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Stories by Bill Manson

Richard Mahler’s greatest performance

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 ...

October 2, 2019
Bill Tall: icon of back-to-earthism

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 ...

October 2, 2019
Psychologist Pat Deasy Spinetta saves Mount Laguna from wildfires

“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?” ...

September 18, 2019
Captain Pete Bethune: transforming an ex-Navy WW2 tugboat

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 ...

September 18, 2019
A 1949 Hudson Brougham named Christine

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 ...

September 4, 2019
Constantin Bakala’s journey to St Luke’s

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 ...

September 4, 2019
Phuoc Nguyen and Ford Winslow: cyber-security missionaries

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 ...

August 21, 2019
The Robledo family: world travelers

“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 ...

August 21, 2019
Meet Beetlejuice, Thor, Optimus Prime, and “Welcome to Good Burger” Ed

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 ...

August 7, 2019
Comanche San Diegan Gene Miller searches for his identity

“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 ...

August 7, 2019
Sleepy Descanso

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

“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 ...

July 24, 2019
Conversation with Friar Donaldo at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia

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.” ...

July 24, 2019
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 ...

July 10, 2019
Father of Naval Aviation Glenn Curtiss 1911 flight detailed in Joe Ditler’s Coronado Confidential

“‘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 ...

July 10, 2019
Chief Kristin Beck banned from SEAL friend Mike Martin’s funeral

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.’” ...

June 26, 2019
Azam Ahmed travels the entire US-Mexico border to discuss “magical thinking” of immigration

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 ...

June 12, 2019
Melvin Parker: making “The Block” TV show for “ourselves”

“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 ...

June 12, 2019
Wounded Warrior Wolfpack whizz

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 ...

May 29, 2019
Jonathan Antonio Martínez Machain’s full-on didgeridoo

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 ...

May 29, 2019
Pete Verboom’s dairy farms west of the Pala Mission

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 ...

May 15, 2019
Gani Beg: the Robin Hood of Macedonia

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 ...

May 15, 2019
Melissa and Jon Block welcome you to the first Tiny House village in San Diego

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 ...

May 1, 2019
Phyllis and Robbie Robinson’s harp heaven

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!

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 ...

April 17, 2019
Predicting waves and wars with Walter Munk

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 ...

April 17, 2019
Surfing and sunbathing with Southern California Edison in San Onofre

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 ...

April 3, 2019
Anishka Lee-Skorepa forms Artistas Fronterizas to sing stories about border life

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. ...

March 20, 2019
National Geographic: Milkweed and Monarchs risk extinction

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 ...

March 20, 2019
Browsing San Diego pioneer graves at Old Town’s Campo Santo cemetery

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 ...

March 6, 2019
The fatal attraction of the Coronado Bridge

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 ...

February 20, 2019
Playing ukuleles together is magic

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 ...

February 20, 2019
East Village's birdman loses Sydney, run over by trolley

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

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. ...

February 6, 2019
Watercolorist sets up outside Bay Books and Café Madrid coffee cart

“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 ...

February 6, 2019
Cannon aims at Congress

"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 ...

January 23, 2019
Music and memory

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 ...

January 23, 2019
Rat rod

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. ...

January 9, 2019
O.G. Gringo

“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 ...

January 9, 2019
The other truth

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 ...

December 26, 2018
Last day

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 ...

December 26, 2018
Theater of war

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 ...

December 12, 2018
We’ll help Trump build the wall

“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 ...

December 12, 2018
San Diego Reader 2018 Holiday issue

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 ...

December 5, 2018
Raul Urreola’s night shoot

Half past 10, Sunday night. Coronado. Just happen to walk into this parking lot outside an eatery called “Nado Republic.” Two men are standing in the lot’s shadows. One has black eye-liner and black polish ...

November 28, 2018
Float your troubles away

The young man in his sampot chong kraben picks up a red traffic cone and uses it as a loudspeaker. “Let’s go!” He’s launching the parade around the temple grounds, kicking off Loi Krathong, the ...

November 28, 2018
Star Bar’s star

“Longevity!” says Mr. Evans. “That’s the thing. Longevity: I come in here, and it’s familiar, welcoming, comfortable, like home. Like $2 beers on Thirsty Thursday. Still. Price unchanged! And Loni? Don’t get her mad. She’s ...

November 14, 2018
Dulzura’s full of schist

“Donald Sheckler always told me, ‘If you find schist, there’s gold somewhere nearby.’” Jim looks at the piece of schist rock he’s just kicked out of the dirt here, halfway up Mine Canyon. It’s a ...

November 14, 2018
San Diego Reader 2018 winter fun issue

Drums, giants, and Mother Goose Stargazing in Anza-Borrego 652 Palm Canyon Drive Borrego Springs This year, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park was officially designated an International Dark Sky Community, thanks to years of concerted effort to ...

November 7, 2018
Water ahead of the caravan

“Here,” says Hugo Castro. “Put it under the branches, in shade, but where they can see it.” A gecko darts out. I lean over. I’m expected to dash off a little note on the bottle ...

October 31, 2018

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