16 September 2009


Another brilliant evolution of the internet, what has become the meeting place of the millennium, as much or more than the information highway it was promoted to be. For better and for worse: All the maniacs of the world can find each other on-line, build bombs, organize terror, perpetuate the politics of fear. Old friends and new also find each other, tearful reunions, loving connections, matches.

Enter the MeetUp group called ex-east-coasters, Orange County branch. More than 300 transplants to southern California, who still hanker for the accent and eccentricity of fellow east coast types. MeetUp makes that possible. These ducks out of east coast waters [largely New Yorkers] gather together frequently for everything from a casual dinner to a Labor Day barbecue, Monday night football kick-off or a glass of wine before a volunteer gig. A message to all members in memory of 911 surely cemented the bond.

Sunday evening I joined in my first “meeting” – dinner at a Laguna Beach restaurant offering a $20 three-course meal as part of the annual OC Restaurant Week. Only eight of us, all former New Yorkers, or at least tri-state, and most who knew each other, but of course, as New Yorkers, they welcomed me into the fold with open arms. Seven women, roughly 50+ and one man, an Italian hairdresser with an accent so redolent of the lower east side he might have gone to the Bob DeNiro school of language. Forgedaboudit.

And therein lies the surreality of the evening. We sat on an upper level patio, west coast evening sea breezes blowing softly, candlelight flickering through hurricane lamps, a peek-a-boo view of the Pacific on our radar and tans on our faces… a summer portrait of the good life in the OC, contrasted sharply with accents so thick one might cut with the proverbial knife, 16 hands moving simultaneously to punctuate multiple conversations, lots of hair, eastern European faces, crosses and stars of David hanging from elegant chains, loud voices and lots of laughter, and the requisite angst over the menu and the subsequent special requests, and, in the end, vociferous complaints over dinner served too slowly so food wasn’t hot and a shortage of items on the menu, even so early in the evening, so much so that the organizer called the manager to the table, complained not bitterly but forcefully, and the whole meal was comped! Only in New York. Or rather, New York in the OC.

I sat struck by the contrasts. And when Leo, our resident male, remarked that he’d been in California thirty years [neither sun nor surf had marred one bit of his downtown persona] and had the best of both worlds because he fraternized largely with “like kind” I understood exactly what he was saying. Something so familiar, so comfortable, as if a family reunion at that table, even among strangers. Peas in a pod, if you get my drift.

Bravo to meetup.org for making such things possible. It is a comfort knowing that one can get a New York fix just down the road, now and then, although surely not the real thing. Nothing like the big apple, but, when needed, a delightful bite.