Jeff Smith 8 p.m., Aug. 30
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- Right Smack Dab in the Middle
A FANTASTIC HISTORY OF MISSION VALLEY
A FANTASTIC HISTORY OF MISSION VALLEY, From 99,000,000 B.C. to AUGUST 24,1965 A.D.
With guest appearances by James A. Michener and The Beatles
There is no record of the following visit to Mission Valley by James A. Michener, prolific historical fiction writer par excellence, or of his meeting the Beatles. But had he visited, and had he met the Beatles, why, Dear Reader, might it not have happened like this?
It was August 24, 1965. James A. Michener had traveled by rail to address the Young Writers’ Forum at the University of San Diego. Unexpectedly his train had come to a stop near Old Town. He poked his bespectacled head out the window, and asked the blue-uniformed conductor: “What the heck is going on?”
“It’s a parade, Sir. For a rock and roll band from England. The Beatles. Ever heard of them?”
“No. But I have to make a speech in an hour. And I’ve never been late in my life.”
James A. Michener climbed down from the railcar, briefcase in hand, fedora on his head. “Which way to the University of San Diego?”
The conductor pointed to the white, Spanish-Renaissance architecture atop Linda Vista mesa, overlooking Mission Valley, and James A. Michener strode off in that direction.
James A. Michener hadn’t walked far when he realized he had entered a historical place. The strata of cliffs before him depicted the ages of San Diego: geological, reptilian, native American, Spanish, Franciscan, Mexican, Yankee and American-Commercialism.
James A. Michener closed his eyes and saw volcanoes and tectonic plates and a San Diego surrounded by mountains and deserts and an ocean. The toothy T. Rex and plodding Brontosaurus came and went, followed by sloth, mastodon, camel, horse, and fearsome saber-tooth tiger, followed by sheets of ice.
When the ice melted, San Diego took shape. Silt from the San Diego River attached the island of Point Loma to the mainland. Shifting sands linked Coronado and North islands. Erosion from Mount Soledad and Crown Point, as well as silt from the San Diego River, filled Mission Bay, which was once deep enough for ocean-going vessels.
Mission Valley, the setting for our story, began as a 500-foot-deep trench cut through a mesa by that busy San Diego River, creating Mission Hills on one side and Linda Vista on the other. The trench filled with—you guessed it—San Diego River silt, fertile, flat and perfect for dairy farms, orchards, fields, vineyards, pastures, and squatter villages.
When explorers Juan Cabrillo (1542), Sebastián Vizcaíno (1706) and Junipero Serra (1769) came to Mission Valley, which they called Cañada de San Diego,” they found alder, cottonwood, willow, sycamore and wild grape lined the river banks. Also abundant were deer, rabbit, squirrel, coyote, quail and duck, all hunted by the Indians, and bear and wild cats, which were not.
A bird dropping splat on James A. Michener’s fedora, and he opened his eyes. “Heck! I’m going to be late!”
But James A. Michener hadn’t walked more than 50 yards—head down, rehearsing his speech—when he spied a spearhead in the sand. It was obsidian, and it filled his palm. He turned it over, and saw it was perfect.
“I made that. Do you like it?”
[Dear Reader, please keep in mind that this may or may not have happened. Thank you.]
Before James A. Michener stood an Indian man and an Indian woman. The man was naked and muscular and tall. The female was pudgy, and wore a tunic of bark cloth and rabbit skins. Both had several tattoos, inked with cactus needles and charcoal, and both had long black hair, although his was bunched atop of his head.
“It’s simply remarkable,” James A. Michener said.
“It is said the chipped tools we make here are the best. Same for the baskets which our women weave. They can actually hold water.”
At this the woman smiled broadly and touched her mate’s hand.
“Who are you?” asked James A. Michener.
“I am Kumeyääy. Our people arrived from Yuma about 3,000 years ago. Other Indians were here, but we took over. This woman is from Yucatán, where more advanced peoples once lived.”
James A. Michener looked at the Indian woman. In her eyes there was something knowing, as if she comprehended the power in seeds and soil, permanence and preparation. “We Kumeyääy like our olds ways, the Indian man continued. “We ritualize puberty, marriage and death. Our customs and beliefs are as good as yours.”
James A. Michener could see these Indians were not arrogant, but proud. Not smug, but confident. Not afraid, but cautious. He handed the spearhead to the Kumeyääy, who said: “You keep it. A gift from our era to yours.”
James A. Michener slipped the projectile into his briefcase. When he looked up, the Kumeyääy were gone.
