There was a period of time in my university life when I skipped my 6:30 p.m. Statistics classes to watch The O.C., and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Textbooks and binders gathered dust on my desk as the picture perfect (and monochromatic) residents of tony Newport Beach swooned and shuddered with the impact of a dozen tiny dramas from week to week. Standard deviations couldn’t hold a candle to Chrismukkah, and this dorky Chinese kid hiding out in small town Ontario couldn’t get enough of it.
Thirteen years later, I was on the Costa Mesa Freeway, headed south towards a place I’d only known through the eyes of a fictional, down-on-his-luck kid from Chino. It was late afternoon, bordering on evening, and the setting sun flooded the beach with this wonderful, diffuse glow. A fine mist from the breaking waves drifted across the sand, the long silhouette of the wooden pier floating on the distant horizon. Ashley and I walked across the beach and onto the pier with the sun in our eyes, soaking in the humidity-free summer evening. We didn’t see a single drunken fight between privileged coastal mansion-dwelling types, nor were we ever “welcomed” to the O.C. by the local water polo student-athlete extraordinaire. Dinner was at a Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles in Anaheim, a meal that was everything that was promised and more, yet there was a grotesque dimension to the meal that briefly made me pause – there was at least 10 times more butter and syrup than was necessary, but you don’t eat in places like this to count your calories.
The morning of the wedding, Ashley and I got up extra early to make a quick half-day trip to San Diego. The ceremony wasn’t until 5 p.m., and we planned to start driving back up to Anaheim after lunch, leaving us with plenty of buffer room. Even so, we didn’t have much time, and we didn’t have much of an itinerary – walk around Balboa Park, pick up some Mexican food, make a quick stop at La Jolla Cove, before getting back to Anaheim in time for the wedding.
Half-a-day definitely wasn’t enough for Balboa Park, let alone an entire city. I knew very little about the park before that morning, and I wish we had more time to take in all the museums and cultural spaces across its 1,200 acres. Lunch was at Oscar’s Mexican Seafood on Turquoise Street, and it was amazing! Fried shrimp and battered fish tacos, smoked fish, shrimp, and scallops tacos, spicy fish tortas – everything was delicious, and, even if we didn’t do anything else in San Diego that morning, this meal was worth the drive. Our last stop at La Jolla Cove didn’t quite work out – the beautiful weather, the weekend crowds, and the dearth of parking spaces all conspired to keep us away. Our deadline for returning to Anaheim was fast approaching in any case, so after a few loops around the crowded streets and parking lots along the water, we hopped back onto the I-5 and headed back to Orange County.
At the end of the day, this trip was about a wedding, and it was a good one. A beautiful ceremony, heartfelt speeches, and a room full of family and friends. I also played cornhole for the first time. Ashley’s uncle and aunt had visited Hong Kong a few times, and I’d gotten to know the family a little bit, so making the trip wasn’t such a hard decision. When all was said and done, after the first world problems of too-long plane rides and dealing with jet lag, we were glad we came.
So, with the conclusion of the reception that night, Ashley and I had the next few days to ourselves before reuniting with family in the Bay Area the next week. We still had a few things we wanted to check off our LA list, including another early morning drive the next day – not to a beach or a museum or an art gallery, but a snowy Scottish town serving butterbeer, chocolate frogs, and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.