I’d love to know who the jackass was who started saying Orange County was “the OC.” Maybe I’m missing something, seeing how I haven’t lived there since I was eighteen, but I never heard anyone attach the definite article in front of those initials until that show with the same name stumbled into the world.

Some people called it OC, but it was usually in relation to Los Angeles: “Hey, we’re here in LA; let’s go down to OC.” Even then, it doesn’t do much good ’cause Orange County is not the homogenous white bread paradise that tv makes it out to be. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up in Newport or Corona or South County or Villa Park, but I think Orange County, and I think of going to high school in Santa Ana, taking the bus with old Latino men who wore cowboy boots and hats and clutched tightly wrapped plastic bags. I don’t know why the bags stick with me so much; probably because it seemed so incongruous with the button shirts, white Stetsons and the gentle swagger of someone who’s probably worn boots since he could walk. What the hell was someone dressed in such a dignified manner doing with a plastic bag from K-Mart?

I think of that when I think of Orange County. I think of rockabilly punks in Fullerton. I think of Little Saigon. I think of learning how to cuss in three or four languages, eating food made by grandmothers from four different continents; I remember strip malls and endless lawns and cul-de-sacs for bike-riding and cookouts at Huntington Beach and the adult bookstores on Harbor on the way to Disneyland. I think of places like Irvine that gave me the willies because of their sameness; everything seemed the same: the architecture, the color scheme, the landscaping, the people, the stores. It also seemed dead, though two of my cousins grew up in Irvine, and they rock, so it’s probably my own stupid bias. Newport was where I went for the dentist and the orthodontist and allergy shots and the dermatologist (though, now that I think about it, how could that be any more bourgeois, unless I was getting a nose job at the same time).

The OC is a state of mind, just like LA is. Los Angeles is a real place, and so is Orange County. Both are more complex and convoluted and alive than the stereotype could ever be, and to think otherwise is a mistake. Neither place is perfect, but they’re real, and that matters for something.

And that’s how we do things in the OC, bitch.