Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Resurrection of Santa Ana

A few months ago some of my American Airlines miles were expiring so I looked over their list of magazine subscriptions and found Orange Coast. It’s an OK magazine, the main vibe I get from it is that it tries too hard to be trendy and cool, for example, it uses words like “vibe” a lot. The August issue had an article entitled The Resurrection of Santa Ana. I’ve been living in Arizona for the last 40 years and have only been through my hometown a few times: quick day-time drive throughs with the car doors locked. Was it possible that Santa Ana had been reborn, and was once again the town that I remembered as a yute? Here’s an excerpt:

“I covered Santa Ana for The Orange County Register just as plans for the Artists Village were taking root. Debates raged, and passions were intense. But when I returned to Santa Ana recently after more than a decade of living and working in Los Angeles, I was surprised to discover how firmly that pie-in-the-sky plan had become reality. Those on the front lines say the evolution was like watching a child grow. Day to day, few noticed the changes. But after a decade, the progress is undeniable. Squatters in vacant office buildings were replaced with trendy caf├ęs, busy restaurants, and cool nightclubs. City streets once prowled by gypsy cabs called “Tijuana taxis” now were crawling with artists who prefer to walk whenever they can. The working-class city known for its crowded houses, noisy taco trucks, and gang violence has taken on a new identity,renowned for its arts-driven makeover and its own aesthetic.

Santa Ana once had a stigma. Now it has style.”

My wife and I have been going back to Orange County right after Labor Day for a few years now. The last three years we’ve been going to the All-Saints Picnic, this year my brother told me there was going to be an “All-Saints Happy Hour” at Big Mike’s, a new eatery a stone’s throw from Santa Ana High. An article on-line said this about Big Mike’s “You wouldn't know it from looking at him, but Mike Harrah owns most of downtown Santa Ana.. This man with a grizzly beard is credited for revitalizing Santa Ana's business district.”

Big Mike’s restaurant is big, it's in an old automobile agency at 1st and Main. Nicely done, lots of wood, old timey photos, with restored cars and trucks in the dining area. Yet the crowd was small for a Friday night. My wife always makes a point of ordering her buffalo wings “extra crispy”, they were soggy, honey was not happy. Later we cruised by the high school. The big change in the neighborhood was demographic, in the late 60s the people who lived around SAHS were mostly white, now they seem to all be Hispanic. It was more crowded, lots of people were sitting in their front yards drinking beer on a Friday night. Thinking about it, it occurred to me that the neighborhood itself hadn’t really changed much in the last 40 years. In fact the buildings were the same ones that were there when we went to high school. Most of them were built in the 1930s and 40s. It wasn’t the neighborhood that had changed, it was the neighbors, and me.

The title of Thomas Wolfe’s 1940 classic, You Can’t Go Home Again says it all for me. The title will have to say it all because I’ve never read the book. I’ve read a lot of Tom Wolfe, he was one of the inventers of “The New Journalism”. Now “the new journalism” is old. People don’t go back to read it much anymore and it’s unlikely that the style will be resurrected.

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