Generally speaking, Ventura County is a lovely place. It has beautiful weather, decent air quality, low crime and renowned surfing spots.
It's a nice place to look for antiques or raise a family.
It's not so hot for Jewish singles.
I found myself moving there in 2002 for professional reasons related to my career as an editorial cartoonist.
To put it another way: There are more jobs playing pro football in the NFL than there are jobs in my field. And given that I'm lousy at football, I seized an opportunity to combine graphics and cartooning at the Ventura County Star in Ventura. I picked Camarillo as a compromise residence: close enough to commute; a tad closer to Los Angeles.
I soon learned that the heart of Ventura County -- Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura -- is nothing like Los Angeles, and does not really associate itself with Southern California. Local radio ads promote their locations on the "Central Coast" or in the "Tri-Counties." Huh?
(A hint: Los Angeles is not one of the three.)
There's no Jewish Community Center, no Judaica stores and only one sort of "real" deli, though it would never be confused with Art's. The Jewish Journal doesn't even distribute here.
Venturing into the local Jewish singles world, I learned ... well, that there wasn't one. No Israeli folkdance, no SpeedDating, no singles groups. Even basic aspects of dating Jews seemed challenging.
I discovered that the Conejo Grade -- that long, engine-straining climb between the 23 Freeway and the Camarillo outlet mall -- was more like the Berlin Wall for dating. East of it, Thousand Oaks (part of Ventura County) was still extended suburbia, still part of Los Angeles' Jewish Federation. A few MTA buses go there, and its ZIP codes begin with "913" -- almost like the Valley.
But down the hill on the other side, it's a different story. Ventura's Jewish Federation is tiny. The buses all seem to go to Santa Barbara; ZIP codes begin with "930," and agricultural fields abound.
The handful of synagogues seem mostly full of soccer moms or older retirees, with almost nothing in between. But while my 30-to 50-mile treks to the Valley or Los Angeles for singles events led me to eligible women, they also led to the ultimate slam: geographic undesirability. As in: "Whoa, you're way too far away. Sorry."
In the play "Jewtopia" is a scene where one guy encourages his friend to expand his JDate searches beyond area codes 310 and 818 to include area code 805, eliciting a scream, "No way! I am not going to Thousand Oaks!"
I laughed, but thought, "And that's merely the near side of Ventura County!"
My own JDate searches weren't dissimilar. I was too far away to be worthwhile for any "818-er," and there were few compatible "805-ers."
A Ventura County Jewish Singles group bravely took life, but died after several months, caught between low turnout and a lack of volunteers. In this group, as well as with a small Santa Barbara one, it felt as though the same people came to every event.
But now, things have changed for me. One JDater has worked out, wonderfully, all the way to the altar. Even so, Roberta and I have just moved eastward, to Westlake Village (straddling the Ventura-L.A. County line), a move made possible by the upcoming relocation of my office.
And suddenly, a haimish world of possibilities has opened up. There's Roxy's Famous Deli to the west and Agoura Deli to the east. Not only is there a Gelson's, but they actually carry The Jewish Journal, as does Whole Foods (neither of which exist on the flats of the Oxnard Plain). You can actually find Chanukah candles! They've heard of hamantaschen. There are homes nearby with mezuzahs. And the shlep to my family in the Valley or to my preferred shul, Makom Ohr Shalom in Encino, finally has become reasonable.
At the closing of escrow on the townhouse we'd just bought, the seller's agent revealed a secret he'd been waiting to share, spoken in reverent tones: a new branch of Brent's Deli will open soon ... right here in Westlake Village!
OK. I guess I'm a lousy pioneer. I failed to conquer new territory for Jewish singles. I gave up on the outer boonies -- though I'm sure those climes make for lovely homes for many Jewish families.
For that matter, I've given up on singlehood, too.
At last, the years of wandering in the wilderness, geographically and dating-wise, are over. I've made it to the Promised Land. And I'm not just talking about a good pastrami on rye.
Steve Greenberg contributes editorial cartoons, art and occasional writing to The Journal. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.