Location was everything in old Mission Viejo—which is redundant—a foothilly bedroom-type community socked in betwixt the 241 toll road and Interstate 5, between the Laguna and the Portola hills. The name, which of course means old mission in the dreaded Spanish, says it all. In 1776, Spanish monks established a mission here in San Juan Canyon—before deciding that maybe being in a cavern/canyon was not what Jesus would do nor where He would do it and pulled stakes for San Juan Capistrano, taking the mission with them.
Mexico took over in 1821, state missions were secularized, and ranching became the going thing; it still was in 1907 when los ranchos El Trabuco and Mission Viejo came into the hands of Irish cattle-whisperer Richard O'Neill. Fifty-six years later, his grandchildren discovered selling 10,000 acres of the spread to Don Bren would make them a nice price, and did so. Two years after that, in '65, Bren and his Mission Viejo company had the whole thing master-planned. The first houses, near La Paz Road and Chrisanta Drive, cost $21,000, and the stage was set for future Stitches front man and Laguna Beach record baron Mike Lohrman and countless kids like him to ditch junior high and lose half their front teeth riding the state's first cloverbowl.
"There's a lot of hills in Mission Viejo," Lohrman, 38, says. "We used to go out at night and pimp beer, smoke weed, get hammered and bomb hills all night." During the day, they'd disappear from school to Skateboard Odyssey, the city's sole skate park—with big and little half-pipes, a kiddie bowl, and the clover, which Lohrman says is California's first.
"It's actually where I lost the first half of my front teeth," he explains. "I had already learned how to do tail-taps, and I was working on backside airhoppers. I locked up on the coping and slammed my face on the cloverbowl, smashed my teeth out, my braces through my lip—it was a couple grand for braces back then—big goose egg on my forehead."
They called his parents, he says. "And they flipped—I ditched school and hammered their hard-earned money out through my lip." Mom had been a stewardess for Continental in '61; Dad was something like a lieutenant colonel for the military police (he doesn't recall), and they were just about as mad as the time he snuck the Mercury Country Squire station wagon out and drove it through the sand trap at the golf course—which, by the way, was totally doable on a dirt bike. They might have been madder.
Best City Celebration Tierra Nativa Day. In Mission Viejo, it was April 30 this year, a day in which to give back to the earth, the way you did on Arbor Day, Earth Day, National Trails Day, Volunteer Connection Day and at the Imagination Celebration—only more so. And so the earthy, free-spirited and passionate descended upon Oso Creek Trail—also a nice stroll—to move twigs off the beaten path, to plant native trees and to take the onus off the city and taxpayers. Mission Viejo saved an estimated $40,000 last year thanks to the work of nearly 2,000 volunteers like these; this is how things get done. Oso Creek Trail begins at the Norman P. Murray Community and Senior Center, 24932 Veterans Way, Mission Viejo, (949) 470-3062.
Best Tight End Mission Viejo High's Konrad "Drago" Reuland. Nicknamed after Ivan "I vill break you" Drago from Rocky IV, he's a former basketball player who figured out how to transition his pass-receiving skills to one of the top high school squads in the nation. A 3.8 grade point average and what his coach Bob Johnson says is an unbelievable work ethic make him a threat on and off the field. The Diablos play at Mission Viejo High School, 25025 Chrisanta Dr., Mission Viejo, (949) 586-1234.
Best Irish Pub This Side of Belfast Patsy's Irish Pub. After six years in Scotland, I'd yet to find a place in California even close to a British pub. Then I discovered Patsy's. It puts the "p" in pub (smell), the "u" (you might get lucky and the pool table will work) and the "b" (beef; corned beef and hash always on special). Best, anyone stumbling drunkenly through the door will immediately collide with a wall in the tricky entryway, unless sheer muscle memory pulls them to the right. There's sports on TV, but this ain't no sports bar. It's an honest-to-St.-Patrick Irish pub. In Orange County. 25571 Jeronimo Rd., Ste. 5, Mission Viejo, (949) 837-7722.
