The Hell’s Angel takes me aside. It’s 10:00, Saturday night. A bunch of them stand around outside their headquarters by a row of angle-parked Harleys, here where Palm meets El Cajon Boulevard.
”Look, we’ve had problems with your paper before,” he says. “They say they’re going to write one thing, then they print another. Sorry, man.”
That’s a shame. I was hoping for a street-up view of the city that half the county thinks of as, at least if you believe my friend Scott, who has lived here most of his life, Redneck Central. Rightly or wrongly, El Cajon gets dissed. But does it deserve the “redneck” moniker? Well, start with the name: El Cajon. The Box. How can you take a city called “The Box” seriously? At the very least, El Cajon is maybe the most hidden, unappreciated city in the county. Almost like a foreign country to most beach people. It’s near the end of the line for the eastbound trolley, a valley you skim past on your way up Interstate 8 heading inland to the casinos, or the desert, or Phoenix. Think El Cajon, and your first image is of that great shoebox-shaped hole in the mountains. Next, you can’t help wondering if this is the site of an ancient impact that left such a neat hole the meteor must have been square. You could almost believe this is where all those poor dinosaurs fried. Because, for sure, archeologists have found everything here, from woolly mammoths to pterodactyls. And, of course, you wonder, when you come through the hills and look down into this high, granite-walled valley, how anybody can stand the boxed-in summer heat. Why they’d choose to live here in the first place. Julian has its apple pies, Oceanside has its ocean, Potrero has winds so clean that the most allergic people in the nation can breathe free up there. Heck, Borrego Springs has its incredible stars. But El Cajon? One-hundred-degree summers and…a Mother Goose Parade?
“Why am I here? I hate it. I don’t know why I’m here!” This gent named Pat searches the ceiling for an answer. “I’ve been here for 40 years.”
Now we’re in the Grand Bar, the “oldest known bar in El Cajon.” How else to get to know a town? This is down near the historic heart of the town, where Main and Magnolia meet. “I came when I was in high school,” Pat says. “Just a teen. I hate the heat here. The mayor’s an idiot. They keep tearing up downtown. They tore it up, they tore it down. They rebuilt. Now they’ve torn it up again. There’s so much drugs in some parts. And I swear it’s getting hotter by the year. Hell, I go up to Alaska every August, just to cool off. I’ll call back down from up there, and where it’s 62 degrees there, here it’s 115. And I say, ‘Why am I going back down?’”
Everybody’s knocked back a couple of brewskis (this is an hour after my chat with the Hell’s Angels), not drunk, just lubricated in a happy Saturday-night sort of way. But Pat’s serious about this. He also says, “The people, now: the people here are awesome. Far more laid-back. You know everybody. They know you. And, hell, we’ve got Jimmie Johnson and the Mother Goose Parade, and the car show Wednesday nights, right?” He shakes his head. “Still don’t know why I’m here, though. I guess because I’m here.”
This search started with something my buddy Scott blurted out the other day. I asked if El Cajon deserved its, well, “redneck” reputation. It was as if I’d touched him with a live wire. He’s mad.
“I get so…pissed…off when I hear that word, the R-word,” he says. Okay, he’s biased. He lives here. “We’re no more redneck than Chula Vista or I.B., or Oceanside, or Escondido, or P.B., or downtown, Goddammit. But we get the label slapped on our foreheads, as soon as anyone asks where you’re from. You can see the look. I mean, have you ever taken the time to come and find out what we’re actually about up here?”
There’s a silence. Me, trying to remember.
“Thought not. Let’s talk again when you have.”
So, search for the soul of El Cajon, chapter one. I guess I’d always thought of it as one of those awkwardly sized, awkwardly placed cities. Too close to the Big Smoke of San Diego and not quite critical-mass-big enough to stand on its own feet. But first, the facts. Before I move an inch, I check my Wikipedia.
El Cajon, it says, is not to be confused with the cajon, a boxlike wooden Afro-Peruvian drum you sit on, or with Cajon Pass (4910 feet up in the San Gabriel Mountains). “El Cajón is Spanish for ‘the Drawer,’ relating to the town’s origin as a parcel of land granted out of the vast Mission San Diego de Alcalá tract and used for farming by Spanish missionaries.”
