Commentary by Bill Buchanan
Coming out of the grocery store the other day, I saw a license plate that read, LUVOHI. It made me smile. The plate was a testament to the joy of living in a great town.
And while there are downsides to any city, Ojai is by far the nicest small town in which I have lived, and I have lived in eight others. We have the best of both worlds —- small-town quality of life but with many amenities you would usually find only in a much larger city. We have unique shopping, great hotels, world-class entertainment and outstanding restaurants. Add to that the sheer beauty of the Ojai valley and the surrounding mountains, and it’s just about as perfect a community as I can imagine.
We are spoiled here. I know from experience. I have lived in some dumps. Not all of my eight previous towns were bad, but none came close to the package here. The license plate made me think about some of my previous homes.
One of my early jobs was in Hot Springs, S.D., in the late ‘70s. It was a nice little western town in the Black Hills about 30 miles from Mount Rushmore. I liked the people, and the country was beautiful. Think of the stunning vistas in “Dances with Wolves,” and you get the picture. I arrived in April, and enjoyed a beautiful spring and summer; then the reality of a South Dakota winter arrived about the middle of November. Growing up in the South, I always said I could stand the cold better than the heat. I didn’t know what I was talking about. The cold was bone chilling. At one point during the winter, the thermometer never rose above 10 degrees below zero for two weeks. That entire winter felt like sitting naked on a block of ice.
Later, we moved to south Louisiana, about an hour from New Orleans. It was great being close to the city, and the food in south Louisiana is wonderful. But at times, I felt like I was in a foreign country. The French influence is very strong, and at first I had a tough time understanding the dialect and the surnames. I was used to Smith and Jones. I was not ready for Thibodaux (pronounced “tib-a-dough”) and Scioneaux (“see-a-no”), much less Oubre (“oob”) and Lieux (“leer”). It is easier to turn left on Ojai Avenue than to spell and pronounce those names. By the time I learned, it was time to leave for north Louisiana, where I had been transferred.
Ojai is very fortunate to have as its largest employer the beautiful Ojai Valley Inn & Spa — a world-class resort right at our fingertips. The largest employer in Bastrop, La. was a paper mill. For the uninitiated, here’s a lesson: paper mills smell nothing like paper. They smell like a hog farm. The water quality was the worst I have ever seen. We rented a cooler and had 5-gallon jugs of water delivered to our house on a regular basis when we discovered that tap water in Bastrop resulted in beige ice cubes. A local told us that before the pesky EPA showed up, waste water from the mill drained directly into the stream running through the middle of town.
And then, there was West Virginia. There is a line in the great movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter” about employment prospects in post-war eastern Kentucky. One guy tells another that his options are “coal minin’, moonshinin’ or movin’ on down the line.” The same statement could have applied to western West Virginia in the late ‘70s. Ava and I were married in Madison, W.V. in 1978, and the hardworking third- and fourth-generation Appalachian coal miners living there had just emerged from a three-month-long strike. The mood was delicate, to say the least. When we answered an ad for a house to rent, we were given directions to a remote “holler” tucked far back in the fog-shrouded mountains. We finally arrived, and parked the car in front of the landlady’s house. She came out and pointed to a little cabin about a quarter-mile up a steep hill. It, too, was straight out of “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” When we asked about access to the house, she answered, “Well, if you have a truck, you can drive across the creek when it ain’t too high.”
Ojai may not be perfect, but it’s pretty close.