Friday, September 25, 2009

San Diego, Day 1

We spent Thursday morning getting oriented. From our hotel, we drove through the neighbourhoods between Old Town and downtown; then across the impressive Coronado Bay Bridge to what's called North Island, although it isn't an island but the wide end of a long, narrow peninsula. The knob end of it is taken up by a naval base; south of that is the town of Coronado. Farther south the town's newer areas take the form of high-rise (and, let's be honest, architecturally unpleasant) condominiums in bulk. This part is called the "Silver Strand." Below that, the peninsula narrows to the point where it's basically a beach on the ocean side, the road, and a beach on the bay side.

Much of the beach is reserved for military use; Navy Seals were out early, training there, and the attendant at the state beach nestled in between the Navy beaches said he had heard the concussive sound of shells exploding around daybreak. All we saw was some bright pink smoke coming from an enclosure by the side of the road. The water here, according to him, is about 70 degrees in summer and 55 in winter. Brrr.

Near where the peninsula connects to the mainland, we came across a wildlife preserve at the Tijuana River Estuary. The Visitor's Center wasn't open that early, but we walked around the trails in the immediate area, spying a rich assortment of birds, lizards, insects and mammals (mostly rabbits). There was unusual plant life -- well, unusual to me, anyway -- and on the far side of the reserve was a line of condominiums; beyond that was a dark layer of sky that I took to be smog. But by the time we got back toward the visitor's center, the smog had become fog, and was rolling -- literally, rolling -- across the estuary.

We picked up Interstate 5 -- oh, pardon me: The 5 -- and took it back up to San Diego. We went into Balboa Park, not stopping at the many museums -- we'll spend some time exploring some in the coming week. The Museum of Man is in a building that looks like it used to be a church for wealthy parishioners. There's also an Air and Space Museum and an Automotive Museum, both of which interest me, and I think I saw a Museum of Natural History. And of course there's the famous San Diego Zoo. From there we drove down to the Gaslamp District to see what that was all about. It's kind of like Deep Ellum, but with taller buildings and a greater concentration of toney restaurants and boutiques.

We drove out to our condo, to see how far it is from the airport -- only about 15 minutes, and right on the shore -- but we couldn't check in until 3pm. So we headed back down to pick up Nancy and Jeff.

San Diego Airport is strung out in a line along the shore opposite Harbor Island. There's no cellphone waiting lot, but then there is a park along the shore just across the road from the terminals. It's called Spanish Landing Park, presumably because it's where the settlers landed when Spain decided to plug a settlement into California to keep it from the British and Russians in the 1790s (the nascent United States was no threat at that time, still recovering from the exertions of the Revolutionary War). Sherry thought the sign said "Spanish Language Park," so that's what it's become in our little group.

While we were waiting for them to arrive, I mentioned to Sherry that I'd read that San Diego is one of the ten richest cities in the country, according to Forbes Magazine (maybe it was Forbes; I don't really recall). Just as I said that, an old man went by pushing a bicycle piled high with old clothes, and I realized that, in just half a day in San Diego, and most of that in the car, I'd seen more homeless people and panhandlers than in the last year or two back home. I don't know why that would be, unless it's that San Antonio has either a better support system, keeping them off the streets (or at least dressing them up in white shirts and slacks and giving them those white buckets to collect "donations" in) or no support system at all, causing them all to move west to San Diego.

If I really cared either way, I'd probably look into it. But I don't: as long as they don't bother me, let them do as they wish.

Well, Jeff had a conference call to handle for work, so we picked up Nancy and left him in the airline's lounge. The three of us drove back to Old Town for a light lunch at the Livingroom Cafe, which has a wide patio out front. We were there for two hours or so, then we made a short foray to a few shops. The Mexican Restaurant where Sherry and I had eaten on Wednesday night had blown-glass lamps from a shop on Harney Street; some of them looked artful so I wanted to see the shop. A very small shop, maybe 20 feet wide and 40 feet deep; the back portion was given over to the glass ovens and work area; the front area was crammed full of glass. The vases and gewgaws were unimpressive, uninspired, derivative. But the hanging lamps were nicer than I think I've seen anywhere. All the same basic shapes, and the hardware is off the shelf, but the colours and patterns have an appeal about them that puts them well above the run of the mill stuff you'd see at, say, Wimberley Glass.

From there we drove out to the condo and checked in. There are three low towers in this development: two on the shore side and one larger one on the street side. We're in the one on the street side, but on the top floor and facing the ocean, which we can see between the other two buildings. There's no air conditioning so we're leaving all the windows open.

After downloading our luggage (I don't know how we're going to get everything into the car for the trip to Los Angeles and back next week; it barely fit without Jeff), we drove back to the airport and collected Jeff, then went looking for a coffee shop run by a couple of friends of Tim, who has Timo's Coffee Shop on San Pedro, my hangout back home. It's called the Urban Grind, on Park Boulevard. We found it, but they don't serve food after about 3pm, so we decided to head out to Cabrillo National Monument on Loma Point, hoping to catch the sunset with a view of the city. Sadly, Cabrillo N.M is in a naval base and closes at 5pm, so we couldn't get there (Jeff thinks that if we are at Cabrillo at closing time, we can stay on there, so we might see the sunset from there yet), but the guard at the gate told us how to get to Sunset Cliffs, about a mile north of there. We headed over that way, and as we came over the rise to see the road dropping steeply down to the shore, we saw a thick fog bank below, with the sun low in the sky just above it. The cliffs were shrouded in fog, so we went back up to the spot where we'd first seen the fog and watched the sunset from there. It was beautiful to see.

From there, we made a tour of the steak houses located by the GPS program in Nancy's palm pilot. The third one, Kelly's, was where we settled, and had a very nice meal: Food, 4 chili peppers; Ambience, 4 chili peppers; Service, 5 chili peppers; Value, 4 chili peppers. By then it was fairly late and we were all well drained by the day, so after a quick foray into the supermarket for breakfast fixins, we crashed. The fog was thick and we could see nothing of the water from our apartment, but could hear the waves breaking on the wide beach below. It's still foggy this morning, but it's thinned enough that I can see the waves and the early surfers and joggers passing by.