Walter Mencken 11 a.m., May 24
- Community Blog
- A Lost Time Left Behind
Some things never change
Otay Mesa in the seventies, was a quiet and unassuming neighborhood two miles west of Brown’s Field airport in the South Bay. The area surrounding the small municipal airport was in fact either dedicated to agriculture or, (memorable to most of us middle age south bay locals) countless junkyards. I would accompany my father on his occasional jaunts to save a few bucks as we searched for some grease mottled part to repair on of three older model cars we owned. To his credit however, my father always accomplished what he set out to do no matter how difficult. Being a third shift machinest at the NASSCO shipyard didn’t hurt either. In those days, the Otay Mesa border crossing was nothing more than a proposal to ease the congestion at the San Ysidro port of entry, and the correctional complex that blights the existing landscape now, wasn’t even there. Hell, the 905 didn’t exist to connect the I-5 to the 805. Basically Otay Mesa was a small sleepy community bordered by Chula Vista at the north, San Ysidro on the south and Imperial Beach to the west. East was nothing beyond the occasional strawberry farm, and constant Border Patrol units scouring the as yet to be visually shocking fenced off region in search of illegal immigrants.
Between Otay Mesa and Chula Vista,there is an expanse of Riverbottom that begins at what is now Cricket Amphitheatre, and feeds rain water run-off from the surrounding higher elevations into San Diego Bay. The city of San Diego has built a beautiful place for the locals to enjoy this precious resource at last. The Otay River Valley Regional Park boasts a well maintained toilet facility, ingeniously constructed dirt trails, three rather large ponds with average shoreline access make for a brisk stroll for the health conscious to enjoy, a nice ride for the mountain bikers, and if you are a birdwatcher you are in for a treat as the wildlife is abundant. The Park Rangers stationed there are very helpfull and eager to help out whenever possible. On occasion I’ve seen school groups being led by them as they try to educate a new generation about nature and conservation. Beginning in Imperial Beach and ending at the 805 freeway, Palm Avenue will also take you to Vons, Walmart, the Home Depot and a small subdivision called Oceanview which overlook old Otay Mesa and Kaiser Medical Center. Thirty some odd years ago, nothing I’ve mentioned in the preceding two paragraphs was even there! That was the ‘70s. The Riverbottom was exactly that. A Riverbottom. Aside from a cement and gravel operation that to this day is still there exploiting the riverbed for its precious wealth, there were only trees, some trails, those great swimming ponds and the occasional immigrant encampments. Thats where it all began for me at 11 years of age. Those formative years that one swears will never end, only to shock us into rebellion or submission. Hindsight tells me I should’ve submitted but, rebellion was the order of the day! So, on that last day of seventh grade I decided to escape the clutches of an abusive woman who I also had the misfortune of calling “Mother”, and my life of misplaced rebellion began. At that time we lived in the southeast edge of Chula Vista that borders the Riverbottom and ultimately Otay Mesa. That day that I ran away, I smoked pot for the first time and slammed open the floodgates of self-destruction. That old wife’s tale about never getting high the first time you smoke didn’t apply to me. A buddy showed me how to dry the homegrown weed in his oven, stinking up the entire house in the proccess. Then we naturally smoked the pungent herb out of one of his father’s prized collectible tobbacco pipes. Somewhere along the line after being bored to death, we decided to take a walk down to the Riverbottom and thats when the effect hit me. The soft giving ground seemed like the surface of moss or hay, and as we walked along the dry river bed, we would drift around four to six feet high walls of mud shaped by that preceding years storm run-off. At one point it seemed as if we were giants walking in the middle of the Grand Canyon! Little did I realize at the time that I was entering the longest, non ending canyon that was substance abuse. “If I knew then, what I know now..”, begins the saying. There I was, taking the first of so many wrong turns that would shape my future. That summer of ’76 however, I left hell and was placed in the San Diego County foster care system. Apparently I was lucky, because the family that I was placed with didn’t do it for the money. Thats not to say that going into foster care was a lucrative business venture ‘cause it wasn’t. My foster dad managed a Jack in the Box to make ends meet! These wonderful people actually cared for us out of love and to this day I am proud to call them “Mom”, and “Dad”. Throughout their foster care career they helped over 100 children. The unwanted ones, the heroin babies, the angry teens, the molested girls, the list goes on. So, in Otay Mesa as far as I’m concerned, there was lots of love back then. There was also a lot of freedom allowed me and boy did I ever take advantage of it. I was allowed to smoke, I could even stay out ‘till 9pm! The only thing that wasn’t allowed was long hair much to my chagrin. In the unconscious pursuit of self destruction, the unaware damaged child will most likely make the wrong social choices, and I of course, was no different. When I first moved into my new home after being shown around the house and neighborhood, one of the kids warned me to stay away from a certain house down the street. The three brothers that lived there were infamous for being, “long haired trouble makers and they smoked reefer”. Guess where I went.
