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The “My Neighborhood’’ writing contest drew 400 fiction, nonfiction, and poetry entries, describing life in more than 90 locations in San Diego County and Baja California. Stories awarded honorable mention prizes were published in the issue of April 4. This week we are presenting the winners of the $1500 first prize and $750 second prize, along with notable excerpts from many of the remaining entries. We want to thank everyone who participated in this year’s writing contest.

Cover of writing contest issue, including photo of Jamo Jackson, first prize winner

Cover of writing contest issue, including photo of Jamo Jackson, first prize winner

Insomnia Is The Number One Killer

by Jamo Jackson, First Prize winner

A freeway runs through it. The freeway starts in San Diego. God and Rand McNally know where it ends. If you want to go to Rainbow, you have to get off either before you get there or after you’ve passed it by. There are no exits in between.

The highway used to run right through town. It was U.S. 395 then. Rainbow was the center point in the stretch from state 76 to the county line that they used to call the Bloody Gap. Drunks, tourists, high school kids, Mexicans, Marines, locals, whole families all crashed and burned on the Gap. A lot of ghosts are wandering around out there, wondering why they never made it to Vegas. Or even Temecula.

It took over two years to blow up the Bloody Gap and lay I-15 down on the rubble. Opening up the inland corridor, they called it. They worked like coolies bringing the railroad to the settlers. But the train doesn't stop here. And the settlers couldn’t care less.

Rainbow doesn’t even exist. It’s on some maps, it even has some CalTrans population signs out on the freeway. But it doesn’t have a post office. Fallbrook is the bottom line on everybody’s address. That’s where the post office is. All Rainbow has is a name.

Rainbow was originally a man. That was his name. A Union Army officer, he came here after the war to homestead and named the place after himself. He has rug rash now from turning over in his grave every time someone drives by on I-15 and speculates that the hippies must have named it, back in the ’60s.

The hippie theory gets reinforced every time someone gets off the freeway and drives through on the old highway. The ’60s got ahold of Rainbow and never let go. A building moratorium has been in effect since early in that decade. No new houses have been built in the middle of the valley for 25 years. The water table is too high to safely accept any more septic tanks. There is no sewer. No toilets, no new homes, time stands still. It’s like when they build a new dam and the little village behind the new dam gets covered by a new lake. And years later, when the drought comes, the water recedes, and the little village slowly emerges from the muck, and the people who had to leave come back to look at the place where they used to live. It’s the same thing here, only the dam never got built and the people never left.

Of course, the moratorium only exists on the valley floor, in metropolitan Rainbow, as it were. Up on the crest there is no water table, and anybody can build whatever he wants as long as he has the money. When you drive north on I-15 and look over to the right, that ridge over there is the crest. Rainbow Heights. You can drive up there during a Santa Ana and see San Clemente Island and everything in between. At night you can see the light blinking on top of the SDG&E plant in Carlsbad and muzzle flashes from the big guns on Camp Pendleton.

The ridge is where the rich Rainbonians reside. They pass through the valley from time to time behind tinted windows in foreign luxury cars, gliding without a pause through the four-way stop at the corner of Eighth Street and Camino Rainbow. If they stop at all, it’s usually at the video rental place to pick something up for after dinner. In the old days, driving up to the Heights at night, they might have passed a hitchhiker in prison blues with a case of Bud under his arm. That would have been an inmate from the Rainbow Conservation Camp risking a six-month extension to come down to the valley after hours to snag some cold ones. The honor camp is tucked away in an oak grove at the north end of the ridge. Clandestine beer runs are gone forever now that the camp is all female. The ladies are more disciplined, primarily because they know that the only other state correctional facility for women is at Frontera. Rainbow is Shangri-La compared to Frontera, and no one wants to go back over a case of beer. They’re happy to fight fires, pick up trash, and wile away their bad-time, elbow to elbow with their Republican neighbors on the Heights.



On the eastern slope of the ridge, in the sage and rocks between Rainbow and the Pala Indian Reservation, the big houses slowly dissolve, and the older stucco and wood two-bedrooms begin to appear. Most are occupied by the same sort of retired and middle-class folks who live in the valley, people who want nothing more than to live out their lives in rural semi-isolation. The rest are meth labs. Nobody knows how many. Maybe 2, maybe 20. The number goes up and down as the speeders get busted, their cookers get broken, and their Rainbow Red Hair gets chopped down and hauled off to the substation in Fallbrook, piled to the headliner in the back of a green-and-white Blazer. The meth-heads come down from the Heights to buy Marlboros, to rent the occasional video, to have a drink at The Oaks. They keep to themselves and vacillate between pretending that no one suspects a walking skeleton with bad teeth and long hair is not a legitimate farmer and wild paranoiac despair that maybe they do. When times are tough they steal, mostly avocados (money grows on trees in Rainbow), but a quiet B&E isn’t out of the question, particularly with so many nice homes within striking distance and so few of their residents home during the day. They steal the same household items that dopers in the city do but particularly covet auto mechanics’ tools. The crystal people love to work on their cars and have a deep primal need for removing their dashboards. A county deputy who lives in Fallbrook says that when he pulls over a long-hair driving an old car without a dash, he knows he’s got a keeper.

Rainbow’s other major industry is ornamental plants. Nurseries are everywhere. Thousands of plants are grown here every year and shipped all over the world. Growing plants is labor intensive, and the labor comes from Mexico and the rest of Central America. Most of the workers live in the bushes along Rainbow Creek, their encampments identified by the plastic jugs and beer bottles that litter the perimeters. The number of homeless per capita in Rainbow must surely rival that of San Diego, the only difference being that these guys have jobs.

Like the nurseries themselves, the workers are everywhere; riding their bikes, hiding from La Migra, hanging out in front of the No Loitering sign in front of Sommerville’s Market, cooking their dinners over open fires, crowding around the step vans whose drivers hawk Mexican comic books, Walkmans, tortillas, and whole chickens. On Sundays you can drive up in the hills west of the freeway and see scores of them lined up beside an old sedan, waiting for their turn to fornicate in the brush with one of the pimply prostitutes imported from Tecate or Tijuana. They are more Indian than Mexican, many of them looking like they just hiked out of the jungle, with their white straw cowboy hats, plaid polyester pants, and cast-off imitation Nikes.

Like the speeders, they mind their own business, despite the fact that they are collectively blamed for every major and minor local crime. From time to time, the pale green cars of La Migra cruise through to pick up the stragglers, either the ones on foot or those slowly driving around in 20-year-old Pintos and Plymouths. It’s always a quick stop, everybody out of the trunk, into the border patrol car, and off to the station in Temecula. Everybody knows his role. Even the car gets whisked away, a border patrol guy behind the wheel, cautiously edging back on the road to follow the patrol car back to HQ.

La Migra is by far the most visible law-enforcement agency in Rainbow. County deputies and the CHP are rarely encountered off the freeway. With the border patrol checkpoint guarding the freeway at the north end of the valley, the old highway through Rainbow is a popular alternate route for coyotes carting their human cargoes to the promised land of L.A. If you drive north on the old highway after dark, you’ll encounter the coyote patrol just past the county line. When you drive by the patrol car parked just out of sight on the west side of the road, the friendly agents will snap on their high beams, and as you sail by in the sudden glare, they’ll make a snap decision whether to chase you or not. It’s the price you pay for not taking the freeway, a trade-off for not sitting in the line of cars backed up behind the checkpoint on a busy night.

Insomnia is the number-one killer of young adults in Rainbow. It is the village that never sleeps. All night long, the young lonely boys wind out their dirt bikes through the hills or race down the old highway going nowhere fast. The dogs bark, the roosters crow, the radios blare with talk shows, heavy metal, and mournful Mexican ballads. Tires screech and engines backfire as carloads of night people cruise through the dark, while empty Bud bottles slowly roll back and forth on the floorboards. Gunshots are not uncommon.

