Dorian Hargrove 8:30 p.m., Dec. 12
It’s that time of year again when my neighborhood is flooded with colorful and festive holiday banners that read “Dine Mission Hills,” “Shop Mission Hills,” or “Experience Mission Hills.” And while my area of residence is indeed a charming section of San Diego where it would be a pleasure to dine, shop, or experience, these signs fail to note one important fact: my neighborhood is not in Mission Hills.
Tucked in the hillside, just east of the Washington Street trolley stop, just south of Washington Street itself, where that busy thru fare meets India Street and San Diego Avenue, this neighborhood falls more accurately into the bastardized section of San Diego called Middletown. Sure our zip code is 92103, but we are as Mission Hills as Loma Portal is Point Loma. We are a six-block spread of residences and restaurants that is trapped on east and south sides by canyons, the north by Washington Street, and the west by the 5. To leave our neighborhood, you’d have to trek up sidewalk-less Washington, across industrial Hancock, or down freeway fume-choked India.
Unlike the true Mission Hills, we don’t have stately houses with sprawling porches; we don’t have wide, meandering streets that are lined with mature, sheltering trees (in fact, there seems to be a campaign going on in my neighborhood that is cutting down the few large pepper trees we have); we don’t have ritzy, cutesy boutiques or a park built on the oldest graveyard in San Diego; we don’t have long-term residents who decorate like fiends for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Instead we have apartment complexes with the occasional house intermixed; we have narrow, cramped roads where there is too little parking and a meter maid who has a vendetta against anyone who stops in our neighborhood; we have paved lots instead of parks; we have people who turn off their lights during the holidays to discourage visitors and a transient bar crowd that can be noisy and rude. We have breathtaking views of downtown, the bay, Point Loma, Coronado, as well as the train tracks, the freeway, and the airport.
I don’t want to live anywhere else.
Despite our non-Mission Hills status, my neighborhood is exactly that: a true neighborhood—an eclectic mix of people and places that combined makes this area truly wonderful. I can walk two blocks “downstairs” to Gelato Vero, the best coffee shop and gelateria in San Diego (hands down) and see people who have known me and my son since he was two months old. On our way down, we pass the large green and white house that is home to Maggie and Emma, two little dogs whose frantic barks my son translates as declarations of absolute love. We pass the tiny shingle-sided cottages on Columbia Street that house “the fun people” who are usually found having an al fresco meal, working on their dirt bikes, playing football in the street, or a combination of the above. We pass Shakespeare’s British Pub (the only bar I know of in San Diego with Fuller’s ESB on tap), where we abysmally lose quiz night once a month and my son has a crush on every blond waitress there; sometimes Ruth or Dave the managers are out and we get a cheery hallo from them. We turn the corner on India to pass Saffron, and one of the kitchen staff opens the door to give my son a few fortune cookies—a ritual we have done since he could walk. Sometimes if the staff isn’t there, my son stands at the screen door and begs like a puppy despite my earnest entreaties to the contrary. Above Saffron is the Wine Vault and Bistro; if the owners, Chris and Mary are there, I am guaranteed a warm hug from Mary and the question of when I’ll attend one of their wine dinners again. At Gelato Vero, we usually will see James, the artist who bikes down for his morning cup and a leisurely hour or two of reading; the toddler Noyse and his father, who we’ve seen here since Noyse was an infant; Kevin, our resident handyman who always has a smile and a quick story about the latest “marathon” he’s run; and always the lovely staff of Gelato Vero—Ruby who can commiserate about the difficulties of being a student, Kirsten who is always ready to discuss any issue at hand and can usually follow it up with a good book, in addition to many other wonderful women who work there.
If my son and I had turned south along India, we would have passed El Indio who produces the salivating smells of fried corn chips that waft through my window every morning and reached Blue Water, where the staff lets me buy a cut of fresh fish and fill a growler with Ballast Point Amber to take home when dining out with my son is just too much to handle. If we had continued south as we do when we walk to the Little Italy Farmers’ Market, we would have passed The Aero Club where I have spent many of my few child-free evenings chatting with Barbara while grading papers or taking advantage of their kick-ass jukebox and free wifi. If we had gone west down Washington as we do when we walk to his daycare, we would have passed the trolley that I take to work and the skate park built under the 5 where my son begs to watch the skinny-jeans-wearing skaters master their latest tricks.
Everywhere we walk, we are surrounded by familiar faces and places that feel like family.
In this neighborhood, I’ve partied with people who work at Shakespeare’s and Blue Water. I’ve found babysitters through the various people who live and work here. I’ve been given gifts, loans of clothing for my son, help, good conversation, and always a friendly hello. So during this holiday season when we are supposed to focus on our blessings, I am grateful to live in a true neighborhood that I get to dine, shop, and experience all year ‘round.