Outside the Mission Cafe in Pacific Beach
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Once or twice a year, I try to walk all of Garnet Avenue between Mission Boulevard and Ingraham. I like to do it on the Saturday in early May when the PB Block Party is in full swing. Strolling down Garnet when it’s closed to cars and swollen with throngs of young men and women dressed in skimpy clothing who’ve gone through hell to find a parking space, I feel smug. I live a mile north of Crystal Pier, so I can walk or bicycle. I never have to worry about parking.

My complacency is fleeting. I moved to Pacific Beach in 1974, a 20-year-old from Chicago. Apartment-hunting, I’d been charmed by the bejeweled street names: Diamond, Tourmaline, Sapphire, Emerald, Felspar, Opal. No neighborhood I’d ever known in the Midwest had names like that. Behind the Vons, my husband and I found a large two-bedroom unit where the rent was $185 a month. Some evenings we walked toward the beach on Diamond, returning along Garnet. Almost all the shops were closed at night back then. We passed few other pedestrians.

I don’t remember what year the changes began. At some point, a rock-and-roll club called Mom’s opened across Garnet from the New Seed. Diego’s, a huge Mexican restaurant and nightclub, started drawing crowds near the pier, and a comedy club appeared. My husband and I joked that Garnet Avenue was turning into the Boulevard Saint-Michel of San Diego. But we weren’t paying much attention to Garnet. We’d had our first baby and had moved from the apartment into a house near Bird Rock Elementary.

We still shopped at the Vons out of habit. But years passed before we walked the avenue again. We knew, of course, that the Walker Scott at Garnet and Bayard had closed, as had Susan’s Toys and the See’s candy outlet. We’d noticed that the Wherehouse and Café Crema and Zanzibar had moved in. Only on foot, however, did we realize how many sushi joints (seven) have opened. At an equal number of storefronts, you can get a tattoo or have your navel pierced. So many boutiques have opened that girls now arrive in packs to spend their afternoons trolling for fashion finds. At night, the clatter of cutlery and conversation spills out from restaurants and bars to fill the street.

My timing seems off. When I was 20, PB was filled with middle-aged people whose kids would soon be leaving home. Now I’ve turned into one of them, and PB is full of 20-somethings.

I’m not moving. When I go west on Garnet past Mission Boulevard, when I walk out onto Crystal Pier and go beyond all the cottages, I find the same men and boys who were fishing there in 1974. The ocean is still limitless. It still smells like salt and sea creatures, and it still makes PB cooler and gloomier than most of San Diego County. Thirty years from now, that part of my neighborhood won’t have changed.

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