Sometimes they sound far away, like a distant battle. Other times they sound closer, and you wonder if maybe the neighbors aren’t killing each other in the front yard. Usually it’s three or four blasts followed by a short pause and three or four more. Laughing, screaming, shouted threats weave through the night up and down the valley floor. High school kids in pickups and Hyundais park on building pads up in the hills, pull out their speakers, crank up their stereos, and dance in the dirt, while the heavy bass lines of Metallica and Iron Maiden echo through the brush. Helicopters rumble over on their way back to Camp Pendleton, and in the summer, the dull thud of exploding artillery rounds on the base make the ’Nam vets reach for another Winston. From time to time the air-raid siren will start to howl, and all across the valley volunteer firemen will know that somebody crashed out on the freeway. The siren screams, the dogs howl, the volunteers rush to their cars and race to the station. Once assembled they ride their fire truck out to the freeway, lights flashing, off to the rescue. If it’s a bad wreck, the next sound you hear will be the steady drone of the Life Flight chopper, churning through the sky, ready to pluck some hapless soul off the pavement and back to civilization, back through the night.

There’s no 7-Eleven in Rainbow. No McDonald’s, no banks, no libraries, no Safeways, no strip malls. There’s a bar, a cafe, a gas station, two markets, a video place, a satellite dish store, and a detective agency. Ten minutes up the freeway and over the county line is every franchise in the world. Temecula the old cattle town is now Temecula the new Irvine and Knott’s Berry Farm rolled into one. Thanks to the freeway, it’s now possible to get to Escondido in about the same amount of time it takes to get to Fallbrook. It’s 45 minutes to the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, if there isn’t too much traffic on the Del Dios Highway.

You can leave Rainbow and be watching a film at the Ken in less than an hour. Rainbonians go to San Diego all the time. San Diegans think Rainbow is on the edge of the earth, if they know it exists at all.

Rainbow can’t compete with Temecula or San Marcos in the franchise department, but it does have a landmark or two and the odd quirk that makes it what it is. The valley is home to one of the oldest active chapters of the Grange in the state. The Grange was founded in the last century as sort of an Elks Club for farmers. The chapter in Rainbow has its own meeting hall and from time to time stages pancake breakfasts on Sundays.

And like a few other rural enclaves scattered around the county, Rainbow sports a flock of parrots. It consists entirely of escaped pets and roosts in a grove of eucalyptus trees south of town. Despite their emancipation, several of the fugitives still speak the foreign tongue of their ex-masters. Sometimes in the late afternoon, you can hear them squawking at each other, both in English and parrot. It can be somewhat unsettling when you first hear it, but not unpleasant.

World War II tower

World War II tower

At the entrance to Rice Canyon sits an old, whitewashed, wooden two-story structure that looks like Rapunzel’s tower as envisioned by the Army Corps of Engineers. It was built during the war (the big war) as a lookout post for civilian aircraft spotters. In the early ’40s, its inside walls covered with silhouettes of Japanese Zeros and Betty bombers, the tower was home to local volunteers who scanned the skies for enemy activity.

Why the enemy would fly to Rainbow is lost to time, but the tower remains, its current owner periodically threatening to tear it down, someday.

Farther down Rice Canyon Road, you can look up into the Heights and see what’s left of the Keith House. It used to be the dream house of a man named Keith, who built it on the sheer rock wall high above the valley floor. It was a huge modern mansion until it burned down one night a few months back. The rumor is that it was underinsured and will never be rebuilt. Mr. Keith and his family allegedly fled to Hawaii, and what’s left of the dream house is slowly returning to the elements.

I live here. It’s been my home for nine years. I reside in a small house on five acres and still pay the same rent I did the day I moved in: $200 a month. The house used to be part of a tourist court that was built behind a gas station on old 395 sometime in the ’20s. The gas station, the main house, and my cottage are all that’s left. If I’d grown up here instead of in Fallbrook, I would have gone from kindergarten through the eighth grade at Vallecitos School, in the center of the valley. For high school, I would have been bused to Fallbrook to spend four years hanging out with the rest of the Rainbow boys over by the corner of the library, with my hands in my pockets, laughing, sneering, telling secrets, sneaking smokes, talking about the bikes we had or the bikes we were gonna get. But I didn’t grow up here. I showed up in my middle 20s, and now I’m in my mid-30s, and nothing much has changed. The freeway is here. The Keith house burned down. That’s about it.

It’s a great place to be alienated. When I went to my high school reunion, I discovered that more graduates from my class live on my street in Rainbow than any other street in the world. I see them drive by once in a while and we wave. I know all of them, knew ’em in school, but I haven’t said more than five words to any of them since I’ve lived here.

It’s a great place to drive around fast late at night and wonder what happened, wonder why I’ve stayed so long. When I get done with that, I can go home and put Neil Young on the stereo and play it so loud the walls shake and no one cares, no one calls the cops, the cops wouldn’t come if they did. There aren’t any cops, just La Migra, and La Migra leaves me alone. I can stash my old cars out in the yard and no one cares, no one even notices, in the late summer, when the big thunderclouds roll in off of Palomar at three in the morning, and the hot rain comes down like bullets on the barn’s metal roof, I can drink bourbon and stand naked next to my junk cars and chase the dog through the mud and shoo the owls out of the barn into the night. I can sit under the olive tree and smoke and watch the steam rise off an old trunk lid and listen to the cars sizzle by out on the road, and nobody cares, nobody sees, nobody knows but me.

When my friends from the city come to visit, they always say they’d give anything to live like this; this is the old California, this is the way it used to be before Temecula turned into Irvine and there wasn’t any freeway and there weren’t any yuppies and condos and tracts and strip malls and this is it, this is where the old California came to die, where it’s still the '60s. We can’t leave our jobs, they say, we don’t want to commute, we don’t want to drive for 45 minutes to see a band, we can’t live in a 300-square-foot house.

So get a satellite dish, build a house in the Heights, go to work at the detective agency. It’s right around here somewhere. I was looking through the Yellow Pages one day and I saw it, under Investigators. Lewis Detective Agency. It’s on Rice Canyon Road. I’m gonna get a job there myself. I’ll walk to work. I’ll sit in my office all day and throw cards in my fedora. I’ll hang out at The Oaks and drink and smoke, and it will always be the ’60s. And I’ll always get my man. □

Strange Eden

Juliette Mondot, Second Prize winner

Juliette Mondot, second place winner

Juliette Mondot, second place winner

Summer 1984

We moved to our little old house at 13th and Island because we found a mortgage we could afford near our office. We expected we would have to assert our turf. We brought a gun and a bad attitude from Gaslamp, where six years of pioneering introduced us to senseless street violence. One night the first week, we walked out our porch to investigate noise. We almost tripped over a seated young black woman and saw a young white man in our yard peeing, loud as a horse. My husband told them to get out. The woman refused to move, cursing us. The man dragged her out the gate. She was very insulted and very drunk. She called us every gutter name in the book. I went inside and called 911. My husband got the shotgun and brandished it on the porch. We had established our turf. The woman hurled a parting salvo at us that I accepted as a backhanded compliment: “Look at you. You got a house. You got a car. You the new nigger on the block.”

Other than a few drunks fighting, the neighborhood is remarkably quiet. Five homeless winos sleep on the block.


I’ve checked out all the local stores. A ghetto mentality prevails. Prices are high. The closest liquor store stinks of urine on the outside and cigarettes on the inside. I used to brave the phalanx of panhandlers to stop and buy milk, but the other day a drunk pulled his pants down to his knees, inviting me to sample his exposed anatomy. As he stumbled toward me, I ran back into the store and yelled at the Middle Eastern clerk to call the police. A balding man, a slouching fixture at this store, ordered me to take my problems somewhere else. I screamed at the clerk five times to call the police. The clerk’s macho response was to grab a baseball bat and escort me to my car. I don’t shop there anymore.

