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Coronado Turned on Me

Hotel del Coronado - Image by Alan Decker
Hotel del Coronado

I am old. My neighborhood is shrinking. Once, my Coronado was mainly blocks and blocks of houses with just a few shops and cafes. Now it has grown, but my world has been reduced to four sides of a village block and the soft-filtered memories of yesterday.

Long ago, barefooted, I would run down Coronado's Orange Avenue to meet friends at the Village Theater or Oscar's Drive-In or Center Beach. And when it rained, I drove about in my topless red Crosley, gripping a yellow-and-black polka-dot umbrella.

It was the mid-'50s. I was 18 and the village of Coronado was my neighborhood.

Life was safe on this quiet island, made beautiful by sprawling shade trees, green lawns, and manicured flower beds. It also had seasons — a rarity on the coast — marked by winter fogs, summer roses, and the smell of autumn leaves burning behind the great houses on Adella and Ocean boulevards.

Best of all, my neighborhood seemed a kingdom unto itself, protected by water, a narrow road leading south, and small car ferries that chugged back and forth across the bay.

Most people knew one another in Coronado. It was a communal community where nothing went unnoticed.

"Do you realize how late it is?" Mr. Clayton would growl. He owned Clayton's All Night Diner. "Now, you girls head for the back booths. I don't want any drunks bothering you."

"Remember," Fran Brown would warn. She owned M.J. Brown's Fashions on Orange Avenue. "This is a lovely party dress, but keep your legs crossed, your skirt pulled down. Nice boys marry virgins, not fast girls."

"I haven't seen your brother at Mass lately," Monsignor would sigh after Friday-night confession at Sacred Heart Church. "He hasn't abandoned Christ or our Blessed Mother, has he?"

And to trifle with the law — be it parking tickets or spousal abuse — meant instant outing by Coronado's weekly Journal. This included details of the crime and the offender's name and address.

In splendid isolation, we lived for weekend house parties and dances and picnics on the beach. Holidays were always celebrated with special events: parades, carnivals, costume balls, and fireworks. Best of all, we were free to drink, free to be drunk, and freed up from driving a car.

But one day, my neighborhood, my beautiful Coronado, turned on me. Once part of the fold, I was now a pariah. Gone were the girlfriends. Gone were the invitations. Gone were the eligible young men.

"I'm afraid you're pregnant," Dr. Flynn said, holding my hand and looking sad. "Would you like me to speak to the father?"

I remember shaking my head, looking at my bare feet as they struggled to reach the floor.

I didn't know what to say. In those days, the term "date rape" was unknown.

My memory darkens after that. My roommates asked me to leave. My employer suggested I "find work elsewhere." And my trust fund could only afford a converted garage studio off B and Second Street.

Eventually I went north. I had my baby. I returned. I wanted to raise my child in Coronado.

I knew I would never again enjoy the old friendships, the engraved invitations, or the intimacy of being on the "inside." But I also knew I had made a wise choice. My Coronado, my neighborhood, was still safe and green and beautiful. The perfect playground for my child.

It's now 7:00. I'm tired. It's time to exercise, to push my red walker-wheeler around those four sides of a village block.

I prefer early evenings in Coronado. When the color of the sky changes. When the westerly winds blow soft off the ocean, and my memories — good and bad — fade into the indigo of night.

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Hotel del Coronado - Image by Alan Decker
Hotel del Coronado

I am old. My neighborhood is shrinking. Once, my Coronado was mainly blocks and blocks of houses with just a few shops and cafes. Now it has grown, but my world has been reduced to four sides of a village block and the soft-filtered memories of yesterday.

Long ago, barefooted, I would run down Coronado's Orange Avenue to meet friends at the Village Theater or Oscar's Drive-In or Center Beach. And when it rained, I drove about in my topless red Crosley, gripping a yellow-and-black polka-dot umbrella.

It was the mid-'50s. I was 18 and the village of Coronado was my neighborhood.

Life was safe on this quiet island, made beautiful by sprawling shade trees, green lawns, and manicured flower beds. It also had seasons — a rarity on the coast — marked by winter fogs, summer roses, and the smell of autumn leaves burning behind the great houses on Adella and Ocean boulevards.

Best of all, my neighborhood seemed a kingdom unto itself, protected by water, a narrow road leading south, and small car ferries that chugged back and forth across the bay.

Most people knew one another in Coronado. It was a communal community where nothing went unnoticed.

"Do you realize how late it is?" Mr. Clayton would growl. He owned Clayton's All Night Diner. "Now, you girls head for the back booths. I don't want any drunks bothering you."

"Remember," Fran Brown would warn. She owned M.J. Brown's Fashions on Orange Avenue. "This is a lovely party dress, but keep your legs crossed, your skirt pulled down. Nice boys marry virgins, not fast girls."

"I haven't seen your brother at Mass lately," Monsignor would sigh after Friday-night confession at Sacred Heart Church. "He hasn't abandoned Christ or our Blessed Mother, has he?"

And to trifle with the law — be it parking tickets or spousal abuse — meant instant outing by Coronado's weekly Journal. This included details of the crime and the offender's name and address.

In splendid isolation, we lived for weekend house parties and dances and picnics on the beach. Holidays were always celebrated with special events: parades, carnivals, costume balls, and fireworks. Best of all, we were free to drink, free to be drunk, and freed up from driving a car.

But one day, my neighborhood, my beautiful Coronado, turned on me. Once part of the fold, I was now a pariah. Gone were the girlfriends. Gone were the invitations. Gone were the eligible young men.

"I'm afraid you're pregnant," Dr. Flynn said, holding my hand and looking sad. "Would you like me to speak to the father?"

I remember shaking my head, looking at my bare feet as they struggled to reach the floor.

I didn't know what to say. In those days, the term "date rape" was unknown.

My memory darkens after that. My roommates asked me to leave. My employer suggested I "find work elsewhere." And my trust fund could only afford a converted garage studio off B and Second Street.

Eventually I went north. I had my baby. I returned. I wanted to raise my child in Coronado.

I knew I would never again enjoy the old friendships, the engraved invitations, or the intimacy of being on the "inside." But I also knew I had made a wise choice. My Coronado, my neighborhood, was still safe and green and beautiful. The perfect playground for my child.

It's now 7:00. I'm tired. It's time to exercise, to push my red walker-wheeler around those four sides of a village block.

I prefer early evenings in Coronado. When the color of the sky changes. When the westerly winds blow soft off the ocean, and my memories — good and bad — fade into the indigo of night.

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