Best Of :: People & Places
Almost every weekday and -night, Mike Harrah's Original Mike's Restaurant in downtown Santa Ana is loaded with wealthy businessmen, federal and state judges, corporate lobbyists, prosecutors, sheriff's executives, high-ranking county bureaucrats, journalists, police officers, union bosses, and women, uhhh, looking to meet power players. Harrah—a Newport Beach resident who is in the process of building Orange County's tallest building several blocks from his restaurant—also owns the Santa Ana City Council. But that's another story. . . .
The term "gadfly" carries negative connotations. And we won't deny that those connotations apply to Fullerton blogger Tony Bushala. If, for instance, you're Boss Hog doppelganger and former mayor Dick Jones, you're apt to view Bushala as an annoying insect whose provocative criticisms irritate your normally thickened hide (and head). In recent years, Bushala and his merry band of bloggers on the Friends for Fullerton's Future website have demonstrated that the biggest animals in the political stable can't escape the focused spotlights shining from their digital eyes. Friends for Fullerton's Future re-defined expectations of what can be accomplished via the hyper-local blogosphere when it exposed the indifference of public officials following the infamous Kelly Thomas beating and led the charge to remove three of five council members last June. Former state senator Dick Ackerman—a Republican douchebag who never saw a boondoggle he didn't like—doesn't like Bushala. And that's why we do.
Growing up in the 1960s in the San Fernando Valley, LGBT advocate Laura Kanter's handful of black friends was often denied entry to the homes of her white friends. The discrimination she witnessed as a child has twisted and morphed into present-day homophobia. Fortunately, we have Kanter, who is now director of youth services for the Center OC in Santa Ana, on hand to help deal with this plague of idiocy. At the Center, she hosts CO2, a free, late-afternoon drop-in for teens at which they have access to computers and counseling; her Rainbow Youth Group on Wednesday has become so popular it's been expanded to Friday nights at Shanti Orange County and Saturday mornings at the Center. As if that weren't enough, she's also mentoring YETA (Youth Empowered to ACT), which was sparked by this year's silencing of Fullerton Union High School student Kearian Giertz when he spoke out in support of gay marriage. YETA's smart young activists took to task the school official who did the initial silencing and are now working to make sure recent California anti-bullying laws (Assembly Bills 9 and 1156) are fully implemented via an impressive Safe Schools Campaign, including letters to principals, anti-bullying pledges and surveys that will aggressively detail the progress (or lack of such) in local schools. Aided by a recent six-figure grant from Liberty Hills Foundation, Kanter will be able to afford to provide space, structure and encouragement to the youth-led program. "Once they get the spark, they're the best organizers," she says. "The future is queer."
In a down economy, it's normal to see shuttered storefronts in strip malls; they're like missing teeth in a hockey player's smile. Irvine's Diamond Jamboree Plaza bucks that trend with an always-busy parking lot thanks to a collection of well-known Asian restaurants and shops catering to the tastes of residents who hail from all over the Pacific Rim. The Taiwanese 85°C Bakery Café was the first overseas empire to pin its U.S. operation at Diamond Jamboree. Years after the grand opening, there's still a line out the door for fresh-out-of-the-oven pastries, breads and specialties, plus iced sea salt lattés. From Japan, the spice-heavy Curry House CoCo Ichinbanya serves a version unlike that other Japanese curry restaurant's. Tokyo Table anchors one corner with teppan-yaki and sushi. In another corner, Chef Hung Noodles prepares its spicy braised beef noodle soup called niu rou mien. Korean supermarket H Mart guards the main entrance with the freshest selection of seafood, low-priced produce and USDA Prime-grade beef in town. BCD Tofu House serves Korean hot tofu stew 24 hours every day. Kura Sushi's affordably priced sushi arrives via a conveyor belt. And amid all the food businesses are the best booth-style karaoke bar in the county and the quirkiest Asian shops this side of Irvine's Daiso store.
Even all these years later after 9/11—after being accused by lunatics of wanting to impose an Islamic theocracy on America, after being accused of being a terrorist himself, after having to deal with the uncomfortable fact that his mosque spawned the American-born Taliban communications chief Adam Gadahn—even after all this, Muzammil Siddiqi (nicknamed Dr. Sid by his younger, hipper followers) remains the face of American Islam. And what a face: a kind, gray, bearded Indian immigrant who has headed Orange County's oldest mosque for more than 30 years and still delivers sermons nearly every Friday afternoon, who was a pioneer in interfaith dialogue, and who has helped the Islamic community of Orange County grow exponentially while appearing almost weekly on some news outlet to reassure Americans that Muslims are not going to behead them. Even after all this, the Imam at the Islamic Society of Orange County has the patience and virtue of . . . well, if not Jesus and not Muhammad (peace be unto him), then of some really patient, virtuous mensch.
Since 1958, this branch of the Unitarian Universalist movement has helped every progressive cause that has faced an uphill battle in Orange County, from the Red-baiting days of the early 1960s to the riots its host city faced this summer. Although its veteran members would love to see all the people who use its building join their ranks, they've never proselytized, discriminated nor charged the multitudes who go through. And the actual services? Beautiful: simple ceremonies imbued with the Lord, informal, and with guest lectures every weekend that range from police brutality to love to Orange County's racist, hidden past.