There are some real characters here. Navajo (real name Dennis) is an Indian from New York. He has long, black hair, and when he drinks firewater he goes crazy. He bellows around the streets picking fights. He beats his girlfriend. She is another classic drunk. Every boyfriend beats her. We watch the Indian and the girlfriend conduct regular sparring matches down the street, like reruns of a weekly sitcom. It’s always the same script.


I’ve had another baby. We’ve worked endless hours on our house, which is livable but far from finished. Since two big homeless shelters opened, there’s more street people and more piles of excrement between the cars. The weather is perfect. Our garden thrives with volunteers: mint, honeysuckle, lilies, and narcissus sprout beside the old roses. The avocado tree has made a good swing for the kids.


Another year of hard work. Babies and old houses are so labor intensive.


Just after New Year’s day our station wagon was stolen from the front of our house. It turned up four days later in San Ysidro with an ashtray full of Marlboro butts and two trips to L.A. on the odometer. The tow yard charged us over $100. The car was stolen again on the Fourth of July, same mileage, same butts, same tow fees.

Winter 1988

Our son was born with much difficulty. I’m glad we have a warm home to shelter us. Storms from the Arctic fumed over the sky with raging clouds that defied San Diego’s reputation as a place without weather.

Valentine’s Day 1989

Our house was burgled by our former babysitter’s teenage hoodlum boyfriends. They got our sound system and our gun.

Center City East

Center City East

Spring 1989

The homeless started moving into the parking lot across the street every night. They are now sleeping on both sides of us — an evolutionary assault on our neighborhood’s safety. At first it was just a few quiet people who went about their business of surviving. No harm in that. Then more came and the endless party started. Late into the night some refilled their bodies with alcohol and/or drugs, boom boxes blasting, singing, street rappin’, like foul-mouthed public address systems. After the rescue mission settled a complaint by closing its courtyard and discouraging loiterers, homeless men moved to our street en masse. Like a virus on a weakened host, fundamentalists now drift in from the suburbs bestowing food, clothes, and blankets on the indigent. Nonconsumables quickly make it into the resale market, while food and drink often wind up in stinking piles and puddles between the cars.

Returning home late one night, I saw a soup kitchen caravan in the parking lot — a 4WD truck and a flatbed truck with six big urns of coffee, tea, and hot soup. Word travels quickly on the streets, and an odd assortment of Friday-night party people queued up, while the homeless slept or tried to sleep. The leader, a nice grey-haired man, handed a parka to a blonde teenager clad in a tight, black-knit miniskirt, while a red-rouged Hispanic transvestite sashayed by in a red dress. I said to the nice man, “I wish you good people would realize that you’re invading our neighborhood.” He said that he was under orders from Jesus to do this ministry. His children were screaming from the flatbed truck at a drunk, “You’re spilling your coffee. You dropped your banana. Father, he’s spilling his coffee!” The drunk, pointing back at the children, slurred in a gravelly voice, “And next time you come down here, don’t bring them.”

One Pretty Spring Afternoon

I was standing in my front yard when 20 street denizens converged on the sidewalk. They took turns to hunker down by a motorhome and furtively smoke. Suddenly I realized the shabby motorhome with Colorado plates was a mobile crack house. It had been parking around our street, but I hadn’t given it any thought, because it was not one of the car campers that stayed in one spot for weeks, accumulating drifts of Styrofoam and brown bags.

Reacting with rage, i screamed curses at them. Nobody heard me. No one even noticed me. I was invisible. Unlocking my gate, I walked out into the crowd. They were like sharks, in a feeding frenzy. I looked at each face, then strolled around the back of the motorhome and memorized the license plate. Back in my house, I phoned 911 to give descriptions and license numbers. The police dispatcher thanked me and asked me to phone the Narcotics Street Task Force with the license number. The police came quickly and made five arrests. After they left, five new customers entered the motorhome before it drove away.

Next Business Day

Bright and early, I called the task force and tried to tell the woman who answered the phone that I was told by the police department to give them a license number of a motorhome crackhouse. The woman cut me off, "Shut up and listen. We don’t do vehicles.”

"You don’t do vehicles?” I whimpered in stunned disbelief.

"No, we only do businesses and residences.”

A Week Later

A well-dressed dealer wearing a white cap and his pretty, young girlfriend came from the Cadillac camped down the street for the past three weeks and did a drug deal on the hood of my car. I stared silently. His girlfriend stared at me. I said, "That’s my car.”

The dealer glanced at me and said, "So what do you want? To get paid?”

"For what?” I asked with total disgust.

"For doing a transaction on your car?” he snapped.

We argued. I grudgingly obeyed his directive to get my "ass inside the house,” but my strategic retreat was only a short-term strategy.

For the next week, every time a smoker started to light up a crack pipe in front of my house, I shouted street speak, "You know that punk dealer with the white cap? He threatened me. It was truce but now it’s war. You’re going to have to go elsewhere to smoke that chemical shit. I got children here.” Without exception, the smokers moved on.

We and our neighbors complained bitterly to police about the crack traffic. Police officers did surveillance, but the camping Cadillac remained a source point. Finally after venting on two sympathetic beat officers, the cops took action to remove the happy campers from our block. Mr. Cadillac spent the day under the hood and drove away, another car was pushed away by a drinking street crew, and one was towed. The next day, 95 percent of the crack traffic in front of our house was gone. I went back to babies and gardening.

Fall 1989

My neighbor Maria, only 13 years old, was walking to a local store to buy milk. She was terrorized by a homeless man who repeatedly chased her, demanding, "When are you gonna have sex with me?” I was so enraged, I organized a meeting and passed out 200 flyers over three days of walking around with the kids in the stroller. The meeting, at night, was across the street from an encampment of "outdoorsmen” on J Street. Sixty people showed up, Mexican mothers, children, and businessmen, to talk with the police captain of downtown and our councilman. With one voice, in Spanish and English, we said we were overrun by the homeless. We were all victims of theft, threat, and violence. We were afraid. We were told that the government agencies were aware of our problems but that basically nothing could be done until there were more resources, and we would not have more resources until taxes were raised. Sure enough, nothing changed.

Spring 1990

Angel finally died. She lived in a house down the street when we first moved here. I saw her first in the Gaslamp a decade ago, drinking on the streets. She lingered around the neighborhood after her house was demolished by the housing commission to build a low-income hotel. When TV news crews came to our neighborhood, she always gave good interview. For the last year and a half, she’d looked eight months pregnant. I even saw her on TV saying she was having twins. An old retired resident who shelters selected street women, nicknamed Brother Theresa, said it was a liver baby, from drinking too much. He took her in the last nine months of her life, feeding her, making sure she kept clean and giving her a nice bed. She died in her sleep. I’m glad she didn’t have to die in a gutter.

More Center City East

More Center City East

Fall 1990

A street sweeper cleans our block once a week now.

The expanded redevelopment area will include Centre City East. Citizen representatives have been elected. Shopping carts are periodically rounded up and replaced with big garbage bags to hold possessions.

The sleepers in the parking lot have become more violent. It is the same party crowd that has monopolized the sidewalk by the local liquor store for over a year. We woke one Sunday at 4 a.m. to the screams of a man,

"Help! Call police!” My husband phoned 911 while I watched two shadowy shapes. The victim, wrestled to the ground, picked himself up and hurried away holding his injured hand, ignoring concerned inquiries. Twenty minutes after our call, a patrol car slowly prowled the street. Everything was quiet. I was too upset to sleep, so I sat on the front porch, tired and numb. Five minutes later, a distinctive shadowy shape appeared again. The mugger came back to the parking lot and bragged loudly to the assembly of sleepers. He wrapped up in a blanket and joined them. Twice I phoned the police to report the mugger’s presence. The next morning, after a street friend told me the mugger’s name, I called the police again but was told that there is no crime if there is no victim to file a complaint.

