Ojai: cute, but, at the end of the day, painfully pretentious
Jan 20, 2000
Pros: A really rather pretty town
Cons: Snotty attitude spoils a lot of the pros
Warning to the sensitive: rants and folk song lyrics appear below. -- There is a nifty small-town feel to Ojai; it seems to have escaped the chain store rampage that's overtaken most of the continent. Small boutiques and independent stores and restaurants abound.
This is a debatable advantage. Endless boutique shops with -- this is an absolute first -- nothing I wanted to buy. (Try my Palm Springs review for more on this unique phenomenon.) The restaurants also didn't look exceptional, and, weirder yet, the locals were impolite, saddled with that smug "aren't we just the nicest town" attitude that makes a lot of the smaller California towns unpleasant. (So your daughter mows a celebrity's lawn -- so what?) A bookstore was ill-stocked; dusty out-of-date travel guides and a bizarre selection of fiction and non that was smaller than my own by at least half. Quaint turns irritating quickly when the businesses aren't even trying -- I give Ojai five years before it's naught but a Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart.
Relentless quaint even extended to the Rite-Aid on the edge of the main commercial district, where I found the sort of pharmacist you normally only ever see in line drawings on the side of pharmacy bags: a bright and kindly bespectacled fellow who had no problem with tracking down my forgotten and rather missed Pill. It's hard to explain, but this is the first time I've ever hit on a useful pharmacist in a Rite-Aid, and it was a real redeeming feature of Ojai. Note the clever and not-so-subtle use of "damning with faint praise" in this paragraph!
Bar none, the weirdest thing about Ojai was its city-wide protest against -- horrors -- the idea of having to pay to park in the adjacent National Forest. Like Washington is listening to your ugly-as-sin painted hippie signs plastered all over the town. The sixties are long gone, Ojai; get over yourself. Astute readers will have noted the bias here: I live in the middle of a National Forest, and permits are, bar none, the best thing to happen to American land since Woody Guthrie. Either Ojai is so tourist-greedy it can't see the forest for the trees (sorry; irresistible pun), or it's just plain cheap and short-sighted. Permits are a trivial expense, and go towards cleaning up after slobs, and putting out fires, and other things that make forests actual attractions. A good number of the local stores had this "KEEP THE FOREST $FREE$" business going on in their windows; I can only guess at what prompted the mass outbreak of indignant, self-righteous lunacy. Reading the Ojai paper wasn't any help; all it told me was that Ojaians who write letters to the local alternapaper are as self-righteous as Ojai shopkeepers.
Back to the Woody Guthrie business. This isn't so much a travel review, for which I apologize, as a diatribe on Ojai's rather schizophrenic view of natural resources and speculation on the reasons for same.
This land is your land, this land is my land From California, to the New York Island From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters This land was made for you and me
Accommodation caters to the "spa" crowd (to absurd extent, I thought), and, well, I'm not really sure who else. One shopkeeper simply asked "which spa" we were at. Note to Ojai businesspeople: week-end getaways are possible and pleasant without facials.
As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there And that sign said - no tresspassin' But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin! Now that side was made for you and me!
Ojai also has the curious distinction of being one of those oft-flogged "celebrity retreats." There are indeed a pile of people with too much money living in Ojai, as was made clear by some gated areas and over-priced items. This might partially account for the strange attitude.
It doesn't excuse the poverty there, though. Ojai seemed to go straight from well-heeled-hippie to people not wearing shoes because they couldn't afford it, not because they didn't want to.
In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple Near the relief office - I see my people And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin' If this land's still made for you and me.
It would be a sorry place to be poor, too. You remember pulling those little bits of nifty-coloured wire out of the ground as a kid? Maybe making bracelets out of them if you were a girl, or tying them on your bike in some way? Yes, yes, that wire. There was some sticking out of the ground in a sort of back alley around the shops, and I couldn't say no -- I pulled. A twerp in full golfing regalia came around the corner. I was cruelly made fun of! By an ugly yuppie!
Weekend relaxation shot to @#%*, thank you, Ojai. All the pretentiousness and poverty of Los Angeles (or anywhere else you might be trying to temporarily escape from) are here, with little to recommend it.
People who found something to like about Ojai -- and I realize there are a lot of you -- are invited to hit 'Write a counter-epinion!' and elaborate. Don't take offense, please. It really looks lovely, but all I got was a lot of unpleasantness once I looked past that veneer.
Based solely on the parts of California that I've been too (San Diego and Temecula), California gets a five star rating from me. Some of the friendliest people I've ever met were in the Temecula area, and to be honest, I never expected that from California.
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