Best of OC 2004: Part 1

2. Farandula USA. Circulation of 55,000. Also published by Velasquez, Farandula USA concentrates on Spanish-language entertainment, with stories on singers and actors from across the Western Hemisphere. Photos are notoriously blurry and off-color, and copy is more gushing than the fountains of Tivoli. BEST FEATURE: when they run an article on a grocery store—and the article is next to an ad for the grocery store. The Velasquez empire never met a conflict of ethics they didn’t like.

3. Excelsior. Circulation of 55,000. The Orange County Register’s Spanish-language weekly, Excelsior is currently undergoing a low cycle after the early-year defection of pitbull reporter Sylvia Carlock to the Los Angeles Times’ Spanish-language daily, Hoy. By far the best-funded of Orange County’s Spanish-language weeklies, although most of their resources go toward translating Register articles into Spanish. BEST FEATURE: Miguel Suarez Orozco, entertainment reporter. The gentlemanly 50-ish Orozco always wears the same grey-flannel suit, whether attending a movie-screening or a Mexican metal show or interviewing Shakira.

4. Contacto. Circulation of 40,000. Santa Ana’s best soccer coverage, with league standings and dispatches on leagues from San Clemente to La Habra, from kiddie players to abuelita goalkeepers. News? Next to none if it doesn’t involve a forward and a ball BEST FEATURE: the soccer store in Contacto’s office. Newsroom? Went away to make more room for jerseys.

5. Azteca News. Circulation of 36,000. Great international section, with most articles coming from Mexico’s Notimex news agency or Spain’s EFE wire service. This concentration on Latin America, however, comes at the expense of local coverage, which is usually limited to former Santa Ana police chief Jose Vargas’ thoughts on the news of the week—think Larry King except without the ellipses and frequent Sandy Koufax references. BEST FEATURE: suprising amount of features on Argentina.

6. Rumores. Circulation of 30,000. 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 19-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. BEST FEATURE: the front-page girl. Seriously—you have to love a paper that has the huevos to put a half-naked senorita on the cover while Armageddon was raining down on New York.

ENDURANCE EVENTS THAT WILL BREAK YOU, NOT YOUR WALLET

1. San Juan Trail 50K. Before you’re done, you’ll have to navigate more than 30 miles of steep, rocky trails in the Santa Ana Mountains. This one will sear your lungs, thrash your quads and have you questioning your sanity. But when you finally wobble across the finish line, the cool folks who sponsor this race will treat you to a monster buffet. March 26, 2005. $65 before Feb. 10. www.rndrunning.com.

2. Vision Quest. When you’re pushing your mountain bike up 1.25 miles of hike-a-bike—after having ridden more than 40 miles of towering climbs and bone-rattling, technical descents—you’ll be cursing the sadistic SOB who thought up this course. But you’ll continue because you always do. Not too much farther and you’ll come to the final killer descent of Trabuco Canyon Trail, an ample reward for all the suffering. By the time you’re done, you’ll have ridden more than 52 miles and gained 11,000 feet. Once you’ve recovered at the post-race party, you’ll already be thinking about next year. March 2005 (exact date to be determined). Cost to be determined, but this year’s registration was only $85—not bad for a race of this magnitude. www.warriorssociety.org.

3. El Dorado Tuesday Twilight Racing Series. Bicycle racing has been called the most painful of all sports. Find out why! You’ll be redlining right from the start of this hurt-fest. And that’s if you don’t get spit out the back of the peloton. But at only $9, the cost-to-pain ratio may be OC’s best value. Every Tuesday in March and April. $9. www.californiabicycleracing.org.

4. Saddleback Memorial Half Marathon. What’s not to like? For less than the cost of dinner at some swank, mall-bound bistro, you can spend Memorial Day pounding the roads and bikeways of Laguna Hills. Not becoming roadkill near Leisure World adds to the drama. When it’s all over, you can enjoy the rest of your holiday guilt-free. May 30, 2005. $35. www.memorialmarathon.com.

5. Saddleback Mountain Trail Marathon. This race doesn’t climb all the way to the top of Saddleback, but it might as well. Once you leave the start line at Blue Jay Campground near the top of Ortega Highway, it seems like you never stop climbing. Sure, there are occasional descents, but they just lead to the next inevitable uphill slog—it’s as if Escher designed the course and the only direction is up. By the time you’re only halfway to the finish, you’ll be ascending Holy Jim Trail and praying for it to end. You get to run some great trails, though, and everyone is incredibly supportive. If you stop thinking about the pain, you’ll realize you’re actually having a helluva good time. Nov. 20, 2004. $75. www.rndrunning.com.

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