The following story about the unique lifestyle in Ocean Beach, California was chosen as a finalist in the San Diego Reader Neighborhood Writing Contest. It originally appeared in the Reader magazine September 2007.
I’ve been an Ocean Beach girl for eight years.
All this time, I’ve lived the way most people in O.B. do. I’ve lifted my mood watching dogs break into fights on dog beach. I’ve been kept up all night by fireworks on the Fourth of July. Every December, I’ve made my way down to Newport Avenue to watch the lighting of the O.B. Christmas tree and cheer on the Geriatric Surfers during the annual parade.
Over the years, I’ve never thought there was anything that special about these experiences. I took for granted all that exists here.
But recently, my complacency has been challenged. My identity is about to be renegotiated as I commit the ultimate betrayal of this neighborhood — Moving On. If you live in another neighborhood, moving on isn’t a big deal. But if you’re an O.B. resident, it changes your place in the world.
In a few short months, my cat and I are leaving behind our tiny apartment, my funky neighbors, and daily homeless run-ins. This move represents a step up for me. I’m crossing the tracks to the better side — I’ll be moving into an apartment with heat in the wintertime, and I’ll be parking my car in an assigned space.
The transition is bittersweet. OB has nurtured, entertained, and pushed me around for years.
Therefore, during my last summer here, I pay homage to this community. Each day, I perform a ritual pilgrimage to Newport Avenue. Along the way, I reminisce about all the bizarre, funny, and sweet encounters I’ve had.
Today, for example, I’m reminded of my neighbor who drove his Cadillac through our apartment building at 6:00 a.m one morning. I also think of the honest stranger who left his insurance information after destroying the front hood of my car. As I pass the baseball fields, I fondly recall the “My Greasy Wiener” hotdog vendor, and when I get to the beach, the Xmas dog races and canine photographs with Santa Claus come to mind.
I consider the homeless man who eavesdropped on my conversation during a first date and provided his own running commentary. I think about the homeless woman who decided it was my birthday and sang to me at the lifeguard tower. On Newport Avenue, I remember signing petitions to keep Starbucks out of O.B. and to endorse Donna Frye.
I also consider all my favorite establishments — how many books I read sitting in the outdoor patio at Jungle Java, how I will miss the sloppy hamburgers at Hodad’s, and how I could always be swayed by the peanut-butter salesman at the farmers market.
On the pier, I watch the surfers in the water below the Vietnamese fisherman and recall a romantic kiss there years ago.
On the way home, I laugh recollecting the neighborhood cat-fight that escalated into a cat-owner fight.
Then finally, I think about that scary cold night when neighbors banded together when a deranged person threatened our space.
All these memories, strange and warm, make up my O.B. experience, and I will never minimize how they educated me. I am grateful for all the grittiness that exists here, and in time, my feeling of loss for leaving O.B. will diminish. Of course, I can always return, but eventually I will form a new identity in a new community.
On a final note, today a new memory was added to my collection of O.B. favorites. Ahead of me on the road, I saw a homeless man pushing a stroller with a stuffed animal monkey in it.
He stopped when he saw me, made a face, and then asked a serious question.
“Did you just fart?”
Startled for a moment, I stammered, not knowing what to say. I considered ignoring him as I would normally do.
But after eight years of being pushed around in O.B., I decided to push back.
With O.B. spirit, I said, “It must have been your stuffed animal,” and then I moved on.