A Month Later

Another mugging out front before dawn. The victim disappeared, so police let the assailant go. No victim. No crime. At least the cops were nice.

Christmas Eve 1990

Pancho’s dogs were barking all night. Christmas day we read in the newspaper that a man had been stabbed in a downtown hotel. I went over to the hotel and confirmed that our friend Pancho, a retired Marine, was the murder victim. He used to sweep his block clean every day, talking with everyone. We miss him.

New Year’s Eve 1990

We heard assault rifles firing for 20 minutes past midnight. The last four murders of 1990 took place in Centre City East.

February 1991

We complained to police again about the escalating violence. A nice officer came to our house to talk.

Reported crime statistics confirmed that our beat really is dangerous. Even the fence around the police vehicle yard has sprouted coiled razor wire. The police helicopter routinely circles our dark streets, its blades thwacking overhead to illuminate crime scenes. But there is a shift in the wind. Our neighborhood is now part of a new maintenance district. Beat officers have been active again, making personal contact with loiterers. The party crowd no longer blocks the sidewalk around the local liquor store. Several of them, including the mugger, were taken to jail, probably under the new Off-Enders program.

Today, Centre City East lies in a schizophrenic twilight zone between blight and redevelopment. The new Picasso’s bruised eyes, painted on the old dairy building, peer west to a downtown rising optimistically, while the east side limps toward the millennium. Welcome to Centre City East, where my home, sweet home, is anchored in the flotsam and jetsam of desperately poor people who push shopping carts down Island Avenue, like silver ships on asphalt seas, their cargo bound for the recycle center. We are downtown’s effluent watering hole, sprinkled by golden showers, where thugs sell their drugs. At night our streets become a Third World city, de facto camps for the ill and addicted refugees from the economic wars and outlaw predators from both sides of the border. My husband and I are hopeful about redevelopment, but whether it turns out to be progress or simply a different cast of characters remains to be seen. With its perfect weather, Centre City East is a strange piece of paradise. □




My hair is turning blonde and gray at the same time.

Welcome to San Diego.



There are two graveyards in South Mission Beach. The first one, called Wreck Alley, only divers know about. It is a fascinating place located somewhere off the jetty, where several sunken ships have created a playground of marine life and rusting artifacts. Those in the know conceal its whereabouts because they’re afraid what might happen if the word gets out.

Same with the second graveyard. It’s located on Mission Boulevard and serves cocktails until one in the morning. Last year a man shot the final dart through his liver with a rum and coke from this establishment. They left him slumped over the bar for hours, unaware that anything out of the ordinary had occurred.

Very little was made of it, publicity-wise....

How many neighborhoods can claim to be the hood of choice among San Diego homeless? How many would care to? Indeed, vagrants are an integral part of the character of this community.... The distinction between what is localism and what is actually vagrancy is somewhat fuzzy at times. On any given Saturday night, the only difference between the vagrants and several older locals is that the locals have a place to sleep after the Beachcomber and the Pennant close....

I guess it’s appropriate that this neighborhood lies on a precariously thin finger of land surrounded on three sides by polluted water and the fourth by a rickety old roller coaster. It’s even more appropriate that now that the coaster’s up and running, the first thing visitors to South Mission are greeted with is a blood-curdling scream.

Banker's Hill

Banker's Hill



It is easy to detect a newcomer or visitor to Banker’s Hill. He’s the one standing with his mouth open and head tilted back as he watches an airplane screeching by overhead, so close it seems that the pilot must have miscalculated his altitude. The locals all seem too unconcerned for their own good.



But the heart of PB is concrete, pure and simple. PB The Community is two long streets, Garnet and Grand, dedicated almost solely to the promotion of frozen yogurt and beauty products. I wondered about this when I first moved to PB, but I’ve lived here long enough to understand the tremendous PB market for guise and a manicure. I have adapted. Now it annoys me if I have to walk more than 30 yards or so to pick up a bottle of Awapuhi flax seed protein mist and conditioning gel....

If you haven’t pushed a shopping cart full of groceries home through the alley, if you haven’t stopped in at the Goodwill for some household furnishings under $10, if you haven’t lived with a sand-plugged bathroom drain because the landlord wouldn’t come out from Escondido on a Sunday, you haven’t really lived in PB.



Windansea! Fuck Wolfe! He never got it right. Maybe his white suits and pansy attitude were just a precursor to what it was to become. We lost a decade there, one we want back, one wandering around in our brains somewhere, one so remarkably different than what the real world has become that it is a running joke. Only the babes have maintained their stunning beauty.



In the place of the chocolate son there is real life — life where reality is unreal, life where reality is not painted white — except of course when Channel “Know It All News” tells you about it....

The hood is the home of the Ghettonian, and his anatomy is far different from the pretty pink fantasy of Cosby or the Prince of Bel Air. Here there is a different prince, a stronger prince, but a prince without a king, so he staggers without guidance, lest he leans on God....

One of my favorites is the Gang Banger, cause he, with all his street sense, don’t know shit. “Yo, man, you seen Red? I’mma kill dat Nigga when I see’m.” To you those might sound like empty words, till you see it on Channel “Know It All.” Today in the Black Sector there was yet another slaying. Police (who don’t know shit) say it is believed to be gang related. The suspect in the shooting is 14-year-old Charles Manson, known to friends as “Blue.” In a sick way, it’s kind of patriotic, cause you got your reds, your whites, and your blues. With the power in the hands of the whites. Crazy, huh?



The coyotes still bark at night in the hills and set the numerous canyon dogs to howling, inevitably, in turn, creating a chorus that can be traced by ear as it works its way through the canyon.



The real thing, that’s what Lakeside is all about.... Mechanical bulls and the sort might be found elsewhere, but not in Lakeside.

For example, when there’s a dry taste of copper at the end of your taste buds when cinching up the slack in your D-rings of your rigging upon the withers of an ornery, chute-fighting, wild-eyed bay bronc appropriately labeled Firecracker in the stock contractor’s rough string, and the entry fees are all paid, and it’s your chance to ride out the eight seconds all the way to the rodeo secretary’s pay window.



Having grown up in a small city on the south side of Milwaukee, I know what it’s like to live in a place with a “history.” ... Just saying my last name inevitably brought comments like, “You must be one of Frank’s daughters” or “Any relation to Bob and Stella?”

But here in Penasquitos, nearly everyone’s a first-generation pioneer.

Their roots, their stories, their relatives are elsewhere — back East (a phrase that seems to refer to any place beyond El Cajon), down South, across the border, or on the other side of the Pacific. For kids here, having a history means their soccer coach remembers which position they played last year....

In some ways, this newness offers advantages. There are no expectations to live up to. No preconceived notions of who we are and what we can or cannot do. The slate is as clean as the new linoleum in the laundry room.



As he navigated his way down the carpeted hallway, he... imagined his wife calling every realtor in La Jolla until she found Janet and then bribing her to treat him like scum, as she ate bon-bons in their 4600-square-foot home in Scarsdale, New York. Although he was 3000 miles away, she could desiccate him, relieving him of any form of sanity....

Janet was on the phone. She handed him a rental application and a pen with JANET WESTLAKE plastered all over it.

He carefully studied the printed form, abruptly fixing on the marital description. He checked the box: Separated. He pondered the emotional and financial cost necessary to check the box immediately below: Divorced. Why couldn’t it be that easy? A quick swipe of the Janet Westlake pen, and he goes his way, she goes hers....

Coast Boulevard in La Jolla became home. A beautiful stretch of beach, it screamed CALIFORNIA, especially to a New Yorker. It also said SO THERE! to his wife. There was some satisfaction in knowing that all legal documents had to bear this address. It wouldn’t have the same effect had it been Neptune or the like. He rationalized: the view, not the name, swayed him; but his gut told him otherwise.





