I’ll never forget my early days here in the East Valley. It was in the spring of 1999. I relocated myself and my family from my native Huntington Beach, Calif., to Gilbert, and then launched a new morning talk show on a thennew local radio station.
And at about the same time that I moved in, so did two new restaurant chains.
One was Krispy Kreme donuts. At the time I had never heard of Krispy Kreme — which wasn’t terribly surprising since they were from the East Coast and I was from the West — and frankly, the words “crispy” and “cream” together sounded horribly unsavory.
“Oh, but they’re awesome,” my producer at the radio station told me (he was from Ohio). “They’re always fresh. The little light in the window goes on when they take them out of the oven. They have a cult following in other cities.”
I generally try to avoid donuts at every turn, but given all the “raving” going on at the time, I did a segment on the radio “celebrating” Krispy Kreme’s arrival in the Valley.
The other restaurant to arrive in the Valley at about the same time was an outfit that’s a native Californian, just like me — In-N-Out Burger. “But they really are awesome,” I explained to my colleague from Ohio. “There’s plenty of good reason to wait in line for their food.” And knowing In-N-Out as I did, I understood very well what it meant for a chain of restaurants to embody a cult following.
Well, that was 1999. And now, eight years later, Krispy Kreme has vanished, and In-N-Out Burger is going strong. That’s no great surprise, given the huge numbers of Californians moving into the Grand Canyon state.
However, while plenty of other people have noted the “Californication” (thanks to the Red Hot Chili Peppers for this clever term) of Arizona, I want to take the analysis a step further with this observation: more than any other region of the state, the East Valley is trying to pretend that it’s on the Southern California coast.
Rightly or wrongly, East Valley municipalities are attempting to convey to Southern California immigrants in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways that, gosh, “You’re not that far from home.”
This effort reaches far beyond the presence of certain stores and restaurants, and has more to do with the naming of streets and landmarks. I suppose I first noticed the more subtle approach to this a few years ago, when a new shopping center along the Gilbert-Mesa border was named “Dana Village.” At the time, the name struck me as that of a gift shop near the pier at Dana Point, Calif. — but I didn’t think much more of it.
But as time has passed, and as the East Valley population has exploded, the California coastal “wannabe” tendency has become more obvious. And the folks who are generally the first to propose the names of new streets — the property developers themselves — are quite happy to play the “wannabe” game, along with everyone else.
You think I’m exaggerating? Consider some recent street names in my hometown of Gilbert. “Coast,” “Ocean,” “Edgewater,” and “Marina” would seem to have nothing to do with the Arizona desert, and sound right at home for the person with San Diego or Orange County sensibilities. Of course, those names are just non-specific enough to please a person from the Atlantic or Gulf Coast regions as well.
But then there’s “Capistrano.” Gosh, could it be that someone was thinking of, oh, I don’t know, San Juan Capistrano, perhaps?
And here’s a street that’s difficult not to love for a boardrider dude like me: “Newport Beach.” Oooh, I want to buy a home there — and go surfing the next day.
“I don’t mind references to sail boats and ocean waves, and dolphins are cool, too,” says Andy Biggs with a laugh. An Arizona native and Gilbert resident who serves in the Arizona House of Representatives, Biggs explained that, while streets and neighborhoods in the East Valley used to reflect the names of farming families who first settled the region, today “‘Danni California’ has taken over the process of naming our streets” (another reference to those crazy Red Hot Chili Peppers).
So In-N-Out Burger continues to grow. And people buy and sell houses on Seacrest Street and Emerald Coast Drive. And I’ve got no problem with that.
But I think Biggs‘ final analysis of all this is something we should all keep in mind: “These names bear little or no resemblance to the Arizona desert.”
Austin Hill of Gilbert hosts a talk show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on KKNT (960 AM), and is co-author of “White House Confidential: The Little Book of Weird Presidential History.” He is also an editorialist for the national news and commentary site Townhall.com. Contact him via e-mail at