Santa Ana

In 1769, Don Gaspar de Portola discovered a valley and river in Southern California, which he named Santa Ana. And white people have been bitching about it ever since. Oh, not the movie stars in the '20s and '30s—Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks used to weekend here like it was Palm Springs or something—but that was when the city was still safe for honkies. Back then, they even segregated the pools—prescience warning them this place would one day be just brimming with Mexicans. Just about 80 percent now, as a matter of fact—a number that strikes cold fear into the neighbors' hearts. Even the Weekly had an employee quit when we moved here from Costa Mesa, because she didn't think the area would be "safe." To her, we say, adios!

Santa Ana's still the county seat today—in your face, Irvine!—home of the Ronald Reagan courthouse and a row of little bistros serving the lawyers and civic planners until their slice of downtown becomes a ghost town at 5:15 p.m. A whole block away, on Fourth Street, a thriving Latino mom-and-pop business community stays up late, stocked with bodegas and wedding-dress stores and cheap cute boots imported from Italy. But don't tell the city planners, who keep trying to condemn it as blighted so their redevelopment boards can auction it off to the whitest developer. Hey, remember when the city of Santa Ana used Department of Housing and Urban Development funds to build a jail? Good times.

Contrasts here are sharp. Santa Ana has flat-beyootiful neighborhoods—I'm looking at you, Floral Park!—surrounded by misery. Santiago Elementary, which serves the children of Floral Park's doctors and bankers and lawyers and state senators and mayors and assemblymen, is a verdant little jewel, with quotes by Ralph Waldo Emerson painted on the shady walls. Less than half a mile away, schools are dingy and shadeless and rooted in asphalt, surrounded by potholes the size of Easter hams. It's good to know that, just like in New Orleans, everybody's got an equal shot in life.

Last year, Santa Ana, a city of about 400,000, was named the country's hardest place to make ends meet—a day of great pride for the folks who are living 12 to an $1,800-a-month rental. Fortunately for them, by next year, I'm a-figuring the people who name things might find another city that's an even harder place to live. I'm talking, of course, about Stanton. Can you dig it?



Photo by Jeanne Rice

Best Blast From the Past Santa Ana Lawn Bowling. Isn't that so Rip Van Winkle? I think so too. I mean, I've never actually beenlawn bowling or even seen it, but it seems like it would have all the afternoon breezes of croquet and none of the hissy fits and violence. Show up, watch for a few minutes and bring flat-soled shoes, and the fine folks at Santa Ana Lawn Bowling will give you a free lesson. Sweet! 510 E. Memory Lane, Santa Ana, (714) 639-3577.

World's Best DMV For serious! Last year, I moved at the same time I needed to renew my license—the 10-year renewal, with all the ensuing paperwork. I walked in with an appointment at the Santa Ana DMV and: reregistered to vote, had my photo taken, changed my address and took the written test, all in under 17 minutes. Another time, the DMV was overcharging me about $800 to register a car I'd bought out of state—until I went here. The incredibly pretty girl at the counter listened to my explanation, hit some keys on her computer, and handed me my new, $800-lower bill. She never even got a supervisor's okay—she just took care of it. I would have married her right then, except I'm not a lesbian. 1330 E. First St., Santa Ana, (800) 777-0133.

Best Place for Disabled Kiddies Orange County Children's Therapeutic Arts Center. Founded just three years ago, it is already gaining fame for its innovative Mexican cultural programs for disabled and at-risk Santa Ana kids. 208 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-5468; www.occtac.org.

Cutest Kids Orange County High School of the Arts. Drive down Sycamore Avenue at lunch hour, and see the adorable junior- and senior-high kids loitering on their teeny patch of grass and asphalt. They're all artsy and shit, and they look like maybe they make their own clothes. No bros allowed. 1010 N. Main St., Santa Ana.

Best Song About Santa Ana "Santa Ana River Delta Blues" by Wiskey Biscuit. Oh, how we miss them since they up and moved to Silver Lake all those years ago. But the blitzed boys of Wiskey Biscuit can still make us get our ya-yas out with Jason Mason's bizarre nasal intonings of "Beyond the Orange Curtain/On the south side of town," before making fun of bitchy cheerleaders who wouldn't give them any play and moving on to the yowling chorus, "San/Ta Ana/River/Delta Bluuues." We heard they toured with the Strokes lately. Dude, they're so much better than that. It's on their self-titled debut at www.shipwrecords.com.

Best Place to Mock the Rich Teri's Cigars. Funny story: I'm standing next to former Nixon White House chief of staff Al Haig, and he's puffing on a cigar that's clearly Cuban, and I ask him, "Isn't that hypocritical, Al? I mean, given your party's stand on Fidel and the embargo? Aren't you enriching the commies?" Al glances at me sideways with those rheumy blue peepers of his and says, "I prefer to think of it as burning their crops." Hysterical—and true, except that it was Al Franken and not me. Orange County is cosmopolitan enough to have its own sources of Cubans—if you know a guy, I mean, it's a snap, and it's also pretty clear that your guy is probably a Republican, and probably spending far too much on his cigars. We're not into conspicuous consumption: we pay less and get more from our supplier of fresh, hand-rolled cigars: Teri's. In a fabulous Art Deco strip (complete with a botanica and, I don't know, an auto glass store?—we can't always see clearly through the smoke), a local family has been hand-rolling fine ones for like three generations. Really: you'll find many places that hand-roll as a kind of sideshow (like those joints in the desert between Vegas and Phoenix that promise indigenous people will stitch up moccasins for your entire flat-footed family), but these guys really are rolling tobacco they've bought themselves, watching the news while they do so, and ready to help ease you down the road to fine, smooth and inexpensive smoke. Their best number is about $3. 310 E. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 541-9142.

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