BEST PLACE EVER

We write about the Atlantis Playcenter every year, and we will not stop. In the past, we've called it the "coolest park in Orange County," but that probably didn't do it justice since it's probably the coolest place in Orange County. Built in the '60s, it's strange play equipment built around an underwater theme and with a Seussian flair is so utterly different and, yes, dash you, magical that kids—raised on antiseptic, plastic, litigation-safe play equipment—immediately run to the dragon slide or seahorse swings. Then there's the many green nooks and crannies created by shrubs and bushes that kids can use for hiding places and forts. And there's the fact that there is only one entrance/exit, so a parent can let his kids run free—what a concept. 9301 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 892-6015.

ARTISTIC NUDITY WHAT GOT NO CLOTHES ON

The burlesque shows at the Grand Central Art Center feature the women of Velvet Hammer, who periodically bring their pasties down from LA to bump and grind for you, the satisfied retro hipster. Some strippers, some artists, all Real Women do it like the days of Gypsy Rose Lee, but ironically. No one doesn't love a bump-and-grind! 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7233; www.grandcentralartcenter.com.

ARTISTIC NUDITY WHAT GOT NO CLOTHES ON AND IS BEING MOLESTED BY COLLEGE STUDENTS OUTDOORS

After the Northridge quake, when the replica of Michelangelo's David toppled from its pedestal at Forest Lawn and broke, Cal State Fullerton offered the hunky marble a home, and arranged his several pieces on the ground the way they'd fallen. But since nasty hormonal college kids were molesting the titan's wee penis, the school had to turn David onto his belly. Now that's comedy! 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton.

OBSCENE, THOUGH, SADLY, NOT NAKED LUNCHES

I was at Tangata at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art, and I get the salmon thinking I'll go healthy, right? And it's floating, all pretty and pink, in what must be four sticks of melted butter. It was obscene, and it was perfect. Go ahead and get a chocolate martini, too. You only get lunch once a day, right? 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 550-0906.

BEST PLACE TO FIND SECRET POT FARMS OR DEAD BODIES

Orange County Sheriff's deputies performed an annual, late-summer ritual this year when they scoured scrubby Cleveland National Forest terrain near the Riverside County border and discovered secret—and, in this Just-Say-No world, illegal—farms where more than 2,000 six- to seven-foot-tall marijuana plants were rising toward the sun. Where exactly were these mellowing fields? As deputies put it at the time—as they have countless times before—"just off Ortega Highway." If that phrase has a familiar ring to it, that's because "just off Ortega Highway" has been used by deputies from Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties to describe the location where corpses have been discovered over the years. The most infamous dead-body discovery "just off Ortega Highway" in the recent past was that of five-year-old Stanton girl Samantha Runnion in July 2002. The body count climbs: this past January, a passing motorist noticed a corpse "just off Ortega Highway." Upon closer inspection, the former soul's head and hands were missing. It's small wonder that in the Weekly's 1999 Best of OC issue, we ranked as Guilty Pleasure No. 83 Ortega Highway, "the best place to dump a body without anybody noticing."

HEISLER PARK

When pale friends fly in from snow-covered Minnesota, desperate to catch California fever, take them to Heisler Park—perhaps the most photographed spot in coastal Orange County. The palm-tree-lined oceanfront park—which old Hollywood used to shoot tropical-island scenes—offers unforgettably spectacular views, beautiful beach coves, flora-covered cliffs, picnic areas and a gazebo. Cliff Dr. near Main Beach, Laguna Beach.

BEST "CHURCH" POISED TO CATCH A RIDE ON THE NEXT PASSING COMET

Members of Holy Splendor Ministries in Long Beach believe evil extraterrestrials may attempt to destroy Earth to save their souls. Sounds like those evil extraterrestrials are stealing a page from the Pat Robertson playbook. But the Holy Splendorers have a plan to stop the aliens in their three-toed tracks: followers hold weekly prayer sessions meant to send the E.T.s good vibes. Hopefully, that won't encourage the visitors from outer space to gift us with a copy of How to Serve Man.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A MUSEUM IN THE FIELD OF ART

This one changes up year to year—and not because we're trying to be "fair." Fair is not particularly part of our vocabulary. But the Orange County Museum of Art gave us stunning shows this year, from the in-house curators offering up bitchen class-war (and post-feminist) photography by an international cadre of artists ("Girls Night Out") to the amazing collection (showing now!) dating back to photography's inception ("Woman") to Bay Area Abstract Expressionist guy Nathan Oliveira to a stunning "Biennial." Next year, surely, they'll get back to boring suck. 855 San Clemente, Newport Beach, (949) 759-1122.

STRENGTH OF CONVICTIONS

District Attorney Media Director Michelle Emard risked her well-paying government job by whistle-blowing on DA office corruption. Not surprisingly, she was fired by DA Tony Rackauckas, who insists his taxpayer-funded employees serve his political ambitions rather than the public interest.

HOLY HIKE

Holy Jim Trail is named for one of the area's earliest residents, James T. Smith. Aptly nicknamed Cussin' Jim, he was a cantankerous old coot famous for his constant epithet-spewing. Government cartographers eschewed this sobriquet, preferring the sanitized Holy Jim. Despite this bit of revisionism, the trail does have more in common with the fictional name. One of the most beautiful trails in the Santa Anas, it begins along the canyon's lush floor, bordered by thick foliage and towering trees. A brief hike leads to Holy Jim Falls, an enchanting spit of water that drops 15 feet into a shallow pool. From here, you can turn back and brave the throngs who make this short pilgrimage or push higher up the canyon. A series of 17 switchbacks lead to a ramble along a chaparral covered hillside. The intersection with the Main Divide Truck Trail is soon reached. Options then lead to Santiago Peak, West Horsethief or Trabuco Trails. Park at the intersection of Trabuco Creek Rd. & Holy Jim Canyon Rd., Trabuco Canyon.

