Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
INTRODUCTION Let’s say you end up in Mission Valley. Job relocation, love interest, finances—or maybe you just like what you see—and 92108 becomes your hood. Now you need to find a place to live. Then you need to shop, dine out, make love, exercise, see movies, pay taxes and die. It’s not that difficult. Even a dummy can do it. Here’s how.
PART ONE: AVOIDING EMBARRASSMENT Firstly, don’t embarrass yourself like we embarrassed ourselves. Learn a little about your new community. For example, Mission Valley is NOT named after a brand of tortillas or after a popular position of copulation. Rather, it’s named after a 230-year-old Catholic church and an eons-old geological formation. The Valley’s hosted hunting grounds, army forts and dairy farms, and today has its own zip code and is a beehive of shoppers and residents. If malls and condos per square inch are a measure of success, Mission Valley would be San Diego’s most successful development of all time.
On the map, Mission Valley looks like a whale divided into quadrants. Interstate 8 separates the whale into north and south and Highway 163 bisects it east and west. (The police officially refer to the halves as East Mission Valley and West Mission Valley.) Interstate 15 and Interstate 5 cap the ends. Throw in the arteries of Friars Road, Hotel Circle and Camino del Rio South and you are living in an asphalt grid. Obviously, the automobile delineates Mission Valley.
PART TWO: GET A BOOK. GET A BIKE. GET ABOUT. We highly recommend getting a map and a book. There is a new library on Fenton Parkway, between the trolley station and the box stores, where you can read up on the Valley’s eventful history and its commercial evolution. Then explore your new hood on foot or bicycle. Check out the river, the mission, the malls, the gravel pit, the bike paths and the stadium. Meet your new neighbors, maybe impress them with Mission Valley trivia.
Here’s a cheat sheet of facts to get you started. (Cut this out and save it in your wallet.) The citizenry of Mission Valley averages 32.8 years of age and earns $52,000 annual. Half have college degrees. The gender split is 50/50. Eighty percent are white colored. The Valley covers 4.5 square miles and rises from sea level to 100 feet above. Temperatures range from 50F in the winter to 75F in the summer. Annual rainfall averages 10 inches. There are about 9,230 single households and 2,800 family households averaging 2.5 members. Condos cost from $60,000 to $600,000, but many folks rent: $950 for a studio to $2,500 for a townhouse. While the most heinous of crimes—rape and murder—are below national averages, auto theft is five times higher.
PART THREE: CHOOSING YOUR QUADRANT Tourist hotels squat hip to hip along the southwest quadrant (nearest Old Town) and office towers stand along the southeast. Condos and malls sprawl across the northeast and northwest quadrants along the Friars Road corridor, where most folks choose to live in one of the following: townhouse, condo, apartment, mobile home, tent, or cardboard box.
Nobody lives in a traditional house—ranch style or two-story wood—because there are none. The Valley’s last was converted into cottages industries or swept out to sea by river floods 60 years ago.
Start home-hunting by having your hearing checked. If noise gets on your nerves, as it does ours, remember malls harbor racket—air conditioners, car alarms, announcements of sales, Muzak, and parking lot sweepers—and it goes on all night. Freeways generate noise 24/7 (as well as tons of carbon monoxide dust). The trolley screeches and blares warnings: “This train is out of service” or “Get off the tracks, dummy!” Walk to any corner of Mission Valley and you’ll realize that you are never out of earshot of humanity or its transportation.
PART FOUR: CONDOMS AND BUILDING SUPPLIES Okay. You’ve selected your quadrant carefully and moved in. Now you have to buy things. Fortunately Mission Valley has acres of stores, stalls, booths, emporia and kiosks. Five bustling malls include nearly 500 shops that display more variety than a flea market. The sharp-eyed shopper can find sunglasses for pet rocks, kerosene lanterns, wooden puppets, false pony tails, Euros, bras that glow in the dark, Burberry scarves (for those frigid San Diego winters), ranunculus, shoe buckles, and—got your checkbook ready?—speed boats.
Not long ago the box stores moved into the Valley and now you can buy building supplies to frame, drywall, roof, plumb, floor and electrify your new home. Warning: IF RENTING, FIRST CHECK WITH YOUR LANDLORD. And when the construction dust settles—and if you haven’t been evicted—you can push your cart to an adjacent box store for carpet, furniture, drapes, lamps and washing machines.
