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Dueling Ideologies in Pacific Beach

It is just before noon on a Saturday morning and many of the collegic inhabitants of Pacific Beach are just now wiping the sleep from their eyes, emitting tequila-scented yawns, and regretting that last shot at Dirty Birds at 2AM. More than a handful will roll over in bed and attempt to induce the concentration necessary to recall the name of the stranger sprawled beside them. Just down the road, in the contemporary mansions scattered along Mission Bay, tanned and polished blonde members of an elite financial bracket sip cappuccinos as they take in their enviable view and contemplate such weighty matters as golf or tennis this afternoon, or Donovan's or Torrey Pines for dinner this evening. Along the boardwalk at Pacific Beach, tousle-haired surfers squint at the horizon, accessing the day's conditions and whether it is worth a paddle out. "Slo-Mo", a ubiquitous and beloved fixture (albeit his perpetual motion) of Pacific Beach rolls by in languor, one rollerblade on the sidewalk and the other held straight out in the air behind him, like a leathery and graying replica of a figure skater.

I sit by the heated lap pool in my apartment complex, surrounded by the equally diverse population of my fellow residents (I hear at least five different languages being spoken), and think about what has drawn us all, from the rich to the poor, from the Swedes to the Mexicans, from the aging hippies to the bronzed surfers to this lively beachfront community. For those of us not born into the area, what brought us to where we stand, now, at the sunny edge of Southern California’s Pacific?

Having lived in Pacific Beach for only six weeks, I can still scrutinize my surroundings and dissect my observations with the objectivity of a stranger, but with the optimal viewing platforms of working in a popular restaurant, living in a populous apartment complex with multiple communal areas, and spending a lot of time relaxing on the beach or by the bay, indulging in some particularly entertaining people-watching. The three months before I moved to California were spent traveling in Europe and Morocco, the two years before that on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, and the year and a half before that in Mykonos, Greece, so it has been a while since I called mainland America home. I went through a holier-than-thou expatriated “I hate the United States and all they stand for” phase my first year in Greece, but as my perspective widened through travel both within Europe and in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, I came to realize denouncing Americans as close-minded was just as obstinate of an attitude as the one that I supposedly condemned. Every culture has its strengths and weaknesses, and even the places I’ve lived that are known as paradise the world round had their own dark underbellies: stubbornly misogynistic points of view, ignorance of environmental concerns, and general aversion to change in Greece; petty violence, theft, drug abuse, and homelessness in Hawaii.

When a persistent restlessness and a longing for change propelled me once more from my life in Hawaii, as in the past I debated several options. On my own I probably would have chosen another foreign country, but during my time in Oahu I was blessed with the fortune of falling in love, and my significant other’s opinion would have to factor into this move. After a bit of debate, we settled on California, and San Diego’s Mediterranean-style climate, proximity for easy and inexpensive travel both domestically and across the borders, and strongest draw of it being the current home of two of our closest friends, the company of whom we had been missing since they moved back to San Diego from Hawaii, combined to make it an ideal compromise for the two of us.

We landed in Pacific Beach specifically after a brief stay in Encinitas, which, while classy and charming, we decided was not for us. We poured over craigslist ads, listened to the advice of friends and strangers, and chose Pacific Beach and our particular apartment based largely on the glassy reflection and peaceful oasis of Mission Bay that beckon two blocks from our place...not to mention the 25 meter heated lap pool and two jacuzzis to sweeten the deal. Job-hunting was a rather bitter pursuit, looking for restaurant work in January, typically the slowest season anywhere in the Northern hemisphere, but luckily we both secured employment within a couple of weeks.

