Jeff Smith 2 p.m., Dec. 5
San Carlos October 1st 2010 I’ve started walking. For my health and for my sanity. Work has been a frazzled melee almost daily. My doc says I need to lose some weight and get my blood pressure down. Or else. So, I’ve started walking my neighborhood. The same one I’ve lived in for eighteen years. My wife and I bought our house on the “Lake streets” of San Carlos back in 92’. It was our first house and, of course, still is. I read on some online blog that “according to the San Diego Union-Tribune (October 9, 2005, Section I, page 17), our San Carlos was named for the guy who developed the subdivision, one Carlos Tavares. The article further noted that Carlos’ wife, Claire, lent her name to Clairemont”. Another blog described San Carlos as “bounded by Del Cerro and Navajo to the west, Fletcher Hills and the city of El Cajon to the east, and the cities of Santee and La Mesa to the north and south respectively.” However; Santee isn’t exactly to the north but more northeast. People at my work in Sorrento Valley – when I say I live in San Carlos think Northern California? Or San Marcos? “Uh, no…” I say, “San Carlos” “Ahh, east county!” they reply with smiles. San Carlos was developed as a tract-home suburban subdivision. Most of the houses were built in the 1960s and 70s, in the popular Ranch Style: single-story houses of 900 to 1,300 square feet. Some with a breezeway separating the main house from the garage. Ours was modeled as such. On my walks around the neighborhood I have seen many single car garages but few, if any, original multi-car garages. I suppose that back when the houses were built, the thought of owning more than one family car was, well – extravagant and quite out of reach for most folks. As the years went by, some created “extra” bedrooms out of the breeze-way that separated the house from the single car garages. The thought of an ‘extra” room must have had a feel of opulence. To think, an empty room available to guests or to use frivolously as an office or play room. And my house is exactly that. An original style home that grew from 900 feet to 1500 feet after additions. The living room was pushed to the west and to the south. The utility room used to be the outside of the house – the breezeway, the master bedroom was lawn, the fireplace used to have a barbecue on one side but now, there is a den behind it. And don’t ask me what 60’s car could have possibly fit in our garage. I don’t think a Prius would fit very comfortably even today. But what got me thinking tonight was not my house but, my neighborhood. Quiet and old. I walk at night when the air is cool and the night sounds have replaced the sounds of cars and city busses. And I carry a very powerful flashlight. One of those LED jobs. The beam illuminates the darkest of corners and sends a beam of righteousness all the way down Flume road – which is actually an alley. As I walk, I keep my flashlight off, only turning it on to illuminate any dark spots where danger might lurk. But there isn’t any danger in San Carlos. Not really. There used to be but, not now. Remember Brenda Spencer? You know, Boomtown Rats, “I don’t like Mondays” and all that? That was us - San Carlos. That song comes to mind every time I pass that old elementary school. And sometimes, I step over to read the plaque at the bottom of the flag pole. Still sad after all these years. And I always look across the street trying to envision which house it was that that Brenda was shooting from. But like all things, time has blurred the facts and now the houses all look the same. Once, about a dozen years ago, my wife and I snuck onto the grounds under the cover of darkness and decorated a little pine tree with Christmas ornaments. Later someone added lights. Our neighborhood has a heartbeat. Of that I am convinced. As you walk the length of Lake Murray, you can feel the heartbeat. And stepping down any of the Lake Streets (some named after real lakes like Lake Arrowhead and others with conjured up names to make them sound pretty – Blue Lake for example), you can feel and hear the goings on in the quiet houses. You can hear familial conversations and experience the scent of cooking dinners and smell the night blooming jasmine and see the silhouettes of the palm trees against the setting sun. And as I walk, I shine my light into the alley and into any dark space between the houses to show that I am not afraid and to shoo away any bad thing that might be lurking. I should mention I am a bit of a sap. A sucker for the melancholy and the dramatic. I think of myself a bit of a guardian, walking our streets at night with my flashlight, wielding it as if it were a Glock Semi Auto. The light screams into the darkness; “I am not afraid! And where there is darkness, I will shine a light and if you push me, I will pull my cell from my pocket and dial 911. I’ll do it! I will!” And this particular night convinced me more than ever that our neighborhood and, our city does indeed have a heartbeat. And deep inside, behind the heartbeat, there is a heart. As I was walking, I looked up to see a San Diego Police helicopter circling overhead, its light beaming down and a solid voice asking that everyone be on the lookout for a woman in her 80’s, wearing tan pants and a tan sweater A solid voice, pouring down from the sky, looking for someone’s grandmother. And, yeah, being the sap I am, I got a little choked up watching that little chopper flying around looking for someone in my neighborhood. One person out of 1.3 million was lost. And the beaurocracy had sent a machine to find her. And as the beam from the chopper flickered across the neighborhoods, I flicked on my own flashlight and I picked up the pace and I went looking. Emboldened as I was with my flashlight, I didn’t really think I would find anyone but, I still spent some time looking up and down the lake streets and when, I had finally gotten tired, I headed home. But the chopper was still out there, floating in the cobalt night, the voice falling across the neighborhoods, pleading. I thought about the Take Back The Night events that happen around the country. And I wondered why every night couldn’t be a take back the night night. If everyone just stepped out for an hour an evening, there would be no lonely nights. No scary corners. During my walks, cars have slowed, pulled up next to me as I walked. I shined my glock into the car, said “whuz up? And the cars pulled away. Quiet as it is, I keep an eye out for cars that seem out of place. I am not superman but I vow to do my best to take back the nights I choose to walk on. But still, looking up at the night sky with the little chopper floating around I feel a little safer knowing that, were I to become lost, the machine might come to find me.