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— I suppose there was a time when I might have stood in or on line for this myself. But these days, no restaurant exists anywhere that is worth standing on the street or even in the hostess area, shifting my weight from one foot to another for 45 minutes. I will wait at the bar.

I should not pick on San Diego; after all, I've lived here for 18 years, and I've become a San Diegan. But living in New York for ten years and Chicago before that conditioned me to have a love/hate relationship with any city I live in. New Yorkers, for example, will stand in line for any number of things, but when it's your turn at the counter, or to get on the bus, or to enter the nightclub, the idea is to just get on with it: let's go, move it.

Southern California is alienating in a different way than New York or Chicago. Southern California is more subtle, more isolating, more lonely in a sense. As many people lived in my building in New York as live in, say, all of Imperial Beach, but engaging in conversation with neighbors was hardly a priority; it was to be avoided. One method of making contact with our neighbors here -- and we seem to want to -- is at the bus stop, in line at Sav-On, or at Pacific Bell in North Park. If conversation isn't established in/on line, your moment in the spotlight arrives when you pay your fare to the bus driver or your phone bill to the clerk behind the glass who is certainly in no hurry.

"I've got it here somewhere, let me see..."

Clerk/bus driver/cashier yawns.

"It's a beautiful day, isn't it? I might just call up my relatives in Maine and tell them the temperature here."

"Yeah, I love to do that. Every year at Christmas I get my picture taken on the beach and send it to my family."

"Hah hah hah. That's great. So, where are you from?"

"Baltimore."

"Really? My aunt lived there when she married a tavern owner. Of course, that lasted a year and then she moved to Wilmington, Delaware...."

This may be the only real human contact you have all day. It is quality time with a stranger. It is your moment to have otherwise inaccessible social intercourse with a human being -- and with a captive audience! -- before you go back to your apartment and watch talk shows.

I am (I think you realize) not referring to the legions of aging yuppies on their car phones in their Lexuses (Lexi?) but the vaster legions of the retired, the unemployed (now there we have real lines despite the financial pundits on TV grinning as they describe a booming economy) the trust-fund surfers, the Navy wives slinging children on their hips, waiting for the aircraft carrier to come back, the divorced wives of the Lexus drivers.

To say nothing of lines for Sea World, the zoo, Hooters, the Rolling Stones concert, or the Super Bowl. These lines consist largely of out-of-towners oblivious to our local brand of sunny, affable, leisurely desperation.

Our ranks are swelling. Even now, in Terra Haute, Moline, Fairbanks, and White Plains, throngs are turning their wintry eyes toward us, standing on line or in line to join us.

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