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Stories by Steve Sorensen

Please Don't Tell Anyone That Old Surfers End Up Here

A wonderful world well south of the border.

Not long after the New Year, my friend and neighbor here in Zacatitos, Marilyn Z, sent me an email saying that, at 81 years of age, she had lost her battle with cancer and had ...

Dreamy, Creative, and Shrewd: Five San Diego Micro-Publishers

Chris Ahrens lives in the kind of house any surfer would love. It’s on the hill above Cardiff, with a view of one of the best reef breaks in San Diego county. Wet suits are ...

A shirt for a surf hero

The Rusty Preisendorfer story is a San Diego story

Five-thirty on a workday evening, the traffic is backed up stoplight to stoplight on Miramar Road, and 805 is choked from Chula Vista to Del Mar. At a shaded business park on Commerce Avenue, the ...

Don't Pitch Your Tent on San Clemente Island

It's the Navy's paradise, not yours

“We went over to Santa Catalina Island and trapped eight goats, fit them with radio telemetry collars. Because goats are gregarious and tend to congregate together whenever possible, the Judas goats led us to the remnant herds.”

Heaven Sent

Range runners harvest scrap explosives in Chocolate Mountain target area.

“There are four or five dealers in Imperial County who buy scrap off the range, and none of us has been harassed by the law. But the range runners have really been harassed.”

The Good Seed

Customers file in one at a time

“What’s the right time to plant celery?” “What’s the best thing to control whiteflies?" "Which beet is the best for making borscht’” "How do you get rid of gophers too smart to trap?"

The Meal Man

100 hot meals a day to Pala, Pauma, La Jolla, Rincon, and San Pasqual Indian reservations.

Foster, a Shawnee Indian originally from Oklahoma, has been delivering about 100 hot meals a day to homebound elderly people on the Pala, Pauma, La Jolla, Rincon, and San Pasqual Indian reservations.

There's Only One Hitch

If you have to thumb a ride, you have to tell a story

The smartest hitchhiker I heard about was a guy who hitched carrying his belongings in a gas can with the bottom cut out. Drivers who will never pick up a hitchhiker will stop for a motorist out of gas.

We're the New Wardens

One by one, the men went around to all the traps and stole the lobsters that were inside. Foley watched the hoop netters until two in the morning, then she met them at the Shelter Island ramp.

Daggers of Light, Patterns of Power

Local rituals of Winter Solstice

The Christmas decorations came to Balboa Park the second week in November this year. Curious people couldn’t help but stop and stare at the strange sight of plastic reindeer dragging Santa’s sleigh toward the organ ...

The Imperial Valley Paradox

Those who work the land don't own the land.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese-Americans were put in relocation camps, and their farms fell to pieces. "Local people went out to their farms, tore down their homes, hauled the materials back, and built homes for themselves,

The Commercialization of Surfing

Today's surfers ride the bottom line.

The commercialization of surfing started out innocently enough. The way ex-world-champion surfer Mike Doyle recalls it, it began in the summer of 1966, with the Catalina Swimwear promo tour. Before the mid-Sixties, Catalina Swimwear had ...

Up by the Roots

San Diego County has more rare and endangered species than any other place in America.

Today, the largest populations of San Diego mesa mint are found on Miramar Naval Air Station. “Driving by there on 1-15 on a warm day in April, you can smell a pleasant, minty aroma,”

The Understanding of Henry Rodriguez

La Jolla Indian elder goes back up Palomar Mountain.

It was through Henry’s persuasion that the La Jolla reservation built the campground and water slide below Palomar Mountain, on the San Luis Rey River. Those popular improvements now provide income for the reservation

Hot Place in the Sun

Slab city and its neighborhoods: Poverty Flats, Niland Heights, Little Canada, Slab City Singles, and Drop Seven and Drop Eight

One young, enterprising resident, recognizing the lack of trash disposal services in Slab City, painted a sign on the side of his trailer: ‘‘Trash Hauling — Big Sack 50 cents — Small Sack 35 cents.”

Fifty Miles of River

Three days along the San Dieguito

In the next three days, I learned that the San Dieguito River drainage is a kind of graveyard for dead automobiles. They litter the river’s canyons like dinosaur bones. That V-12 was simply the first.

Blood Brothers

With the flow at the Twelfth Avenue plasma center

Before the cashier would give him his money, she put a drop of indelible ink on one of his fingernails, to make sure he wouldn't be back later in the day trying to donate under a different name.