And now for my real impressions of Pacific Beach...it is a series of juxtapositions, densely layered contrasts that can both repulse and delight. I’m perplexed at the sight of a group of homeless men in ragged clothing by the side of the road drinking beer and passing a joint. I’m struck by the sheer number of tattoo parlors, dive bars, and marijuana dispensaries this little neighborhood manages to support, and what kind of statement that makes concerning its population. The profusion of tanning salons leaves me puzzzled as well, since there have been about two cloudy days since I’ve been here. I love that a stranger will strike up a conversation on a street corner or on the boardwalk, and he or she is not necessarily looking to solicit anything from you. Californians may take this no-strings-attached friendliness for granted, but it is unfortunately absent in many places elsewhere. I love giant happy hour margaritas in the sunshine, and being able to get a decent meal in a variety of cuisines after 10PM (in Oahu if you hadn’t gotten your act together by 8:30 you were grocery store bound). I hate the pretentiousness here that sometimes accompanies privilege, the layers of thick makeup that make 21-year-olds look 35, and the wealthy older business men with their blonde, long-legged, practically teenage Russian mail-order brides. I guess my conceptions of Pacific Beach can best be illuminated with an anecdote concerning my bike ride home from work last night just shy of midnight.

Pedalling down Mission Boulevard shortly before turning left on Pacific Beach Drive to change to the bike path back to my apartment, I nearly collided with a kid in his early twenties who stumbled out of a bar and collapsed prostrate on the sidewalk, proceeding to vomit most of his hard-spent beer money over the curb. My distaste was escalated by the fact that one of his equally intoxicated companions actually made an attempt to hit on me, despite the fact that he was incapable of stringing together a coherent sentence. Once I had escaped this sophomoric display, I turned onto the bike path that circles the bay, and found myself instantaneously transported from the barely-contained drunken chaos that is downtown Pacific Beach on a Friday night to an enclave of silence, the hum of my bike tires and the cool breeze rushing by my cheeks the only thing audible. The lights of the city were highlighted in mirrored perfection on the placid waters of Mission Bay and, bathed only in that distant silver glow, the path felt like a bubble of tranquility and even stillness in the midst of all that noise and commotion.

Only time will tell if Pacific Beach will continue to be my home once my six month lease is up in the summer. When it comes to life I try not to plan too far ahead; life can always throw you an enticing curveball, and I always want to be flexible enough to catch it. There is some comfort, however, in lying down at night next to my loved one in the first nice, brand-new bed I have ever owned, in an apartment I’ve actually taken some effort and care in decorating and making my own, instead of practically living out of a backpack as I’ve done for the past five years. I think in any situation in our lives the wisest strategy is to take what we like and leave the rest by the wayside. In Pacific Beach for every drunk in the street there’s a smile from a stranger, for every condescending elitist there is a humble philosopher, and when the mayhem of downtown overwhelms, one can still meditate on the bike path by the bay at night.

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It is just before noon on a Saturday morning and many of the collegic inhabitants of Pacific Beach are just now wiping the sleep from their eyes, emitting tequila-scented yawns, and regretting that last shot at Dirty Birds at 2AM. More than a handful will roll over in bed and attempt to induce the concentration necessary to recall the name of the stranger sprawled beside them. Just down the road, in the contemporary mansions scattered along Mission Bay, tanned and polished blonde members of an elite financial bracket sip cappuccinos as they take in their enviable view and contemplate such weighty matters as golf or tennis this afternoon, or Donovan's or Torrey Pines for dinner this evening. Along the boardwalk at Pacific Beach, tousle-haired surfers squint at the horizon, accessing the day's conditions and whether it is worth a paddle out. "Slo-Mo", a ubiquitous and beloved fixture (albeit his perpetual motion) of Pacific Beach rolls by in languor, one rollerblade on the sidewalk and the other held straight out in the air behind him, like a leathery and graying replica of a figure skater.

I sit by the heated lap pool in my apartment complex, surrounded by the equally diverse population of my fellow residents (I hear at least five different languages being spoken), and think about what has drawn us all, from the rich to the poor, from the Swedes to the Mexicans, from the aging hippies to the bronzed surfers to this lively beachfront community. For those of us not born into the area, what brought us to where we stand, now, at the sunny edge of Southern California’s Pacific?

