A long time ago I was new to the city, so I relied on my buddy and roommate to show me the sights. He worked over on University in that office complex between the library and the bank. He grew up on Dale right where it blends into Upas and then into Pershing. I drove down Pershing everyday on my way to school.
On my way down Pershing I'd catch glimpses of Frisbee golfers, bouncy castles, joggers, and sunbathers in the park. Through holes in a fence I'd see dudes in funny clothes root through bags full of metal clubs looking for something to save par. It was my favorite part of the day because the ride felt like a theme park attraction highlighting the benifits of living in the beach city I used to see in movies and listen to my moms friends brag about when they came back from vacation.
My buddy and I lived on the corner of Lousiana across the street from a resturaunt that made Georgian food, Russian Georgia, not America Georgia, I found out later. It was a second story two bed one bath that provided modest living at an indecent price. We called our landlord the terminator, he was about six five, two hundred fifty pounds, had frazzled blond locks and a wrinckled sun pocked face. His frigid baby blues seemed able to ascertain your current fair market value down to the change in your pocket and potential earnings if you were foolish enough to keep his gaze.
We learned to set our watches to his rent collection, and did so not to be there for them. We began doing this after the third month there when upon walking to our apartment from the back alley we stumbled onto what we thought to be another exciting installment of our downstairs neighbors weekly play titled, "Domestic dispute."
It turned out to be our newest neighbors, two pretty girls that had moved in a month earlier. They had found offence in the terminators monthly practice of going door to door collecting tithe like a Nottingham sherriff, and decided to tell him as much. This turned out to be the first month we had failed to scrape enough together to pay the man, and decided it a perfect time to explore the neighborhood.
So we started down El Cajon, stopping at this bar shaped like an adobe house and painted blood red. While my buddy was showing his ID to the bouncer I sat on a bike made of metal to smoke a cigarrette. My buddy ended up going in while I sat outside to finish up.
I watched young dudes and chicks with asymmetrically teased hair hop out of reasonably priced sedans wearing t-shirts with names of bands I had never heard of on them. A few that were waiting for the bouncer to let them in would ask me for a smoke and we would make conversation about music or art or the weather. Some asked me how I liked my bike. I told em that its safe enough but dosen't handle the turns so well, most got the joke.
Later we walked back up El Cajon near where it crosses Louisiana and went into this bar set into the right side of a hotel. The hotel looked like it was assembled from the cleanest parts of southern plantations and the bar looked at first glance to be a rally point for ex patriots and jazz musicians. We muscled up next to a fossil that had fallen asleep on the stool a few years ago without being noticed. A piano played old sad standards in the back by the booths, and I could smell a steak somewhere. When we left my buddy remarked that the vibe seemed like "A better episode of twin peaks," which isn't a good thing I guess.
We figured that even the terminator would have given up the search for us by then, but made one more stop to be sure. We walked across the street to this place that had a fancy liquor glass on its sign but inside everything smelled like beer and body spray. The floor was sticky and the tv's were full of big dudes throwing stuff at each other. I swam to the bar and asked for a drink, the bartender said, "Hold the bleep up, champ." So I decided to go out and have a smoke while I waited.
While I was out there a chubby middle aged guy in a blue sweater with a lightning bolt shooting across the middle swayed toward me and stopped about a foot from my face. He told me he had noticed my hat, I assumed he noticed because I like to wear hats with the initials of my home town sports teams on them. He let me in on a rumor he heard that many homosexual people live in the city my hats initials represent, and asked if I count myself among their ranks or am native to the city we were in.
I verified his rumor by stating that I am of the hats city and in fact many of those, and I leaned in close here and he did the same in kind, "homosexuals," do indeed roam free there, and although I am not of their honorable tribe I suggested in so many words that he may in fact be, seeing as he was interested enough to question complete strangers about them. He pushed and yelled and carried on after that, but nothing much came of it. My buddy came out during the ruckus and suggested we go home, so we did.
Much later I ended up falling in love with one of the girls downstairs that stood up to the terminator, and suprisingly she loved me back. We moved few blocks up El Cajon to an apartment on the corner where Illinois intersects thirtieth, where we still live to this day. Its a second story one bedroom one bath with a patio that provides modest living at a kinda silly price. The landlord is a old guy with short grey hair that drives a Buick regal and laughs at his own jokes a lot, we don't see him much. I told my buddy where we had moved, he said, “oh nice, so you live over by the bowling alley?”
I told him I hadn’t seen any bowling alley as far as my exploration had taken me. He explained there used to be a popular bowling alley on the corner of Meade and thirtieth. He said that back in the day the alley would host parties and music events there. He said one night it would be a scene where guys with spiked hair painted green and tight fitting clothes with steel spikes jutting out of them would bounce around off tune to live music, and the next night it would be filled with students full on beer and hormones groping each other hidden by black lights and the crashing of seven ten splits.
He said they demolished it a while back because homeless people would give everyone a hard time, and patrons got so drunk they would forget that people lived around there and had to go to work the next day. Later I passed by where he said the alley was and saw a condominium for old people with a big chain coffee shop sticking out the bottom of it, but sure enough farther down and stuck in a walkway of the condominium was a sign that said “BOWL” in an old seventies drive thru font and another sign above it shaped like an arrowhead. In the middle was a guy wearing a headband with a feather sticking out.
She and I have been living here for a while now and we like it well enough. She works as a chef at a restaurant over on Adams across the street from the park. I work way up in Miramar helping to make video games for little kids. I like where we live because it’s easy to get on the eight oh five in the morning. I can make a left on Meade then a right on thirty second to a freeway onramp only locals seem to know about. I drive by this guy walking his daughter to school across the overpass every morning and if I don’t see them I know I’m late.
She always seems to be telling him the most exciting story ever and he just walks with her book bag slung over his shoulder smiling and responding to her with his hands as if he is helping her finger paint. I never had occasion to talk to him but I assume he is walking her up the block to the elementary school wedged in between Oregon and Idaho. Seeing them do this everyday makes me feel like I used to when I rode down the hill on Pershing that spit me out downtown, but different because I never saw myself in the people down Pershing.
I felt they were able to lazily stroll the city's bounty, picking and choosing the freshest and most savory portions, while us foreign surfs shanghaied by promises of sun and sand toil away in heat day in and day out preparing their feast. But watching those two happily go through this ritual every morning gives me the feeling that the city’s epidermis pales in comparison to its innards. We surfs live warm and slow and happy even when everything seems all about the people just passing through. One day his daughter will get old enough to walk alone or we will move again and that’s ok, we will figure something out.