Not very long ago this neighborhood was a secret refuge for odd people.
The cheap apartments were rented by hardworking families busy raising more kids than they could afford. The run-down houses were rented by gangs of dyed-hair, malcontent, creative misfits busy making good music, bad paintings, or brash claims of writing their generation's On the Road.
But that South Park is disappearing.
The families and artistes are being displaced by more homogeneous people, people able and eager to pay $450,000 for a tiny California bungalow or Craftsman house built 80 years ago on a crumbling slab of homemade concrete.
But I still dig South Park.
Where I live, no major high-volume road cuts apart the 'hood. People can cross the street without becoming dead. The sprawling, amoeba-shaped Balboa Park Municipal Golf Course and dozens of grid-busting canyons have made a rabbit warren of the streets. Almost daily, drivers of SUVs with kids strapped into seats staring at TV screens pull over to beg me for directions out of the maze.
Where I live, I can buy a handmade Bolivian sweater or a novel by a local author in the Grove at Juniper, and next door I can join 50 people spilling out of the doorway of M-Theory Music and dancing on the sidewalk while amped-up, guitar-wielding former members of the band Convoy have at it inside the dinky store.
Where I live, the Whistle Stop Bar welcomes dogs. As I drink pints of Stone porter, Dude, my golden retriever, sprawls on the concrete floor, his head inches from the red water bowl, and I pretend I'm in Ireland. Knitters are welcome here too. Some Sunday afternoons Dude and I are joined by swarms of women (and a few men) who occupy every barstool and table and pump dollars into one of the three best jukeboxes in San Diego. While Curtis Mayfield or the Pretenders or Ray Charles provides the soundtrack, these people chat and laugh and knit scarves, afghans, and sweaters.
Where I live, I can enjoy a veggie omelet at the Big Kitchen, dining with a life-size cardboard cutout of Jerry Garcia. I can stare at the local-celeb memorabilia and photos and fan letters thumbtacked three layers deep on the walls. Or I can join other customers in a discussion of the Bush Doctrine, and American jihad versus Muslim jihad.
Where I live, I can linger over my morning coffee under a shade tree at Santos café on Beech Street while jets on the landing path to Lindbergh Field carry hundreds of people from all over the world just 300 feet above me. Moments after each roaring jet passes, it's quiet enough for me to hear the birds singing and my dog at my feet on the sidewalk yawning. And in that quiet, I can hear the wake made by the descending jet, an electric crackling across the sky.