In late May 2008, I woke up in my sister’s house in Indianapolis. I was getting ready to leave for the airport, and I saw a commercial on TV about visiting San Diego. The commercial was showing the beach in La Jolla, with lovely young ladies on red beach-cruisers.
The beautiful beaches, the race track in Del Mar, and the nightlife in the Gaslamp were the highlights of that commercial, and while I was on a plane headed home to San Diego, I remembered those things, and I thought for a second that this was the city I was returning to. But I knew better than that. I was going back to the piss-smelling sidewalks of downtown, where I work, and the trifling streets of Southeast, where I live.
San Diego is a beautiful city, but being born and raised out here is weird. I have relatives all over the U.S., and the questions I get are usually the same. Do you live close to Snoop Dogg? Do you see dolphins at the beach? Oh, my gosh is what I think when asked these silly questions. People have no idea what it’s like being from San Diego. It’s not all sunny days and palm trees. Life can get rough in our city by the bay.
One weekend, my buddy T-Twise (his stage name) invited me to one of his rap shows. It was a Friday night in Point Loma, far from my ghetto neighborhood, yet it seemed like things just follow us. We finished up the show and then hung at the bar for a couple of drinks.
“What’s hatnin’, Vic? You ready to hit this other show?” T-Twise asked.
“It’s another show?”
“Hell yeah, nigga, we ’bout to leave in 30. The show is right down the way at Brick by Brick.”
I finished my conversation with a young lady at the bar, drinking the rest of my Hennessy and pineapple juice. Then we hopped in my boy James’s (not his real name) 2008 hemi-engine Dodge Charger and took off. But before leaving the scene, James hit two clean-ass doughnuts in the middle of the street, leaving the whole block smoked out.
Approaching the other show, we noticed that the ghetto-bird (police helicopter) was out, along with what seemed like a million patrol cars. T-Twise got a phone call on his cell, saying somebody got shot at Brick by Brick. So we pulled over to a local gas station and got our plan together and decided to go to Déjà Vu strip club on Midway Street. Later that night, we heard that some gang members from the Brims were shooting inside Brick by Brick and hit two rivals from a Crip gang called West Coast 30s.
Being born in Southeast San Diego, these type of things happen all around me. I played Pop Warner football for the Valencia Park Hornets, and when we played the Skyline Tigers, gang members would start fights at the park and even start shooting. It’s not that you can’t escape the negative things that go on in San Diego, it’s the fact that they happen often. A lot of people who are tourists don’t see it.
Working in downtown San Diego as a safety ambassador, I see all kinds of crazy stuff. From the drunken guys in the military to the shootouts by rival gangs, my day is never dull.
So it’s a nice breezy afternoon downtown in February. The sun has just hidden in the back of the brand-new lofts and towering business buildings, and it leaves off for a beautiful mix of orange, purple, and red across the sky.
Yet sometime between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m., a downtown safety ambassador witnessed a brutal stabbing of a homeless man by two other transients. The stabbing occurred in East Village, minutes away from Petco Park.
I arrived at my job, and one of my female colleagues said to me, “Vic, you wouldn’t believe what I just saw. Two guys were whooping this one man’s ass, but you know what? He came up with something for they ass, he split him up from his forehead to his chin.” The woman who eye-witnessed the stabbing said the victim reacted in self-defense. The attacker suffered serious injuries to the face and back. This vicious crime is only one of many in San Diego every day.
You also meet people who recently moved out here thinking it was the place to be financially, for job opportunities. Then there are families that have been here for decades. I have a friend whose family has been in San Diego for more than 50 years. He happens to be an active gang member from Skyline Piru. We grew up together at the Boys and Girls Club in the Encanto area.
We never attended the same schools until Morse High, where I got into gang-banging too.
High school was a trip. I graduated, but I missed over 30 classes in my tenth-grade year. Ditching school was an everyday thing. Smoke a blunt right before school, ditch fifth period and smoke another one. Being a gang member at Morse High only meant one thing, that you hated people from Lincoln Park Bloods. Many of the times we ditched school, we went to go seek out students from Lincoln High, who often were members of the Bloods. These encounters were not friendly at all. People getting jumped to people getting shot. It was going down.
My Piru friend and I hang out often, even though he’s still an active gang member. We smoke an occasional blunt and drink a couple brews, maybe watch a Lakers game.
But on this particular day, he was uneasy about something. I asked him, “What’s hatnin’ wit you, boy? You got something on ya mind, blood.” He said, “Nigga, I just got laid off from my job because they said they’re downsizing and they have to start with the people who have less seniority.” We talked back and forth for a while, and then I asked him, “What are you going to do next?” He explained to me that unemployment was going to take a couple of weeks to get, so he might just have to hit someone over the head for some cash.