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Stories by Bill Manson

Borrego Springs– no there there

Desperate hike, crazy to live there, Montesoro, water trouble, goodbye to farms

From Toro Peak to Fonts Point, barely Their plan was to start at Toro Peak, in the Santa Rosa Mountains just north of Borrego Springs, hike along the mountainous spine over Rabbit Peak and Villager ...

Friday night track repair at the Carlsbad Coaster Depot

“Something’s coming”

“It’s coming! It’s coming!” The guys by the recording equipment hunch over on the platform. “You ready? Take off your hats, everybody!” “Don’t stand too close!” You can see the twin headlights blinking oddly as ...

The meaning of Marcel Duchamp’s Lhooq

This anachronistic Carlsbad place is about old books

Alexander Dafnis is up a tree. “This way?” he shouts down. “No. Now it’s tilting more,” says Alejandra, the gal looking up from the wood-decked courtyard. The camphor tree, originally from China, provides dappled shade, ...

John Brooks: Bill Clinton redux

Zero-dollar congressional candidate

Thursday night. Latin jazz jam. Border X. He’s doing flights of fancy on his alto sax. Variations on “La Malanga.” “That’s the guy running for president,” says my friend. “Another sax-playing president!” Oh yes. Bill ...

Rooster’s Railroad at the Sportsman’s Pub

“Thousand dollars. It’s a Ferrari”

“Gotta be nice now,” says Rooster. “This guy’s about to donate $5 to the cause. Me.” He’s kidding, of course. Can’t gamble on games in bars like this. We’re in the Sportsman’s Pub, Lemon Grove, ...

Don't let Linda Vista fool you

Skate World, Clairemont rivalry, Yum Yum Donut Shop, Morena Corridor, utopia in 1940s-50s

Butt out, Clairemont, says Linda Vista "I have a lot of respect for the Clairemont planning group and the other planning groups — they're citizens like us who are investing in their community," said Howard ...

Richard Mahler’s greatest performance

“Do it by doing it. It’s gotta be fun, or what’s the point?”

This happens at the Adams Avenue Street Fair. I’m walking past a storefront with its door and windows wide open. And twanging from inside, the sounds of a guy torturously plucking out the notes of ...

Bill Tall: icon of back-to-earthism

Edible plants for a changing world

It’s a Friday night at Nate’s Garden Grill. The Drought Tolerant Bluegrass Band is singing their down home version of “The House of the Rising Sun.” Bill Tall comes across from the City Farmers Nursery ...

Psychologist Pat Deasy Spinetta saves Mount Laguna from wildfires

“I had won a contest for our slogan: ‘Clean up or burn up.’”

“What was that?” says my friend Mary. She’s looking up. A golden bird with huge wings cruises over us. It finally settles in a Jeffrey Pine tree down in the gully. “Chicken Hawk? Red Tail?” ...

Captain Pete Bethune: transforming an ex-Navy WW2 tugboat

He also created Earthracer, a speed boat that ran on used domestic vegetable oils

Getting aboard is an act of recklessness in itself. The bouncy gangplank is not attached to anything. You edge your way over like a tightrope walker. Men and women crisscross with paint brushes, drills, mysterious ...

A 1949 Hudson Brougham named Christine

“She would be gone by now if we hadn’t towed her out.”

It’s the night before La Vuelta, on Logan Avenue. Jesse Amaro is up a ladder finishing a mural, a kind of permanent poster for the Barrio Logan festival built around low rider culture. Amaro has ...

Constantin Bakala’s journey to St Luke’s

“That, my brothers and sisters, is the work of the Body of Christ in the world.”

I spot two shining rivulets coursing down my friend Mary’s cheeks. Tears? She’s listening intently to the lanky Episcopalian pastor, Colin Mathewson. “Today,” the reverend says, “we welcome Constantin among us.” There’s a silence. I ...

Phuoc Nguyen and Ford Winslow: cyber-security missionaries

The global cybersecurity market will be worth $156 billion by the end of this year

Phuoc Nguyen, a guy I was standing next to on Fifth Avenue watching the street’s Comic-Con crowds last month, might turn out to be a caped hero himself. He’s a cyber crime-fighter. “You could say ...

The Robledo family: world travelers

“This is their education”

“I worked out that in Europe we would need $300 a day for 126 days,” says Gabi Robledo. She was 16 at the time, the planner of the family. “That meant we had to save ...

Meet Beetlejuice, Thor, Optimus Prime, and “Welcome to Good Burger” Ed

The glorious amateurs of Comic-Con

Where was the heart of Comic-Con 2019? Out on Fifth Avenue, where the glorious amateurs play. “I am Colonel Richard Ferrel of Her Majesty’s Coldstream Guards at your service, suh!” says this guy dressed in ...

Comanche San Diegan Gene Miller searches for his identity

“I feel like that saying: red on the outside, white on the inside.”

“I don’t know who I am,” says Gene Miller. “I feel like that saying: red on the outside, white on the inside.” Right now, it’s 100 degrees on the outside. We have just come from ...

