When Zoe Nicholson shouted, Barack Obama heard. In a Los Angeles auditorium this past April, in the midst of Obama’s speech to the Democratic faithful, Nicholson began yelling about “equality.” The president stopped, looked in Nicholson’s direction and asked, “I’m sorry—do you want to come up here?”
Nicholson, who’d come with a group of similarly vocal local activists, did want to. But within seconds, the 62-year-old Newport Beach resident was being whisked away by Secret Service agents. That was okay; her message had gotten across. The party faithful wanted Obama to keep his promise to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the military’s ban on openly gay service members.
It’s been an eventful year in the eventful life of Nicholson, a longtime advocate for the rights of women and gay people. Back in the early 1980s—when she still ran a small bookstore on Balboa Peninsula in the space that is now Alta Coffee—she participated in a hunger strike in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. This year, she helped celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred complete a public fast for the same cause. She also starred in the gay-rights documentary March On and coached Tustin-raised former Army Lieutenant Dan Choi in his hunger strike against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She’s at the center of a new radical movement—but for her, it’s not new.
“While I might go and interrupt the president, I still go to the movies on Fridays and shop at Ralphs,” she says. “I’m just another Orange County resident who cares deeply about equality for everyone.”
1. Visit Extreme Beauty.
“The roses at Roger’s Gardens are unparalleled. When they do the front room with the decorated trees [for the holidays], there’s nothing more glamorous and beautiful.” 2301 San Joaquin Hills Rd., Corona del Mar, (949) 640-5800; www.rogersgardens.com.
2.Die In Craft Heaven.
“Paper Source has very high-end, elegant, beautiful paper goods and the best display of greeting cards and rubber stamps. If you’re a crafter, it’s heavenly.” 3333 Bear St., Ste. 125, Costa Mesa, (714) 957-8555; www.paper-source.com.
3. Eat a Great Meal.
The grilled-cheese-and-lobster sandwich with tomato soup at Tommy Bahama’s Island Grille is Nicholson’s go-to birthday meal. “It’s unbelievable,” she says. “No, it’s crazy.” Corona del Mar Plaza, 854 Avocado Ave., Newport Beach, (949) 760-8686; www.tommybahama.com.
4. Shop for Luxury Items—But Not With Cash.
“My brother and his wife send me these fabulous Nordstrom gift cards for birthdays and Christmas. I save them up like bullion, and then walk around as if I’m a wealthy person for a moment.” Various locations; www.nordstrom.com.
5. Have Some Pride.
“The big news was that the NOH8 Campaign was at this year’s OC Pride Festival. They photograph people with duct tape over their mouths and ‘NO H8’ on their cheeks. They started photographing at 1 p.m., and they didn’t stop until everyone was done. That was really extraordinary that they were here in Orange County.” www.prideoc.com.
6. Celebrate Your Size.
“If you’re going to go shopping, and you can only go one place, and you’re a plus-size woman, Macy’s at South Coast Plaza would be my first choice.” 3333 Bear St., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-3333; www.macys.com.
7. Know When to Go to Disneyland. “On the second Wednesday in December, there is no crowd, the Christmas decorations are up, and the strolling carolers are singing. Main Street is like a painting.” 1313 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 781-4565; www.disneyland.com.
8. Go to William Harold Jewelers.
“They’ve been there forever. Any fabulous thing I’ve ever bought, I’ve bought there. I trust them entirely.” 3116 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 673-0365; www.williamharoldjewelers.com.
9. Fly From OC.
“John Wayne Airport is the cutest, easiest one in the country, and if you are running late, you can even valet your car.” 18601 Airport Way, Santa Ana; ocair.com.
10. Visit Your Own History.
“There still is the face of the carpenter up in a false window inside Alta Coffee. The crazy doors to the patio that I hung, they’re still there. Who can believe that?” 506 31st St., Newport Beach, (949) 675-0233; www.altacoffeeshop.com.