INGRATIATING

Say you're Bradford J. Salamon—say it!—and you're a pretty talented artist, but you just can't get past the taint of having started out drawing those beautifully drafted pencil portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Jimi Hendrix you used to be able to buy at swap meets. You need to ingratiate yourself with some critics—stat! What better than to appeal to the vanity of every single one of 'em—and some higher-ups in the local museum world, too!—by asking them to sit for you and then showing the world their inner soulful, hazy beauty? There's The Orange County Register's Daniella Walsh, hazy and Impression-y. There's the Orange County Museum of Art's Elizabeth Armstrong, modernist and chic. There are some collectors, cowboy-cool. Yes, that's what you should definitely do!

GRIN AND BEAR IT

A cross between the office of a taxidermist and the Country Bear Jamboree, the water closet at Mr. Ed's Barber Shop in Orange is bound to make you feel like Grizzly Adams. After you take your growler, you have to pull a slot machine to flush the toilet. It's not exactly the thrill of megabucks you may find in Vegas, but if you don't get a splinter in your ass from the wood toilet seat, consider yourself a winner. 2769 N. Orange Olive Rd., Orange, (714) 637-3949.

SAN JUAN TRAIL

The quintessential mountain-bike ride in OC. Beginning in Hot Springs Canyon, the trail snakes upward for 11.9 miles before dumping into Blue Jay Campground, near the summit of Ortega Highway. This trail has it all, from seemingly endless switchbacks that lead up chaparral-covered slopes to rocky technical sections that test your bike-handling skills. In the last few miles, sage-scrub gives way to cooling canopies of live oak and alder. As good as the ascent is, the return trip is even better. If you find this downward plunge less than stimulating, loosen your damn death grip on the brakes. Park near the trailhead on Hot Springs Canyon Rd., one-half mile from the intersection with Ortega Hwy. (near the San Juan Fire Station).

LONGEST-RUNNING ANTI-WAR PROTEST

The weekly Saturday demonstrations at Main Beach in Laguna from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. are organized by four lifelong Laguna activists and self-described "hearty optimists." The current beachside vigil led by Jeanie Bernstein, Irene Bland, Eleanor Henry and Liz Erger since March 2002 adds to a decades-long cumulative local presence against militarism and wise-guy presidents who trick Americans into war. Seventeen months of anti-Iraq/Bush protesting, plus seven years of Viet Nam-era vigils and 11 more during the Cold War make this stretch of lawn South County's Hyde Park. Completely legal and peaceful, the assembly is one of a dozen stubborn weekly vigils happening countywide, even as the Department of Defense adds up its increasing casualties but fails, consistent with new policy, to count dead Iraqis or Afghanis at all. Wars are presumably easier to sell if you ignore the deaths of others, but not to this regular crowd of a couple of hundred pissed-off Republicans, Move On Democrats, Greens, Libertarians, Leisure Worlders, students, grandpas, grannies and many first-time protesters. They gather adjacent the nifty playground, volleyball and b-ball courts, a hippie drum circle, upscale boutiques, and, yes, as everywhere, a Starbucks. The scene perhaps suggests the nearby Pageant of the Masters, except that here, real, live people portray real-life, angry, engaged citizens instead of, say, figures in oil paintings. Bernstein, a co-founder of the Alliance for Survival, notices increasing numbers and increased enthusiasm from supporters driving or walking by. "Last week," she says," we even got a thumb's-up from a Hummer." Solidarity confronts antipathy from the clueless tourists, yuppie dog-walkers and local hooligans, inevitably young white dudes in SUVs who scream thoughtfully, "USA! USA!" and, "Fuck you" at their fellow Americans. Democracy is a funny thing: one Saturday morning in March found the beautiful synchronicity of the odious Chamber of Commerce-sponsored "Patriot's Day Parade" and the peace vigil within a block of each other. Bunting-bound classic cars, beauty queens, chubby real-estate agents, marching Boy Scouts and stubborn VFW types strolled past, only momentarily puzzled by the fleeting recognition of their own lives as tired simulacrum against genuine existential dread and organized political resistance. Or not.

LAW FIRM YOU'D LEAST LIKE TO MEET WHILE WALKING TO YOUR CAR ALONE AT NIGHT

Morrison & Foerster LLP has adopted as its corporate tag "Lawyers for the global economy." But in front-page ads in The Orange County Business Journal, the firm identifies itself as "MoFo," you know, just to save busy executive secretaries the strain of typing 20 extra characters. 19900 MacArthur Blvd., twelfth floor, Irvine, (949) 251-7500.

VILE RUMOR SPREADING AND IN-YOUR-BACK KNIFE FIGHTS

The artists at Sawdust Art Festival and Pageant of the Masters have been trained so wholly in the Karl Rove School of Backstabbing it's a wonder anyone's still standing. Oh, wait, that's right. No one is! The poison peeps at the Festival of Arts managed to get their executive director to quit in a fury; according to The Orange County Register, Steven Brezzo said, "Had I any inkling of the mean spirit and venomous atmosphere here, I would have never come." They've also been known to impersonate local art critics, sending from similar-sounding addresses e-mail filled with screeds so hateful even we were ashamed.

ART HAVEN/HEAVEN

We're just kidding. Laguna Beach is a horrible, horrible place for art. Not only is it filled with faux-Mediterranean crap and Impressionist scenes of children frolicking in the waves, but the environment is so hostile, it makes the set of Terminator 2 look like an afternoon at the petting zoo. Oh, wait.

ANTI-PORN MINISTRY

Their ministry is actually based outside Orange County; it's in Corona, which is near the county line geographically but, via the 91 freeway, usually takes four hours to reach. Still, XXXchurch pastors Craig Gross and Mike Foster grew up in Orange County and sharpened their Jesus chops in the local neighborhood-church circuit before establishing their nonprofit ministry dedicated solely to wiping out porn. XXXchurch refreshingly eschews fire and brimstone, instead doling out equal measures of compassion and humor to reach self-abusers. For their efforts, Gross and Foster have received a lot of ink (including a July 27 Weeklycover story), mucho broadcast-media time, nationwide speaking engagements—and a lot of flak from religious types who don't appreciate seeing "XXX" and "church" in the same word. Some also cringe over the XXXchurch pastors and their wives entering the vortex of evil—adult-entertainment expos—to pass Holy Bibles out alongside booths hawking dildos, blowup dolls, and reels and reels of porn. The twentysomething pastors politely shrug off criticisms from all sides and focus instead on the scores of ex-porn purveyors who have flocked to XXXchurch. (949) 862-5716.

