Orange County

Yesterday, I flew to Anaheim, California, for the annual “Summit” conference for Banner users. It’s quite possibly the largest higher ed. conference in the nation (more than Educause), drawing about 8’000 attendees by Sungard’s measurements. This is my first time attending a Summit (pity I didn’t go when it was held in Hawai’i…), and also my first time in California.

The physical difference couldn’t be more stark. I’m more or less a son of the Midwest, despite my brief indiscretion in New Mexico for about four years, and I launched out of O’Hare amid a 37° mess of rain/sleet—worse mid-April fare than usual, even by Chicago standards. When we turned around over the Pacific Ocean for a somewhat abrupt landing at John Wayne airport, it was about 95°, not a cloud in the sky, and virtually no humidity. In the same way that many cities will have landscaping like bushes or short trees, Anaheim has palm trees everywhere. I enjoyed the weather for about 10 minutes, and then began to wish for a storm to rush in from the Pacific. It hasn’t happened yet.

Orange County (in which Anaheim lies) only really rose to prominence with a spat of television shows and movies1 that spontaneously decided that it was the “hip” place to be—though how it accomplished that by portraying it as stuffed to the rafters with obnoxious teenagers, I’ll never be able to understand. It was home to John Wayne (hence the airport) many moons ago, when it still had an air of seclusion and charm.

Anaheim and Santa Ana are relatively flat cities: no great plinths of office buildings jut up into the skyline, save for a few modern marble-and-glass numbers that we passed on the way to our hotel. Even the distant hills are short and squat and veiled behind haze, as if everything here—structures, geography, mindsets—simply gives up and diminishes toward the ocean.

As you might have guessed from its name, Anaheim was literally and etymologically the home of German immigrants (Ana, from the nearby Santa Ana river, and heim, or “home”). Before Disney and Knott, before Klansmen and fiscal irresponsibility, Anaheim was a small Western city of orange groves and the home of the boysenberry. In 1955, when the construction of Disneyland was completed, the face of Anaheim changed forever. Now, tourism is the city’s most important industry: it complements Disneyland with a convention center, another theme park with the misleading name of Knott’s Berry Farm, and a major sports stadium. The orange groves are largely gone; agricultural land is down to about 15% of its 1955 area—about 55’000 acres, perhaps less.

For about half a century, a lone strawberry field adjacent to Disney’s property remained a perpetual thorn in their side. Its owners, two brothers named Fujishige, declined to sell it to Disney. The land had been in their family for generations, and they didn’t care for Walt, to boot. The first brother committed suicide in 1986; the second died in 1998 after hitting his head and lapsing into a coma. His children sold the land in 1999 for about $100 million. I admit to being just a little sad about that; we have a too few strawberry fields keeping theme parks at bay, I think.


Where I’m staying is a long strip of hotels, and nothing but. On the other side of the street are a few restaurants, but there isn’t even a Starbucks within walking distance (that I know of); I’d have to get a shuttle to go anywhere of consequence.

This place makes me feel out of sorts. Like Myrtle Beach, it seems to exist almost entirely on proclamations of its own greatness; the one major exception is Disneyland, which, without Allison here to drag me bodily there, holds no attraction for me at all. I am neither a Disney buff, nor a fan of theme parks. A group of us walked there (it’s about two blocks down the street) last night and spent some time in “Downtown Disney,” which is not the theme park proper but rather a promenade full of shops. In truth, it’s a rather impressive display: a sprawling array of (expensive) shops, mostly Disnified versions of stores you know. Add carts selling junk food, at least 5 different live musicians, a full-blown AMC movie theatre, a giant ESPN Zone building, the largest Disney Store I’ve ever laid eyes on, and I’m sure much more that I missed.

At this point, I was thankful that the sun had set (the weather was wonderful), but so stressed out that I withdrew into myself, staggering rather dumbly from shop to shop while the women in our group blazed a trail ahead of us. I people-watched, which is both interesting and entirely disconcerting, especially when I’m in a pensive mood. Perhaps my coworkers all thought I was a twit.

It’s become entirely too easy to suffer from sensory overload. In the largest convention center on the west coast, with 8’000 people, in a sunny city filled with tourists, I find myself wondering what the big deal is about being sociable, anyway.

Enough of me being maudlin; some technical stuff tomorrow, maybe.

  1. See The OC and Laguna Beach, both textbook examples of why the human race is doomed.[]
§2039 · April 13, 2008 · Tags: ·

8 Comments to “Anaheim and other larks”

  1. Allison says:

    Being sociable and going to Disneyland (with me, of course) are two very important things.

  2. Conor says:

    You, good sir, are a freaking geek. Glad to hear you’re powering through the surest signs of American commercialism waxing apocalyptic, and with nary a gunshot to the head. (It’s totally tinfoil hat-type stuff to think that the second Fujishige brother’s coma was more than an accident, isn’t it?)

    Line about strawberry fields and theme parks was epic.

  3. Ben says:

    A nicer compliment was never spoken. Although perhaps the only inhibition to violence in this case was my lack of readily-available weaponry.

    I should note that Anaheim has violent crime levels far below the national average. And, generally speaking, no one here has been particularly rude or annoying. And yet it feels entirely foreign; California really does manage to be its own little world.

  4. Brady says:

    I have to agree that, even though you pretty much hate being anywhere outside of the five mile radius of your apartment, this was a nice little bit of travel writing.

    The line about strawberry fields and theme parks was indeed strikingly poetic. The melancholy sort of echoed through me after I read it. I felt as though it should have been spoken by Morgan Freeman at the end of a documentary of some sort.

  5. Conor says:

    I, too, am subject to the condition where every even remotely moving passage is narrated inside my head by Morgan Freeman.

    The man could read Mein Kampf and I would still be spellbound.

  6. Ben says:

    My confession is that my manipulation of your emotions was entirely planned.

  7. Eric says:

    I vote with the pretty one! You should be in geek heaven. A significant percentage of those 8K people are programmers and techies!! Certainly you could find SOMEONE to socialize with!

    I do have to agree that places such as Disney (or Las Vegas) where EVERYONE’S raison d’être is to take your money are more than a little depressing. Strawberry Fields FOREVER!

  8. […] all the coins out of my wallet and toss them up in the air, laughing like a child running through a field of strawberries, stomping and picking and gobbling with joyful abandon. Again, I hope he still tips me well next […]

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