The buying experiences are mind boggling. But what else from a retail environment that offers Halloween all year round and Japanese comic books where 99.9 percent of the customers don’t read Japanese? At four gas stations only blocks apart prices vary by 30 cents for the same grade of gas. And in what other part of town can you pick up beer and condoms from a convenience store where the clerk struggles with English while a few streets away find a bottle of Dom Perignon and a diamond ring at a boutique where a uniformed guard opens the door.
Some say it has gotten out of hand: Obsessive shopping has overtaken common sense. (There is only one grocery store.) But Mission Valley is what it is, and they could call it “Shopping Valley” just like they call San Diego “America’s Finest City.”
PART FIVE: PLAYGROUNDS When we first moved here we bought sneakers and explored on foot. That was a mistake. Monotony soon wore out our expectations and concrete wore out our sneakers. We found Mission Valley to be miles of office buildings, condo/apartment complexes, strip malls, parking lots and vacant lots.
There’s a golf course and a YMCA, but neither is free. If you are here after a couple days of rain the vacant lots and parkways are bedecked with orange and yellow wildflowers.
But we found no city parks, drinking fountains, public bathrooms, commemorative statues, or bocce ball courts. In all the construction, somebody forgot the ergonomics.
These days we bicycle about because bike lanes parallel many roadways and bike paths follow the river. One bike path recently was extended all the way to the ocean.
A word about our once unwieldy, flood-prone San Diego River. It has been emasculated to a string of ponds, and although it still gurgles through Mission Valley Interstate 8 is now the main flow, a river of traffic. But hey, no sour grapes. The ponds work for rubber dinghies and bass still live in them.
At night in the Valley we can dance, watch live sports, dine out or inebriate ourselves. There’s a friendly wine bar and a bustling micro-brewery. Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Greeks, Mexicans, Italians and Hollywood movie stars have established restaurants. And Mission Valley movie theaters feature thousands of seats competing for your butt.
PART SIX: SIN AND SALVATION There’s sex. (Finally—you’re probably thinking—we’ve reached the entertainment section.) Well, sort of. There are no sex shops or adult book stores. And Hotel Circle is not a red light district. If sex is why you are reading this please go to the next chapter.
Sex in Mission Valley is pretty much found the old fashioned way; meeting the right person. Fortunately there are scores of people to meet everyday and enhance the opportunity. In one afternoon, on a mall bench, you can observe humanity in all shapes, sizes, colors, garbs and hairdos known to mankind, equal to the population of many American cities. Throw in a Chargers game and Mission Valley’s head count equals a small nation. You might even meet cantankerous Betty, an ardent environmentalist born on a dairy farm in Mission Valley, who still lives here and works a Himalayan facial massage kiosk.
“You want sex in Mission Valley? Look around you, dummy. The developers have been shafting us for decades.”
If you want to save your soul, there are congregations that spring up every weekend in parking lots and hotel conference rooms. Some of the main churches are here, too. The Catholics have their tourist-attraction mission, bordering the northeast quadrant. Mormons have a presence in the southeast. So do the United Methodists with their south slope compound. Their church, perched and pointed, reminds us of the arms-wide statue of Christ overlooking Rio de Janeiro.
If you don’t believe you are religious enough for a church, you can always rent a Mission Valley hall for your wedding or your wake.
PART SEVEN: AND IN THE END A crib-to-coffin life in Mission Valley is indeed possible. You can be born here, attend K through 12, graduate college, find a career, find a mate, raise a family, retire and die. And although you can’t be embalmed, cremated, or buried here—there are no mortuaries or crematoria or even graveyards in Mission Valley—you can stay forever. When our neighbor’s dad succumbed to heart attack the neighbor sent the body out for carbonization. FedEx returned the ashes in a large Ziploc bag. We helped the neighbor pick out an attractive urn at one of the malls, and now his father’s resting place is on the mantle.
Our neighbor’s dad hasn’t left Mission Valley. We may not, either. Betty swears she won’t. When she’s not bitter, she’s fond of saying “There’s no place like home.” And Mission Valley, to many, is home.