It says El Cajon is 14.6 square miles in area, of which zero square miles is water, has an elevation of 436 feet above sea level, and was incorporated as a city in 1912. It lies 17 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, 20 miles north of the border, is 6 miles long by 4 miles wide, sits below 800- to 1700-foot-high granite hills, and once, before being tarmacked over, contained 7500-plus acres of prime farmland.
By 2000 it had a population of 94,869 and had about 34,000 households, including 23,000 families. Ethnic breakdown was around 74 percent white, 22 percent Latino/Spanish, 5 percent African American, 1 percent Native American, 3 percent Asian, and about 11 percent from other races. And yes, that adds up to more than 100 percent, but Latino/
Spanish includes citizens with that background from every race, so there’s some duplication there.
The El Cajon portrait continues. As of the 2000 Census, “The median age was 32 years… For every 100 females aged 18 and over, there were 91.4 males… Males had a median income of $32,498 versus $25,320 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,698… About 16.7 percent of the population was below the poverty line.”
So, armed with all this, I leapt aboard the Orange Line on Saturday night, got off at the El Cajon trolley stop, and started walking down into the Box...the Drawer, whatever. After visiting with the Hell’s Angels, I ended up in the Grand, sitting with Pat’s group, chewing the fat.
“Everything’s cheaper here,” this guy at the next table, Boyd, says. “Including the women. Joke. But it is cheaper. The western side of town’s cool. The east side’s the real redneck part.”
He and his roommate Craig pay $950 for a two-bedroom apartment. This side of town. The west. Not bad.
The ladies in Pat’s party have been filling my glass regularly. I get up to even things up a bit, when I come across the owner, Alex, sitting at the bar with his wife Julie.
“Is this really the oldest bar?” I ask. “Looks pretty new to me.” Because outside it’s brand new, with rounded walls like one of those old drive-up roller-skate places, only refurbished, and a bunch of hogs gleaming in the parking spots right outside.
“Oh, yes,” says Alex, “but not in this location. The old Grand was a dingy, small place a few blocks away. People felt comfortable there. When I took over and shifted up here to East Main, a lot of customers felt I’d betrayed them. Here, you have to dress up a little. I want this to be a real neighborhood bar, but we’re changing. Like El Cajon.” He says El Cajon is a blue-collar town, but not like the blue-collar towns back east. “I came here from New Jersey. A lot rougher. For six months it’s miserable cold there. What do you expect?”
He certainly looks as if he’s doing a good business, but how about the rest of the town? Main is pretty deserted. Doesn’t feel — at this hour anyway, admittedly around 11:00 — as if there’s a lot of life downtown. Alex says the mayor wants the business base to expand. “But it’s hard to start a business in this town. The mayor needs to make it more inviting. We have the highest sales tax in the county, and the November ballot just passed an increase on that by a quarter percent to 8H percent. The process and restrictions to anybody wanting to set up shop here are just too onerous. But the biggest problem is that they’re building low-income rental housing, and that attracts more low-income people, and they never have any excess cash to spend at local businesses, so the local businesses go out of business. We don’t have one major grocery chain downtown. Albertsons pulled out a year ago. Now we have Foodland — and the Chaldeans.”
Ah, yes, the Chaldeans, the Christian Iraqis who have settled into the valley big-time. “They’re buying a lot,” says Alex, “and moving into grocery stores and liquor stores, which is fine, but they don’t do business with others. There’s no reciprocity between them and us.”
“We hate to see the old El Cajon go,” says Julie, Alex’s wife. “In the old El Cajon I grew up in, nobody left, it was stable, and everybody looked after each other. When I was younger, the liquor stores were all family-owned. Now it’s all Chaldeans, Vietnamese, foreigners. People are more guarded, standoffish.”
I hadn’t thought about it till now, but it’s mainly a white crowd here. Led Zeppelin’s letting rip with “Whole Lotta Love.”
If you wanted to label the mayor of El Cajon, it’d be “number one redneck.” And he wouldn’t mind. Because he flaunts it. Beard, cap, shades, refusal to wear the three-piece suit, the whole deal. You just know he’s dismaying other city elders, who want him to put on a more dignified front for the city. But with Mark Lewis, forget it. This guy is El Cajon. For a start, when he was younger, he was a full-on biker. He’s got a record of being stopped by the cops of his own town, for all sorts of unspecified reasons, back in the day.