TREE OF LIFE NURSERY

Eight miles inland along Ortega Highway, Mike Evans holds to a simple botanical belief: "California should look like California." For 16 years, Evans and his staff at Tree of Life have grown and sold only California-native plants, in the process becoming the largest such nursery in the state. But the roadside plantation is more than a business. With its hay-bale-and-adobe Round House, its flights of art, and its indigenous ambiance, Tree of Life is simultaneously a California getaway and a homecoming. 33201 Ortega Hwy., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 728-0685

DIANE VO

Little Saigon politics is infamously insular, where dissent is quickly squashed and the respect of city officials is almost a requisite if you want to be respected. But tell that to Diane Vo, a tiny ball of feistiness who in the past year has been the largest thorn in the side of the Garden Grove City Council. She successfully sued the city to lift its draconian restrictions on cybercafés and also brought to surface allegations that Garden Grove City Councilman Van Thai Tran attempted to defraud two immigrant sisters. Though she can talk on and on and on—radio talk-show hosts tend to do that—the stuff that comes out of Vo's mouth is heretical enough to warrant close listening.

GALLERY-O-RAMA

The Grand Central Art Center is a nice mix of Lo Art/hipster with "academia-approved." Okay, it's mostly Lo-Art, with hot rods and bosomy cartoon ladies and rotating exhibits by the original lowbrow artist, Robert Williams, and everyone who has ever met him. (But seriously, his wife's paintings were extremely cool.) Cal State Fullerton's satellite gallery in downtown Santa Ana is juicy and saturated with color, and it's good for you, too! 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 567-7233; www.grandcentral artcenter.com

MAPLE SPRING ROAD

Silverado Canyon was originally named Canada de la Madera (Timber Canyon). Although early settlers cut down many of the upper canyon's pine trees for lumber, clusters of maple, bay, Douglas fir and live oak trees still thrive along stream banks and in the deep ravines. Higher up, the few remaining Coulter pines tower above brush-covered slopes. Maple Spring Road is a great way to explore this verdant canyon. Beginning at the Forest Service gate at the end of Silverado Canyon Road, the road follows the stream under a dense a canopy of alder and sycamore. After several miles, the shade of the canyon floor is left behind and pavement gives way to a dirt track. From this point, the trail offers little respite from the sun as it continues to ascend, following a series of switchbacks until it intersects with the Main Divide and Harding Truck Trails. This road makes for a great 15-mile roundtrip hike or bike ride. Or you can extend the trip and continue to the summits of Modjeska and Santiago peaks. (Note: This trail is closed between April 1 and Sept. 30 due to the breeding season of the endangered arroyo toad. Which begs the question: Just what are the toads up to during the rest of the year?) Park at the end of Silverado Canyon Rd., 5.4 miles from the intersection of Santiago Canyon Rd.

POCKET NUKES

On the one hand, the nuclear power generator on the campus of UC Irvine can't go China Syndrome. On the other hand, it can't power anything bigger than a robot governor. UC Irvine, Campus Dr. & University, Irvine.

I SMELL BURNING

The much-maligned San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) has finally gotten some recognition—but probably not the kind it wants: it now ranks among the U.S. facilities most likely to suffer a meltdown, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a group that monitors nuclear safety. The risk at SONGS stems from a design defect that could jam the nuclear plant's emergency-cooling system in the event of a leak from the reactor vessel or cooling-water pipes. A serious meltdown at SONGS would result in a massive release of radioactivity that could immediately kill more than 100,000 people in South County and northern San Diego County and ultimately cause hundreds of thousands of cases of cancer and genetic defects, thus returning California to the glory days state Senator Tom McClintock recalled in his recent, failed attempt at the governor's office—a time when California was hotter but the traffic wasn't so bad.

BEST ARTIST

Oh, hell. Let's give it to Shag this year. The retro Brea hipster is coming on Paul Frank levels of fame—okay, not quite Paul Frank levels—with his swinging canvases depicting martinis and tiki and loungaliciousness, but not in an annoying way. Still, some people freak out way too much whenever Shag is going to appear, considering he's just a mild-mannered Clark Kent kind of guy, if Clark Kent were into luau culture and the occasional depiction of party vampires drinking piña coladas made of blooood! Like, fans come from Japan and stuff to see him. And the vampires. And the blood.

BIG-ASS PARK

Since shopping inside more than 352 million retail outlets is the only other entertainment in Fountain Valley, residents and visitors spend a great deal of time outdoors. And one such outdoor place is this 640-acre park, an oasis of green grass in an otherwise cement suburban jungle. Mile Square Park is one of the county's regional parks, but the city also has recreational facilities there. Whatever turf you're on, you'll find softball, baseball, soccer, golf (even night golf!), fishing, in-line skating, biking, archery and picnicking facilities. Parking is $2 to $5 on the county side and free on the city side. 16801 Euclid, Fountain Valley, (714) 973-6600.

YOU CAN'T TUNA FISH, BUT YOU CAN TUNA MELT IN A MUSEUM

The Gypsy Den at OCMA is only open for lunch, and you have to sit with matrons of varying facial tautness (some of whom keep their own linens on hand so as not to be burdened with the linens of the common man!). But the Gypsy Den's tuna melt is a thing of cheesy beauty: tuna fondue with little chunks of apple in it for sweetness. It is delicious. Hey, don't touch that statue, even if it is outside in the elements! Where do you think you are, a barn? Jesus, we can't take you anywhere. 850 San Clemente, Newport Beach, (949) 759-1122.

