Ellen Bass 6:20 p.m., Dec. 10
Few years back, I was in a posh San Diego rehab battling wretched alcoholism. Every night, my fellow rehabbers and I would pack in the shiny white van, and head off to yet another AA meeting. We’d go all over San Diego: La Jolla, Del Mar, Coronado, OB, Clairemont, El Cajon, and La Mesa.
One night, on the way to our meeting, the driver mistakenly got off on College instead of Fletcher Pkwy. No worries, though. All we had to do was drive down El Cajon a few miles and we’d run right into our destination. As we cruised on down, my rehab buddies started to ooh and ahh with wide-eyes, and gaping tongues, blown away by the scenery.
“Oh my God, this is the infamous El Cajon Blvd, everyone talks about…Ugly, gross!” They all laughed and started to point at some of the more conspicuously seedy sights, getting a tremendous kick out of the “Tubs” sign: an anachronistic 60’s motif of billowing clouds and bubbles, sadly, covered in dark soot. I remember old Tugs. When I was a teenager (thirty whopping years ago), Tubs was the exotic, denizen of decadence. A place you Jacuzzied nude, made out, smoked pot and drank under-aged. You can probably guess what type of folks utilize it now…
My voyeuristic buddies were laughing at the puky orange 70’s style motel, and rudely pointing to the bored-looking, provocatively dressed young girl standing out in front. Finally, their avaricious attitudes and taunting got to me. I bellowed: “Hey, guys, knock it off! This is not a bad neighborhood, well, not all of it…There are some outrageously good Mexican fast food joints, really nice Ma and Pop shops, and some of the most shockingly honest body shops you’ll ever run across! And you should see the side streets. Really eclectic, guys. Beautiful white-washed Spanish Villas with pristine gardens and gargantuan trees. And ya know what? They share the street with dumpy little houses with rusty cars out front.”
They all just stared back at me, astounded by my rant. Then they just busted into raucous laughter, one friend patting me on the back, asking “Easy, kid. Settle down. Why are you defensive?”
“’Cause, we just passed my condo complex, ok? And I don’t like it when people make fun of my neighborhood.” They tried to stop laughing, but to no avail. It was okay. We laughed at each other all the time; laughter and cigarettes replaced our previous social lubricants of drugs and alcohol.
Anyhow, I told em: “Hey, guys, I grew up in La Jolla, and we used to have a saying: ‘There is no life east of the Five.’ Wasn’t till I moved out here did I discover what I’d been missing all along.” They shook their bemused heads at me, still smirking as we cruised in amicable silence down El Cajon.
We finally reached our meeting on the corner of La Mesa and El Cajon Blvd, held in a splendiferous Gothic-style church imperiously towering over it’s humble neighbors: the smog check place across the street, the Mexican fast food shack with hand pained signs on the right, and a small, plain-looking Calvary church on the left.
In that meeting, I think my buddies finally understood what I meant when I said how “eclectic La Mesa” was. A veritable myriad of all types of people were there: well-dressed yuppies, doctors, bikers, parolees, housewives, homeless…essentially, a tremendous cross section of America huddled into one room. But what bedazzled my fellw rehabbers was the countenance of the place: everybody was intermingling, talking, laughing, oblivious to appearances. It was a stunning exemplification of the latest buzzword Inclusiveness.
Such a sight is becoming increasingly rare at AA meetings. In La Jolla, the genteel crowd rules; PB, it’s surfers; North Park, the cool people; El Cajon, bikers. I don’t mean to say, though, that most AA meetings are about people hanging only with their tribe…that would be unfair. But this meeting was conspicuously without cliques: people were seamlessly interacting, looking relaxed, with no fear, anxiety, or judgement…Dali Lama would have been proud. I said to my friends, “See now, why La Mesa is so special?” They got it. One even said: “Yeah, it’s fun to hang out with people you normally wouldn’t…it gets boring after awhile, you know, hanging with the same type of people.”
I smiled. “See guys, that’s why I love La Mesa.”