I wrote under "Future Plans" in my 1978 high school yearbook: "Moving to Lemon Grove." I'd never been west of the last Stuckey's in St. Louis, but I'd just clipped a magazine article pitching the Grove's purported "Best Climate on Earth," which sounded pretty cool to a kid who'd just had to scrape a frozen cat off the car hood.
The article had little useful info, being culled from High Times and mainly concerned with marijuana cultivation, but I figured I'd wing it and went searching for the giant lemon that looked so impressively kitschy in magazine photos. The fiberglass lemon (a float from a 1928 parade) repeats on its pedestal that chimerical promise of the planet's most perfect weather. It's been moved about 100 yards from where I found it in 1980, now sitting at the corner of Main and Broadway, still kitschy enough to be described by one wag as "the biggest and most ostentatious fruit on Broadway since Nathan Lane."
Lemon Grove's very name conjures up the citrus orchards from which the community sprang in 1892, though a Google search reveals that L.G. wasn't incorporated until 1977. Now the town has an even mix of businesses and residences and a racial mix of whites, Hispanics, and blacks, thanks to a community focus on "acceptance and diversity," proudly proclaimed on many of those same Googled hits, most of which sprinkle "best climate on earth" somewhere among the first few keywords. The cyber-saturation of this motto/sales pitch evinces a savvy civic PR campaign far more alluring and ultimately effective than a giant fiberglass lemon would at first have you believe.
I've spent a lot of time about a block north of the lemon, at the trolley station on the west side of Lemon Grove Avenue just north of Broadway, where the climate rapidly goes from sunny in the daytime to overcast with frequent shady characters at night. Built in 1986, the station is a replica of the original 1895 rail building. Its hazards range from mild panhandling to aggressive flirting up to violent crime — not as bad as at some trolley stops, but riders and even passersby are advised to be aware, be prepared, and be sensible. No conversation in Lemon Grove that begins with a stranger calling out, "Yo, hey, c'mere, check this out" ever goes well.
I haven't had to scrape a frozen cat off anything in Lemon Grove, though a fox once appeared in the back yard and tried to eat my pet duck. He was a very fat duck, and even friends kinda drooled when they saw him. Possums and snakes showed up regularly to chase him around his kiddie pool, and once I was pushing him into the garage when a skunk jumped out from behind the door to spray us both, inspiring an endless tirade of quacking invectives as the duck blamed me for herding him into the line of fire. That's a lot of wildlife for an increasingly urbanized tract of land (explaining why the duck slept in a garage). The duck was technically "wildlife" too, at least by county standards, and illegal to keep as a pet. I still managed to find plenty for him to eat at Lemon Grove Pets on Broadway. They specialize in reptiles who also drooled at the sight of my duck, including large and feisty trade-ins from owners who'd grown frightened of their angry, hissing, ever-expanding dragons.
I took my feathered friend into every Asian restaurant in Lemon Grove and asked, "Do you serve duck?" Not a single one was willing to bring him a plate of broccoli and rice — though a few, between drools, offered to buy him! So much for acceptance and diversity.