The three brothers came from a broken home. You know, Dad left, Mom stayed. She held down a job, supported three boys and maintained a nice home. Aside from the boys having long hair and yes, being pot smokers. They were the coolest people I’d known up to that point in my young and inexperienced life. After getting high, we’d always ride our bikes or skateboards around the neighborhood only to end up at my old stomping grounds, the Riverbottom. At times it would only be us guys although many a young girl lost her resolve and her virginity to us young knuckleheads down there. Ah yes, irresponsible youth. In the ‘70s Palm Avenue ended 50 yards east of the 805 freeway. An off-roader’s playground that on any weekend was packed full of recreational offroad vehicles. Back then we called the entire area The Pits and it remained so until some one began to call it E. O. P.,(End of Palm) and that stuck. Most of the Late ‘70s Montgomery High School keg parties and bonfires were held there. Jocks, nerds, stoners, vatos, and the occasional preppie were all there. Fourwheel drive trucks, sedans, vans and on-off road motorcycles could all be seen from the freeway as their shadows played eery shapes on the dirt surface, fed from flames emanating from countless bonfires. Wandering from one kegger where the sounds of Van Halen could be heard one moment, you’d be assailed by the smell of Marijuana wafting through the air mixed with the sound of music that increased in volume the closer you got to the next party. Of course San Diego’s finest always showed up to put a damper on the parade. In my haste to “grow up”, all I ever did was drift from one party to another. Most of my time that wasn’t dedicated to getting down some girl’s pants, was mostly focused on the next joint, bong load, or beer. That was it. I wasn’t aware of anything else as were most of my companions. If you didn’t “party” back then, there was definitely something wrong with you or you were a “narc”. There was always news of a kegger somewhere to be held that weekend. After a while it all turned into one long weekend that ultimately sent me behind bars for a few years. I’ve since stayed out, but the cycle goes on. I remember those days as if it were yesterday. Hell, don’t all us older folks yearn for those days? A second chance, an opportunity to right a wrong? The brief chance that I may encounter such an opportunity has surely passed me by many times. Redemption is what I ultimately seek. Yet here I remain in my beautiful, familiar Otay Mesa. As I take my daily walks through the trails in the Otay River Valley Regional Park, I always end up sitting at the edge of a particular pond as I observe Least Terns dive headfirst into the deep green hued water only to emerge with three or four tiny fish in their beaks. Off in the distance a Red Tailed Hawk circles the skies in search of a quick meal, the muffled calls of water fowl intermingle with the distant sounds of the Terns smashing through the water in their never ending quest for sustenance. At times if you are quiet enough, the cat tails and other vegetation begin to stir, giving way to emerging water fowl hens with their hatchlings in tow. So here I sit pondering the life I’ve wasted as I take another swig from my forty oz. brew and I can hear approaching footsteps,... oh crap, here comes the park ranger. I’d better put out this joint. No smoking in public parks anymore. Card or no