CYBERGREENIE

There's something about retirement that makes people look back at their lives and wonder if they did everything they could, if they really mattered. Some take the F-U, what's-mine-is-mine-and-screw-the-rest-of-you attitude. Others get so depressed they spend their final days wallowing in their own mopiness. Fortunately for mankind, there are the Doug Korthofs of the world who refuse to get sentimental and instead simply take action. Whether it involves saving wetlands, electric cars, Trabuco Canyon, sacred Indian grounds or our sewage-receptacle of an ocean, the retired Seal Beach engineer has conceived, created and run websites dedicated to those causes and countless others. He appears at public meetings all over Southern California (usually arriving in his electric car) and fires off stinging e-mails to politicians, the media and fellow advocates. Korthof seeks no glory, and you'll find hi m in picket lines whether he's surrounded by hundreds or all by himself. And the eco-activism runs in the family: his wife, Lisa Rosen, a county probation officer who also drives electric, often protests at his side, and his son, Will, owns the Regen V co-op in Pomona that the FBI recently raided as part of its groundless eco-terrorism case against former Brea resident Josh Connole.

BEST CATHOLIC ANARCHIST COMMUNITY NOT RUN BY JESUITS

Not only does the Santa Ana-based Isaiah House, run by Dwight Smith, feed, clothe and shelter nearly 150 homeless women, men and children, but it also now hosts a county-sponsored Homeless Court, saving poor people lacking cars, jobs and money a trip downtown to be hassled by the Man. Instead, a kindly judge arrives at the shelter, a bit of civic poetry perhaps all elected and appointed officials might indulge in one in a while. Unlike self-serving libertarians who rant about the evil sticky tentacles of big government but say not a thing about Bush's war machine, Isaiah House volunteers and its supporting Catholic anarchists not only hit the streets in protests and civil disobedience for peace and justice, but also eschew the tax-exempt religious charity status, refusing to compromise with the state's putative restrictions on lobbying. Isaiah House is frequent host to every kind of anti-war, peace-and-justice, grassroots community group in the county. Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, founders of the 70-year-old radical anarchist Catholic Worker network would be proud. Of course, they'd be in jail right about now. 316 S. Cypress Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 558-7478.

SILVERADO MOTORWAY

A single-track trail that connects the Main Divide with Silverado Canyon. At just under three miles, the trail makes for an exciting descent. It can be combined with other trails in the area to make for an epic day. Park at the end of Silverado Canyon Rd., 5.5 miles from the intersection with Santiago Canyon Rd..

MOST DANGEROUS NEIGHBORHOOD IN AMERICA'S "SAFEST CITY"

Actually, Huntington Beach isn't—and never has been—America's safest city. But until last year, it did rank in the top 10. But a string of unsolved murders last year ended all that, and now Surf City's not even among the top 25 safest cities. All of the murders took place in just one-half-square-mile area called Oakview. It's a low-income, mostly Latino neighborhood between Slater Avenue and Beach Boulevard that cops and city officials quietly call the Slater Slums. According to Sergeant Gary Meza, a community-liaison officer with the Huntington Beach Police Department, the murders involved members of the South Side Gang, which police believe has 70 to 100 Latino members. None of the murders has been solved.

GREEN PARTY

An expansive seven-acre nursery filled with all sorts of little landscaped walkways to explore, Roger's Gardens is so large I've seen it described on the Internet as the largest nursery in the country—but I'm not going to say Roger's is the largest because I might piss off the rest of the plant lobby, and those leafy dudes don't play (they killed Garfield). Still, size doesn't really matter, right, ladies? . . . Right? Anyway, Roger's is a terrific place to spend an afternoon just walking around, even if you have no natural inclination toward gardening whatsoever. I couldn't keep a plant alive if my life depended on it, but I still enjoy Roger's Gardens, particularly around the holidays, when it's strung with lights, and the entire place seems to twinkle, and you can get that $180 glass Santa ornament that your life was vacant without. 2301 San Joaquin Hill Rd., Corona del Mar, (949) 640-5800.

ART ACTIVISTS

BC Space Gallery is in a Laguna Beach walk-up and single-handedly saves Laguna's ass from its well-deserved reputation as a hotbed of pap. The gallery, run by Mark Chamberlain with help from such folks as Cypress College's Jerry Burchfield, focuses on getting all jiggy and activist-y on issues such as the war in Iraq, with openings featuring panel discussions and sweet-old-lady Greens who bring bowls of lentils for potlucks. (The most recent was an open-ended exhibit of continuously changing treatises—and found sculptures!—on Afghanistan, Iraq, the military-industrial complex and George W. Bush. Also, they had this hella cool show once that had some fat Chinese nudes that they'd had to smuggle out. That was dope. 235 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-1880.

OCEAN OUTFALL GROUP

They spell "environmentalism" with a not-so-capital "e"—as in e-mail. That's how the Ocean Outfall Group (OOG), which has no meetings, officers, dues or even stationery, rallied people who don't like poop in the ocean against the outmoded policies of the Orange County Sanitation District (OCSD). When the OCSD board of directors met in July 2002 to consider re-applying for a permit to dump 10 million gallons per hour of substandard sewage off Huntington Beach, an overflow crowd of angry computer-savvy citizens was waiting for them. The board opted to live up to the 1972 Clean Water Act instead. That victory only encouraged the OOG's e-mail mania. While it continues to monitor the sanitation board's compliance with the sewage cleanup, the OOG has expanded its environmental focus. Locally, it is battling the Poseidon desalination plant in Huntington Beach, supporting the use of constructed wetlands to treat urban runoff before it reaches the ocean, and hoping to preserve the riparian area that has spontaneously developed in the Santa Ana River. It's also lending support and expertise to sewage-treatment fights in Goleta and Morro Bay. All it takes to join is an e-mail address: write "subscribe" in the subject line and send to oceanoutfallgroup@yahoo.com. Or send an e-mail to JonV3@aol.com.

PETERS CANYON

This is a great park to visit if you want to get in a quick workout after a long day working for the man. Although small in size, Peters Canyon is home to a variety of habitats. Near the 55-acre reservoir, marsh vegetation and riparian woodland thrive. Below it, trees blanket the slopes above Lower Canyon Trail. Many of the trails are short in length, but combining several of them allows hikers and trail runners to increase the distance covered. Mountain bikers won't find much to challenge them here, but the canyon is a nice way to avoid the pavement en route to other trails in and around Santiago Canyon. Canyon View Ave. & Jamboree, Irvine.

