La Mesa
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The doctor says, “You’re a few pounds overweight, your cholesterol’s a bit scary, and your blood pressure…”

“Yeah, okay,” I grumble. “So what’s your prescription?”

“You could change your diet.”

“Not for the better, I couldn’t. My wife already suckered me into eating like a bird.”

“Then…” He pauses so long, I imagine he’ll say, “Get ready to die.” But he says, “Exercise.”

Before I have a chance to complain about my overbooked schedule or to argue that I already play golf and softball and take our baby for a walk most every day, he says, “Whatever you do, double it.”

“Cool,” I say, thinking that if Pam suggests I play too much golf I can give her a shocked look and say, “Doctor’s orders.”

But she could argue that golf costs money and walking doesn’t, and we live in La Mesa, arguably the best walking neighborhood east of I-5.

For serious hiking, Cowles Mountain is maybe ten minutes by car from our home, and for strolling, Lake Murray’s even closer. But why drive at all when our part of La Mesa, which newcomers call “the Village,” is surrounded by three pretty hills?

Suppose we start from the trolley stop at Spring Street and La Mesa Boulevard. Rather than take the boulevard with its countless antiques shops, we go east on Allison, make a left on Pine, the greenest and homiest of the cross streets that take us to University Avenue. After crossing University, we’ll turn right and perhaps look down upon a game of Little League baseball or old-timers’ softball before we make a left on Memorial Drive, into MacArthur Park. If we’re lucky, as we pass Porter Hall, an AA meeting will be happening and we’ll overhear a confession or testimonial. Then, using the second stairs on the right, we’ll cut through the Community Center, pausing to glance at the seniors doing yoga or the tiny girls dancing, and pass the playground where moms chat while their kids hang precariously from the jungle gym. With an eye out for errant golf balls, we make a left and continue upward to the crest of the hill that overlooks the Sun Valley Golf Course clubhouse and the community swimming pool, and before the descent, we turn onto a paved path that leads us to a cul-de-sac and a modest but gracious neighborhood.

A few hundred yards along Porter Hill Terrace, we make a left and climb again on Tia Maria, go right on Tio Diego, and proceed to the top of Porter Hill, to peer southeast between houses across pleasant old La Mesa or to gaze north into the present and future, the megastores of Fletcher Parkway.

Back down the hill, we’ll follow Randlett to La Mesa Boulevard. On our way back to the trolley, we’d better stop and strengthen ourselves with a chile relleno at Mario’s or albóndigas at Por Favor. But then, remembering that pesky doctor, we need to walk off those calories.

We go one block east of Spring to Palm Avenue and stride south to Pasadena Avenue, the road that meanders around Collier Park, and as we leave the park behind, we start wandering, our compass set to northeast and upward, until we reach the crest of Boulder Heights and perhaps find ourselves wondering why people even want houses big as cathedrals, or how many hundreds of gallons of gas a week a family with two Explorers, a Navigator, and a Hummer must use.

By the time we find our way back to the boulevard, we crave beer. We rationalize the indulgence by reminding ourselves that we’ve got one more hill to climb, and it’s the toughest. The most aerobic. The fat burner.

So we stride west on the boulevard to Date Avenue, make a left, then a right on Lemon Avenue, plod up a short hill, and make another left onto Alta, where we continue ever upward to the intersection of Alta and Fairview, where we look for the steps, a walker’s trail between yards.

Olga, a fiery Russian prophet who lives here on Mount Nebo, tells of a route of steps like these that would take us to the mountaintop and down the other side, if the previous two hills, albóndigas, and beer hadn’t sapped our will to explore.

Atop the steps on Pasadena Avenue, we admire old houses and a mansion or two — Mount Nebo was an early haunt of La Mesa’s prosperous. It’s a good place to catch our breath and ponder some mysteries. Why is it, we wonder, that old mansions appear graceful, while new ones look obscene, or at least pretentious?

And why doesn’t someone appear and offer us lemonade on one of the decks that overlook La Mesa, from Lake Murray to Mount Helix?

At Vista Drive, we go left, then make a right on Prospect and march on. The road has flattened out. We’ve climbed all we’re going to. The road ends in a circle around some grand eucalyptus trees. We gaze west, from south to north, through sparkling air or smoggy haze, at the Pacific, from below the border to Del Mar, and congratulate ourselves for following doctor’s orders.

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