On the other hand, she, too, feels something missing. She doesn’t put it in exactly those words, but every time we meet up for tacos and beer at Tacos and Tarros (a Mexican bar/taquería on the outskirts of the Otay Ranch Mall), Irene comes up with yet another plan to make something happen in Eastlake. One week, she talked about starting an open-mic-type monthly event where people sing, read their poetry, or whatnot. The next week, she decided she wanted to host a reggae night. And she occasionally talks about starting an African-diaspora dance school, to give the Eastlakers a bit of flavor by way of samba, sabar, and moribayassa. I get the feeling that, even with all the diversity of which she speaks, the “peace and quiet” she likes so much is not quite enough to satisfy her.
Me, neither. And, like Irene with her daydreams, I too have ways of coping.
Food trucks, gluten-free cookies, and the future “place to be”
In African literature, one often reads references to “market day.” It’s always a big deal, people getting up before dawn, traveling from all corners with their wares, and setting up shop in a common location. The children in these stories are always exhilarated by the sights, sounds, and scents brought into the market from the larger world. I used to find the concept foreign because, as a child, market day meant my mom was going to the grocery store, and there was nothing novel in that. These days, however, I get it. If I haven’t ventured up the 805 and into central San Diego for a while, I look forward to the Tuesday farmers’ market and the Wednesday food-truck gathering maybe a little too much. I plan what I’m going to wear, to make sure it’s not what I wore last time or the time before.
The farmers’ market is rather strangely located on a narrow street in the middle of the Otay Ranch mall, rather than spread out in one of the large and mostly empty parking lots. Irene (and many Yelpers) complain that the one or two “token farmers” are not enough to call it a true farmers’ market.
I, however, hardly notice, because the rest of the vendors, serving prepared Ethiopian, Jamaican, Filipino, Japanese, and barbecue food, and selling gluten-free cookies, vegan Bitchin’ Sauce, and jars of anchovy-stuffed green olives transport me out of Chili’s-and-Cheesecake-Factory-Land and connect me to the world at large, without a 30-minute drive.
On warm evenings in spring and summer, when Eastlakers crowd the narrow walkway between vendor booths, I pace the length of the market two or three times, mulling over dinner options and digging the people factor. It’s the same when I go to the Wednesday food-truck gathering held in a roped-off area of the Eastlake Design District parking lot.
Jessica Lavender, owner of the Asian Persuasion food truck and organizer of the Eastlake Food Truck Gathering, calls it a “family-friendly tailgate-style party,” a fitting description. People set up collapsible tables and chairs in the parking lot and make an evening of it. Back when the gathering began, in September 2011, they had a DJ and music to help draw people. But the expense outweighs the profits, so there’s no more music.
Although Lavender says that, for now, she has enough trucks in rotation to keep things interesting, the permitting process for the City of Chula Vista is a turnoff to some truck owners. Not only is the permit $200 (in San Diego and La Mesa, it’s $70) but Chula Vista also requires fingerprinting and background checks, which costs an additional $86 for every person who works on the truck.
“Eastlake is one of those [gatherings] that we really enjoy,” Lavender says. “The community seems to love it. It’s one of the few things to do in the area. I’m trying to encourage more trucks to get their permits.”
Lavender and I agree the event would be that much better with a beer garden and some bands, but still, each time we go, my family and I stay longer than it takes to choose a truck and eat our food squatting on the curb (we have no collapsible table), because the gathering makes for good people-watching. As much as I like to stare out my window at sagebrush or read a book in the neighborhood’s clean, quiet parks, I also relish opportunities to bump up against my neighbors in places other than the checkout line at Target.
The people at Corky McMillin (the company responsible for Liberty Station in Point Loma, Torrey Highlands Center in Carmel Valley, Scripps Ranch Marketplace, and other commercial developments) have big plans to create an urban center for the area to give it a “focal point.” Their 206-acre Millenia project (officially in Otay Ranch, not Eastlake) promises “a hybrid alternative to traditional suburban developments and transitional urban neighborhoods” on a plot of land across the street from the Otay Ranch mall. They’re planning a Main Street commercial district, a business district, hotels, parks, plazas, more residential areas, and so on.
On the phone, Todd Galarneau, the senior vice president of project development at Corky McMillin, tells me that Millenia will provide a central urban center for the area, which as of now “lacks a really strong heart, and a strong employment element.”
Their website says the Main Street area “will be ‘the place to be’ day and night in South County.”
For now, if you don’t live in Eastlake, there’s not much reason to visit, unless your aunt lives here or you have a soft spot for this particular Cheesecake Factory location. Our little island does, at times, feel isolated from the rest of the planet.
Those of us who spent our youths seeking the wide, wide world, and then later let our desires for quiet, convenience, and more square footage win out over our urban impulses, will never be fully content here. We address our need for urban connectedness by sucking it up and driving up the 805 to hold our grownup birthday parties at sexy downtown restaurants, take our children out for Ethiopian food in City Heights, and make contact with the wide, wide world whenever we can.
On the in-between days, we Zumba.
Love my neighborhood! Can't imagine living anywhere else.
Content with where I live. It's good enough for now.
Would move in a heartbeat.
198 total votes.