The Rodeway Inn at the intersection of Spring and Gateside in south La Mesa burned in 2015. But its freestanding roadside sign still advertises the “new management, complimentary breakfast, and free WiFi” at the “home away from home” — a memorial to what once filled the vacant lot. I tell my kids they should rearrange the removable letters into something eye-catching like “MEMENTO MORI – REPENT BEFORE YAHWEH.” Good clean fun.
Memento mori – remember death. March 29 was Good Friday; the day’s Psalm included the lament, “I am forgotten like the unremembered dead.” That put me in mind of another memorial on the Rodeway site, one I’d first spotted a year ago. Someone had planted a flowered cross at the corner formed by two keystone walls and surrounded it with a length of decorative fence. Solar-powered lights dotted the spot, as did devotional candles, one of them bearing the handwritten inscription “Grimz Goofy Grizz.” A Mexican flag lay off to one side; the cross was topped by a sun-faded Padres cap, still bearing its New Era Snapback sticker.
The hat had faded further by June, but someone had hung the flag from the wall. Whoever was dead was not unremembered; someone was tending to the memorial. More than one someone: when I visited last week, I found messages in multiple hands and on multiple surfaces: “Grimz1 Always Big Rabbit Loc5.” “Love you homeboy.” “Rest in peace.” “Love Big Dogg miss you — Big Homie Grimz was here.” The keystone corner had become an alcove, complete with concrete columns. A spent shotgun shell rested nearby.
Three more blooming crosses — gorgeous life erupting from the dead wood of a deadly tree — rise from an embankment further south, where the 94 exit ramp circles crazily toward Spring. “RIP Alan Medawar, March 2, 2016” is painted on the back of the largest. Medawar was a 32-year-old General Atomics employee living in Spring Valley. The Union-Tribune report on his death says he was “speeding eastbound” when he hit a guard rail and flipped down the embankment. He died at the scene; the 29-year-old woman in the passenger seat suffered a cut lip.
An Alicia Flores has written posts for Medawar on Legacy.com. December 21, 2016: “I love you.” February 13, 2017: “On March 2, 2016, we looked into each other’s eyes and nothing felt happier then all of a sudden the Lord took my love away in the blink of an eye.” September 8, 2017: “I feel like it was yesterday. I feel like running to you. I feel hopeless. I miss you my love.” On the second anniversary of his death, someone named Adan posted, “Gone but never forgotten, love you habibi.”
A mile and a half north on Spring stands the Heartland Youth for Decency War Memorial, its cross topped with a helmet instead of ballcap. The memorial was dedicated on Flag Day 1970, and rededicated on Flag Day 2014. Beside it, an empty black tile throne honors military POW/MIAs. The words “Lest we forget” are sunk into the surrounding concrete.