I wake up at 5.30, and I’m usually out the door by 6.15. I can fit in three or four jogs around my neighborhood a week; the other days I walk the dog for a good hour. If you live nearby I’m sure you’ve seen me - the only white girl jogging down El Cajon on dimly lit mornings. I don’t mind it, in fact I look forward to it. We moved here from South Park nearly half a year ago, and its not the respite from living in the hippest area known to man that centers me, but the break from the culture of La Jolla. I’ve worked in La Jolla for six years now, and I have never gotten used to it. Hey, I admit my perception of the place is limited to day-time excursions, but overall, condo-complexes and strip malls are not my thing.
Not to say El Cajon Boulevard exactly is. In the mornings I’ll head out of my alley and head toward 70th street, and I typically have to wait for the light to turn before I head down my loop on El Cajon. I try to avoid stepping in those brown puddles near the curbsides; I hate having to wipe the dried, oil coated water off my shins.
This routine gives me comfort. I’ll see the same set of characters in a week; sometimes I’ll see the same girls for days, then they’ll disappear. Lately I’ve noticed someone new. It always looks like she's wrapping up for the night, maybe trying for one last drive-by before the sun exposes too much. She’s white, dresses in black, looks young, and she's always smoking a cigarette. I wonder how many times I need to pass by her before we make eye contact, before we say ‘good-morning.‘ Once in a while we’ll cross at the bus stop outside some 1970‘s-era office building complex. She’ll be with a man, embracing so completely inappropriately for this early in the morning it makes me wince; well, my morning that is.
For the next thirty minutes I’ll head down to La Mesa Village, turn up to University Ave and then make my way back to El Cajon. I enjoy the silence of the morning, the low hum of people driving to their jobs, people stopping to get gas before heading to their cubicle. The other half of the people I see don’t seem to stray much from El Cajon. There’s two elderly men who live in one of the section 8 complexes, for example. The place is awful, no chance for romanticizing here; but every day those two are out. I’ve gotten the nerve to say hello, and now one guy sometimes throws me a few words as I pass: ‘looking good, girl;’ ‘keep on pushing.’
I don’t expect to be in the College Area for long; I’ll be finished my doctoral program in a few years and if all goes as planned my husband and I will be heading back East. But I don’t necessarily look forward to moving. Yeah, I miss South Park and will still head out there on the weekends; but being where I am now, I feel more centered. There’s comfort in where I live. I think its a general energy that’s always out, like a low fog over the streets. Nobody needs to be pretentious, nobody needs to pretend they don’t see what’s going on. You are who you are and if you can’t define that, well, that’s when you might in trouble. Because of that, there is a mutual respect that exists between the neighbors. We mind our own business, but when you need a 20 foot ladder to change the batteries of that smoke detector on your cathedral ceiling, you know who to ask (I will never understand why our landlord put that thing up there...).
I like where I live. I feel comfortable where I live. Did I mention what my day time gig in La Jolla was? I work on research programs in the public health field. One day a few classmates and I were participating in an informal interview from a professor about how we feel when someone next to us starts smoking. “Disgusting,” one girl said, “I hate the smell, I’ll ask them to move” another commented. I kept my mouth shut. All I could think of was El Cajon Boulevard and the face full of smoke I get when I jog past the bus stop near that office building. I kind of like the smell; it centers me. It makes me think there might be more important things to worry about than asking someone not to smoke.