By some estimates, 50 percent of Coronado homes have a rat problem at some time. In my case, I thought at first that birds had been eating tangerines off the tree in my tiny yard. Every morning when I went downstairs, I found hollowed-out tangerine rinds littering the. ground.... One evening, as I lay in bed watching television, my cat charged the second-story window facing the orange tree. To my dismay, there were half a dozen rats clinging to the orange globes, eating the sweet fruit with dainty hands and quivering snouts.



More than anything else, Tierrasanta is for the person who strives to reach a firm resolve and maintain a consonance in life. Consider its characteristics. Because it is a newer community built on the outskirts of San Diego, on the frontier of the desert, its roads are long and spacious, quite effectively challenging any threats of morning or late-afternoon traffic buildups. In addition, there is quick and easy access to three major freeways: 15, 52, and 163. The buildings here are all new, and the architecture does not clash; rather, everything is constructed so as to match and blend in a neat and orderly fashion. The landscaping is neither drab, too alternative, nor so lush as to constitute a blatant waste of water for San Diego. There are new parks, banks, supermarkets, video rental stores, restaurants, and cafes all within a two-mile radius of my apartment complex. There is even a U.S. postal outlet nearby. There is never a speck of trash in the street, and the streets are all very well lit. At any given time, the Tierrasantan can step out on his front porch or pull over to the curb while driving on the nearly deserted roads and be assured of a comforting and glee-inspiring view of the well-planned community that surrounds him....

On a spectrum of neighborhoods, Tierrasanta is at one end and the drug dealer’s neighborhood is at the other, with all other neighborhoods and the corresponding purposes and lifestyles of their inhabitants lying somewhere in between. Thus Tierrasanta can be considered the true enclave of conservative living in San Diego. Undoubtedly, it provides the foundation for the cultivation of a secure and orderly life. Tierrasanta neighborhoods are to lifestyles as Classicism is to orchestra music. Tierrasanta cries for the person whose purpose it is in life to attain a firm resolve, maintain consonance in life, and avoid chaos at virtually all costs.



The way things look is of great importance to the people of La Costa.

No clotheslines, no TV aerials, even the color of one’s house cannot be independent. There are few or no people with unconventional or unique personalities. Differences are discouraged as they are feared. Even the public park is restricted and requires permissio/i and registration from the' school next door. Conformity is the key to a unified image and static death. Fear of each other and all that lies in the living world prevails, and police and sheriff patrols are frequent. If one walks through this neighborhood, they are asked if they, live here, as if to walk on the public sidewalk were incriminating.



Certainly not everyone in my neighborhood is a yuppie, although I suspect the people with “Will Work for Food’’ signs who stand guard at the shopping center entrances have Saabs parked down the street, for they will not agree to wash my car in exchange for a McDonald’s Happy Meal, as their advertisements claim.



It was by an Amtrak conductor that I first heard my town of Cardiff — dusty, friendly little Cardiff — referred to as “elite.” I stared at him in astonishment. Was he serious? Del Mar I could see inspiring that adjective. La Jolla, Rancho Santa Fe — a multitude of places. But Cardiff?... When we bought our house, Cardiff was one of the cheapest spots on the coast.

It was charming as well as cheap, though; a sort of low-budget, Leave It to Beaver town full of altruistic people like den mothers and retired schoolteachers. We had higgledy-piggledy houses perched on the hills. Post-war tract homes mingled indiscriminately with lovely, crumbling, turn-of-the-century ones with porches. We had picket fences. We had bougainvillea.

We also had colorful local characters. There was Old Charlie, who ran illicit rum and tequila from Tijuana to the coast towns during Prohibition. By the time I met Old Charlie, he was over 70. He loved to stand in the doorway of V.G. Donuts, tossing out wildly unlikely compliments to passing females....

I’m not sure when the cozily rinky-dink flavor of the town began to change. Becoming “elite” seems to have crept up on me while I was thinking of other things. The day I saw a white Rolls-Royce purring beside the take-out window of Cardiff’s Jack in the Box could have been the tip-off; but I just thought; “Ho, another tourist.”



A presumably homeless man once fell out of the pepper tree in our back yard. I say presumably because, unbeknownst to us, he appeared to be nesting in our tree. One night at around 11, my roommate heard a rustling of branches, followed by a loud snap, followed by an even louder thud. An agonizing wail was the crescendo. From her window, we saw a man sitting on the ground rubbing his back and checking for bruises. About two seconds later, the cops showed up (we didn’t even call them) and asked him why he was in the tree and was he drunk. His only response was “something hit me.” Indeed.



OFFICIAL MOTTO: Jewel of the Hills

ACTUAL MOTTO: Not in my back yard.



In my neighborhood, my neighbors are potential adversaries who smile thinly at us when we smile at them. They are not drug dealers or criminals but senior citizens. We live in a seniors-only community built for people over 55. We are in our early 40s. We are challenging the right for a group of people to grab up a whole neighborhood and rule it like a dictator.



I moved into my mobile home park in November of 1987.... My park is about 75 percent senior citizens; therefore, as a single, 24-year-old male with a beat-up pickup truck and very little porch furniture, I was welcomed like a boil on a butt.

About a month after I moved in, I thought I smelled gas in front of my coach (local term for trailer). A guy from the gas company confirmed my suspicion. I was told there would be a crew out later that night to fix the leak. I had to go out that evening, and when I returned, I couldn’t believe what I saw. There were about 75 seniors camped out in my driveway, drinking coffee, making quilts, and watching this historic gas repair. It was the most excitement this place had seen in a while.

From that moment on, I was pretty much treated like a hero for being able to sniff out a gas leak. A couple of ladies even had me go over to their trailers, get down on all fours, and see if I could smell any gas leaks. From that moment on, I really felt accepted and felt like a real “mobile-home man....”

The average time it takes a senior to do laundry is about 14 hours. They bring along knitting stuff, books, food, knives, and set up a command post that would make the SWAT team envious. Just like the label says, they wash each item separately. They fiddle, shake, rattle, and fluff each item with love and care. One lady showed me how to fold clothes right, and it kind of changed my life a little.

East San Diego

East San Diego



There is a family who is similar to mine. Two parents who both work. School-age children. We work hard and look forward to the day when we can leave this neighborhood and move somewhere where we can raise our family in a neighborhood where most kids don’t know or ask, “What is a prostitute?” You get that living right off El Cajon. My sons find used rubbers in the front yard. They ask, “Why do these women get into strange cars?” Try explaining to an eight-and five-year-old these questions. And then there are the men who dress as women with long wigs and miniskirts.

The kids know that these are not women. But in my neighborhood, we deal and wait for the day I leave my neighborhood.



We carefully pedaled through hundreds of shattered bottles, over old, broken sidewalk, spoke-tangling weeds, occasionally outrunning stray dogs who had developed a taste for denim. The group would investigate stripped down, burnt-up car frames long ago abandoned by car thieves.

Everyone would arm themselves with sticks and stones, surrounding a large, gnarled tree concealing an ancient treehouse. It was essentially some long pieces of aluminum and a rail made of several boards, but we had confiscated it, and it was ours. Nervously, my friend lowered the makeshift trapdoor, a small piece of wood, while we stood ready to pelt any winos who might have crawled up to nap. Nobody home, so we climbed up into our fortress, ready to repel any attackers.



Sometimes I wake up here and pretend that I am on a farm back in the South. Only ’cause I hear roosters cackle in the morning. It’s truly amazing that they seem to cackle every 30 minutes to the hour, starting at five in the morning. My neighbor keeps his roosters in a shed in the back yard, and at night I think he lets them loose every now and then, only because I see their footprints in the dirt. They seem so out of place here, but I like them. They are my alarm clock.