Mission over the Mountains

Navy bombs Chocolate Mountains - Reader first journalist to visit

The northern, more rugged sector of the Chocolates that is owned by the navy. It is probably the most beautiful area of the range, but unfortunately it is also the most heavily bombed, by far.

The Way We Worked

San Diegans remember their days in the Civilian Conservation Corps

""At Pine Valley, the guy who owned the store put up a wooden dance floor with lights, and on the weekends all the gals would come up from Imperial Valley, 'cause it was so hot down there.”

The Trashman Cometh

San Diego - model of recycling?

“Right now the landfills charge twenty-seven cents to dump a tire, because they're bulky, they don’t decompose, and they keep coming back to life — they keep floating up to the surface. So tires are a big pain."

So I've Heard

Confessions of an avid eavesdropper —from Oceanside to downtown Greyhound station

I was intrigued by one woman who kept saying to her fussy two-year-old child, “If you don’t shut up, I’m gonna bust you one, little girl.” She said it with as much affection as anger.

Life on the Crest

Jerry Schad - the rougher it gets, the better he likes it.

I made my bed in the lee of a stout little juniper, but Schad, fond of wind and rain and discomfort,made his on the crest. Then we huddled together to cook noodles and tuna, with a Kahlúa chaser.

The Wild Horses of Coyote Creek

Abandoned years ago in the rugged Anza-Borrego, the elusive horses have made it their home.

Apparently the horse thieves drive as far as they can down the rough dirt roads south of Anza, then ride into Coyote Creek on horseback. “They go in and rope the young foals.”

Heaven on wheels

The RV show in Del Mar - what's not to like?

I was sitting in the captain’s chair of a big thirty-four-foot Executive, surrounded by all the plush comfort's due a man of significant corporate weight: rich burgundy carpets, vinyl-walnut cabinets, and dramatic scarlet curtains. In ...

Ten-Speed Terror

Why bike lanes in San Diego are not the answer to the war between bikes and cars

Until January of 1984, Kathleen O'Brien had been thinking she had a very good chance of making the U.S. Olympic cycling team. Though she had only been a competitive cyclist for a couple of years, ...

The Prosperity Gurus

From love your brother to love yourself to love your bank account, San Diego's new-age community takes a turn for the purse.

It’s amazing how quickly new-age fads come and go. The fire-walking rage burned itself out in less than a year. Flotation tanks, those sensory-deprivation aids to meditation, can be found lying belly up at garage ...

The Nurture of Things

San Diego's houseplant industry had to change

“When I first came to Encinitas, in 1975, every street in Encinitas had its own greenhouse. And every greenhouse had a family with its own story — the Andersons, the Weidners, the Eckes. And every greenhouse had its own clientele."

Bury My Bait at Bombay Beach

Between catastrophe and the Salton Sea lies a truly strange little town.

According to the department of fish and game, the catch of one-and-one-half fish per angler hour in the Salton Sea was much higher than any other non-stocked fishery in the state, marine or freshwater.

On the Mat

Coach Wayne Branstetter pushes his Poway wrestlers to the limit. And then some.

“If we had this Poway team back in Iowa,” Branstetter lamented, “the local paper would be covering our matches move by move. Here in San Diego, hardly anybody notices.”

Anne's Story

Is there hope for a young woman whose life has been a nightmare of drugs and alcohol?

From the outside, the Kiva house looks like a magazine portrait of the tidy, all-American dream home. It sits on a two-acre lot on the outskirts of Lakeside and has a broad view of the ...

Bring Back the Grizzle

Unblinking examination of this near-mythic ursine icon.

Not long ago the state of California failed to take advantage of an opportunity it may not have again until after the next ice age: the chance to reintroduce grizzly bears to this overcivilized and ...

Bobby Riggs, the legendary tennis hustler, has a hundred bucks that says he can beat you. Somehow.

Great Top Spin Never Stops

The legs may be long gone, but at 67, the tennis trickster can still outhustle the best of 'em.

Forty Miles of Bad Road: In search of the authentic El Camino Real

From Mission San Diego to Mission San Luis Rey - on foot

The modern-day El Camino Real picks up about a half-mile to the west, climbs the bluff, and continues across Encinitas Boulevard to La Costa. But a more obvious route lay directly ahead, along Rancho Santa Fe Road.