Best Place for Panini Skimmers. The Italians originally defined panini as "little bread rolls"—but more generically it's a hot, grilled sandwich with Italian ingredients (grilled eggplant, provolone, roasted peppers) that's in danger of going the way of the ciabatta: fast food. Everything from white to wheat to flat-sliced full-size loaves is pressed into service as panini these days—but not at Skimmers. Chef Scott Kim graduated top of his class at New York's Culinary Institute of America—then bailed on the East Coast to serve up a taste of Italy in his hometown of Mission Viejo. 25290 Marguerite Pkwy., Mission Viejo, (949) 855-8500.
Best Park Linda Vista Park. A smallish park—but back in the day it was strategically juxtaposed between about three liquor stores and Linda Vista Elementary, our man Mike Lohrman remembers—which was good news. Junior high over, he and the crew would jump on their boards to cruise these liquor stores, seeking guys with Burt Reynolds mustaches to buy 'em beer. Afterwards, they'd scoot by the elementary (they liked the girls there) and then on to the grassy knoll. "There were a lot of kids who lived in the area," Lohrman says, "and it just seemed like a good party spot. You could sit at the top and watch for the cops to show up." El Tiempo Lane and Pepita Drive, Mission Viejo.
Best Export Nick Sanchez. A city firefighter and paramedic for nearly three decades, he is currently saving lives in New Orleans as team leader for California Task Force 5, an 80-strong expedition searching for Katrina survivors. If experience doesn't suit him well, his people skills should; a fellow rescuer suggests Sanchez could talk his way out of an alligator's mouth—good thing to know. Also: Sanchez's son Mark, a freshman quarterback for USC, was last year's top high school quarterback in the nation with the Mission Viejo Diablos. It's all connected. California Task Force 5, on the web at www.catf5.org.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Best Hill for Skating Depends on your ability to cheat death on a regular basis. Lohrman recommends Mosquero Lane, Saddleback Drive and Granvia Drive: "Mosquero was kind of mellow, Saddleback was a bit longer, and Granvia had the whole death bomber thing at the end—and the little hook. If you shot it standing up, making the corner was damn near impossible." Words to live by. Page 922, Square B-1, the Thomas Guide.
Best Cocaine Connection Ronald J. Lister. In 1986, police raided the Mission Viejo home of Ronald J. Lister. Maybe it was his relationships with drug dealers and gun runners. Perhaps it involved his private security firm, Pyramid, rich with insider connections. Or else a shiny yellow warning light went off somewhere when he bought that house with $374,000 in cash. The multiagency narcotics unit found no drugs in the home, just loads of high-tech surveillance equipment and paperwork detailing Lister's connections to El Salvador's Ministry of Defense, Irvine-based Fluor Corp., and the CIA. Files describing Lister's relationship to Bill Nelson, former CIA deputy director of operations, are classified to this day, and Lister's current whereabouts are unknown. Gary Webb, who was able to link the CIA to California's cocaine problem in the '80s, killed himself in December 2004. And so it goes. If we knew where he was, you wouldn't want to know.
Best Swim Club Mission Viejo Nadadores. Since 1968, the club has won 20 Olympic medals and 47 National Team Championships and has broken 91 world records. Its guiding light is head coach Bill Rose, described as one of "the few elite coaches in the world" by colleague John Dussliere. Rose is a star attraction: having coached Olympic and world champion teams, he draws world-renowned swimmers to train with his squad. This summer, they came from Japan and Indonesia to swim—a win-win: international talent helps the locals improve, and Dussliere says that without swimmers from all around the world competing in meets, "it's not a true competition." Oh, and nadadores translates to "swimmers." Marguerite Aquatics Center, 27474 Casta del Sol, Mission Viejo, (949) 380-2552.
Best Statue Florence Joyner, at Florence Joyner Olympiad Park. When death caught the former Olympian in '98, residents of her hometown demanded their Olympic-themed park be dedicated in her honor, complete with bronze statue. They designed the award-winning park with the International Olympic Committee—and that's how the canny devils were able to bag actual light fixtures from the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics for the Tot Lot area—a children's playground rigged up like the real Olympic Villages, only not so much McDonald's. 22760 Olympiad Rd., Mission Viejo.