SMOOTH CURATOR

Okay, so Tyler Stallings hasn't really done anything lately. But God, remember when he was doing shows on aliens (extraterrestrial or illegal; take your pick!) and skateboards? Those were fantastic. And even if he has been on the quiet side since his blockbuster "Whiteness" show at the Laguna Art Museum, he's probably just writing another book! And he still single-handedly made it okay for snooty LA types to make the trek down to poor benighted OC back when he was the driving force for the then-very-exciting Huntington Beach Art Center. Making OC okay! was a feat that made the Grand Central Art Center's showy openings (once, one of the guys from South Park came!) possible.

LUÍS ORTÍZ-FRANCO

The tam-o'-shanter-wearing professor always looks at you with an askew eye, a physical malady picked up after a brutal police beating during the Chicano Movement in the 1960s. Battle scars might be expected of a history or sociology professor, but math?! A former volunteer for the Southwest Voter Registration Project, a foundation he still supports, Ortíz-Franco's status as a tenured professor (the only Latino tenured professor at Chapman, mind you) allows him the liberty to advise the campus' MEChA club and to join janitors in their efforts to unionize the anti-union university. We wouldn't have failed algebra if our teacher were this interesting.

BEST FRIEND MEDICAL-MARIJUANA ADVOCATES HAVE IN CONGRESS

You don't find Huntington Beach's hard-right Republican representative Dana Rohrabacher crossing party lines on most anything—except when it comes to medical marijuana. Though the former hearty-partying libertarian was known for busting out the spliffs as a lad, he has consistently opposed efforts to legalize the devil's weed for the masses. However, just as consistently, Rohrabacher has locked arms with Democrats to sponsor House bills that would protect medical-marijuana users from federal prosecution. One reason he has taken the brave stand is because he doesn't like the feds trampling on state law—like in California, a bedrock of conservatism, where medical pot is legal. But Rohrabacher also has a personal reason: his late mother, who suffered through excruciating pain after hip surgery. "I couldn't help thinking when I was in the hospital feeding her, what a travesty it is that my mother, who's lived such a good life, would be denied marijuana if it could actually help her," he said earlier this year. Sadly, the most-recent medical-marijuana legislation co-sponsored by Rohrabacher was defeated—although by the closest margin ever. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) was the only other member of the Orange County congressional delegation to support it. Representatives Chris Cox (R-Newport Beach), Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) and Gary Miller (R-Diamond Bar) voted to have folks like Dana's mom continue living in debilitating pain.

FOUNTAIN VALLEY CIVIC SIGN

Fountain Valley's official logo is supposed to represent a fountain gushing water sprays over a nondescript pond. But slip on your Freudian goggles and look closely at the emblem. The dark center of the spray looks like a woman's thong; the falling droplets curve so that they take on the appearance of supple thighs. In its entirety, Fountain Valley's official sign looks like a woman bending over, begging for some hot civic action. We're not sure who designed the sign, but after seeing the women jogging around Mile Square Park in the early morn sweating, we at least know why city officials call their burb "A Nice Place to Live."

BACK-TRACKING

Gay-rights groups rejoiced this past January when Irvine-based Freedom Communications, which owns The Orange County Register and assorted other media companies, became the first national newspaper chain in the nation to enact a policy requiring its papers—including the knuckle-dragging Reg—to print same-sex union announcements. Conspiracy-minded folk like us wondered at the time if this was a ploy by stodgy old Freedom to make itself more attractive to prospective—and more progressive—buyers, since the chain's up for sale. But reality was worse than we feared. After the inevitable backlash from Freedom's core conservatives, the company announced that it was not "requiring" its papers to enact policies to allow same-sex ads; it was merely "encouraging" them to do so. Freedom went on to say it had no policy regarding the enacting of policies to allow same-sex ads. It's nice to see their corporate announcements make about as much sense as Registereditorials.

BEST PLACE FOR MILITARY MEN TO ICE THEIR SPLOOEY

As American troops were preparing to roll over Iraq, the West Coast Fertility Center in Fountain Valley made an offer they've made before previous military conflicts: they would provide any male soldiers who wanted it free sperm storage for a year. That would normally cost about $500—sugeadeal! But, sadly, because many of our fighting men seem doomed to stay in that hellhole indefinitely, their man-juice will likely expire before their tours of duty do.

A VOX UPON THE POPULI

When the late Molly Lyon of Women For started the immodestly if accurately named Great American Write-In 18 years ago, she and her left/liberal feminist; pro-choice; and environment-, human-rights-, peace-and-justice-, clean-water-and-air-loving comrades set up tables at UC Irvine's Faculty Club, installed volunteers from local advocacy organizations with fliers and pamphlets; made coffee and bagels; passed out free pens, writing paper, envelopes and postage; invited the public; and sat back to observe the experiment. The highly successful Write-In, though larger and next year in a new location, has stayed true to its deceptively simple method of direct-mail citizen lobbying, bringing representatives of 40 or 50 local groups to a couple of thousand area residents who sit down together in comfortable solidarity for a few hours, composing letters to their elected officials on the spot. You can bring your laptop and a printer. Women For mails the letters for free, and letter writers get the satisfaction of actually living up to their responsibilities as citizens, not to mention perhaps receiving a response letter a few weeks later from an elected official. It's called accountability and might be the model for hundreds of similar community write-ins. Yet the Write-In is the best kept secret in Orange County, if not Southern California, partly because Women For, founded in 1984, is exactly that variety of frightening "special interest" group you hear so much about (if you listen to Der Candidate or AM talk radio), advancing the agendas of such power-hungry political machines as (yikes!) Amnesty International, Planned Parenthood, the Alliance for Survival, Veterans for Peace, the Kurdish National Congress, and the Interfaith Committee to Aid Farm Workers. And, you ask, won't Women For force me to toe its political line? Sure it will. Big time. "The participating organizations," reads its mission statement, "may not be anti-choice, racist or sexist." That's right, pal. These Hillarys on wheels attract like-minded feminazis who will naturally try to ensnare you in the web of their liberal, Birkenstock-wearing, evildoer ways. But, hey, you can write a letter about any bloody thing you want, for or against. Women For doesn't care; they just want you to learn about "today's vital issues." Hell, you could write George Bush, demanding he incarcerate civilian suspects without trial, deprive women in other countries of reproductive freedom, install a right-wing nut as Attorney General and unilaterally invade sovereign nations. Yes, you could do that. Go ahead. Do it. See if anybody cares.