Having lived in Pacific Beach for only six weeks, I can still scrutinize my surroundings and dissect my observations with the objectivity of a stranger, but with the optimal viewing platforms of working in a popular restaurant, living in a populous apartment complex with multiple communal areas, and spending a lot of time relaxing on the beach or by the bay, indulging in some particularly entertaining people-watching. The three months before I moved to California were spent traveling in Europe and Morocco, the two years before that on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, and the year and a half before that in Mykonos, Greece, so it has been a while since I called mainland America home. I went through a holier-than-thou expatriated “I hate the United States and all they stand for” phase my first year in Greece, but as my perspective widened through travel both within Europe and in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, I came to realize denouncing Americans as close-minded was just as obstinate of an attitude as the one that I supposedly condemned. Every culture has its strengths and weaknesses, and even the places I’ve lived that are known as paradise the world round had their own dark underbellies: stubbornly misogynistic points of view, ignorance of environmental concerns, and general aversion to change in Greece; petty violence, theft, drug abuse, and homelessness in Hawaii.

When a persistent restlessness and a longing for change propelled me once more from my life in Hawaii, as in the past I debated several options. On my own I probably would have chosen another foreign country, but during my time in Oahu I was blessed with the fortune of falling in love, and my significant other’s opinion would have to factor into this move. After a bit of debate, we settled on California, and San Diego’s Mediterranean-style climate, proximity for easy and inexpensive travel both domestically and across the borders, and strongest draw of it being the current home of two of our closest friends, the company of whom we had been missing since they moved back to San Diego from Hawaii, combined to make it an ideal compromise for the two of us.

We landed in Pacific Beach specifically after a brief stay in Encinitas, which, while classy and charming, we decided was not for us. We poured over craigslist ads, listened to the advice of friends and strangers, and chose Pacific Beach and our particular apartment based largely on the glassy reflection and peaceful oasis of Mission Bay that beckon two blocks from our place...not to mention the 25 meter heated lap pool and two jacuzzis to sweeten the deal. Job-hunting was a rather bitter pursuit, looking for restaurant work in January, typically the slowest season anywhere in the Northern hemisphere, but luckily we both secured employment within a couple of weeks.

And now for my real impressions of Pacific Beach...it is a series of juxtapositions, densely layered contrasts that can both repulse and delight. I’m perplexed at the sight of a group of homeless men in ragged clothing by the side of the road drinking beer and passing a joint. I’m struck by the sheer number of tattoo parlors, dive bars, and marijuana dispensaries this little neighborhood manages to support, and what kind of statement that makes concerning its population. The profusion of tanning salons leaves me puzzzled as well, since there have been about two cloudy days since I’ve been here. I love that a stranger will strike up a conversation on a street corner or on the boardwalk, and he or she is not necessarily looking to solicit anything from you. Californians may take this no-strings-attached friendliness for granted, but it is unfortunately absent in many places elsewhere. I love giant happy hour margaritas in the sunshine, and being able to get a decent meal in a variety of cuisines after 10PM (in Oahu if you hadn’t gotten your act together by 8:30 you were grocery store bound). I hate the pretentiousness here that sometimes accompanies privilege, the layers of thick makeup that make 21-year-olds look 35, and the wealthy older business men with their blonde, long-legged, practically teenage Russian mail-order brides. I guess my conceptions of Pacific Beach can best be illuminated with an anecdote concerning my bike ride home from work last night just shy of midnight.

Pedalling down Mission Boulevard shortly before turning left on Pacific Beach Drive to change to the bike path back to my apartment, I nearly collided with a kid in his early twenties who stumbled out of a bar and collapsed prostrate on the sidewalk, proceeding to vomit most of his hard-spent beer money over the curb. My distaste was escalated by the fact that one of his equally intoxicated companions actually made an attempt to hit on me, despite the fact that he was incapable of stringing together a coherent sentence. Once I had escaped this sophomoric display, I turned onto the bike path that circles the bay, and found myself instantaneously transported from the barely-contained drunken chaos that is downtown Pacific Beach on a Friday night to an enclave of silence, the hum of my bike tires and the cool breeze rushing by my cheeks the only thing audible. The lights of the city were highlighted in mirrored perfection on the placid waters of Mission Bay and, bathed only in that distant silver glow, the path felt like a bubble of tranquility and even stillness in the midst of all that noise and commotion.

