By Rhea Mahbubani
2:43 PM PST, December 23, 2013
Earlier this month, I interviewed my two youngest sources: 10-year-old Maxx and 7-year-old Helena Solomonian.
Standing on the porch of his Corona del Mar home, Maxx blurted, "I knew you're Indian because I watched 'Life of Pi' and you sound like him." Oh, the joys of being a child.
As I shook with mirth, I felt warmed by more than the California sun.
In the past year, my role as features reporter for Times Community News has showered me with many such pleasant surprises. I've chatted with children, sitting cross-legged in their brightly colored rooms, laughed and cried with sources and made friends with publicists.
Born in a small city that no one's heard of, though, I spent my initial days here pinching myself as if trying to awaken from a Technicolor dream. Accustomed to narrow Indian streets, dotted by animals, jaywalkers and two-, three- and four-wheelers, I struggled to wrap my mind around the fact that I was driving down Pacific Coast Highway while waves frothed nearby.
But, the next morning, I'd get a call from yet another artist who "loooooved" a story. So, although I got on with my day, I could never quite shake the wide-eyed wonder. And for that, I'm thankful.
Ruth Mayer of Laguna Beach was among my first local connections, and as she narrated her experience of meeting Pope John Paul II, I began my virtual tour of the world. Sitting in Costa Mesa, thanks to my laundry list of stories, I've spent time in every imaginable city in the United States, as well as Thailand, Russia, the Philippines, South Africa, Australia, Monte Carlo and elsewhere.
A disproportionate amount of that time was spent in Irvine, namely in its City Council chambers. Inside, I got my first brush with the Orange County Great Park in the form of an eight-hour meeting that lasted into the wee hours of the next morning. I also witnessed the ripple effects of the murders by former LAPD Officer Christopher Dorner.
This horror and indignation was offset by opportunities to write about Broadway shows, ballet and beaches. Thanks to Tom Everhart and Alan Ross, proteges of heavy-hitters Charles Schulz and Ansel Adams, respectively, I learned the meaning of magnanimity, dedication and dumb luck. I was also able to peel back some layers to the onions that are Kenny G, Roger Daltrey, Counting Crows and Common Sense.
Mere days after my younger brother nearly succumbed to bacterial meningitis, I heard about Kaitlyn Dobrow, an athletic Huntington Beach teenager. Diagnosed with the same illness, she endured multiple surgeries, including amputations. I remember writing a section of that story, taking refuge in the restroom while tears flowed for my brother and the Dobrow family, and then returning to my computer to write some more.
The emotional roller coaster included another sheer drop when Orange County musicians banded together to raise money for then-two-week old Poppy DaSilva, whose father Christian died in a motorcycle accident several months before she was born.
Although each week was simultaneously challenging and satisfying, some articles twirled me into the worlds of dulcimers, clog dancers and surprise marriage proposals, while others permitted me to shake hands with Martin Short and watch Bernadette Peters strut her stuff atop a piano. Before I knew it, the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Huntington Beach Art Center and Laguna Art Museum became my favorite haunts, as did the grounds that hosted the Sawdust Art Festival, Art-A-Fair, Festival of the Arts and Pageant of the Masters.
But the fun didn't stop there.
Adam Brody, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Taylor Hicks, Dennis Haysbert, Ethan Embry, Michael Gladis and Adam and Alan Arkin — that's just a small sampling of the star power (and testosterone) that the Newport Beach Film Festival brought my way.
I would be lying if I said that my favorite moments didn't include a Backstreet Boys concert and Bon Jovi performance. But it's also true that I drew equal amounts of pleasure from a note in which a couple credited me for starting a "positive rhythm" in their lives, an email informing me that my story had connected two friends, saving one from an eating disorder, and the discovery of just how much Joe Lewis, the dean of UC Irvine's Claire Trevor School of the Arts, loves music.
Now, a new year is just around the corner. It will bring new experiences, obstacles and pleasures. I'm sure it can top the year that's on its way out, but even if it doesn't, I reckon I've already won.