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For locals, it's no mystery how fish tacos came to be the signature fare of San Diego. Fish tacos were a staple of Baja cuisine many years before Ralph Rubio, a business major at San Diego State, first got a whiff of them while on spring break in 1974. Rubio was so smitten by the delicacy that he coaxed a recipe out of a friendly Mexican vendor named Carlos. After a few years spent perfecting his taco technique, Rubio opened his own restaurant.

And the rest is part of local, political, business, sports, and culinary history.

GATED COMMUNITIES

See Johnny. Johnny lives cleanly and safely. Not a care and not a worry. To visit Johnny, you can't just drop by unannounced; you'll have to call first. And on your way, make sure to say "hi" to the friendly security guard!

The streets inside Johnny's community are spotless. Children of the same race and the same economic class play together in the green yards. That's Johnny's house on the left, a beige prefab luxury residence with gables, a garage, brass lamps, and green bushes, next door to beige prefab luxury residences with gables, garages, brass lamps, and green bushes the same.

The yards are green and the bushes are green and the lawns and trees and roadsides at Johnny's are green, green, green. Yet everyone in the vicinity lives maintenance-free because the residents pay hefty monthly fees for screened immigrant workers to care for their gated community.

Johnny's green back yard extends to a high concrete barrier. From inside, Johnny's parents will insist that they're not elitist, antisocial, or exclusionary. Over the barrier lies the rest of the messy world: the traffic and crime and the people with poor values and salaries. Johnny's parents explain that the barrier provides opportunity and safety.

Johnny lives without a care and scarcely worries. Let's go! Let's call ahead and visit Johnny. We can sit by his pool and sip virgin daiquiris.

HEALTHY

It must be something in the sunlight. Or is it the wheatgrass? Pilates? Private trainers? Bottled water?

Many an involuntary guttural grunt, low lengthy whistle, or exaggerated "da-a-a-amn" have I instinctively expressed at the spectacle of the San Diego physique. So much exposed and bronzed and blonde and toned. I admit I cast a warmer eye as pretty girls pass by.

Mellow sunshine lines our features differently, lightens one's visible mood. Elsewhere in our beloved country, so many people make themselves uglier by chronic frowning. Happily, hardly anyone in healthy San Diego suffers from the scowls...

INTERSTATES

Back where I'm from, you take I-95 North all the way, or exit to I-91, then I-90 East, and in an hour you'll hit the suburbs of Boston. Those vital, congested highways all have four lanes in New England, maybe six at most, nothing terribly super about them.

Then I moved out here and heard folks mentioning "the 15" and "the 8" and "the 805 South." Excuse me, the 5? The five what? Are all other 5s simply fives, one 5, a 5, this 5, just any old 5? There are plenty of eights, but the one that's a highway is the 8?

Yes, these great western thoroughfares often do swell to eight lanes, even ten. But are we saying that the sheer width of the highways on this side of the U.S. warrants a "the"?

Regardless, in our San Diego vernacular, western interstates have earned the article of exclusivity, a distinction, like the mark of royalty.

JUAN RODRÍGUEZ CABRILLO

Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was the first white man to set foot on the California coast. Sailing from his home in Guatemala on behalf of the Spanish crown, he sought riches and a fabled route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

On September 28, 1542, Cabrillo reached "a very good enclosed port," which he named "San Miguel." Sixty years later, Sebastian Vizcaíno would land here and rename the bay and the town that had emerged around it in honor of a Spanish Franciscan, San Diego de Alcalá. Though Cabrillo discovered little gold and no interoceanic link in his voyages of exploration, he helped expand the reach of the Spanish Empire and he established vital trade routes. And surely Cabrillo took solace in his pretty consolation prize.

Today, one of the oldest lighthouses on the West Coast stands in a park in Point Loma bearing Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo's name.

KATE SESSIONS

San Diego possesses an astonishing range of flowers, trees, and vegetation, hardly any of it indigenous. The poinsettias, the junipers, the queen palms, the pepper trees: all had to be brought to this browned and yellowed land and nurtured.

One of the most instrumental people to undertake the greening of San Diego was the ever-industrious Kate Sessions. Owner of a flower shop and numerous nurseries, Sessions cofounded the San Diego Floral Association in 1906. As the supervisor of agriculture for the city schools, she planted gardens throughout the city that provided San Diego's children an opportunity to learn the basics of plant identification and horticulture.

But Balboa Park is where Kate Sessions truly made her mark. Named "City Gardener" in 1892, she leased land in what was then called "City Park" for a nursery. In exchange for the city's largesse, she agreed to plant one hundred trees a year in the park over a decade and provide three hundred more to distribute throughout the city. A tree that she planted with her own hands can be found on the southwest corner of First and Walnut.

The "Mother of Balboa Park" died March 24, 1940, at the age of 82. A statue of Sessions stands in the park as a tribute to her life and work.

LACK OF INDOOR CULTURE

Be honest. Who here reads? I'm not talking magazines or websites or CD-ROMs or newspapers; I mean poetry, novels, philosophy, "real" books. And who pursues the parlor arts of rhetoric and conversation? How many San Diegans play musical instruments or seriously engage in painting or sculpture?

Okay, lots of locals are into the arts, I know. But I've met fewer artistic types in San Diego than anywhere else I've ever lived. (I know we may want to defend ourselves against this possibly ridiculous charge and cite various statistics regarding the performing arts and local Nobelists, but, really, can we defend even a large minority of this fair city?) It seems that for every artist here, for every scholar, thinker, and reader, there are five or ten shallow, superficial, sun bum nonintellectuals.

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