Sleepy Descanso

Roberts Ranch, Duncan McFetridge, drought, movie shooting, Border Fire, Blue Ribbon Loop

Roberts Ranch Opens its Gates to Hikers Thanks to the crusading efforts of Descanso cabinet-maker Duncan McFetridge, affectionately known by some as the "Robin Hood of Cleveland Forest," two inholdings (islands of private property inside ...

James Rowles job looking after the Charles Manson murder house

Author not related to Charles Manson

“I was there,” says James Rowles. He’s just seen the teaser for this week’s movie release, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, called “Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to 1960s LA.” “It shows the address, the ...

Conversation with Friar Donaldo at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia

This place has been in action since 1798

Friar Donaldo Rosete Garcia stands by the old brick arch that frames California’s first pepper tree. “I shall miss this place,” he says, “I came here to learn English. Now I must return to Jalisco.” ...

Aileen Oya on State Senate Bill 329

Okay, I was eavesdropping. I could hear this prominent realtor, Aileen Oya, complaining to a friend about State Senate Bill 329, which would stop landlords rejecting prospective tenants solely because they are Section 8 or ...

Father of Naval Aviation Glenn Curtiss 1911 flight detailed in Joe Ditler’s Coronado Confidential

“He spilled gas all over our apple pie. I was never so mad in all my days.”

“‘It was a Thursday morning in January of 1911, I was 13 at the time, and that particular morning I was floating around in my rowboat looking for ghost shrimp in the Spanish Bight.’” This ...

Chief Kristin Beck banned from SEAL friend Mike Martin’s funeral

For the sake of peace at Miramar, I never got to say goodbye to my friend

Kristin Beck saw them coming. Twenty of them. “Navy SEALs. Leather jackets. Motorcycles. I knew what this was going to be about. ‘If you don’t leave, we’re going to beat the shit out of you.’” ...

Azam Ahmed travels the entire US-Mexico border to discuss “magical thinking” of immigration

How does San Diego measure up against other border towns?

Azam Ahmed, the New York Times bureau chief for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, was in town recently, after traveling the entire US-Mexico border, from Brownsville/Matamoros to San Diego/Tijuana. He talked about how it ...

Melvin Parker: making “The Block” TV show for “ourselves”

“I want to inspire people with these stories”

“I want to start my own network.” Melvin Parker reckons it was these words that won him a scholarship to study broadcasting. But that turned out to be just the beginning of a two-decade struggle ...

Wounded Warrior Wolfpack whizz

For them, the wheelchair is the reality

It seems like a set-piece charity event. Wounded veterans playing wheelchair basketball against a team of Coronado City employees, and another crew from Loews’ Coronado Hotel staff. The mayor has turned up, the ex-mayor has ...

Jonathan Antonio Martínez Machain’s full-on didgeridoo

Could this be the first music in the world?

You can hear him long before you see him, the low honking sounds, a block away. This is Sunday night, Avenida Revolución, TJ, crowded. Jonathan Antonio Martínez Machain sits cross-legged on the sidewalk with a ...

Pete Verboom’s dairy farms west of the Pala Mission

He was president of the San Diego County Milk Producers’ Council

It’s an odd feeling, driving along State Route 76, to come across this ghost settlement, a few miles west of the Pala Mission. “Be careful of snakes,” my friend Kim shouts, “and people!” I’ve persuaded ...

Gani Beg: the Robin Hood of Macedonia

A hundred years later, he’s still a folk hero

The little boy was hanging in a pear tree, with a rope around his chest, crying. The rest of his family had ropes around their necks. They were dead. The rebel Gani Beg came down ...

Melissa and Jon Block welcome you to the first Tiny House village in San Diego

You use less energy, you regain a kind of intimacy, you talk more, you’re closer to nature and each other

Right next to the harpists’ colony, you spot an odd sight. At first, among the trees, it looks like an RV park. But then you realize: there’s no RV in here. It’s all houses. Lilliputian ...

Phyllis and Robbie Robinson’s harp heaven

From the Beatles to the Beach Boys... people have been playing harps for at least 5000 years

I’m halfway up Mount Laguna, walking off the Sunrise Highway into a little house on the edge of the forest. Through the gate, up redwood steps, through another gate. An elderly lady appears at the ...

Pablo Cantua rocks Antarctica!

“We zodiaked in to this protected island, surrounded by walls of glaciers and thousands of nesting penguins.”

Pablo Cantua picks up the phone. “Hey man: Want to play Antarctica? I can get you the gig.” “Antarctica? Haven’t heard of that bar.” “No man. Not a bar, the continent.” And so began the ...

Predicting waves and wars with Walter Munk

The New York Times called him the “Einstein of the Oceans”

My friend Joe and I are standing at the edge of the water on Coronado’s Central Beach. He’s a surfer. I’m a body surfer. “So do waves come in batches?” I ask him. “Can you ...

Surfing and sunbathing with Southern California Edison in San Onofre

Surfer Dave Franta has nuclear nerves

Dave Franta lives your California dream. He surfs pretty-much full time. He can, because after 29 years as a firefighter, he has retired. He’s 59, looks 39, and doesn’t seem to have a worry in ...