RUMORES

It doesn't matter if the World Trade Center was bombed, if there's a Mexican Independence Day parade, or if the INS is crashing down doors while arresting illegal immigrants in Orange County—the 18-year-old Santa Ana-based Spanish-language weekly always has a color photograph of a bikini-clad woman on the front page. Only problem? They're never pretty. 517 N. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 547-8283.

USED BOOKS PEDDLED BY OLD CIVIC-MINDED REPUBLICANS

Remember when Newport Beach hired a Black lady to teach history to high schoolers? The LA Times wrote an article about it, and readers wrote in to object to her suggestion that her own ethnicity might influence her perspective on, say, racism or slavery, like, well, conservative white people might teach history to reflect—well, you know. Sure, Newport is 93 percent white and 92 percent Republican, and they don't like airport noise, but, friends, they've got the best darn public library around, a tribute to the good life and the wisdom of the city's accounting office. After the rest of the county went bankrupt and its own library system reduced hours and services, Newport Beach kept right on building its swell new facility on Avocado Avenue, buying great books and CDs and videos (and now DVDs), offering speakers and kids programs, and pretty much creating the coolest literary hangout absent an espresso machine this side of the Gypsy Den. But with wealth and leisure and lots of old fogies wearing sailor hats comes (gasp) volunteerism. The kindly staff of the Friends of the Library stands up, slowly, to answer the call. Friends receive donations and host frequent used-book sales and run a little used-book store staffed by their crew of gentle-spirited and elegantly inefficient volunteers, each completely unfamiliar to a woman or man with their actual stock. With not a whole lot to do except offer you a free plastic bag, the place turns into a jolly, friendly visit to your grandparents' house, assuming your grandparents live in a quality used-book store. The books are priced to sell, and since nice, old rich people in Newport Beach like to read, or at least buy books, there's lots of good stuff. 1000 Avocado Ave., Newport Beach, (949) 717-3800.

INSULT TO PUBLIC EDUCATION INSTRUCTORS

It's hard to imagine the faculty and staff at Irvine Valley College enduring more, not after the coronation by their South Orange County Community College District board of a scheming toady of a physics teacher—first as college president and now chancellor. Not after having a Holocaust denier on that same board, or hiring as chief of human resources a former board ally who finessed them into hiring her. Hard to imagine if you don't know that the community effort to recall the Nazi failed not once, but twice. Meanwhile, 32 faculty members at the little college in the orange grove (oops, they cut down the orange trees, too—is there no end to this indignity?) wrote a polite letter recently asking administration to please clean, maintain and stock the restrooms. Each received for their efforts a memo and, yes, a single roll of toilet tissue, presumably to sustain them for the semester. Two-ply. Quality stuff.

JESÚS "EL PELOS" OLVERA

Right-on writer for Spanish alternative weekly rag Al Borde. Lead singer for El Chivo Expiatorio, a Tenacious D-meets-humor trio combining the worst tendencies of rock urbano with ska's wacka-wacka essence to create tunes better than anything to come out of the Spanish language since Carlos Chávez. Promoter for local rock en español showcases that seem to switch locations every month because venue managers can't stand young Latinos moshing with love. Fullerton resident. Forget The Orange County Register's new Latin entertainment guy—"El Pelos" is the man who knows what makes the county's Latino youth tick.

SHERMAN LIBRARY AND GARDENS

A self-described "horticultural retreat," Sherman Library and Gardens links a museum of living plants, gardens, patios, conservatories, a tea room and more, all set around wide brick walkways and trickling fountains. They host classes for the community, too, covering such scintillating topics as "Bulbs to Know and Grow" and "Natural Pest Control." The library and garden were started in 1955, the year the Brooklyn Dodgers won the World Series. Coincidence? Who can say? But there is no disputing the place is a memorial to M.H. Sherman, started by his heirs who wanted to honor him with something beautiful. Which explains why the memorial is in Corona del Mar and not Bullhead City. Though, to be fair to Bullhead City, you'll probably find more women there willing to flash their breasts than at Sherman Library. Unless it's tulip time—then all bets are off. 2647 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 673-2261.

KOCE

Funny how God works: KOCE-TV is on the auction block the same year Orange County's sole public television station finally achieves fame for something other than Barney reruns. In August, the KOCE-produced documentary Méndez vs. Westminster: For All the Children/ Para Todos los Niños won a local Emmy for its stirring retelling of the 1948 Orange County case that served as the country's first blow against public school segregation. Nevertheless, the Coast Community College District has put the station up for sale, threatening to sell it to the highest bidder. And the highest bidder is—praise Jesus!—Daystar Communications, who proudly discriminates by only hiring born-again Christians. We'd comment on the ironic situation of a discriminatory employer buying a station who produced a documentary decrying discrimination . . . but it's simply too sad.

(RE)BOOT HILL

Offering the online funerals was William R. "Just call me Bill" Bowers' idea, and the manager at Dilday Brothers in Huntington Beach had never even seen Six Feet Under. Who needs an edgy HBO show when you are a fourth-generation funeral director? "I've seen this transition coming for 10 years," says Bowers. "People have been doing slide shows, making videotapes, putting them to music—and this seems to be the next step." Online funerals are called "eulogycasts" by the dot-com outfit that invented and promotes them. They enable people who can't—or won't—go to the funeral to download the services off the Internet. Sounds a little creepy, not to mention like the latest in technological cop-outs, but Bowers doesn't see online funerals as anything edgier than customer service. "More and more families, particularly in Southern California, come from someplace else," he says. "People from around the world and people of low or moderate income often don't have a way to make it to the funeral of a loved one. This way, they can log onto a computer and participate. It provides a way for families to honor and preserve the legacy of the person who died. That's what funerals are for anyway." 17911 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 842-7771.

