Tangerine Brigham directs the office of managed care at the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services; previously, she directed Healthy San Francisco, a program that subsidized medical care for the city’s uninsured. Before participating in a panel on what San Francisco can teach Obamacare, she talked about why she keeps her old jeans, her problem with the word “passion,” and her love of dancing in the Zócalo green room.
Describe yourself in five words or less.
I guess I would say I am a committed but intense public servant.
What are you keeping in your closet that you should have thrown out already?
Absolutely nothing because I think that everything recycles in a life. So yes, I do have those jeans that I wore 12 years ago because I will fit back into them. And you can write that down!
What’s the most unexpected difference between San Francisco and L.A.?
Replicability—just the ability to do something across such a large geographic region.
Did you have any nicknames as a kid?
I was born in the ’60s, when not everyone had an unusual name, so they weren’t nice nicknames. “Grapefruit,” “Kumquat,” “Orange,” “Tangent,” “Tangential,” because some kid in geometry figured out they have the same six letters.
What superpower would you most like to have?
I should channel my nephew, who’s a big Marvel fan—Marvel superheroes have human foils, which makes them more realistic. I guess it would be to be able to read people’s minds. I’d like to know what people really think of me, honestly. But maybe not!
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
How easily and readily younger people use the word “passion.” I think that it is really good in life to work on things that allow you to actually expand your skillset, but which you might not be passionate about. Because you can learn, number one, and number two, passion can be a double-edged sword if you are so blinded by your passion that you let other things escape you.
What’s the last board game you played, and where did you play it?
Scrabble. That was probably on some flight—I play it by myself, I play it with people. I like board games.
What teacher or professor, if any, changed your life?
My chemistry teacher, Mr. Stuck, because Mr. Stuck taught a class in interpersonal communications in addition to being our chemistry teacher at Venice High in Los Angeles. I liked him. I thought he was very insightful about people in addition to being a very fun chemistry teacher. Whether he changed my life, who knows?
What do you consider beautiful?
Inner beauty, generally—someone who is kind, someone who is thoughtful. People who do things without the expectation of being recognized.
What does it take to get you out on a dance floor?
Not much. I dance all the time. I’ll dance to anything. I’ve done zydeco. I do zumba every week. It’s really, what does it take to get me off a dance floor?