Best Of :: People & Places
Judge James Gray is no hippie pot smoker. Before becoming the presiding judge of Orange County Superior Court, Gray practiced law with the Judge Advocate General's Corps, U.S. Navy in Guam and California. His book Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War On Drugs (Temple University Press) was published in 2001, and the former Republican ran as the Libertarian Party candidate against U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and GOP nominee Bill Jones in 2004, the same year he was the keynote speaker at the Libertarian National Convention. These days, the retired jurist, who raised four children with his wife in Newport Beach, is the face of the campaign to legalize marijuana in California. Gray leads a group of former judges, prosecutors and cops that agrees Californians would be safer if Proposition 19 passes in November. His nonprofit Law Enforcement Against Prohibition argues violent criminals are getting light sentences and early releases due to the costs and infrastructure demands required to convict and house non-violent criminals. Gray should know: He put many of them there in the first place.
Founded in 1986, the Someone Cares Soup Kitchen serves meals to more than 300 people, seven days a week. The Costa Mesa-based nonprofit's mission is to feed a daily nutritious meal to the homeless, the unemployed, the working poor, the mentally challenged, the physically challenged, senior citizens and, most important of all, children. 'Cause it's all about the children. They were among those Someone Cares founder Merle Hatleberg noticed were coming to the door for food when she ran an Orange County seniors' program. Those needy folks did not qualify for meals under that program, so Hatleberg would slip them some food when no one was looking. She went on to pool her meager funds to buy a large pot for the first soup she served to the needy on June 15, 1986. Much has changed since then: 30 people were served that first pot of soup, and Someone Cares moved from local churches to a community center in Costa Mesa to, finally, a former Chinese restaurant owned by the parents of the founders of the Wahoo's Fish Taco chain. And there's now a staff, plus more than 150 active volunteers. Unfortunately, the need has grown as well.
If you're one of those people who thinks every month should have its own Oktoberfest, then fret not because there is room for your beer-swilling self over at the Phoenix Club, home to the largest outdoor festhalle in the country. Every May 1, the club opens its doors to the public for a daylong celebration of all things Germanic: sauerkraut, sausage, polka music, maypole dancing—sorry, fellas, not that kind of pole dancing, but rather the medieval-era one involving a tall pole, lots of ribbons and walking in circles—and beer. Lots of beer, and it goes for about half of the ridiculously overpriced Oktoberfest brews they sell at Huntington Beach's Old World Village. Long tables provide plenty of room underneath propeller-size fans hanging from the ceiling of the tent, while a never-ending parade of dancers in folk costumes struts its stuff in front of the white-haired polka band onstage. There's even a lady who stands in the middle of the floor with an unnaturally happy smile and cracks a whip just inches from your face. Achtung, baby!
How could a public radio station be better than KPCC? Okay, we know what you're going to say: by not playing public-radio programming. But that's wrong; KPPC's lineup is consistently fascinating and varied enough that it's worth tuning into at most times of the day. The personalities are who make it, from the nebbishy-but-bold Larry Mantle to the affably anti-jargon Kai Ryssdahl (whose nationally syndicated Marketplace is recorded in the same building as KPCC). But forget everyone else: The rock of the station is afternoon-news anchor Alex Cohen, who manages to be adorable yet authoritative while occasionally poking fun at the national programming or dropping references to her own passion for roller derby. Even KPCC's pledge drives are sometimes entertaining—not that we'd miss those if they were gone.
If you ever listen to classical music on the radio, chances are you've heard the host who sounds how a classical-music host would sound if he were a character on The Simpsons. Get beyond the funny voice, and you quickly realize that KUSC's Jim Svejda is probably the most knowledgeable (and opinionated) radio host in the country when it comes to classical music. His Sunday-evening show The Record Shelf has been around for decades and never fails to break new ground on old music, exposing listeners to both obscure works by well-known artists (okay, Gustav Mahler's Resurrection Symphony isn't that obscure, but you won't find it on most classical stations) and underappreciated gems by also-rans, such as Bohuslav Martinu's Piano Quartet No. 1, which opens Svejda's show. He rules the airwaves weeknights from 7 to 10 p.m., artfully letting the tinkling piano of his theme music fade away before he mellifluously transitions into the night's programming. If Charles Bukowski were alive, he'd purposefully delay his day's work of drinking and writing to take full advantage of Svejda's show.
In Marty Smith's capable hands, Orange Coast magazine continues to improve over the days when the publication was largely content-free. Smith loves a good story and has been sharing them with his readers. Sure, there are all the "best" lists (like, uh, this one), but nowadays, those are leavened with interesting profiles and local crime mysteries. The story of James W. Whitehouse, the husband of Susan Atkins, the convicted murderer from Charles Manson's gang, was one for the history books.