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“By comparison, across the street from our house ‘in the country’ [is quiet]. That is to say [that] Vista is an old herb farm; for years trucks ran in and out at 2 a.m. And my street is a little dead-end ribbon of asphalt, not a major artery from Hillcrest to Little Italy. By and large it’s quiet up here, less dense, more malls, fewer homeless, more sky.”

* * *

Bob Talmadge, 57, and an online bookseller, was born in the downtown area, raised on Hermann Avenue and in Allied Gardens. Of his decade in the northern quarter of the county he says: “Vista has more churches than any other place in San Diego. That’s because there are so many evil people. Just kidding! I’ve lived here ten years,” — he shakes his short ponytail — “and don’t even know my neighbors. It’s that isolated up here.”

Litany of the “North County Blues,” as Bob sees it:

“This is the Sahara of the Beaux Arts. No five-star restaurants. Skinny ghosts — you know, eternal and wrinkled adolescents riding their bikes around town with beards, big floppy hats, and empty faces. It’s extremely quiet. Too quiet sometimes.”

The following, he notes, are the area’s saving graces:

“The surf. The beaches. The hills. The birds; more of them and more interesting kinds. The Sprinter, at last. Carlsbad and three-car garages. The quiet.”

* * *

Darren Thompson is over six feet tall with blue eyes. He is in his 30s. Born in Coronado, raised in Imperial Beach and along the Silver Strand, Thompson gradually moved north to Poway and finally to Oceanside. When asked what drove him to make this move, he was quick to point out that there were practical reasons, such as “housing — which is cheaper, with more land and a newer construction — drove me to North County. But the beach and the surf, the space, and the clean air keep me here. With six kids and three dogs, that’s a gimme.”

Do you still relate to anything downtown? What about, say, the Padres?

“Season tickets — go to all the home games.”

Do you feel like a stranger when you go downtown to see them play?

“Naw. Feels like being back at home. Especially since Petco Park is so close to South Bay — you can see the Coronado Bridge from the food court.”

Reflecting on his childhood, Thompson remembers the drive-in movies and the Del Coronado where he saw little Jamie Lee Curtis riding on Daddy’s (Tony Curtis’s) shoulders when he was filming Some Like It Hot with Marilyn Monroe. “It was a different life because of the years, but because of geography as well. In North County we may not have the Hotel Del, but we have Legoland and miles upon miles of clean sand with the cool, gray-green Pacific Ocean lapping gently against it. Just south of us you have, of course, Del Mar and La Jolla, what beachfront there is off of the villages there, P.B., Mission Beach, O.B., with all of their attendant crowding and accompanying trash; and then Coronado, the Strand, and Imperial Beach. For miles of clean and pretty beach, North County rules.”

* * *

Kali O., a self-described “nature girl,” wears her blonde hair to her waist. Given her first name, and having, like Thompson, Nordic blue eyes, she might be taken by anyone back East as a native Southern Californian. She is not. She moved to San Diego “about six years ago” and “was surprised that San Diego had ‘more of a city feel with businesses and lots of traffic.’ ”

When did you come to North County?

“About five months ago. Solana Beach. This feels like I imagined San Diego would be like: lots of little beach towns dotting the coast. It’s easier to ride bikes up here, and I noticed that the people are more active; everywhere you go you see runners, walkers, and cyclists — a real ‘small community’ feel about it. Plenty of vegan restaurants.

“North County is removed from a lot of things that are more available to you in San Diego. I miss my friends in North Park, browsing the shops there, especially the Adams Avenue bookstores.

“It’s a little culturally monolithic up here. San Diego is more culturally diverse. I identify with the North Park people; they seem more real, less status-conscious.”

* * *

David Gordon is in his mid-50s, a Vietnam veteran with dark brown hair with a minimum of gray. Though we did not set out to interview solely blue-eyed residents of North County, he is also blue-eyed and an original son of San Diego. The elusive native. He is a current resident of Vista — “the foothills,” he specifies.

“I moved there some 12 years ago after pretty much a lifetime in either downtown, Normal Heights, North Park, Hillcrest, what have you. I lived mostly downtown and worked downtown [and] was pretty much a part of the culture downtown. I was born at Mercy and grew up in North Park. North County is different. It’s not a very friendly place. In the years I’ve lived up here, no one has invited me into his or her house. I don’t really know anybody except the people I’ve thrust myself on. I used to know a couple of the old guys down the street from my house. We would meet out on the road at the edge of one or another of our properties. We would talk. But they died.”

Gordon several times makes use of the word “insular” when describing his community. “Insular maybe because it’s an old Mormon area,” he ventures. “Vista is nice, it’s pretty, but it’s a funny place. It is chaotic; you’ve got ultra-mansions up the hill from working-class homes — it’s one of the few places left in the county where working-class people can afford to buy homes. A working guy can buy a decent amount of land. I think the ethos here is laissez-faire.

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jcsuperstar May 9, 2008 @ 10:33 a.m.

San Diego is bad neighbor hell. That dawned on me recently.

I also came to San Diego in the early 80s from the northeastern urban sprawl. Americans generally require more personal space than folks in other parts of our planet. However, this is extremized here. If you look at someone in the face and briefly smile in acknowledgement of their presence (something very normal elsewhere) you get a "Do I know you?" look with an attendant assumption that you are either trying to pick them up or are psychotic.

I see my neighbors in the limited window when their garage door happens to be up. As depressing as that communal detachment is, what's worse is the types of neighbors I have noted from the limited exposures. It seems San Diego is a magnet for self-absorbed, plasticene, and parasitically opportunistic individuals.


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