San Diego, 2002

August 1, 2002: I woke up in one corner of the United States (Boston) and set foot in the opposite one (San Diego) before sunset—to this date, it’s my first and only time in California.

I hadn’t planned on a trip to San Diego that summer. However, following a breakup and a mounting desire to get out of dodge, I decided to use up some vacation time for a four-night visit to a friend and former roommate whom, after 9/11 had relocated there from Manhattan.

She was living in a bungalow with two roommates on Brighton Ave. in the city’s Ocean Beach neighborhood, three blocks from the Pacific.

My first full day in town, while my friend was at work, I took off exploring. Rambling through Ocean Beach, it quickly dawned on me how radically different this landscape was compared to Boston. For one thing, back home we had no Drive Through Espresso Bars housed in former Fotomats.

After breakfast at a run-down but clean diner on palm-lined main drag Newport Ave. (the strip seen in this essay’s first photo), I strolled over to the beach.

It resembled a scene out of a movie or a TV show—particularly something from the late ‘70s like Charlie’s Angels or Three’s Company.

Straight off Newport Ave. sat Ocean Beach Pier. Naturally, I had to walk across it from one end to the other.

As with the working-class neighborhood, the Pier was far from glamorous, although I admired the wide-angle view of Ocean Beach from the other side in all its vaguely seedy, beach-bum glory.

I walked away from the beach and continued about a mile south along the coast before reaching the Sunset Cliffs, which my friend had driven me by the previous evening after dinner at a local strip mall Thai joint.

Ready to rest for a bit, I found a semi-comfortable spot to sit. I spent about an hour there hanging out, waves crashing against the shore, listening to Ivy’s effervescent Apartment Life album on my discman. 

After six weeks of grieving for a relationship that had hit an inevitable dead end and left me emotionally exhausted, I took in the solitude and beauty all around me. I felt, if not exactly at peace, at least in a contemplative, serene state of mind.

The next day, I convinced my friend to take a ride north of town, up the coast on Route 101.

We drove through quaint beach towns like Encinitas, along with blank stretches of highway that could’ve passed for any other in Southern California (or South Carolina, as I’d witness on the way from Charleston to Savannah three years later.)

We stopped at this beach (in Carlsbad, I believe?) for a brief walk, dodging sunbathers and sandcastle makers. It was an idyllic weather day—like most days in coastal San Diego County, I’m assuming.

The rest of the trip is a story for another time—I don’t have many pictures from it. However, I do have this one shot of Newport Ave. from my last night in town where, at a dive bar whose name I can’t recall, I had the best goddammed margarita of my life. I don’t know if I’ll ever return to San Diego. My friend’s back in Massachusetts and there’s so much more for me to see in other parts of California. Still, I wasn’t expecting to make it there in 2002, so who’s to say what 2022 will bring?

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