People here see how it all fits together — earth, sea and sun; spirit touching flesh. Where I grew up, they just hope they can make it through the suffocating summers and the character-testing ferocity of the winters. Here, we chart the year in the percentages of sun on any given day; there, they pray it will just be a snowstorm January instead of an ice storm February. It’s old versus new; resignation versus renewal; time lost versus the golden days still to come.
I live in Pacific Beach now and I’m feeling evangelical in spreading the word about its delights.
Months ago, I embarked on an uncertain quest, and to my surprise, I found the destination among the precious-gem street names and the pace of lives reclaimed in Pacific Beach.
I always associate words with places and “play” fits this freewheeling neighbor-hood.The girls play hard to get and the boys play it by ear. Waiters and waitresses play the waiting game.
Athletes play on the field or on the beach. Tourists and the young-at-heart play on a carousel or roller coaster. Children of young couples play in parks in front of the library or by the bay. Elderly people play bingo or ride up and down the coast on Segways.
I’ve met people in Pacific Beach who have retired from their 9 to 5 jobs, but not from living. The head shops play it cool, while the erotic boutiques like it hot.
Security at the door plays it by the book, while DJs play vinyl all night.
There are the good-looking young people with their ambitions trotting beside them like pets; but they’re living and working and enjoying the natural grace of Pacific Beach and that’s what matters. With this neighborhood’s inclination toward people like me, in their 20s, it’s easy to overlook the great diversity of age and wisdom that has also assembled in this community. Everyone plays a part. I am the kind of a person who needs to connect with the place where he lives. I have to feel part of the sense of the place, part of the air and the sounds, and part of a soul that’s bigger than mine. I could never be sure that it would happen until it did happen.
Coming to Pacific Beach was like taking the dare and letting the truth tell itself. The feeling here is that people want their lives to be better: public trash cans on almost every block of the main drags; the recycling program outside Henry’s on Fridays; thrift stores east and west on Garnet Street encouraging people to re-use.
After the East Coast, the sense of calm and casual and a collective raised consciousness is intoxicating.
Pacific Beach’s simple pleasures are as timeless and satisfying as fishing under the Ingram Street bridge, partying on the beach, or getting acquainted with the plants that seem to be from every corner of the globe on the porch of our apartment.
Arriving in April with two lifelong buddies, I’m quickly acclimating to the strange and wonderful flora and fauna and sense of being in a very different place.
The impossibly vivid images of growing up keep flashing back and forth, the smallest details continually reminding me of being here instead of there; of who I thought I was and who I’m becoming; of Pacific Beach hip and Philadelphia strict. Still, I would be lying if I said I didn’t love the place where I came from, too. Philadelphia projects the worldly allure of an old city rich with memories that knows exactly where it has been. Pacific Beach, in contrast, sparkles with the enticement of a long, lush vacation that isn’t even close to being finished. I haven’t spotted anyone in my neighborhood who appears to be sleepwalking into or out of the American Dream. They aren’t always angry looking, nor are they hopelessly numb. They look and act like they are securely rooted in that productive, purposeful, interesting point in their lives that’s right smack in between. This gorgeous bay and that mighty life force of an ocean have an unbelievable influence on keeping spirits high and robust.
I’m writing this from the water-lapped shoreline of Mission Bay. The other bookend of my new home is the soft thunder of the Pacific Ocean. As boundaries go, that’s not too bad. While I work throughout the Mission Bay area, most of the things in my life end up right here. Most things end up right. And that’s my neighborhood.