Faulkner, Beckett and, yes, the Library Design Task Force: "It will be a place where people of all ages can go to find the facts, feed their dreams, meet their heroes and learn the truth." They forgot to mention that residents can do all this while overlooking the only Mission Viejo strip center that matters. 25209 Marguerite Pkwy., (949) 830-7100.Old School. Founded in 1966, Mission Viejo High School is the city's oldest high school and the only one whose mascot is Satan, a fact barely masked by the school's clever use of the Spanish term El Diablo. This fact seemed unremarkable for two decades until it caused some panic among the city's righteous in 1986, when such panics (re: child molestation, communists, liberals) were more common than in these enlightened times. The Saddleback Valley Unified School Board agreed to dump the devil, genuflecting to the tender sensibilities of some fundies, and renamed the school mascot the Bulldogs. But who in the hell is afraid of a fat-assed animal whose front legs are longer than its back ones? Not the students of MVHS, who, in a special 1993 election, rose up and voted by 76 percent to return the school to the Dark Side. That vote was followed by further evidence of wickedness descending upon the benighted campus: the same school board recently banned all extracurricular clubs rather than allow Christians to form one on the campus. You can check out Satan at the football stadium and on the backs of geeks who wear their school colors. Mission Viejo High School, 25025 Chrisanta Dr., (949) 837-7722.


Little Teheran. Live the California Promise? Sure—if the promise is more strip malls than Harbor Boulevard. But people come here to put beds in houses that are perched on beautiful rolling hills. They're certainly not here for the rock & roll, art films, bars, and coffeehouse scene. Except every once in a while, you'll find a total surprise—and when we say surprise, we mean it seems pretty likely city officials don't know the thing exists. How else can you explain the really bizarre little shopping center that seems to have slid down the hill from the Mormon church perched atop Marguerite Parkway, around the corner from the fabulous Shops at Mission Viejo (which we discovered isn't shops at all, but—hey!—a real mall!). It's like something in a Thomas Pynchon novel: a little Iranian market on the ass-end of nowhere, with a second-floor restaurant serving all manner of authentic Persian foods and a gift shop with CDs by Shakila, Sharan Nazeri and (of course) Iran's Madonna, Googoosh! Music, Gifts & More, Crown Valley Marketplace, 27771 Center Dr., (949) 340-1012.
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