“There’s money down there,” he answers gravely. The girl’s mother rushes up and yanks her away.
  • “There’s money down there,” he answers gravely. The girl’s mother rushes up and yanks her away.
  • Image by Alex Farnsley
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Oh, a few old ladies will always be scattering birdseed, but most of our voters realize that pigeons just don’t belong here. They simply aren’t San Diego. Did you ever see one on the beach, for instance, or in a suburban shopping center? Those bright pink feet, that officious waddle-preposterous!

Doc Webb’s special pride is a tattoo—a painting, really—he once did on a sailor’s back, an epic battle between a gigantic squid and an octopus.

A pigeon is a big-city, back-alleyway bird. Living on handouts. Not even a pretty song. A messy nuisance. Let's clean up Horton Plaza!

While we're at it, let's take a look at the human inhabitants-they're as bad as the pigeons, cluttering the area south of Broadway with their card rooms, two-buck hotels, porno bookstores. Let's clean them out, and make the area “harmonize" with beautiful downtown San Diego...

It’s only four o’clock, but already there’s a two-bit pool hustler at the rear table, looking tough, playing fast and hard-and inaccurately. He winces whenever the door is opened. Daylight hurts his eyes.

Down the block a clerk is leaning against the counter of the empty porno shop, chewing his cigar and glaring at the street. A black girl passes by, wearing an afro with a vivid orange strip angling back from her forehead. The clerk shouts something after her, and they both laugh -but as she turns away, her eyes are cold. Above their heads, the naked neon lady keeps blinking on and off.

No doubt about it, this isn’t a “nice” neighborhood.

South of Broadway on 4th and 5th Streets, Old Doc Webb’s is about the only place you’ll find much action on a Friday afternoon. When we get there Doc Webb is bending over a customer’s arm, wiping away the blood and ink. Underneath, a peacock is beginning to take shape over the faded old tattoo, and “the Doc” nods in satisfaction as he squeezes out his sponge in a sink of murky water. “We’ll color it in some now,” he says, switching to a blue needle.

He could hardly have a more enthusiastic customer than this bald little man. Parts of other tattoos are visible on his other arm and at his throat; Doc Webb did them all. “The Doc’s the only one I trust-did he tell you about his tattooing machine? Solid gold, see here? It’s the world’s finest. That thing is worth between four and five thousand dollars.’’

Doc Webb smiles with quiet pride. “Show them your other arm, Archie.’’

“Yeah-here’s one he did just this afternoon. It stopped bleeding so I took the bandage off.” Uh-doesn’t that hurt a little?

“Nah. This is where the fun comes in. Look close, now, and you’ll see the skin vibrate.’’

Another spectator, a shy kid with one pierced ear and a small gold cross for an earring, has crowded into the tiny shop. After looking over the hundreds of drawings on the wall, from modest hearts to six-inch serpents and sea monsters, he finally blurts out, “You got any swastikas?’’

“I dunno. Carol, do we have swastikas?”

Carol is evidently Mrs. Webb, a grandmotherly lady who’s been writing letters in one comer of the shop. “Oh, I’m sure we must - just a minute,” she says, readjusting her spectacles and going into the back room. She returns with a drawing of a swastika in red, outlined in black. It’s about the size of a fifty-cent piece. “How much?”

“Five dollars, honey, for this one?”

Doc Webb looks up from the peacock and nods, but the boy has gone. “Sometimes they get cold feet,” he shrugs.

What about your own tattoos—did you do them all yourself?

“I did all of ’em on my left arm and my legs, and most on my right arm. I’ve got 94, and I was only going to have one when I started.” His customer laughs, and so does Mrs. Webb. We wonder how many tattoos she’s got, but it doesn’t seem polite to ask. None of them are showing.

Doc Webb’s special pride is a tattoo—a painting, really—he once did on a sailor’s back, an epic battle between a gigantic squid and an octopus. We admire the photograph, but I can’t help adding that I hope the sailor never regrets it. “Regret it?” Mrs. Webb exclaims. “Why should he, a beautiful thing like that?”

Back in Horton Plaza, a man with three days’ worth of beard is staring intently into the fountain. Bright patterns from the sunlight on the water play across his face and his faded red sweater. He’s clutching the concrete rim of the fountain so tightly that I think he’s going to throw up, but he turns away instead and picks up a long piece of palm bark. Slowly and carefully, he probes the bottom of the pool with it. All I can see on the bottom are cigarette filters; the water is the color of weak tea, although a faint blue stripe around the surface indicates that the pool has once been painted.

“Hey—what are you doing?” asks a little girl. Her mother is waiting in line at the tourist information booth.

“There’s money down there,” he answers gravely. The girl’s mother rushes up and yanks her away, and he goes back to his probing. Soon he gives it up and drops the waterlogged bark into the fountain. He wanders off, not even a nickel richer.

“Aah, you shouldn’t pay any attention to those winos,” says Bob Johnson, owner of the Palace “Buffet,” a bar at 328 F Street. “They just sit in here all day and drink, waitin’ for their government checks.”

Bob Johnson has been in business south of Broadway since 1921, but he says not much has changed in the area “except the allmighty dollar. Back then, if you had a dollar in your pocket it was worth somethin’.” He used to own the Off-Broadway Theater next door, the last burlesque house on the West Coast, and “when it opened I paid $5 a week rent, and I took in $10 a night and thought it was good money. I paid the girls a dollar apiece, and put the rest in my pants pocket and took it home. Didn’t even have a safe. These days, goddamit, you need a bookkeeper to take care of your business, and the bookkeeper needs a bookkeeper.”

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