His office, on the sixth floor of City Hall, is splattered with official recognition plaques, other plaques loaded with bons mots, flags, pictures of the mayor with citizens — and a place of honor facing his desk for a John Wayne portrait. There are objects decorated with painted-on cows, and even a pig.
Mayor Lewis hands me his card. It’s an expensive-looking hologram that combines Lady Liberty, fireworks, the Capitol, the flag, and the words “America… Home of the Free Because of the Brave.” On the other side it adds, “Not paid for with taxpayer dollars.” He also shows me a much more modest card saying, “County of San Diego. Mark Lewis. Waste Management Coordinator.”
“That’s my other job,” he says. “That’s right upstairs.”
He jokingly rattles an old-fashioned milk bottle with two quarters in it. “That’s our tax dollars,” he says. “We need more.” He picks out a photograph of a John Wayne stamp ceremony. He’s not joking now. “He really was the last American who was, like, ‘This is yes, this is no; this is right, this is wrong.’ It was good, what he stood for.” He comes to another picture. “We have the largest flag in East County, about four stories tall. We fly it on holidays.” He has a Golden Donut Award and a long wooden plaque that says, “Thou Shalt Not Whine.” And he has his own mounted motto: “Be yourself. Have fun.”
“El Cajon doesn’t get the respect?” he says. “We don’t care. Redneck? Fine. I had a Harley. Got pulled over by the police I don’t know how many times. They’d target us. When I was first elected in 1990, I had long hair, beard, the whole ball of wax. This is the beauty of El Cajon.”
And redneck? Talk about e pluribus unum: “We have 70 languages in our community,” he says. “We’ve had an influx of Chaldeans, Kurds, Iraqis, Syrians, 20,000 of them. They’re all busy going to language school. They fit right in here because guess what? We’re all about family. And that’s their strongest trait too. I encourage them to come here. I want them to live in El Cajon, to help pay taxes. They run stores, not fancy stores, but community stores. They have real community spirit. I tell you what: you never see a Chaldean begging for money. You never see their elders in a rest home. That would be embarrassing in their culture. Their family takes care of them.”
And here’s another surprise. Mayor Lewis belongs to the Sierra Club. “I believe in recycling. We are the only city in San Diego County committed to zero waste. I used to have a green pickup with the license plate ‘BADMAN.’ Now I have a Toyota hybrid. My plates read ‘CPT TRSH.’ Captain Trash. Because that’s what they call me. We’re very proud of our trash. We have Waste Management, the world’s largest recyclers. They were an $11 billion company in ’06. We create 110,000 tons of trash in this city each year, and they recycle 50 percent. Maybe 55 percent. We’re aiming for 80 percent by 2014. We profit $3 million a year from them. We started on this in 1994. The City of San Diego started only two years ago. We’re looking at food recycling, putting in line systems to recycle C&D — construction and demolition — because you know what, recycling does make us money. We have 110 City trucks running on natural gas — the second-largest fleet in the nation after L.A.”
We’re standing at the window, looking down at the artificial creek and ponds in the park that link the government buildings and the Performing Arts Center. “There’s my mother duck,” he says, pointing down the five floors to a tiny, distant duck coming out of the water. “See? She’s a good mother. She’ll stop traffic to usher her line of ducklings across. People, drivers understand. That’s El Cajon for you.”
Mayor Lewis has lived in El Cajon since 1950, when he arrived at the age of three months. Has it changed? “Oh, yes,” he says. “I graduated from Granite Hills High. I remember walking down Broadway between orange groves on the right and grapevines on the left. It was rural. The ’50s and ’60s were the fastest-growing. Now it’s slowing down because, well, we’re built out. But we’re trying to bring the country back. We plant trees. Lots of trees. We’ve been designated a ‘Tree City USA’ for the past 12 years. For every tree we cut down, we always plant two or three. For a start, it cools the streets. And the work we’ve been doing to make downtown more livable — and that was with SANDAG’s [the San Diego Association of Governments], not our taxpayers’ funds — is making a difference. We have the makings of a walkable city now. We narrowed the streets, widened the sidewalks, planted magnolia trees on Magnolia, installed fancy lights, put drought-resistant trees all the way to the freeway. But this is a 30-year job, and soon, we’re going to be hurting. If the state would stop taking money from us — they took $1 million last year — we wouldn’t be hurting so much. We’ve been cutting back these last three years, cutting staff. But we’ll get by. We’ll do whatever our bosses say.”
