Title: Reportero Numero Uno
Author: Matt Phillips
From: University Heights
Blogging since: March 2012
Post Date: Friday, May 24, 2013
As a personal rule, I don’t believe in nostalgia. It’s too imperfect an emotion. Not quite memory as elegy, nostalgia is too rooted in the heartsick blues and the random chance that is sorrow. I’ve avoided it most of my adult life.
I made an exception for San Diego, though.
When I left San Diego, just two days before Christmas in 2008, the city had beaten me down. I was unemployed and broke. I’d spent weeks wandering the North Park streets, wondering how I’d pay the rent.
That night, when I left the city, my best friend picked me up in his minivan. We drove down Kansas Street and made a right on University Avenue. Somehow, the city seemed more visible than usual. It was a little model of human life: the soft-glow light from the North Park sign illuminated drifters on their endless city patrol, whirring bicycle tires weaved through traffic, and the accordion-like seven line bus stopped and started in front of us. I remember thinking that I wasn’t finished here, in San Diego. This is my city, I thought. I know these streets. I know the bus routes and the shortcuts. I know all the happy-hour specials and I know where to park on holidays.
Eventually, we caught the 163 north to the 15, and we were gone. Two questions pulled at me, though: Did San Diego give up on you? Or did you give up on San Diego?
This May, I found myself hurtling like a bullet across Texas in my red ’94 Volvo, headed for — you guessed it — San Diego.
I’d left Durham, N.C., with a journalism degree and I felt confident, free, even strong. But then a weight settled over me. I started to think about that winter in 2008...when I was a penniless, hopeless 20-something banished from San Diego by circumstance and hard luck.
What had gone wrong? And how could I avoid the same result this time?
I don’t have a definite answer to either of those questions, but I think, somehow, the answers have to do with personal evolution. The kid I was, back then, seems so small and narrow in worldview compared to the man I am now. I’m no Renaissance man or anything, but I understand what it means to contribute to my community, my city, and the world. Back then, I thought it was all about what the city could provide for me. I acted like San Diego owed me a living, like I deserved happiness just because I’d chosen to live here. That’s poor logic, and it isn’t useful.
My own decisions led to my leaving San Diego in the first place. I quit a good job because I was stubborn. I was hired somewhere else — at a respected restaurant — and I disrespected the owner. He was making a contribution to his city, and I wasn’t. I didn’t deserve to be here, in this city. I deserved to be banished.
But, somehow, through a weird combination of hard work and dumb luck, I made my way west...to San Diego.
Maybe nostalgia isn’t so bad. It works like an emotional magnet that pulls our hearts back toward things we loved and, maybe, things we still love. Nostalgia is our own personal compass needle “North.”
This week, I was headed back from Coronado with some old friends. We’d spent the afternoon on the beach. As we drove over the Coronado bridge I looked out over the city. San Diego was an organism under the sun, a humming city of mohawks and ink-etched skin, of sleek, black BMWs and rumbling city buses, of hulking cruise ships and drab Navy destroyers, of fixed-gear beater bikes and gleaming weekend-warrior road bikes, of café racers and roaring Harleys, of double-hopped IPAs and creative cocktails, of beach bums and bartenders, of farmers’ markets and urban gardens, of playful mutts chasing frisbees, of murmuring seas rolling back and forth across golden sands, of gawking tourists and irritated locals.
As we reached the bridge’s zenith, I had a realization: San Diego was everything I’ve thought about during the past four years with that sharp, unwieldy human obligation that is nostalgia.