San Diego in books - PSA crash, WWII doubles the town, Oak Tree Canyon, Led Zeppelin

The Secrets of Harry Bright, Mirror at the End of the Road, Brown Hills, Hammer of the Gods, "Port of Navy Wives"

The explosion launched 144 human beings and parts of human beings from the airplane like rockets.

THE SINGLE-ENGINE CESSNA 172 was a tiny blip on the radar screen at San Diego's Lindbergh Field. Air-traffic controllers also watched another blip, PSA Flight 182 en route from Los Angeles. Suddenly the impossible: two blips merged.

Nothing was ever heard from the Cessna. It fell like a shotgunned dove. The last official communication from the PSA pilot said: "Tower, we're going down! This is PSA!"

There followed a seventeen-second silence, but the voice recorder carried the pilot's final words: "This is it, baby. Brace yourselves."...

Many North Park residents thought it was a monster quake. They waited in terror for aftershocks. Then a firestorm and a mushroom of black fuel smoke turned terror to panic. Some now thought the prediction had been fulfilled: San Diego was among the first of Russian targets!

The explosion launched 144 human beings and parts of human beings from the airplane like rockets. The first policeman on the scene had no idea how to begin contending with fires raging, and people screaming through the streets, and smoke obliterating everything. He later said that it was like the old Warner Bros, cartoon where the walls of houses bore gaping holes in the shapes of people. The young cop ran inside a one-story stucco home struck by a human projectile. He found a man shrieking at a naked headless woman lying in his wife's bed.

When his hysteria subsided, the man suddenly cried, "Wait a minute! That's not my wife! My wife doesn't have tits that big!"

He was correct. An airline passenger had been blasted through


the wall of the house and landed precisely on the bed recently vacated by the wife who was one of the many people fleeing in panic.

The only "crash survivor" to be taken to the hospital was a woman covered by gore found lying dazed by the disaster site. She was sped away by ambulance, and when they washed off the blood and mangled flesh and treated her for shock, it was discovered that she had been a passing motorist whose car windshield was suddenly demolished by not one but three flying bodies. She had skidded to a stop and leaped from a car suddenly crammed with limbs and torsos, bursting skulls and exploding organs.

Joseph Wambaugh, The Secrets of Harry Bright (1985)

TWO YEARS AGO San Diego was just a pleasant, middle-sized city with two hundred thousand people and not a problem in sight — or not much of any. It was famous for the old folks who had sought out its southern California climate, and who... were known as the Geranium Growers because that was all they did; just raised geraniums on the window sill.

Today it has more headaches than a porcupine has quills. Its population has easily doubled.... Besides Consolidated Aircraft and a huge, expanding naval base, it has a Marine base and an air station and a couple of Army camps. It is bursting at the seams with transients. It is struggling with transportation problems and housing problems and trailer-camp problems and recreation-for-sailors problems and every other known variety of problem which springs from violation of a fundamental law. In the words of Edgar N. Gott, Consolidated vice-president, the error of San Diego is simply this: "You can't put two gallons into a one-gallon jug."

"Port of Navy Wives," Collier's (February 20, 1943)

THESE OLD SIDES are sure taking me on a trip, IBM, San Diego, 55 30th Street, South City, B M & T, and one night the axle broke on my old Ford and Gino and Sophie and Mel couldn't go to the Drive In and poor little Miss Sophie trying to raise bail for her nasty old husband and 8 months pregnant and I got out in time and Jarbo got you there on time and Cliff and I picked you up at the hospital and Bobby Day was singing "Darling If I Had You" and there was no floor in the front room and I broke up the kitchen and couldn't breathe and the hot water hissed out of the toilet.

And Ray Charles said "What Kind of a Man Are You" and I sat in my stuffy little room on 30th St. and played "The Great Pretender" and cried and looked all over Sanchez street for pretty little Sophie "Lost in the Night" by Charles Brown and I found her and "Let's Make Up" by the Spaniels and "Be Mine or Be a Fool" by the Penguins and then she was in my room and I didn't come back to that cold empty world but she listened to Johnny Ace singing "The Clock" while I went fishing and the Dream Weavers sang "It's Almost Tomorrow" and Miss Sophie was gone and San Diego was dark...

Mel Lyman, Mirror at the End of the Road (1971)

PENNY AND I HAD A GOOD TRIP over the brown hills. We traveled straight down the road to the Padres' dam; we crossed the river there and took the trail to Oak free Canyon. Some of the brush had feathery white blossoms, scented so delicately I had to put my face right into them before I could smell the faint sweetness....

Right and left of the trail are deep canyons and hills steep and rocky. I can look straight down on the trees of Oak Tree Canyon and see the gray glimmer of the narrow creek.

To the right I look into a cut of brown canyon, with cattle trails scarring its sides. These hills and canyons are part of the old Fortuna ranch. Under the canyon trees the white-faced cattle drowse during the heat of the day.

Judy Van der Veer, Brown Hills (1936)

THE DRESSING ROOM of the San Diego Sports Arena was a madhouse. The band changed into its stage clothes amid a jumble of roadies, well-wishers, and local record and radio executives trying to introduce their children. Robert [Plant] called for tea and honey, ignoring the mountain of fried chicken, fresh fruit, and crates of fans' gifts piled in a corner. Just as they were about to go on, Led Zeppelin piled into a washroom for a bit of blow in privacy. Then they hit the stage with "Rock and Roll" and the San Diego Sports Arena erupted. The crowd immediately flattened the seats and pressed up close to the stage like netted fish. As the show heated up, dozens of girls were hoisted on their boyfriends' shoulders. Many of the girls took off their halter tops and wiggled their bare breasts at the band, causing a stampede backstage as the roadies scrambled to get a look. Gradually Zeppelin's avowed Apollonian intent reverted to a Dionysiac bawdiness. People fainted and were either trampled underfoot or passed over to the crowd to the security men in front of the stage. The sheer body heat inspired the band. Jimmy [Page] whanged into the rarely played "The Crunge" and manipulated the theramin with wild shamanistic gestures. Robert constantly pleaded for order, and the show turned into a masterpiece. As the band left the stage for the last time after an hour of encores, a huge white-hot neon sign at the rear of the stage lit up the hall with its undeniable message: LED ZEPPELIN.

Stephen Davis, Hammer of the Gods: The Led Zeppelin Saga (1985)

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