“The people of El Cajon. They’re the bosses. That’s what I love about living in the Box, it’s about family, friends, the warmth of the people, being 15 minutes from the ocean, 15 minutes from the mountains. Hot? It can be. But it’s the best weather in the world. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.”
Does he have critics? You betcha. Take that Performing Arts Center, for starters. The theater, which, according to some, had the best acoustics of any in the county, has largely languished. Mayor Lewis might have added that El Cajon is also a mere 15 minutes from Viejas, Barona, and Sycuan, all with stages and budgets to lure top entertainment talent from anywhere. Right now, the mayor has leased the center of the city’s cultural pride to the Christian Youth Theater. They do safe kids’ productions like Willy Wonka. El Cajon, the home of the famous and forgivably cute Mother Goose Parade — yes, largest parade west of the Mississippi — has allowed its cultural icon, the Performing Arts Center, to become terminally cute. Still, I come away liking the mayor, a lot. You can’t help it. He’s easygoing, approachable, funny, modest. This guy is no stuffed shirt. He’d fit in instantly — and probably does — down at the Grand.
And yet, downtown, you can see what one candidate for the city council, Robert Isham, a registered nurse, meant when he told me during his campaign, “The pulses on a lot of my patients are better than the pulse of downtown El Cajon.”
Back outside after my interview with Mayor Lewis, I wander up Main and instantly see what Isham was talking about. Yes, there’s that sun-baked, spacious, unpressured feel of the country town, but that’s the problem: all that space. It’s like, what if they had a war and nobody came? That wide grid has no “there” there, when you get there. It was originally made to welcome traffic more than people. As I walk down Main, I see where they’ve tried to humanize it, especially with street-narrowing and sidewalk-widening, so that cafés can spread onto the streets between Magnolia and Ballantyne. Still, dead, empty shopfronts are sprinkled depressingly among the living. And the out-of-scale pretentiousness of the city hall complex, this great brown monolith sticking up in the middle of the valley like some monster termite mound adds to the feeling that this city has a problem. It has outgrown its How Green Was My Valley phase and isn’t ready for big-city prime time. And because of its fixed granite-wall mountain perimeter, maybe it never will be.
That very ’70s idea of rolling city hall, performing arts center, and courts and holding cells into one complex, with its ideas of concentration of power, has long since been eclipsed in urban planning. Actually, the complex is still most famous for maybe the easiest jailbreak in history, after prisoners held in the upper-floor, million-dollar-view jail above the mayor’s office discovered that the walls were made of, uh, polystyrene. “That was before my time,” he told me. “I would have issued them paper towels, not cloth.”
This Place Demands Respect
Then again, you have to put it all into perspective. El Cajon is vital to thousands of people. Stand at the transit depot, where the trolley stops on Marshall, and you’ll see not only the casino buses pulling out, but rural buses pulling in, from places like Julian, Santa Ysabel, Buckman Springs, Borrego, Dulzura, In-Ko-Pah, and all the tiny towns and valleys you’ve never heard of that make up three quarters of our county. This is the big smoke for these folks. The place you come to for fresh blood, for company, and to stock up on supplies for winter. Even in this freeway-ridden age, maybe especially so, everybody who lives “in between” and who can’t drive or can’t afford to drive — and that’s a lot of people — count El Cajon as their connection to the world.
What’s more, this place demands respect for its history. Stand at the corner of West Main and Magnolia and listen for ghosts. I’m doing that now. Some swear that at certain moments you can hear the whinnies of the horses and the yelps of dogs and the trundle-rattle of the stagecoach, and the crack of the driver’s whip and the shouts of the miners crowded on top, coming back down from Julian, some of them loaded with gold, others looking to buy shovels and sieves and other supplies so they can try again. Whatever, I can’t help imagining the horses, liquor, kids, the smell of sweat and manure, and the grunts and moos of oxen…the stagecoach rumbling back around the back to change horses. This was the rural bus depot of the time. Here, where Magnolia — the mountain road snaking down from the booming gold mines of Julian — meets Main, is where passengers would hobble into Knox’s hotel for a wash-up, food and drink, and maybe a rest before continuing down into San Diego, with its banks and baths and Wyatt Earp’s pleasure parlors in the Stingaree.