CASPERS WILDERNESS PARK

Hikers, equestrians and mountain bikers will appreciate the Park's 8,000 acres and more than 30 miles of trails. Sage- and chaparral-adorned hillsides rise above the woodland habitats of Bell and San Juan canyons. And to think, in the early '70s, there were plans to convert this land into an amusement park. 33401 Ortega Hwy., San Juan Capistrano.

DRAG SHOW

Since 1951 (the same year the Los Angeles Rams were crowned NFL champions), people have come from miles around to watch—and bet on—the equine equivalent of drag racing: quarter horse racing, the fastest horses in the world. Founded by Frank Vessels, the Los Alamitos Race Course is open 51 weeks per year. In feel and temperament, it is much closer to the Old West than such tony tracks as Santa Anita that try for that Old English feel. Los Al is filled with regular folk who watch their mortgage payment trail the pack while downing the track brew, which packs a wallop. Sure, it's not always what you would call spick-and-span, and, yeah, there always seems to come a point in the evening when someone throws up in a trash can. But, hey, it's a racetrack; you're betting hard-earned money on an animal that poops while standing up. At Los Al, they race quarter horses—the funny cars of the equine set—with races decided in, like, 20 seconds. Quarter horses are built for terrific short bursts of speed—none of this running around, taking valuable time away from your Coors Light or causing you to look up from your trash can for long periods of time. 4961 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (714) 995-1234.

SEAL BEACH NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

This is where the wildlife lives in Seal Beach—heron, egrets, peregrine falcons and those scary red-tailed hawks that attack pickup trucks. The Navy, which runs the place, gives tours at 9 a.m. on the last Saturday of every month. Shows begin Oct. 26. 800 Seal Beach Blvd., Seal Beach, (562) 598-1024.

NATURAL/URBAN WONDER

Sure, the sign off of Michelson says Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD) Water Treatment Plant, but the 300 acres of the San Joaquin Freshwater Marsh Reserve/Wildlife Sanctuary in Irvine features coastal freshwater wetlands surrounding it is why the place is crawling with joggers, hikers, birders and a nice lady from Irvine who picks blackberries. The UC Regents run part of the reserve, working with Sea and Sage Audubon. Look for the old windmill in the shadow of the ugly former Fluor Corporation building and follow San Diego Creek to ample parking. The river runs through the sanctuary, and the nice people at IRWD have brought the surrounding marshland back to health, adding 10 miles of trails through native plants, trees and scrub visited annually by 200 species of birds. Smart landscaping makes this place the kind of locale a lazy Weekly contributor might call an oasis of natural wonder in a desert of overly manicured suburban lawns and poisonous yuppie golf courses. He might, but in this inspired natural milieu, one just stays quiet and watches the sunset as the egrets hunt frogs in the creek. No dogs allowed.

THE BEST ART FLACK, IF BY "BEST," YOU MEAN ONE WHO SINGLE-HANDEDLY INSPIRES THE DISDAIN OF ALL THE LOCAL ART MEDIA

The Bowers Museum of Cultural Art's Rick Weinstein's multiple daily press releases and his anger if you have to apologetically cancel a lunch are fine—we're all used to that. But when the whispers made the rounds that Weinstein disinvited the Los Angeles Times' Richard Chang from the Bowers' big, exciting "uncrating" of Tibetan treasures by telling him the uncrating had been canceled, the rest of us could only laugh.

THE BEST ART FLACK, IF BY "BEST," YOU MEAN ONE WHO GETS ALL THE LOCAL ART MEDIA TO FAWN AND SIMPER OVER WHATEVER IS PUT BEFORE IT

Reporters love the Orange County Museum of Art's Brian Langston because he's nice to them. He invites them to parties, he truly seems to enjoy their company, and he has never given them a hard-sell or even asked them to review a show. They do it anyway. Also, he knows lots about philosophy, war history and alternative fuel sources. He and the museum parted ways last month; maybe they can replace him with some snotty interns!

THEY KILL GRIZZLIES, DON'T THEY?

In 1908, Southern California's last wild grizzly was killed in Trabuco Canyon. On the upper stretches of the Trabuco Canyon Trail, sheltered by thick stands of coast live oaks and Douglas fir trees, one can almost imagine magnificent grizzlies again roaming the densely wooded slopes. Now, the only visitors are outdoor enthusiasts, who favor this mountain oasis to the urban blight less than 10 miles distant. Steep, rocky sections challenge mountain bikers, while hikers and trail runners appreciate the shade offered by stands of oak, alder and bay laurel. During the spring, wildflowers adorn the slopes, and the aroma of laurel and sage delight the senses. Park at the intersection of Trabuco Creek Rd. & Holy Jim Canyon Rd. or at a small parking area one mile farther up Trabuco Creek Rd., Trabuco Canyon.

THEY KILL JUAN FLORES, DON'T THEY?

In 1857, to evade capture, outlaw Juan Flores rode his horse over the cliffs above Harding Truck Trail. Surviving the plunge, he made good his escape. His freedom was short-lived, however. Flores was captured a few days later and forced to take another plunge, this time at the end of a noose. Excitement-starved mountain bikers don't need to repeat Flores' death-defying feat. Descending Harding Truck Trail is thrill enough. From the trailhead, a 9.3-mile climb leads to the intersection with the Main Divide. A well-earned, swooping descent is reward for the uphill grunt. Or you can climb another 4.5 miles to Santiago Peak, making the descent even longer. Park at the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary on Modjeska Canyon Rd., two miles from the intersection with Santiago Canyon Rd.