Grantville is an important neighborhood you have to drive through to get to Santee. You could walk or peddle, but I recommend driving if you don’t want to be run over by the townfolk of Santee a-goin’ and a-comin’ to or from the big city.

Grantville was established in 1897 as a place for an old soldiers’ home and named in honor of the ol’ General himself.... Fr. Junipero Serra was the fellow with an unusual hairdo who set up a chain of soul-enhancing hostelries during the 18th Century, the first being in Old Town, the second in what is now called Grantville. Father Serra was told by his boss that General Grant would be coming along in a century or so, so he prepared a place for the troops to R&R and, eventually, to retire in peaceful solitude and family-raising, and maybe open a fast-food outlet. I guess they did; we sure have enough of them.





Uptown is an odd place itself. There you’ve witnessed the barbers’ daily struggle to keep Hitler’s haircut alive. You’ve eaten chocolate cake in coffee shops crowded with people writing stories and poems about people writing poems and stories while sitting in coffee shops, painstakingly forging a new genrfe. And the used bookstores there, they sell the great and the god-awful on the same shelves, for the same price.



“The woman who lives within me has just discovered she is with child,” says the house across the street.

“At last!” says the house on its right.

“The old man who lives within me is approaching the end,” says the one to its left. “Yesterday he called out for his wife who has been gone 20 years.”

"Yes, yes," says my house. "He called so loudly I could hear him myself"

"Last night the little girl who lives within me had her fever break," says the house on the corner. "Her parents were so relieved they put waltz music on the phonograph and danced for an hour.

Then they made love in front of the fire."



The once-beige carpet was so dirty you thought it was brown. The walls had mold growing on them. Walking toward the bedroom, I noticed there was a 12-inch board across the bottom of the doorway. Behind it was 12 inches of dirt over the entire floor....

Later I found out from a local that the previous renter was quite an entrepreneur. He sold all sorts of drugs and was growing pot in his bedroom. Which is now my bedroom. He simply laid down tarpaper and began farming....

The landlady cleaned and painted the apartment, replaced the carpet, and we moved in. For months afterwards strange people would come to my door at all hours of the day and night.... One morning as I opened the door to go to work, I stood at the top of the steps, startled for a second by two very high men standing staring at the door. They didn’t say anything or even blink. They just stood there in some kind of trance. Perhaps they were honoring the guy that had lived there once.... Another neighbor informed me that when he left for work later that morning, they were still there, unmoved. This kind of thing got to be a regular event at my door.

Normal Heights

Normal Heights



We have a good Neighborhood Watch program that continues to grow and strengthen itself. My block captain became obsessive about a drug house on my street. He had everyone peeking through their curtains, chronicling their observations — he yapped at the heels of the landlord that rented the house and made a lot of noise with city officials. Finally it all came together in one big bust that was even televised. Now that house is quiet. Someone raises budgies in the back yard. A nice little boy plays out front. Our street is peaceful again. Neighborhood Watch did that.



The baby conveyances are always interesting. Rarely seen are the baby carriages of two generations past, large, made of wicker and rolling on tall wheels. The modern baby ferry rides on balloon tires and is plastic, sleek and smooth....

Casually, one wonders why parents take these precious babies into the neighborhood. In part it is most likely to give the matriarchal guardian a small release from the close responsibilities the unknowing tyrant baby imposes.



I received a welcoming visit from the lady across the street a couple of days after I moved in. She wiped off the chair before she sat down. Her face seemed to draw in on itself, all her features collecting in the middle, as she ran down her list of the people on "our" block, telling me what each did for a living.

"The people next door to you are Navy, but he’s an officer, so that’s all right. On the other side are two young lawyers. My husband is a teacher, and I am a homemaker. The colored gentleman next door to me is a doctor. Kitty-corner is Federal Government....’’ Then it came, as I’d known it would: "And what does your husband do for a living?"

He works at a gas station. The best I could think of at the moment was, "He’s in the petroleum business." Back then, that still meant something, and I watched as my status was upgraded in her eyes from "white trash" to "well-to-do eccentric." If the wife of an oil baron wanted to drive a 1970 Mercury with a 248 Cobra engine and no hood, hey, who was she to quibble?



gang fights, yeah, routine — east san diego, jimtown gang was tough, pal — nobody had television, no bread for a movie, so we used to beat the hell outta each other — 25th street, linda vista, rose park, tunaville, we used to go at it — one time, we met the grossmont gang in the parking lot at la mesa rec center — stopped on the way, bought some rolls of wide adhesive tape, stuck a piece on our forehead — see, you get a hundred guys in close quarters flailing away, you ain’t got time to figure out should i hit this guy or not — try to stop your nosebleed with one hand, hit a dude with the other hand —try to see outta your one good eye, spit out a tooth — it was wonderful, man — fire department came, blew our asses all around that parking lot with their high-pressure hoses — goddam, that was great — the grossmont dudes were purty tough, we beat the snot outta them, they bought some cases of beer and so we let ’em hang around the trocadero skating rink.... east san diego was my favorite neighborhood, pal.



Driving through the neighborhood, I’d never seen so many pickup trucks and RVs, pickup trucks and three-wheelers, pickup trucks and — We pulled into the driveway of this fairly decent looking house (except for the dead grass and wilting trees).

"Well, we’re here." My mom must have known that we were in B.F. Egypt. After all, she was in the same car I was. How could she be so perky? Nevertheless, she sounded thrilled to be at home. Her home. I wasn’t going to say anything to ruin her moment in the sun.


When I opened the car, I felt this surge of nuclear wind singe the hairs from my face. I had barely gotten out of the car when I felt like I was having a heat stroke. “I-I-I can’t breathe. Ohhh my god,

I can’t catch my breath. My throat, my throat!” My mom told me to knock it off....

Before I passed out, I remember seeing the patio thermometer. It read 103.... When I woke up, my mom told me that we’d been living there two weeks.

So, I thought, it wasn’t a dream, I really was in hell.



Frank the bird man is on the corner. He bends backward, extending his swollen belly toward me. A hairy band of flesh protrudes beyond the bottom of his soiled, gray T-shirt. With one grimy hand, he grips a large, rusted bird cage. Wally, Frank’s parrot, sits perched inside. I’ve yet to hear this talking wonder utter a single syllable. He always looks angry to me, his green coif a dirty, rumpled mess. “Wally wanna cracker?” Frank squawks for my benefit. “Hey, lady, got a cigarette?”



It’s another night in San Diego County’s Vibe Central, the Harmony Grove Spiritualist Association encampment. At the bottom of a rolling, two-lane road, past acres of cows, the spiritualist camp is a funky collection of pastel cottages, jingling wind chimes, and furtive cats. The tiny lawns are sprinkled with ceramic castles, plastic flamingos, and statues of gnomes. Scraggly oaks and thickets of cactus cover the hilly landscape....

The hub of the camp is a small, grassy field ... used for weekend psychic fairs. On this day, about 20 mediums offer readings at the battered card tables dotting the lawn. An assistant district attorney visiting from Louisiana chats with several of the psychics and explains how he used to think the whole thing was ridiculous until a Harmony Grove resident helped him solve a murder case that had stumped everyone else.

Mission Bay

Mission Bay



Kevin and Ralph are two mentally ill transients who are desperately waiting for help. They live with Kevin’s pet, Marcie, in the men’s bathroom on the boardwalk. Kevin used to drag Marcie around on a rope which was tied to her foot. “I took Marcie everywhere. Then everyone stopped talking to us,” says Kevin. “Marcie hasn’t eaten in a long time, and I’m getting worried.” Last week Ralph finally convinced Kevin to abandon Marcie. Kevin’s pet chicken had been dead for weeks, yet he continued to drag it behind him everywhere he went. “There were too many ants at night. Sam didn’t know Sam was dead. I told Sam that Sam . would be happier with the ants, and Sam would be happier without ’em.”



