This week finds me vacationing in my homeland, lovely San Diego, California. Since I’m on vacation and drinking some very nice California Merlot right now, I’m hardly in the mood for serious topics. In a rare departure from my usual lofty journalistic standards, I’ll just pull today’s post out of my ass, download a few pictures, and call it good.
So. Let’s talk about the difference between New York and L.A. That’s a new one! Disclaimer: I actually have never spent any significant time in Los Angeles, having been raised in San Diego. For comparison, San Diego is to LA what Boston or Philly are to New York City. My friend Jody, who did live in LA for a long time, snooted “San Diego? Never went there.” My sister claims the only difference between the LA Times and the New York Times is that everything in the entertainment section of the NY Times is in the business section in LA. This is true. You want to follow the latest movie lawsuits? Check out the LA Times.
But I’m not here to do that. I’m here to do my annual pilgrimage to visit friends and families, and to bribe someone to take my daughters to Disneyland. For anyone who has grown up in San Diego (and, Orlando, I’m guessing), Disney is deeply rooted in our subconscious mind. I’m in awe of Disney – and have a deep and abiding respect for the
Disney Thought Police. You think there are no drunk bikers in Disneyland because drunk bikers don’t like Disneyland? Think again. The Thought Police search and destroy with an efficiency worthy of The Terminator. I was once on a high school trip (yes, California teens are often rewarded for high grades with Disney), and in the middle of the second long waterfall drop of the Pirates of the Caribbean, the music stopped (“yo ho yo hooooooo yup!”), flood lights came on with the brightness of the noonday sun, the invisible underwater track that each boat is attached to paused, hanging my boat at a 45 degree angle, the Pirates froze, and the Voice of God came over the intercom to say “Put out that cigarette. Now.” And that’s mild. For the smarmiest Disney story ever, if you can stand it, try this on for size.
After an experience like that, one gets an eye for the hidden cameras, the mp3 birdsong, the undercover agents, and all the trappings of a totalitarian society that need to be ignored so you can have an unforgettable time in the magic kingdom.
Still and all, I do admire Disney. The Disney brand permeates southern California to such an extent that any and all businesses from the Grapevine to Tijuana attempt to sail as close to the Disney wind as they dare without getting a Cease and Desist notice. And it’s not just family party businesses. Take a look at this combination of Disney magic and jailhouse reality. Nothing says enchantment like using Aladdin to bail out your brother after his 5th meth bust.
But I digress. Southern California has its pluses and minuses, but the reality is nothing like the fantasy pedaled by Hollywood. Many times, dyed-in-the-wool New Yorkers look bemused when I tell them I left San Diego for the east coast. “Why?” they ask. “Are you crazy?” Well, let them keep their fantasy. I for one will not burst their bubble with a dose of reality. Instead, here’s a list that will do it for me.
What I miss about San Diego when I’m not there
The Pacific Ocean. It’s the best ocean. The Caribbean is warmer and more turquoise, and the Atlantic is dotted with lovely, historic beach towns that you can read about in American Literature classes, but the Pacific is hands down the biggest and best ocean on the planet. My favorite beach, La Jolla Shores, has the perfect angle of beach to ocean, and though it is hardly bathwater warm, you get used to the chilly temperature. Perfect waves, and not too many sharks.
Vitamin D. I get my 15 minutes of sun here by 11 a.m. daily, even though I rise at 10 a.m. and spend the rest of the day actively avoiding the deadly solar radiation with use of
umbrellas, hats, 100 spf “total eclipse” blockout, ludicrous bathing costumes that only Queen Victoria would be caught in at the beach, and a penchant for crossing any street, even an 8-lane highway, to get to the shady side.
Mexican Food and Culture. Every strip mall has a great Mexican restaurant – usually sandwiched between the drycleaners and the “Botox-while-u-wait” outlet. They make their own tortilla chips, salsa, and tamales. The guacamole is made with avocados, the way God intended…not that abominable green custard in little plastic cups you get in Taco Hell. Go visit the historic Presidio, the missions, and Balboa Park. Mexican culture underpins every part of San Diego, even for people who are in denial about that. That’s why it’s named “San Diego”, and not “Saint James”
Great Wine. For $10 a bottle, you can get some great wine. In a supermarket. Aisles and aisles of it.
What I have a hard time with in San Diego when I am there
Moisture. There isn’t any. The avocado trees are dying, the signs on the freeways warn about extreme drought, and my mother tore out her lawn and put in a desert garden (which is really very nice). There never was any water in San Diego, by the way. When I
landed in JFK for the first time in my life, my first question was, “Wow! Who planted all those trees?” Because they don’t grow in San Diego unless someone plants them. Drought in New York? Things get a little dusty and the Met turns off its fountain. Drought in San Diego? Cows die, trees heel over, you can only shower on Thursdays, and you’ll need to keep the bathroom door shut at all times. The first thing I’m going to do when I get home is take a high-water-pressure 20 minute shower and flush the toilet.
Earthquake prep. San Diego is earthquake country. It’s just a fact of life. Canned goods and glassware go on the bottom shelves, and lightweight packages go up high so they won’t get hurt when the next tremor shakes open the cupboards, swings the light fixtures, and sloshes the water in the swimming pool. In my parents’ house, you may see a nice vase and go to pick it up …. Surprise! It’s been glued to the shelf with “earthquake tape” so it won’t roll off and shatter.
Crossing the street. I’ve got that DOWN in New York City. Here? It’s complicated. They even post helpful signs since no one every walks, and you may need to spend a few minutes reading up on it first. My kids tried walking to the store (a little under a mile) and
people kept stopping to ask if they were OK. Running is acceptable, but walking? Weird!
Superficial politeness. No one will honk at you or curse. Everyone says “I’m sorry” all the time, and no one says “what are you, kidding me?” or “Where’s my latte already?” Instead, they smile tightly and focus their voice like a laser through their nasal passages to let you know they are upset. The other tactic is what I call Air Complaining. Unhappy with the service at Starbucks? You toss out a comment like “Can you believe this is taking so long?” to the air, and see if anyone picks it up and sympathizes with you. Me? I break with tradition and ignore all Air Complaints. If you want to talk to me, first make eye contact. Second, talk to the guy in charge, not the air. Guess that’s a New York thing.