“MRS. COOPER? HI. THIS IS NATALIE. I would like to rent the room if it’s okay with you.”

“Oh that’s wonderful, Natalie. You seemed like such a nice young lady."

“Thank you. I liked you, too. I liked your home. I liked Mission Valley. I feel it would be a good place to start over.”

“You’ll be comfortable here, dear. Now, all we need to do is fill out a short credit application.”

“Mrs. Cooper, I don’t have any credit right now. I also don’t have a job. Or a car. But I can give you cash in advance for four month’s rent.”

“I see.”

“And I will have a job as soon as possible.”

“I see. Well, I guess if that’s the situation we’ll have to make that do.”

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Cooper.”

“When would you like to move in, Natalie?”

“Could I please move in now? I’m downstairs in a taxi.”

“THIS IS THE FIRST OPPORTUNITY we’ve had to sit and visit in the two weeks you’ve been here, Natalie. You sure have been busy.”

“Getting settled I guess, Mrs. Cooper.”

“Time does fly. Seems like only yesterday the children and I moved to Mission Valley. That was in 1980, same year that flood took them old houses away.

“The kids went to Francis Parker, then to Uni High School, then to the University of San Diego—which you can see from here, by the way. Rodney went on to med school. Dinah’s at Berkley. She plans to teach history. She’ll be home in a couple of weeks. You’ll like her. How about some more tea, Natalie? I’m glad you like it. I get it at T. Cozy’s, on the mall. So, what about you, Natalie? Are you originally from San Diego?”

“No. Denver. I moved here last year with my best friend.”

“For school? For work?”

“Both. I had a great job offer and I was attending fashion design school. Everything was going well, but then I…..anyway, it’s in the past…. but what do you like about Mission Valley, Mrs. Cooper?”

“Oh, there’s everything. Public transportation. Public libraries. Hospitals on both sides. Every store imaginable, including my tea shop. Trees full of songbirds in the morning. A river walk. Heck, I bet if I were looking for a husband again I could even find one of those in Mission Valley.

“But this place is no paradise, that’s for sure. So noisy. Cars. Buses. Trolleys. Ambulances. Garbage trucks. Construction equipment. Rodney says there's more bells and whistles than a circus. I think if you removed the traffic, Mission Valley would be nothing but sparrows chirping and human beings taking walks. Must have been like that once upon a time.”

“Maybe before that flood.”

“Maybe. But you never told me what happened to your great job, Natalie.”

“I was fired. I…I...I made a mistake. And I hurt a lot of people. And it was so stupid. Really, really stupid. I wish I could………”

“Oh, Honey, I didn’t mean to make you cry. Here. Use this napkin. We can change the subject.”

“It’s all right, Mrs. Cooper. Tears are part of the healing process. Can I have some more tea? Thanks. Anyway, if I can get another job, get back in school, and make new friends. things should be okay again. We’ll see. At least I have found a nice place to live, and that’s a start.”


“You’re welcome, Natalie. I love rooftop views. Give you the big picture.”

“So this is Mission Valley. I’ve been living here for three weeks but have hardly seen it. What’s that white, church-looking building?”

“The Presidio. Originally a military fort, now a museum. Old Town is right below it.”

“How about the houses above those green slopes?”

“The communities of Mission Hills, University Heights and Normal Heights. Linda Vista is behind us.”

“And, isn’t there supposed to be a river?”

“Yes. The San Diego River. Runs through the middle. Used to flood all the time. But it’s not much of a river any more. Bored yet, Natalie?"

"No. It's interesting."

“Fashion Valley Mall was built on Westgate Park, where the Padres played before they moved to Qualcomm. I think that was 1969. And can you see the Scottish Rite Temple on the other side of Interstate 8? Originally it was a 55-lane bowling ally. See Gordon Biersch Brewery over there? That was the site of the Valley Circle movie theater. Friars Road got its name because it was the way the friars walked from the Presidio to their mission in what is now Grantville. And Grantsville was planned and named after General Grant in the 1880s in order to attract Civil War veterans.”

“You sure know Mission Valley, Dinah.”

“I worked one summer as a tour guide. I’ll probably remember Mission Valley trivia for the rest of my life. How about you, Natalie? How’s your job hunting?”

“Tomorrow I have an interview at Gordon’s Classic Gowns. Know it?”

“Sure. The dress shop on the mall. Hey, Natalie, do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“No, go right ahead.”

“How is it that you don’t have a job? Or a car?”

“I do have a car, but it’s impounded.”

“What did you do? Park in the mayor’s private spot?”

“No. I got arrested for DUI.”

“Oooooooh. Sorry.”

“I lost my car. Lost my job. Lost all my self respect. And I lost my best friend in the car accident.”

“Oh, Natalie. I’m so sorry.”

“Now I’m on probation. I need to hold a job and get good grades or I’m back in jail.”

“Maybe I should not have asked.”

“That’s okay, Dinah. I’m glad you did. I cried a flood at first. But week by week I find it easier to talk about.”


“Good morning, Natalie. They were my father’s. I’ve been wearing them daily for the six months you’ve worked here. You just noticed? Don’t tell me this old man’s eyes are sharper than yours.”

“Not quite. I can see you’re a little fatter than your father.”

“And I see you are sporting a Padres cap with your pony tail out the back.”

“I’m going to the game tonight.”

“With anybody I know?”

“I doubt it. David doesn’t listen to Beethoven. He fixes cars.”

“Well, Miss Natalie, you’re quite chipper this morning.”

“Came to work along the River Walk. The air was so fresh after that storm last night.”

“River Walk? Do you remember a row of olive trees behind the mall? That used to be the driveway to my father’s dairy farm. I lived there as a boy, and moved back when I got married. Margaret and I were there until 1980, when the flood carried our old house out to Mission Bay.”

“I’ve heard about those floods.”

“Mission Valley has changed so much. In the 1950s the city planned to turn it into America’s largest nature park. But in 1958 Interstate 8 was completed down the middle, followed by developers and new zoning laws. It became a confrontation of conservation versus development. Look around you. Freeways. Bridges. Traffic lights. Parking garages. Malls. Box stores. Office buildings. Apartments. Condos. Hotels. It’s easy to see which side won.”

“You sound bitter, Gordon.”

“Just disappointed. But change happens. Look at me. My father was a dairy farmer. I’m a couturier. Speaking of which, how’s fashion design school?”

“Great. Maxed my finals. I’m taking two more classes next semester.”

“You enjoy living in Mission Valley, don't you.”

“I do. A lot. I’ve found a nice place to live, new friends, and a good employer. But you know what else? I like the peace you can find in all this hustle and bustle.”

The End

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