SUNKEN TREASURE

In 1863, Los Angeles was still a small town, and the monstrous industrial sprawl that we now know as the Terminal Island/Long Beach harborplex was probably, like, deer and butterflies and leafy avocado trees. So when the big steamships came in, they'd anchor offshore, and smaller boats—like a boat called the Ada Hancock—would ferry out cargo and passengers. On April 27, 1863, the Ada Hancock had 56 passengers and—the plot thickens—$125,000 worth of gold on board, destined by steamship for the mint in San Francisco. Suddenly, as the Ada Hancock pulled away from the pier, gunshots! And a split-second later, a giant explosion, splitting the ship in half and sinking it—with $125,000 and half the passengers aboard. Historians suspect someone's robbery double-cross went wrong, and during a shootout, several barrels of gunpowder aboard the Ada Hancock ignited. But 140 years later, no one knows for sure, since the wreck of the Ada Hancock—and its cargo of gold bullion, probably somewhere deep under Long Beach Harbor's busy shipping channel—have yet to be found.

TAKE A PICTURE, IT WON'T LAST MUCH LONGER

Much like its fellow park to the southwest (see Aliso-Wood), Whiting Ranch is beset on all sides by encroaching development. Yet, safe within its boundaries, it is almost easy to forget that urban sprawl continues unchecked just a few miles distant. Oak and riparian woodland grace the floors of Borrego and Serrano canyons, while unique red-rock cliff formations are worth exploring in the north of the park. All trail users are welcome, though easy access and less technical trails make it a favorite of novice mountain bikers. Be alert during peak hours and note that Borrego trail, at the northwest entrance, is limited to one-way travel. Portola Pkwy. & Market, Foothill Ranch.

SAN MATEO CREEK

An enchanting creek that cuts through the heart of the San Mateo Wilderness, the marsh wetlands at its terminus are home to the few remaining steelhead trout in Southern California. In several wet winters during the 1930s and again in 1969, these fish actually made a robust run upstream to spawn in the upper reaches of the San Mateo Creek. Have no fear, though. Plans to build the Foothill South Toll Road over the marsh at Trestles should drive these pesky critters out of this critical habitat, ensuring they will never again colonize upper sections of the creek. With the removal of another endangered species, more land will open up for development. Ah, progress!

POWER PORK

Need to schmooze some zoning guys or get the inside track on one of the six "affordable" artists' lofts (out of 86) subsidized by the Santa Ana City (dawg)? Go to the Santa Ana Memphis on Friday night; it's the best place to find Santa Ana City Council members, planning commissioners and other assorted white folks in charge, as they drink and make merry on snazzy-cool orange and avocado banquettes. Go. Santora Building, 201 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 564-1064.

POWER PORK II: DAVE GAROFALO, THE FATTENING

No doubt, former Huntington Beach Mayor Dave Garofalo deserves to be in jail—he got off criminally easy for his Jan. 9, 2002, felony conviction for benefiting financially from City Council votes he cast. But the entertainment value of Garofalo bowling-balling himself around the streets of Surf City is just about worth the price of his freedom. Although Garofalo is pretty clearly a menace to society, he's the Dennis-the-Menace type—too inept to go too far without getting caught. This year, Garofalo ran Italian restaurant Bella Luna into the ground before it ever opened, attracting a lawsuit from one of his partners. Then he received a cease-and-desist letter from the owners of a fledgling Huntington Beach magazine alleging that he stole their artwork and press materials and passed them off as his own. Fortunately, Garofalo does most of his dopey dirty work via phone and e-mail, giving his would-be targets evidence (answering-machine tapes and computer printouts) that hangs him out to dry pretty quickly. And the list of Garofalo's hijinks gives solace to anybody with an inflated ego, subterranean integrity and all-around cluelessness. Remember, this is a man who, according to divorce records, dipped into insurance money intended to pay for his son's congenital kidney-failure treatment. He used to distribute two-sided business cards—one side featured the official city seal, the other his business logo for The Local News. In 1998, he vaulted to the front of a local developer's waiting list for new homes, then sold the home for a $60,000 profit after owning it just one day. So, yeah, Garofalo deserves to be in jail—although, after all the humiliation he has endured without learning his lesson, it's doubtful it would change him. Said Dennis Boggeln, the landlord at the stillborn restaurant who claims Garofalo stiffed him $40,000, "I don't think his mom ever taught him responsibility."

THE BEST CURATING PROGRAM WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI . . . MAKE THAT THE ONLY CURATING PROGRAM WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI

Cal State Fullerton. It's the one, and the only. Learn how to insure other people's art works (and get them to loan them to you in the first place) and write up prospectuses and didactic wall texts in your very own, cute-as-a-button gallery! Perhaps you'd like to focus on traditional women's art forms, such as knitting? A-okay! Or maybe you'd rather go and find a junkie Beat artist and have a fabulous retrospective? You get an A!

SANTIAGO TRAIL

Old Camp is nestled among stands of maple and live oak, a mountain hideaway at the terminus of Santiago Trail. Once a haven for hunting parties ascending the mountain's slopes, it now serves as a rest stop for those who have made the eight-mile journey from the trailhead at Modjeska Grade Road. The long, steady incline of Santiago Trail provides a great workout, whether ascending by bike or foot. For most of its length, the trail hugs the top of the ridgelines before finally dropping down into Old Camp in the last half-mile. An option for a shorter loop presents itself 3.7 miles from the trailhead: a sinuous single-track path veers south from the main trail, dropping precipitously to Live Oak Road, just above Cook's Corner. Named Vulture Crags on topographic maps, many mountain bikers simply refer to it as "The Luge." True to its name, it is a fun, challenging alternative for returning to Santiago Canyon. The trailhead is at the summit of Modjeska Grade Rd., one-half mile from the intersection with Santiago Canyon Rd.

PARTY, IT RHYMES WITH ARTY—AND FARTY, BUT THAT REALLY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS

The best art parties are thrown by Jorg Dubin—who is himself a former pick for Best Artist! God, he must really be good. Anyway, last time, he and his young protégé Jeff painted naked chicks (no, really, painted on naked chicks) while a large assortment of folk stood around, drinking wine (which was plentiful) and eating bruschetta (which had been donated). Sometimes it's just a few people for cocktails. At others, you might catch a glimpse of the Mystic Order of their fez club. That's a party.

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