El Cajon has preserved the little old brown clapboard house that was once the Knox Hotel. Amaziah L. Knox, an Eastern entrepreneur and former deputy sheriff, built it in the gold-crazy land-boom days of 1876. At that time, El Cajon valley’s population was 90. Twenty-five families.
Right now, a couple of ladies are sitting on the steps of the old brown house, chatting, in Spanish. Wow. Frisson time. They fit right in. Even though, by 1900, when a nationwide census was taken, according to Victor Geraci in a San Diego Historical Society paper, most of the people living here in El Cajon Valley “typified an agrarian, middle class, politically conservative community, of northern European origins. It was as if a whole town from Nebraska or Illinois had moved to this agricultural suburb of San Diego.”
So I soak up the vibes and then ask the ladies if there’s an eatery around. When it left, Albertsons pretty much gutted the El Cajon Towne Center across Magnolia, but I don’t want to break this historical vibe.
One lady points to a little building beyond a Victorian bandstand rotunda in a little green park. Sign says, “Somewhere Else.” But it’s sad news when I get there. This café and bookstore is closing, as in closing down. María, the owner, can’t make a go of it. “This city, this mayor,” she says. “They don’t want the little people like me. They only focus on two blocks on Main Street. They want to change the image. Get away from the redneck thing. They’re interested in big-box businesses. So their developments are with big store spaces no mom ’n’ pop could fill, or afford. Regulations? I can’t even put a sandwich board on the sidewalk outside. This building is 50–80 years old. The city would love to rip it out.”
The place has people wandering in for coffee. They can take their food and drinks onto a patio out back or sit among the books and free computers inside.
Only Sold to Whites
“El Cajon? I love it,” says Phillip Villani. “My mom and dad brought us here in 1949. Dad paid $1600 for a 200- by 120-foot hillside lot. They built a two-bedroom house on it. That cost an extra $8900. We sold it in 2005 for $470,000, with just half the lot. But when we were kids, this was really just country. The 8 freeway was a two-lane country road. I started doing a paper route and earned enough to get a rifle, and my friends Bill McLaren and Roger and I would go shooting rabbits and other stuff up on Cowles Mountain. You wouldn’t see a soul. Then we’d go and have a float at Mel’s Root Beer Shop. The finest in the world.”
Villani’s a retired teacher. Lives up in Crest. “I guess the ritzy part of El Cajon is the north side of Crest, Granite Hills, Shadow Hills, Jamul.” He says an ugly redneckism was alive and well here at least till the 1980s, especially up in those ritzy areas. “There was plenty of property with the injunction ‘only sold to whites’ in the deed,” he says. “Only in the ’80s did we start to see nonwhites moving in significantly.”
“Well, the redneck thing has echoes in the art world,” says Creela, his wife, who’s an artist. “El Cajon does not support the arts. But I don’t think it’s just El Cajon. Southern California is a disposable society. People aren’t going to invest significant money into art pieces to keep forever.”
“This is a very beautiful place.”
And yet look at the famous sons El Cajon has given to the world. Brian Giles and Marcus Giles, Major League Baseball players; Jimmie Johnson, the NASCAR driver; Brandon Whitt, NASCAR driver; Greg Louganis, the Olympic diver; and let’s not forget the most famous of all, Frank Zappa, who lived here for a couple of his teen years in the ’50s. Oh, and of course, Lester Bangs, the writer many call the greatest rock music critic ever. Okay, he did call his hometown the “asshole of the world,” but let’s assume that was the drugs talking. When he wasn’t writing brilliant prose, what he said was speed-talk, often as not. El Cajon was the place he loved to hate, same way you love to hate your parents. When you’ve gone far, you often distort where you came from.
“No, this is a very beautiful place,” says a man sitting at the counter of the bookstore-cafe. “It is like Mosul, Nineveh. The granite mountains, the trees, the sun. I will never leave it.” María is serving him a coffee. “This is William,” she says. “He is from Iraq. He was conscripted into Saddam’s army for the first Iraq war. They sent him to Kuwait. An American bomb fell right on him and his friend. He had to shoot his friend because he was in such pain.”
William has PTSD. The only time he ventures out of this valley is to make money by role-playing the Iraqi enemy for Marines at Twentynine Palms, in war games that prepare troops for upcoming tours. “Except, he hates when they yell at him,” María says.