Anishka Lee-Skorepa forms Artistas Fronterizas to sing stories about border life

“I want our kids to be curious, not fearful.”

It’s a shivery night here in Barrio Logan. I’ve just come across these kids huddling with Anishka Lee-Skorepa in an empty lot often used for markets and performances. A small crowd waits on the sidewalk. ...

National Geographic: Milkweed and Monarchs risk extinction

Entomologist Chip Taylor estimates more than a billion milkweed stems necessary to give monarchs a fighting chance

Steve Wampler became famous when he somehow scaled El Capitan in Yosemite even though he uses a wheelchair. On Friday September 17, 2010, with help from a support team, he became the first person with ...

Browsing San Diego pioneer graves at Old Town’s Campo Santo cemetery

Are our ancestors all heroes?

As much as we’d like to think so, sometimes you hear things you’d rather not. Got a bit of a shock at the Campo Santo the other day. I was walking through San Diego’s second ...

The fatal attraction of the Coronado Bridge

“Mother Teresa said loneliness is the greatest illness on earth.”

Jamie Sorenson knows suicides. She’s written a book on it, Why You Tried to Kill Yourself. And in the Navy, she’s counseled thousands. But when it comes to advising Coronado bridge suicide-prevention groups, she’s surprisingly ...

Playing ukuleles together is magic

“George Harrison used to carry two ukuleles everywhere, because people always wanted to play with him.”

This is my friend Ronda’s idea. “Come on down! Sneaky Tiki Ukulele night! Fast Times! Clairemont Drive. Bring your uke!” Except in the end, flu hits her and she isn’t going to be plucking no ...

East Village's birdman loses Sydney, run over by trolley

"Get out of here with your dirty clothes"

Victor Vasquez holds his head in his hands. His white parakeet Ginger sits on his shoulder. Coocooberry, his 25-year-old red-lored green Amazon parrot, sits atop his cage, looking at Vasquez, unblinking, silent. “It’s really painful,” ...

Saved by a mermaid in the Mekong river

Get to know Phou Vieng Insysiengmae, a child soldier from Laos

The monk cuts across the courtyard to where we’re staring up at Wat Lao Buddharam, here on 44th Street in Chollas View. “Can I help you?” Soon he is inviting us to come look inside. ...

Watercolorist sets up outside Bay Books and Café Madrid coffee cart

“If you just surrender, then everything becomes easy”

“Just let it go, let it flow, kind of like life,” says Tony Trowbridge. He’s painting a watercolor of what he sees right here on Orange Avenue in Coronado. Quick, deft, light movements, mixed with ...

Cannon aims at Congress

"I want to represent people like me, who come up on the wrong side of everything."

"I want Scott Peters' job." So says Lucas Cannon. “I know I can do it better. I have been training all my life for this.” But wait. Cannon is a barman here at a South ...

Music and memory

"From absolute loneliness and sadness to a completely different experience."

Can music be a cure? Letitia Rogers says yes, in the right circumstances. “In my personal life, music was a great way to get to know people,” she says. She’s a San Diego-based Hollywood movie ...

Rat rod

Everybody wants a piece of artist, Eddie Montoya

I’m like everybody else on the street. We’re bending over, craning our necks to see inside. It’s like a rusty version of every getaway car you ever saw in movies such as Bonnie and Clyde. ...

O.G. Gringo

In the lost cinema of the barrio

“Let me show you something,” says Gary Harper. It’s around nine on a Thursday night. We’re both taking a moment out on the sidewalk away from the music at Border X in Barrio Logan. I ...

The other truth

“How did I become a Flat Earth believer?”

Rosie Gutierrez is 33, looks 23, and is not easily dissuaded. She’s a trainee nurse, wife, mother, works in a restaurant to pay the bills, and, oh, by the way, believes that the earth is ...

Last day

“Nobody thought this was the right choice”

Michael Schmid has decided to end his life. I first met Michael at the Café Madrid in Coronado. First thing you notice are his electric-blue eyes. The next is his soft voice, which makes you ...

Theater of war

“There goes a certified hero.”

I spot him walking his bike along the avenue, downtown Coronado, Sunday morning. Blue and white Hawaiian shirt, jeans, spikey gray hair, Beach Cruiser bike, heading for a coffee at Café 1134. I’d asked to ...

We’ll help Trump build the wall

“The press makes us look evil, criminals. But we come in peace."

“The Hondurans aren’t bad, but their effect is ba-ad,” says Jorge. He’s driving me in his taxi from downtown Tijuana to the caravan’s rained-out encampment. “Now, I wait two hours for a job. It used ...

San Diego Reader 2018 Holiday issue

SD Mission candlelight, Borrego's Christmas Circle, Oceanside boat rides, Rose Parade floats, Jewish Christmas, Julian tea, Tierrasanta lights, North Pole train, Kumeyaay solstice, Irish New Year

You don’t have to do anything this holiday season. Despite what the song says, you don’t have to deck the halls, join the chorus, or don any sort of gay apparel. You don’t have to ...

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