The atmosphere was kind of Mediterranean. Bright sunny days, pastel-colored homes splashed against brown barren hills by the sea, open-air street markets shopped by shawled, matronly women. Our house was all white stucco, like something you might find in Italy or Greece. We rented from an absentee landlord who was said to have acquired the house in a drug deal. Or was it a card game? His mother would collect the rent on her monthly sojourns from L.A. Junior, I guess, was in jail somewhere....

Playas de Tijuana

Playas de Tijuana

We got to meet people from all over the world at the cancer clinic there in Playas. That was during the heyday of Laetrile. You would even see Amish people strolling around town in all black (way before it got popular), looking more third worldly than the locals.



The last, fragile, open acreage in my neighborhood has fallen to the developer. Each morning for a week last June, I stood at my bus stop at the corner of Florida and University and watched the destruction progress....

In addition to the fragrant eucalyptus trees and the lost geraniums, the lot had been home to several species of palm, both the barrel-chested fan palm and the stately Alexandra. There were pepper trees and bamboo, nasturtiums, and a rambunctious hedge of flowering jade that framed an extensive stretch of low retaining wall — a hand-crafted flagstone wall built without mortar that took a bulldozer to defeat it....

On the blocks of Florida Street bound by University and El Cajon Boulevard, there are approximately 45 condominium and apartment buildings. At any one time, at least 25 percent of these buildings have Vacancy signs hung out front. Additionally, the newspaper ads announcing the vacancies trumpet offers of “A free month’s rent! Free cable TV!” and, of course, the ubiquitous “miniblinds in every unit!” Are there not enough apartment buildings on Florida Street?



My neighborhood ... has lots of big dogs who bark and small dogs who want to kill you.... There are many badly pruned trees. People don’t understand that trees are a good thing, and pruning is not a death ritual.... We saw a crayfish crossing the road. We took it back to the stream behind our house. On the hill above the stream is soil that nothing grows on. Two construction guys who only looked official because of the orange vests dumped it there almost a year ago. It’s the only place where nothing is growing.



The Triangle wasn’t even green when we moved here in 1978, much less gold. Shades of brown prevailed on the mesa, but sunsets did color the scrub grass and chaparral that covered the vacant lots around the University Towne Centre on evenings when the coastal fog didn’t roll in from UCSD. Coyotes howled at night, and we saw them from time to time, most frequently on garbage collection days. They could commute easily from the wilds of Miramar by strolling across the Eastgate Mall bridge or climbing the mesa from Carroll Canyon or Sorrento Valley.



San Elijo State Beach is a comic walk, full much of the year with “campers,” which is what you ostensibly are when you back a 50- to 100,000-dollar RV into a tight little space next to a cruddy picnic table. Much of it is paved, which seems silly since the large day-use section is mostly empty and could be turned back to an extension of the little “Plants Native to the Area” someone earnestly started and which is a sad revelation.



The kids next door build a ramp for their skateboards, and they all begin to gather in the street to display their abilities to the others. Soon the hollow thumping boom every time the skateboard hits the ramp happens so often that you do not notice it. The old man notices it and comes out to find out what is going on. As he makes his appearance, you realize that there is going to be a problem. He immediately begins yelling at the kids that they are on his property and they have no right and to get this homemade contraption off his land. The kids claim it is on the street and therefore not his land. Soon the problem escalates as they refuse to move the ramp. The old man then declares he will move it himself and call the police. The kids are becoming uneasy at his behavior; it doesn’t seem normal to them. When he makes a move toward their ramp, they don’t do anything because they are now afraid of him.

They verbally protest this action, and he begins yelling at them and trying to drag the heavy ramp. The kids are thoroughly angry now but still hesitate to do anything. The situation is taken out of their hands when the old man starts grabbing his chest and falls to the ground. He rolls around yelling something about his heart. At this the kids scatter, and eventually he looks around and, realizing that he is virtually alone, gets up, unhurt, and yells for them not to put the ramp near his property again. He makes his way back towards his own gate muttering all the time....



The three black guys next door come in at 3:30 in the morning and crank up the stereo. I am horrified. Plainly, their day is just beginning. They are regularly visited by a heavy-looking white dude in a big Cadillac who pulls up out front. I am sure they are dealing....

The black guys are replaced by a woman whose husband has deserted her, “in despair,’’ she feels, over their 18-year-old son who has cystic fibrosis.

The boy finally dies, and my new neighbor is a young divorcee from O.B. I discover this when I ask her if the sticker on her car means her ex-husband is an O.B.-gyn. She spends a lot of time lying under her new boyfriend on the couch by the front door, which is always open, planning the preschool she’s going to start. Her ship comes in rather quickly, and she is replaced by Carmen and Jay, a gay couple. Jay stays home all day and chain smokes. He also watches the soaps and does needlework. Carmen is very proud of Jay’s needlework. Jay is leading my Dream Life.

City Heights

City Heights



The area south of Webster, which probably doesn’t ring a bell to many San Diegans. It’s 47th and Euclid. When taking the Euclid exit south, over to the right you must have noticed the community garden, a refreshing sight. Yes, the bad lands. The area is predominantly black, with Laotians and Vietnamese infiltrating the block, buying as many single-family dwellings and cramming three to four generations in them. Playing that bing-bang-wong-tong so-called music. In their foreign go-carts wrapped in sheet metal vehicles. My house is probably the only Caucasian residence in the area.... I suppose that when Whitey moved in, the locals yelled, “There goes the neighborhood!...”

There is one advantage being the only white family; no one walks on our sidewalk. They purposely walk in the middle of the street, avoiding our property like the plague. Except on Halloween, then just a few dare to enter our gate. Funny, isn’t it? ...

We also have a pack of wild dogs that patrol the area; they all seem to know if someone doesn’t belong in the neighborhood.... A couple of years ago about 1:30 a.m. I was laying in bed having just closed my eyes when I heard the familiar dogs barking. Arrgh, arhff, grr, arrgh! Then I heard a man’s voice yelling, “Ouch, motherfucker. Fucking dog. Let go, motherfucker.’’ More than likely, the dog got his man.



To me, this suburban business was completely new. I knew how to interact with horses, dogs, goats, sheep, cows, and all the rest; I didn’t know how to deal with the boy next door. One day I came out of Grandpa’s garage, and there was another kid in the driveway next door, bouncing a ball. He stopped and looked at me as if I was supposed to do something.

I stared back silently, shocked to find someone else playing ball in my neighborhood. Finally, with succinctness that only a seven-year-old can possess, he said, “Who are you?’’

I had no idea what to say. His question seemed ridiculous because, obviously, I was ME. So I replied, “I don’t know.’’

He threw his ball at me. I ran over and punched him.

He cried for a minute, then stopped. Somehow, it was clear to both of us that the introductions were complete, because I went and picked up his ball and asked him if he wanted to play. My first introduction and my first friend.



At one time, I thought the people in my neighborhood were aloof, self-absorbed, even stuck up, but I think I was wrong. With the exception of Clair, all the people who live in my neighborhood simply suffer from hearing and vision loss. I know my theory is correct because every time I yell “Hello!” to one of the people on my street, they turn their heads and act as if they did not hear or see me. I know that raising money to buy my neighbors hearing aids and glasses would be the neighborly thing to do; but I haven’t had the time to organize a fundraising drive as of yet.



You could call it a neighborhood, except that we really didn’t have many neighbors. Our closest neighbors lived about 15 minutes away on foot: Ernand and Socorro, along with their dogs, pigs, and the chickens.... I remember once that my friend and I got the idea to go and visit our neighbors Lupe and Bocho to see if they could help us change the shoes on one of the horses. We saddled up the mares and rode across the Sierra plateau to their ranch. It was supposed to have been one of those friendly little visits that you pay to your neighbors, drinking coffee while swapping local gossip and tips for changing horseshoes on a feisty mare. But it took us hours to get there, even though we galloped quite fast.... We drank coffee and then Lupe pulled out a big steel pot full of those frijoles and we piled them up thick on those asymmetrical, crispy flour tortillas that she made that looked more like animal crackers, yet they were always hot and fresh.