Olaf Wieghorst Painted Here
There is one El Cajon son who may be more famous than any, in certain circles. The western artist Olaf Wieghorst is so admired they have moved his house from Renette Avenue here to Rea Avenue, right near the performing arts center and city hall, and designated it a historic resource.
Walk up to it, and you suddenly feel as if you’re in El Cajon as it used to be, exploring the culture that has always been its secret pride and joy. It feels like a horse ranch in the Anza-Borrego. Saguaro-type cactus sprouts from the miasma of dust, hitching rails wait for you to flick your hoss’s reins around. The place has a creaky-looking veranda and unpainted, sun-faded timber walls.
This is the house where Wieghorst lived and painted pictures of the American West and then would lean them against the adobe wall surrounding the house, when it was on Renette, to sell to passers-by.
Wieghorst was a Danish stunt rider who emigrated in 1918 and worked for the New York City mounted police and the U.S. Cavalry between stints as a wrangler on ranches. His pictures and sculptures make you think of Remington, but they are full of their own life and show real understanding of horses and their riders. He retired to El Cajon in 1945 and started painting seriously, after sketching all his life. In the beginning, to attract customers, he’d hire guitarists and trick ropers, lay out Navajo blankets, and pass around glasses of rum punch to potential clients. It must have worked. Today, according to Earlene Hollmichel, who volunteers in the next-door museum of Wieghorst’s paintings and sculptures, his art is worth tens of thousands of dollars. A pair of 1962 paintings, Navajo Man and Navajo Madonna, sold for a reported $1 million total. Republican presidents Reagan, Ford, Nixon, Eisenhower, along with Barry Goldwater, Roy Rogers, Bing Crosby, and, yes, Mayor Lewis’s hero, John Wayne, all bought works from Wieghorst. It gives Hollmichel a sweet feeling. She herself grew up in a country house with a barn in what’s now the middle of town. “Mr. Wieghorst has captured the feeling that was always dear in this town,” she says. “My friends and I were horse-mad when we were in our teens. El Cajon felt country, even after it started growing. We feel we’ve lost our way a bit recently, and the whole way the city government’s concentrating the spending in one tiny part of town doesn’t go down well with the rest of us. But we love this town. You won’t find anywhere in the county where people stay, generation after generation. People are always talking as though it’s the last place they’d want to live, but it is the nearest feeling to home that I know. You don’t get it downtown [San Diego], or in Pacific Beach, or Coronado. This is the real thing.”
I leave the museum and cross Main at Avocado. The sidewalk-umbrella cafes in the new stretch look great, but it’s just too bakingly hot even to think of sitting down there. Instead, I wander up past the Grand Bar, heading for Kozak’s, that old standby, a ’50s-style place with a long wooden counter.
The Menu of the New El Cajon
Except — no Kozak’s. It’s now — sign of the times — the Hammurabi Chaldean restaurant. I sit down and soon start getting interested in the menu of the new El Cajon. Stuffed honeycombs, to begin with. I end up with a rice and stew plate and constant glasses of free chai. Zak, one of the owners, says this place is just starting to get on its feet. I ask if El Cajon natives are flocking to his door. “Not yet,” he says. “Because they are still getting used to us. And we are getting used to them. So we depend on our own people to come. But we love El Cajon. It is so like northern Iraq. Warm, cold, granite mountains, fields of wheat. The first Chaldean here, a doctor, came to El Cajon in 1951. Our population has been growing ever since. Partly because family and friends are here, partly because it is inexpensive. This is the first stop for many of us, but not the last. Once we get some money, we may move to the hills, or other suburbs. But this is our first American home, our first love.”
I sit and sip, as that sun lowers behind the boxtop mountains. Is El Cajon “Redneck City”? With the climate — the economic climate — being what it is, I think we’re looking at Mohammed and the mountain. Instead of moving out, the rest of San Diego may well be moving in. My friend Scott is due any minute. By now it’s been a week since we first talked. Got to, as it were, report my findings. I almost don’t want the town to get beyond this stage of what might be pimply teen years, when nothing is certain and everything is still possible. Redneck? Maybe the Chaldeans are the best thing to happen, just because the old Wieghorst aesthetic is becoming harder to cling to. But, as the mayor said, those shared values of family and a true neighborliness, which city life can so easily kill, may be El Cajon’s greatest gift of all.