Another hot — really freaking hot — August weekend. A Sunday morning, actually, and I’m greeting the (in theory) post-church crowd in and around Horton Plaza with the perfectly civil question, “Wassup? Know I’m sayin’?”
Many will not make eye contact and edge away with or without a mumbled negative, maybe a palm raised in a forestalling gesture. This may well be because the right side of my face is swollen and bruised and frightens children. Why? Nine Ninjas, okay? No, you don’t get to know. Still, there’s something else beyond the fright mask. I suspect it has to do with heat, humidity, and the economy.
Michelle Alexander is sitting at the bar at Dobson’s having brunch. She seems unimpressed with the battered mug I present and doesn’t ask. “It’s been a great weekend. I’m working, actually, with Broadway San Diego. We present all the Broadway shows down here at the Civic Theatre. We have Wicked in town for five weeks. I do marketing promotions.” Explains why she’s talking to me. “I’m usually off on the weekends, but I’m working because of this show.”
Alexander, 30, lives in Ocean Beach. “I’d rather be there sitting on the sand. I’m a bowling-league bowler, and I do that every week, so I wouldn’t actually do it on the weekend, but I love that for fun. I love to cook as well. I like to go to the farmers’ market in Hillcrest on Sunday, go home, and cook up a really good meal.”
A fine-looking couple outside of Longs Drugs. “We’re from Austria, in Europe,” says Max, 34. I tell Max I’ve heard of it.
Nicole is 30. They are from Innsbruck, in the Tyrol. “Yes, we are from a small place far away. We make holidays here in San Diego. Now we are searching a hotel. We don’t know where to stay.” Since they are on their way to Coronado, I recommend the Hotel Del. They look well-heeled enough.
Max: “We’ll stay in San Diego until Wednesday.”
Nicole: “Then we go to Las Vegas and then New York.”
Max: “We just came from Los Angeles, and we don’t really know what to do here.”
Nicole: “We will go to a beach, probably.” In that case, I tell them, Coronado is a good choice. Meanwhile, do they like American blues? They do, and I recommend Patrick’s II.
At the taxi stand a few feet away is a driver who calls himself Charlie Brown who says his age is 35. Tells me he has been driving a cab for 48 years. “Not really any interesting people this weekend,” he says. “No one even puked in my cab. ’Course, if they’re drunk, they don’t get in. A few tourists to the zoo, but I’d say tourism is way down. Like, 30 percent.” This is Brown’s own statistic. “What happened to your face?”
In front of the Cup O’ Corn kiosk a few yards the other way, a couple from Naples, Italy. Stefano and Alessandra, maybe early 30s. They are eating hot dogs, each of them examining the bunned wieners as if waiting for the point of these bland fillers to kick in. “Sorry, don’t have time.” The forestalling palm appears.
“Oh, where you off to?”
“We’ll think of something.”
Lou is 25 and a San Diego native. He is seated in front of Starbucks, his skateboard in front of him on the table. Two of his unemployed friends are with him, their job search stalled this Sunday. “I am going to Sunset Cliffs later today, this place called the End of the World. The sun actually reflects off three parts of the ocean, so it’s like getting three sunsets at once.”
Okay. I mean, wow.
John Quincy Adams Jr. (his real name) is at the sidewalk deuces in front of the aforementioned Patrick’s II. He is here for his weekly ritual, which he calls Bloody Mary Mass. “Nine o’clock every Sunday. I’m always the last to leave.” Adams seems to be basking in his tomato-rich buzz. He is 66. “Friday night we partied at Filippi’s with the family.” He means the Italian restaurant in Little Italy. “Yesterday, I cleaned my apartment. I’m pretty boring.” He laughs as if this is truly rich.
“Everybody says that,” I tell him. I should believe everybody.
On El Cajon Boulevard, on the way home, I ask a woman on the corner who looked to be in a profession one might term the world’s oldest economic indicator, “Howsitgoin’?” or “ ’Sup?”
“What’s your name? I’m, uh, Larry.”
“Crystal. Crystal Duvall. How’s that?”
“Good. How’s business this summer?”
“Like bein’ a whatyacallit? A funeral guy. A [sic] undertaker.”
“You mean dead?”
“No. I mean, it never dies. Know what I’m sayin’?”