Razor ribbon curly-cues on top of a six-foot-high chain-link fence enclose my back yard in an industrial complex.... I live in a small camper on a truck that doesn’t run, but in summertime, I give amnesty to the skeeters one by one.

The meat-and-potatoes reality of any neighborhood is the neighbors themselves — the people.... I cannot say that I haven’t gained a lot from the people of my neighborhood. Most of them commute from south of the border....

I would be a street person without the people of my neighborhood. A blanket at Christmas, a daily generosity of lunches, and a call to pull up a seat at the end-of-the-work-week beer and bull sessions are just a tip of the iceberg of how much these people have done for me. From being given a couple days of work, to donations of aluminum cans, to a $5 bill from the lowest guy on the totem pole. My neighbors have kept me afloat. And for no other reason than that they knew I could use it, and that was just the way they are.

They tolerated my poor Spanish, made sure I understood the jokes, and translated their good stories for me.... The people of my neighborhood are good people, and that’s what makes it a good neighborhood.



I woke this early Tuesday morning to the sound I am so often awakened by, the grinding reverberation of the plastic wheels of three-year-old Jimmy’s toy ATV tricycle, against the fractured asphalt driveway of the Industrial Center, where myself and several other people have taken up residency. We realized that living under the same roof where we pay rent for our business to be located is about the most advantageous approach to try and make any headway in this world we must survive. Although we all recognize this is strictly against the lease conditions we all read and signed, it is shocking that the arrogant manager is totally unaware of what is happening....

Each of our units has an 8’x10’ office. This is basically where we are forced to live, because the garage area that we pay a mere 45 cents a square foot for is a cold and freezing environment, even on the warmest of summer days. Our meager offices, on the other hand, are comfortably equipped with heat, air conditioning, and lighting. Each evening comes with us pushing the desk into the corner, pulling out a small couch or setting up a cot, turning on the heater, and calling it a night....

One day as we visited [Bart], we noticed a bag of water sitting in the sun. After commenting on the odd-looking bag, he explained what an excellent shower it made at the end of a long day. Need I say, it wasn’t long before you could see many of these bags sitting in front of numerous units, soaking up the rays of the sun....



Any San Diegan will tell you of a La Jolla High School parking lot full of BMWs, and the mini-vans and station wagons in town sport window decals from the prestigious university that is educating the driver’s son or daughter.

Yet all of this is the "before.” Parents in La Jolla take care of their children just like parents everywhere; they just happen to have more material wealth to give. The "after” — after a La Jolla kid becomes an adult — can be equally as nauseating, but it can be a nausea of pain, not of jealousy or moral certitude.

Many children who grow up in such an environment come to expect such wealth without the work that precedes it.... The clay pigeon that so many people call La Jolla is an end without means, the fruit of harvest with all the sweat carefully hidden. In such an environment, a work ethic has trouble taking hold, and there are enough full-length tragedies to be sure this is true.

The tragedies are scripted in the names appearing periodically on the Pumphouse. Most who are remembered in spray paint on this locals-only obituary have succumbed to drugs, having trashed their young bodies in a fight against boredom — boredom brought on by an inability to focus on the process rather than the products of living.... Most of us who grew up in La Jolla have written or read at least one friend’s epitaph at Windansea.



As the clubs and bars begin to close, happily intoxicated nocturnal revelers spill onto the surrounding sidewalks. Exiting the Metro, a merry group choosing to forgo the crosswalk drifts carelessly into oncoming traffic....

Reeling from a sustained barrage of Jane’s Addiction, they parade past the front and rear of my automobile. The sweet stench of Jakartas seeps in through an open side window. Not since the East Coast winters of my youth can I recall being enveloped by so much cool: black shoes, black jeans, black motorcycle jackets, dyed black hair, bleached white faces. Never mind that these cutting-edge kids are probably from La Mesa, the look is very Uptown.

Downtown San Diego

Downtown San Diego



But it’s after you decide to stay, and you’ve plunked down your last $1400 for first, last, and security on a one-bedroom, 400-square-foot slice of heaven, that you discover, fershure, that Ocean Beach isn’t the paradise you convinced yourself it would be.

After your car gets broken into the fourth time, and there’s nothing left of your radio, your tape player, your custom shift lever, or your side vent windows; after your new old lady has her purse ripped from her arm, and you’ve got to change your locks and get new IDs; after the midnight banging by some crystal freak who mistakes your door for his buddy’s, the dealer’s; after all that, you realize that OB isn’t paradise or anything close. It’s where San Diego gets its drugs.



My neighborhood is good,

My neighborhood is bad,

My neighborhood sometimes makes me feel sad.

My neighborhood is earmarked in the south,

My neighborhood is where you’d hear about it from a newscaster’s mouth....

My neighborhood is a spot where dealers peddle their wares,

My neighborhood is a place that hope seems more of a dare.

My neighborhood is where most wouldn’t choose to be,

My neighborhood is one that a friend from La Jolla wouldn’t visit me,

My neighborhood is one that my family

and I constantly see....

My neighborhood says, “Get your act together,”

My neighborhood says, “Or you’ll be forecast like bad weather....”

My neighborhood can see the light at the end of the tunnel,

My neighborhood knows that hope will flow through the funnel.



I then walk my dog, which is amusing ’cause she can’t walk well. She can, however, stand sometimes and squat when she needs to. Squatting for dogs is not allowed in the complex. Only cats can squat in the complex. And tortoises, of which there are five. Dogs must squat on a patch of grass at the rim of a church parking lot across the street....

The patch of grass... is mottled with dead spots where dogs have done so much squatting.

My neighbor Dirk commanded his dog to squat on such a spot as I propped mine upon another....

“We did it,” he said quietly. “We bought a house.”

I shook his hand. “Where?”

“Not far from here, actually. About a mile. It’s not much bigger than our place now, but it’s mine.” Dirk nodded, pleased. “And I can put a bigger fence around it!”

He laughed as the Life Flight helicopter roared overhead and my dog crumpled to the earth urinating on herself.



The barking swirled through my head, now doubled and tripled with echoes from the empty pool. Off in the far corner, two brown Chihuahuas stomped around the vast courtyard like bug-eyed millionaires.

Mira Mesa

Mira Mesa



My neighborhood has no zoo, no observatory, no pier. We have no towering skyscrapers nor any sprawling health spas. My neighborhood has no trolley, no shopping bizarres, no architectural fantasies. We do not have the world’s largest saltwater tanks or suspicious numbers of dying sea mammals. My neighborhood no longer has any dinosaurs.

My neighborhood does not have any mansions, or mock castles, nor any palaces of gold and crystal. We have no polo grounds, nor any ponies. No golf courses or racetracks.

My neighborhood has no flamboyant florist, nor any seedy tattoo establishments. No five-star restaurants either. Not even a hot dog cart....

My neighborhood has no rotting vegetables nor any blooming fruits. We have no known sex offenders, no unusual overcoated perverts. No swapping of wives, no swinging block parties, no merry widows, or service-oriented milkmen.

No politicians either. My neighborhood has no well-known houses of ill-repute, no whores in tight shorts swishing, swashing, jostling down our streets. Nor does my neighborhood have any notorious socialites swishing, swashing, and jostling off the deep end of respectability and publicity....

My neighborhood has no tavern, no public house for political discourse, or sexual bargaining, or darts, or pool, or drowning sorrows and staggering home from a night of camaraderie. My neighborhood has no vomit in the gutters. My neighborhood has no forgotten fathers in its gutters. Instead, they are swept clean.

My neighborhood has no sidewalks.

The grass, however, is green.

For now.

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