It is just before noon on a Saturday morning and many of the collegic inhabitants of Pacific Beach are just now wiping the sleep from their eyes, emitting tequila-scented yawns, and regretting that last shot at Dirty Birds at 2AM. More than a handful will roll over in bed and attempt to induce the concentration necessary to recall the name of the stranger sprawled beside them. Just down the road, in the contemporary mansions scattered along Mission Bay, tanned and polished blonde members of an elite financial bracket sip cappuccinos as they take in their enviable view and contemplate such weighty matters as golf or tennis this afternoon, or Donovan's or Torrey Pines for dinner this evening. Along the boardwalk at Pacific Beach, tousle-haired surfers squint at the horizon, accessing the day's conditions and whether it is worth a paddle out. "Slo-Mo", a ubiquitous and beloved fixture (albeit his perpetual motion) of Pacific Beach rolls by in languor, one rollerblade on the sidewalk and the other held straight out in the air behind him, like a leathery and graying replica of a figure skater.
I sit by the heated lap pool in my apartment complex, surrounded by the equally diverse population of my fellow residents (I hear at least five different languages being spoken), and think about what has drawn us all, from the rich to the poor, from the Swedes to the Mexicans, from the aging hippies to the bronzed surfers to this lively beachfront community. For those of us not born into the area, what brought us to where we stand, now, at the sunny edge of Southern California’s Pacific?
Having lived in Pacific Beach for only six weeks, I can still scrutinize my surroundings and dissect my observations with the objectivity of a stranger, but with the optimal viewing platforms of working in a popular restaurant, living in a populous apartment complex with multiple communal areas, and spending a lot of time relaxing on the beach or by the bay, indulging in some particularly entertaining people-watching. The three months before I moved to California were spent traveling in Europe and Morocco, the two years before that on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, and the year and a half before that in Mykonos, Greece, so it has been a while since I called mainland America home. I went through a holier-than-thou expatriated “I hate the United States and all they stand for” phase my first year in Greece, but as my perspective widened through travel both within Europe and in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, I came to realize denouncing Americans as close-minded was just as obstinate of an attitude as the one that I supposedly condemned. Every culture has its strengths and weaknesses, and even the places I’ve lived that are known as paradise the world round had their own dark underbellies: stubbornly misogynistic points of view, ignorance of environmental concerns, and general aversion to change in Greece; petty violence, theft, drug abuse, and homelessness in Hawaii.
When a persistent restlessness and a longing for change propelled me once more from my life in Hawaii, as in the past I debated several options. On my own I probably would have chosen another foreign country, but during my time in Oahu I was blessed with the fortune of falling in love, and my significant other’s opinion would have to factor into this move. After a bit of debate, we settled on California, and San Diego’s Mediterranean-style climate, proximity for easy and inexpensive travel both domestically and across the borders, and strongest draw of it being the current home of two of our closest friends, the company of whom we had been missing since they moved back to San Diego from Hawaii, combined to make it an ideal compromise for the two of us.
We landed in Pacific Beach specifically after a brief stay in Encinitas, which, while classy and charming, we decided was not for us. We poured over craigslist ads, listened to the advice of friends and strangers, and chose Pacific Beach and our particular apartment based largely on the glassy reflection and peaceful oasis of Mission Bay that beckon two blocks from our place...not to mention the 25 meter heated lap pool and two jacuzzis to sweeten the deal. Job-hunting was a rather bitter pursuit, looking for restaurant work in January, typically the slowest season anywhere in the Northern hemisphere, but luckily we both secured employment within a couple of weeks.
And now for my real impressions of Pacific Beach...it is a series of juxtapositions, densely layered contrasts that can both repulse and delight. I’m perplexed at the sight of a group of homeless men in ragged clothing by the side of the road drinking beer and passing a joint. I’m struck by the sheer number of tattoo parlors, dive bars, and marijuana dispensaries this little neighborhood manages to support, and what kind of statement that makes concerning its population. The profusion of tanning salons leaves me puzzzled as well, since there have been about two cloudy days since I’ve been here. I love that a stranger will strike up a conversation on a street corner or on the boardwalk, and he or she is not necessarily looking to solicit anything from you. Californians may take this no-strings-attached friendliness for granted, but it is unfortunately absent in many places elsewhere. I love giant happy hour margaritas in the sunshine, and being able to get a decent meal in a variety of cuisines after 10PM (in Oahu if you hadn’t gotten your act together by 8:30 you were grocery store bound). I hate the pretentiousness here that sometimes accompanies privilege, the layers of thick makeup that make 21-year-olds look 35, and the wealthy older business men with their blonde, long-legged, practically teenage Russian mail-order brides. I guess my conceptions of Pacific Beach can best be illuminated with an anecdote concerning my bike ride home from work last night just shy of midnight.
Pedalling down Mission Boulevard shortly before turning left on Pacific Beach Drive to change to the bike path back to my apartment, I nearly collided with a kid in his early twenties who stumbled out of a bar and collapsed prostrate on the sidewalk, proceeding to vomit most of his hard-spent beer money over the curb. My distaste was escalated by the fact that one of his equally intoxicated companions actually made an attempt to hit on me, despite the fact that he was incapable of stringing together a coherent sentence. Once I had escaped this sophomoric display, I turned onto the bike path that circles the bay, and found myself instantaneously transported from the barely-contained drunken chaos that is downtown Pacific Beach on a Friday night to an enclave of silence, the hum of my bike tires and the cool breeze rushing by my cheeks the only thing audible. The lights of the city were highlighted in mirrored perfection on the placid waters of Mission Bay and, bathed only in that distant silver glow, the path felt like a bubble of tranquility and even stillness in the midst of all that noise and commotion.