Laughter from the other side of the river distracted James A. Michener, who saw two brown-robed friars following an east-west trail [today’s Friars Road, Dear Reader]. These religious were amusing each other with risqué jokes.
“Did you hear what the actress said to the bishop, after having he gave her a tour of the mission’s new bell tower?”
“That’s quite an erection, your Holiness.”
“Oh Father Jayme, you are so wicked.”
Just as James A. Michener was about to hail them, Indian men confronted the friars. They pointed in the direction of the Mission San Diego de Alcala, now engulfed in flames. There was a struggle, followed by a knife in the heart of Father Jayme, who returned to his Lord on the spot. While the second friar ran screaming bloody murder, the Indians, as was their custom, scalped the dead Father Jayme.
James A. Michener, taught to practice heroism whenever given the opportunity, frantically searched for a place to ford the river.
“Señor, I would not go over there if I were you,” came a heavy Spanish accent from a soldier on horseback.
“But somebody’s got to help that priest.”
“He is beyond help. Besides, the natives are revenging one of their own, whom the friars recently flogged. The resentment finally has boiled over.”
“Resentment from being taught to read and write and wear clothes?”
“No. Resentment from being converted, then forced to labor in the fields and tend livestock. And if an Indian disobeys he is jailed and flogged. The zealous friars, I’m afraid, have imported their Old World punishments with their Bible.
“But may I ask, Señor, what you are doing in Cañada de San Diego?”
“Actually,” replied James A. Michener, “I may not even be here. If I am, I’m either on my way to make a speech, or I’m a literary foil so the author of this terse tale can slip in a little history of Mission Valley. And you, Sir?”
“Lieutenant José Francisco de Ortega, Comandante, at your service. I’m from the presidio across the way.” Lieutenant José Francisco de Ortega removed his sombrero and swept a circle as wide as his reach.
“Glad to meet you, Lieutenant. And I sincerely wish I had more time to talk. But I have to get to Linda Vista or I’ll be late.”
“Hop on, por favor. I’ll take you across the river. There you’ll find a caminito up to Linda Vista.”
On the other side of the river, James A. Michener began to straddled a barbed wire fence to cross a cow pasture.
“Hey, Mister. Where you going?” the dairy farmer yelled.
“Up to Linda Vista.”
“Guess you’re one of those Oakies from the Hooverville?”
“That’s right. Hooverville. Named after that president in Washington, D.C. Jobless folk from the Midwest have made a camp along the river. They come on my pastures to shoot jack rabbits—Hoover Hogs, they call ‘em—and sometimes hit my cows. But you don’t look like them. You know where you’re headed?”
“The University of San Diego to speak to students.”
“Never heard of it. Guess you’re lost. But go on across. Cows were in here earlier, so watch your step.
The caminito of Lieutenant Ortega was steep Colusa Street, and near the top James A. Michener needed a break. He removed his fedora and a wiped his glasses with his handkerchief. He was standing in front of a construction site.
A worker was leaving, carrying his loaf-like lunch pail.
“Enjoy the concert,” his coworkers shouted.
He saw James A. Michener standing on the sidewalk, catching his breath. “Looks like you could use a ride. Where you going?”
“Up the hill. To the University. But I’m going to be late.”
“I’ll give you a ride.”
In the cab James A. Michener asked the young man: “Off for the day?”
“Yeah. I’ve got to get home and shower. Going to the Beatles’ concert tonight. Have you heard of the Beatles?”
When James A. Michener arrived at the lecture hall he was informed that his speech had been cancelled on account of the Beatles concert at Balboa Stadium.
“Is the concert really more important than my speech?”
“Yes, Mr. Michener, I’m afraid it is,” said a cheerful college student.
James A. Michener, writer of historical fiction, strode to Linda Vista Road and raised his hand for a taxi.
[Okay, Dear Reader. This is the last time I’ll ask you to replace your sense of reality with fantasy. But here’s where the fantasy gets fun.]
A black limousine stopped in front of James A. Michener.
Excuse me, Sir. Have you any Grey Poupon?” asked a young man with a bowl-shaped haircut and a Liverpudlian accent.
“John! Not now!” came another Liverpudlian accent within the limo.
“Just kidding, you know,” said John Lennon to James A. Michener. “But might you know how to get to Balboa Stadium?”
“I don’t. Sorry. I’m not from here. But I’m trying to get to the same place.”
There was a brief discussion inside the limo. “Get in. We’ll all go together.”
And the Beatles introduced themselves to James A. Michener who thought, “Heck. If I don’t have the oddest way of walking into history.”