I’ll take the charming anachronism over the “in thing” any day. Just give me the Flat Earth Society, Elizabethan countesses surfing the Internet, and long-haired hippies on Wall Street. Grant me Kodachromes and unicorns, abaci and handset phones, any obsolete history reawakened and made contemporary.
I’m a fan of the enclave and a champion of the underdog; my favorite color is black sheep, and my favorite fashion’s the ugly duckling. I want my pegs squared and my jewels to shine from roughs. I like my beauty difficult, on the principle that easy pleasures are for the intolerant. And when I see where America’s headed today, I’m compelled to post some cautionary notices: “Open up, fearful country, and embrace your differences!”
Some of San Diego is undeniably slouching off into the Sad, Great Homogenization, but some of SD’s retro, some of it’s rich, and some is “alternative.” In short, we San Diegans have still got options. And option number one, the angel of my appreciation, the element that bucks convention, San Diego’s last true neighborhood and earthly connection, indeed, the soul of this good place, is Ocean Beach. If SD were the Beatles, then OB’d be George Harrison. In a garden, OB’s the flower you didn’t plant yourself, but you keep it when it pops up, the indigenous part, like a floral surprise among the vegetables.
I will tell you a parable about Ocean Beach, from an event that actually happened to me, one recent afternoon, a sunny midsummer Saturday in this summer community, when the beaches were almost full. Ocean Beach bustled, lunchtime, people going, bright sandal-traffic, motorcycle-traffic, music from the boardwalk and Newport Avenue, the smells of ocean and asphalt and Hodad’s and beer.
A late arriver, attempting to park, I found myself winding farther and farther from the choicest spots, far from the beach. It was a long time before I came upon a space big enough for me, fronting an abandoned building, but an elderly woman was standing in the lines, wearing a darkly flowered housedress and staring at the ground.
I honked once, politely, inching closer to the old woman and the spot. I smiled. But her face was furious, a map of crossing wrinkles, and her voice hissed at me suddenly. “I’m a vehicle too! I get to be here just as much as you!”
And they all get to be here; yes, in Ocean Beach, we can all belong, amassing our distinctive details (remembering that God is in the details). Because where else in San Diego can so many characteristic details discover a home? The longest pier on the West Coast, bright and tiny bungalows set side-by-side in rows, No Starbucks!, No Gold’s Gym!, Dog Beach, feral cats, cheap rent, booming jets, Sunset Cliffs, the end of the 8, men with facial hair, women with body hair, multiple piercings, VW campers, tattoos, bare feet, mom-and-pop, Deadheads, dreadlocks, activists, OBecians, transients, liberals, vegetarians, psychedelics, artists, bikers, backpackers, slackers, sunbathers, food vendors, crunchy granola, tofu, wheatgrass, grassroots, farmer’s markets, sandy picnics, tidepools, skateboarding, kite flying, meditation, volleyball, hacky-sack, freewheeling, Boogie boarding, bodysurfing, pier fishing, pickup soccer, bonfires, hemp clothes, used books, power crystals, green parks, tarot cards, jewelry beads, homespun, co-op, consignment shops, close-knit, good karma, laid back, antiques, beer bellies, coffeehouses, lazy traffic, dive bars, street fairs, pawn shops, alleyways, palm trees, curios, carefree, au naturel, whale watching, middle classes, super mellow, unpretentious, love to spare and love to give, anything goes, live and let live.