The Spectacle at Moonlight Beach

Where the myth meets the sea

A kid on a skateboard weaves his way down the asphalt trail, swinging the cast on his forearm in front of him like a club, twisting and contorting his body in pursuit of some mystical kinesthetic release.

The Spirit of Steve Ponchetti

Sant Ysabel Indian leader leaves the earth

Over the years he had acquired a lawyer's knowledge of Indian law. At his home he kept a copy of the Santa Ysabel patent, written in long-hand and signed by Benjamin Harrison in 1893.

The Guns of San Diego

Stories from local policemen of their encounters with a very well-armed public

Since 1977 ten police officers have been shot and killed here — three in the last year. A cop in San Diego is ten times more likely to be killed than a cop in Chicago.

Return of the Mountain Lion

Their roar was once rare, but the big cats are back.

"There’s a whole den of lions down on Prisoner Ridge [west of Lake Henshaw] somewhere,” he says. “It’s so brushy you won’t see ’em every day, but they’re there. I seen tracks, lotsa tracks!"

The Only Honest Game in Town

Who needs poker parlors? The elderly gents up at the Ace'e Duce'e, that's who.

"We thought it was the bingo parlors out on the Indian reservations cutting into our business. For a while they were getting 1500 people a night out there. Now I’ve heard their business is way ofF.”

And on This Farm They Had Some Fish

Talapia and catfish boom in the Imperial Valley

Shortly after dawn on a chilly desert morning, Bill Engler, 44-old fish farmer-entrepreneur, and Victor Wade, his 45-year-old French-Canadian partner, are standing in their pole-barn fish hatchery trying to figure out how to measure a ...

Ten Grand for a Dance: On the prowl with a North County gold-digger

It's a jungle out there, and it takes a certain breed of woman to get what she wants.

The girls know the drug dealers are usually free spenders because their money is illegal — it’s easier to spend it than it is to launder it, and besides, there’s more where that came from.

In the Eyes of the Elders

Just ordinary guys.

It was eight o'clock in the morning and I was standing in a cheap apartment in Leucadia, staring at a wall decorated with the faces of dead Mormon prophets. It had been years since I ...

The Big Hike

Pacific Crest Trail from one end of San Diego County to the other

Orville Cummings, owner of the 9000-acre San Felipe Ranch at the bottom of the Banner Grade east of Julian: “The backpackers would camp right at the windmill and keep the cattle away from the water.”

The Man Who Broke the Rules

North County is losing its reputation as a haven for eccentrics.

There was a certain kind of woman who found him irresistible: the very fat ones. They seemed to want to wrap their fleshy arms around his neck and smother him in their bosoms.


The hotspot was Iron Mountain Road

On September 6 an arsonist created an East County inferno. Fighting that blaze was as risky and complicated as wartime combat. This is how it was done.

The Big Lure

At four o'clock on a Saturday morning about the only people you will find awake in San Diego County are short-order cooks, cops, insomniacs, truck drivers, and bass fishermen. Of them all, the bass fishermen ...

The Devil's Peak

Its 10,000-foot rise out of Baja's San Felipe desert challenges Reader writer

I was standing on the highest point in Baja — the highest point for hundreds of miles in every direction. To the west I could see the Pacific Ocean. To the east I could see the Gulf of California.

Where Demons Thrive

What is it about the desert that brings out the worst in even the best of people?

The kids, annoyed by the tone of Herbert's demand, refused. They exchanged threats, and when one of the kids raised his gun to protect himself. Herbert shot him in the eye and killed him.

Making Waves

Mike Doyle starts at the North Shore and finds perfect board design of Pat Curren

In the spring of 1960, a tall skinny kid with sun-bleached hair, a nose his body hadn't yet grown into, and a tan that could only have come from Hawaii, parked his ’47 woody (nicknamed ...

In Search of the Genuine, Authentic, Sawdust and Spittoon Honky-Tonk

Stagecoach Inn, Valley Center Inn, Red Dog Saloon, Barr-X Ranch, and Smitty's Place

After a while two sisters from Valley Center sat down on either side of me and introduced themselves as Blondie and Shorty. “We’re not really regulars,” they said. “We haven’t been here since Wednesday.”

Shred Till You're Dead

You don't have to be crazy to be a skateboard fanatic, but it helps

The older skaters who survived the last era have left their marks on the sport, and if they sometimes seem angry and bitter, it is really just their way of warning the younger skaters.

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