Only time will tell if Pacific Beach will continue to be my home once my six month lease is up in the summer. When it comes to life I try not to plan too far ahead; life can always throw you an enticing curveball, and I always want to be flexible enough to catch it. There is some comfort, however, in lying down at night next to my loved one in the first nice, brand-new bed I have ever owned, in an apartment I’ve actually taken some effort and care in decorating and making my own, instead of practically living out of a backpack as I’ve done for the past five years. I think in any situation in our lives the wisest strategy is to take what we like and leave the rest by the wayside. In Pacific Beach for every drunk in the street there’s a smile from a stranger, for every condescending elitist there is a humble philosopher, and when the mayhem of downtown overwhelms, one can still meditate on the bike path by the bay at night.

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Comments
11

Welcome! When your lease is up consider moving north of Garnet and East of Ingraham where it's mellower, or to Crown Point. it sounds like you are living in the craziest, touristy area of town.

Garnet developed the way it is now to cater mainly to tourists, not locals and trust me it wasn't always like this, and when the tattoo fad ends won't be.

We have problems like any city within a city, but the climate is great, there are lots of good restaurants, you will meet some fine people and Trader Joes and Henry's are two Garnet staples that are not tattoo parlors.

Jan. 30, 2011

Thank you! I actually live on Haines between Fortuna and La Playa now, so my neighborhood is pretty peaceful, but I work nights at a restaurant on the waterfront so I have to skirt the mayhem on the way home after work. I appreciate the advice.

Jan. 30, 2011

You are slinging language like Jackson Pollack dribbled and tossed paint- creating a multi - layered, exquisitely vivid picture for the readers. Thank you!

Jan. 31, 2011

kudos Maryfreynolds!!!!

u got some fancy flingin' goin' on here urself!!! ;-D

Jan. 31, 2011

I agree with Nan, you do have a way with words maryfreynolds. Hopefully someday I will have a fan other than my mom. Just kidding (sort of) I always appreciate your support! xoxo

Jan. 31, 2011

Congratulations on the win! Beautiful piece.

I felt exactly as you do when I first moved to Ocean Beach. After five years, my rose-colored glasses faded and I left. Maybe that won't happen to you.

You sound like fellow Nomad. And we Nomads have a hard time staying put. What is just over the horizon is always beckoning. Here's hoping you found your nesting place.

Welcome!

Feb. 5, 2011

I somehow missed this story, so first off let me say LOVED IT!! I used to live in PB for many years, and like Bohemianopus and her now cooled love affair with OB, I had to high-tail it out of there when I found myself yelling at the neighbor girls to keep it down because I had to work in the morning. But I miss it sometimes, now that I am in soccor-mom Point Loma proper. Congratulations on your win. I hope you continue to contribute regularly!!

Feb. 5, 2011

not surprised at the win kiddo and it just proves mom knows best!!!

well deserved and congratulations ;-D

Feb. 7, 2011

Lovely writing Julia, and congratulations on the well deserved recognition

Aug. 2, 2011

I just discovered your story and do love it as well. Welcome! We hope you never leave :).

There are many working to improve conditions in PB insofar as tweaking the business district to get them to start being more responsible in their business practices (i.e. over-serving).

If we lose our frat-culture and stretch all those good things you found by day into our evenings this will truly become an even more idyllic place to live and grow young.

I have a website at www.pbSpirits.com and hope you'll visit (even though it is revealing other negative portraits of our nightlife the underlying theme is we're not hopeless :).

Thanks again!

Aug. 2, 2011

Nice blog...a fun read. I generally agree with what PB92109 posts, but not always.
"Garnet developed the way it is now to cater mainly to tourists, not locals and trust me it wasn't always like this, and when the tattoo fad ends won't be." The kooks who fill the gutters with vomit and their own protrate forms aren't "tourists." They're drunks, who come from other parts of SD, for the most part. A few live in PB. It would be nice to dial-back the stupidity just a tad, so that tourists and regular San Diegans would be more comfortable shopping, dining, and hitting a few bars in PB.
But as long as a handful of corporate-owned bars maintain their Jersey-Shore-meets-Arizona-State vibe, the 'schebags will prevail...and the laid-back beach bars and legit restaurants of PB will lose business.

Dec. 20, 2011

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