Best Of :: People & Places
We have come not to watch avocets, mallards or eared grebes, but to observe the creatures who observe our feathered friends. First, point your binoculars at the American coot (Fulica americana) lazily floating in the marsh. Now pan across and lock in on a different coot, the American Bird Watcher (aves peeper americana). A distant cousin of the more ornery American Birder (burder odious americana), watchers congregate along the pedestrian paths of the 1,550-acre preserve all four seasons of the year and are known for their wrinkled skin, liver spots and plumes of blue, gray or white hair. Whether you are approaching the avian or AARPian, the same rules apply: Do not pet them, do not feed them, and pretend not to notice should they have accidents. Above all, treat the human version with mucho respeto. While others their age planted themselves in recliners to watch endless Matlock reruns, many avid watchers locked arthritic arms to battle forces hellbent on eradicating the biologically sensitive Bolsa Chica wetlands. Ages ago, when rampant development had not yet choked the coast, these wetlands naturally filtered fresh inland waters that flowed toward the shore and salty ocean water that washed inland. Later uses as a gun range, for oil wells and as a flood-control channel left the marshes in such putrid disrepair that county officials seriously entertained land-developer proposals to dig up the wetlands for a marina or pave it over for new neighborhoods. The bird watchers joined environmentalists, Native Americans and forward-thinking local politicians to not only save the wetlands, but to also help to bring them back to their former glory as a shimmering coastal resource. One final tip when it comes to encountering the American Bird Watcher in nature: Stay the hell away during breeding season.
Okay, so it's not that far of a drive from Balboa Island to Balboa Peninsula, but the ferry's fun to take anyway—and it'll save you about five miles per car trip. The ferries have been making the quarter-mile (just less than 1,000 feet!) scenic ride since 1919, traveling at a mind-boggling, lightning-fast speed of 4 mph. Eighty-nine years ago, the ride cost a nickel per person—and people were loaded aboard what was called the Ark, a giant rowboat equipped with a small engine. Three double-ended wooden boats—the Admiral, the Commodore and the Captain (no Commander? What about the Seamen?) replaced the Ark in the '50s and are still in operation. Each ferry holds just three cars and about 75 people. Riders mostly consist of bicyclists, families and couples enjoying the view we all-too-often forget about, which includes the Ferris wheel and merry-go-round of the Balboa Fun Zone, the Balboa Pier and the Balboa Pavilion, which is especially pretty at Christmastime. Also: It's cheap (50 cents to $2), your kids will love it, and you can even bring your dog.
If children are the future and history repeats itself, then homeless children are very likely to repeat their parents' mistakes and end up on the streets themselves. In an attempt to break this sad cycle, School on Wheels, a non-government-funded charity founded in 1993, sends volunteer tutors to homeless shelters, motels, group homes and the streets to mentor students and provide them with school supplies and uniforms. Serving much of Southern California, from Dana Point to Santa Barbara, School on Wheels has several local tutoring sites including the Santa Ana Catholic Worker office and several locations in Long Beach.
We always get this question from out-of-town guests: What's a decent, affordable place to stay near Disneyland? There is only one right answer: Hotel Menage. Several years ago, three young men bought a crappy old hotel on the location, tore everything out and refurbished it in style. The rooms aren't necessarily large, but they come with eye-soothing mahogany-wood beds, comfy sofas, non-chain-hotel wall art and plasma televisions. Conveniently located next to Interstate 5 and minutes from the world-famous theme park, the hotel also offers a large pool and K'ya Restaurant, featuring Pacific Rim dishes.
Yes, it's the happiest parking structure on Earth. Built in 2000 to hold more than 10,000 vehicles, this monster of a parking lot is not only the most magical place to park your car, but also the most efficient in all of Orange County. In a time when other parking lots, like those at the Irvine Spectrum, take cars on daring adventures around and around, bringing them precariously close to crashing and offering exciting twists and turns to people of all ages, the Mickey & Friends parking structure offers a direct exit from every level, expertly placed traffic cones, friendly attendants trained to wave even the most impossibly sized cars neatly into a spot, and the cartoon faces of America's favorite rodents plastered on its walls. Yes, in a world of craziness and disorder, the Mickey & Friends parking structure, once honored with the title of largest parking lot in North America, offers simplicity and peace of mind for just $12 per visit.
Utterly amiable and vastly knowledgeable, Bubba Jackson handles the crucial weekday 6-to-9-a.m. slot for listener-supported KKJZ-FM 88.1, where he plays excellent jazz and blues cuts from the 20th and 21st centuries. Now, many radio jocks can do the same thing, but no professional on-air personality possesses more genuine enthusiasm for the music he's spinning than Jackson. No, not even Henry Rollins. Bubba's getting up there in years, but the decades haven't muted his zest for the many styles of jazz and blues he plays while Southern California's more discerning denizens are getting ready for work or school and simmering in rush-hour traffic. A glance through one day's playlist for his Breakfast With Bubba show reveals tracks by Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Bernard Purdie, Ray Barretto, Lalo Schifrin, Herbie Mann, John Scofield with Eddie Harris, and Esperanza Spaulding. But whatever day it is, Bubba delivers the choicest cuts along with folksy commentary and generous praises when he back-announces his sets, like a hip grandpa who never lost his youthful passion for great music. More than most genres, jazz and blues desperately need champions like Bubba Jackson to keep their legacies thriving. His charm, knowledge and impeccable taste both benefit the music he advocates and help to kick-start your day on the brightest note possible.