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I guess that's the price of living in a place that's a popular tourist attraction. San Diego is a destination on top of a settlement. And the people who've landed here and stayed seem to be taller, blonder, richer, healthier, sillier, and more artificial than the Americans who landed elsewhere. In general.

And that's to say nothing of the price exacted on a person when he or she grows up in paradise. Why travel elsewhere, when everything's perfect right here? Few of San Diego's children see much beyond San Diego, which means that each new generation experiences less of the world than the last.

So surfing beats Sartre; beaches outshine Beethoven; and it's jogging, not Giacometti. I guess that's what we get for being simmered in endless summer.

MISSIONS

San Diego was the birthplace of California, home to the first Catholic mission on the West Coast. When I first came here, I too was on a mission. To build a better life, to convert San Diego from a town into a hometown, to make of this place a haven that could sustain me. When the Catholic missionaries came to San Diego, they wanted the natives to believe in their god.

"Mission" comes from the same root word as "missile." Both are "sent" things, and both are generally violent. Unlike a missile, a mission claims to hold the thing it is sent to destroy in high regard; a mission claims that it will make things better.

Father Junípero Serra was the first missionary to bring Catholicism to California. He was 5´2´´, asthmatic, and he suffered from a chronic sore on his leg. The Native Americans, too holistic and gentle and attuned to nature's cycles, were not generally receptive to the teachings of Serra and the other friars. Perhaps they had their own sense of mission. Of course, that didn't matter. Missionaries, especially Catholic ones, are nothing if not persistent.

San Diego's been good to me, but I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything. For my two cents, I say weigh the options, arrive at personal decisions, make your own missions.

NAVY

Lieutenant Commander Patrick McNally, a San Diegan for the past three years, is stationed with the Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet in Coronado.

Q: What does it mean to say that San Diego is a "Navy Town"?

PM: To some extent, the Navy has shaped the identity of San Diego. A lot of Navy people bring their families here to live, like I did, so we have a lot of new and old Navy families living here. And there's all the tradition. You know, the Navy's been here for almost 100 years. You look through some of those old Navy books, and you find out that this is where they did some of the first flights in Naval aviation. And you know, all during World War II, this was a real hub for producing Naval officers. There's such a tradition here as far as the Navy goes, you know, along with Norfolk, Virginia, which is maybe the only other city that can compete with San Diego as a Navy town. So I think a lot of people think of San Diego that way, as being a Navy town, and that's something San Diego can be very proud of.

Q: Do you think being a Navy town makes us safer? Or does it make us more of a target?

PM: I think all cities are targets, to some extent. But I don't know if having the Navy here makes us safer, or less of a target. I do think it's nice to have all these assets here, no doubt about that.

OCEAN

Out here, the ocean's on the wrong side. East is west and west is east; it's all reversed. I was weaned on an Atlantic orientation, and, four years removed from my first day in San Diego, I still drive miles in the wrong direction. And what's with this ocean's name? The waves here are huge, anything but pacific! Pretty ironic.

I have a friend who believes in something he calls "ocean deprivation." He says people who live away from an ocean suffer even if they don't know it. He insists that humanity needs to replenish itself from time to time in the seas from which it was born. But I've never felt much of a need for the ocean: I prefer inland water. Unfortunately, of San Diego's 22 lakes, all 22 are man-made. And the rivers are more like creeks, or turgid mudflats.

And yet. One of these days, I want you to take a field trip. Check out the ocean from the Torrey Pines Gliderport above Black's Beach. Open up your awe and just gape at the oceanic vastness; marvel at how that magnitude of water lolls and sprawls and never stops moving. Then drive down into Pacific Beach and head west on Law Street, from Ingraham Avenue over toward the very extremity of the United States. Watch how the ocean seems to rise up in front of you to swallow the road. It's uncanny. From here you can really tell: San Diego is the end of the line, the westernmost, the westest.

PETCO PARK

Take me downtown to the ballgame / Take me downtown to the crowd / Although there'll be traffic and I can't park, / I'll stay there till long after dark...

I lived for a little while in Denver, Colorado, back before they built Coors Field downtown. That ballpark changed the face of Denver. Where once had been low rents, empty lots, and extensive warehouses, now there are shops and stores and prime real estate. A friend of mine tells me the same thing happened in Seattle when they built Safeco Field. (A much better name than "Petco Park." I don't care how beautiful our stadium is, how do you compete for respect and championships when you play at a place called "Petco"?)

For the past three years, I've been envisioning the benefits to Gaslamp businesses, the profits that would come from having 30,000 people descend upon downtown 81 times a year. I've been telling anyone who will listen, "Just you watch. When that stadium goes in, it's going to change everything."

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