San Diego I don't envy the native San Diegan. Being born and raised in paradise must be difficult. How do you avoid becoming hopelessly spoiled? How do you gain a sense of the great, big, messy, cold, and rainy planet on which we live? Why go anywhere other than San Diego? Ever? Why go anywhere when the best of everything is right here?
For a while, I thought the homegrown locals were lacking in perspective and worldliness. I met quite a few who had never seen snow fall or leaves turn colors, and they didn't feel as if they were missing anything. Then I met some dynamic indigenous individuals who began to turn my thinking around. They'd traveled and lived in other places. They loved it here, but they'd also learned enough to be able to criticize "America's Finest City."
A Native Sees San Diego through the Eyes of a Visitor
Kathleen Whalen, born January 9, 1973, at Scripps Memorial Hospital. Went to Mission Bay High School. Lives in Ocean Beach. Works in the family business, which owns local real estate.
"I've traveled all over Europe and all over California. I lived in Manhattan, I lived in England, I lived in Paris, I lived in Santa Cruz, and I've traveled on holiday all over Mexico and Baja. My family also has an apartment in Cabo. I'd say I've spent maybe a quarter of my adult life outside San Diego.
"When you come from a place that's a vacation destination for people all over the world, you start to realize that where you come from is pretty idyllic. And if you can see it objectively, through the fresh eyes of a visitor, you really appreciate it. And when you return from being elsewhere, you just see the beauty of it.
"The best thing about San Diego for me is being near the ocean. It's a huge force of nature. A lot of people don't realize how the ocean creates that laid-back feeling because it pretty much calms everything down and maybe even puts people into a state of hypnosis. Hypnosis-slash-inaction. We have a lot of loafers. But they don't usually last very long. They usually go back to Kansas.
"The worst thing about San Diego is, I guess, maybe the apathy. In a way, there's not a lot of people actively involved with the shaping of our city, or the culture of our city. We're very young, we're just growing up, and I wish there were more people involved with the planning, because the whole city is exploding right now, and we're having sort of a renaissance, but people would rather go to the beach.
"California, in general, has always had that pioneering spirit, and for me, it's never been a feeling of, like, 'This is our space, back out.' I don't have that kind of attitude. For example, we have the most Nobel laureates on the planet in San Diego, and there's a reason why. And I don't say to myself, 'Well, go back to Poland or Russia or whatever country evicted you for your original thoughts.'
"I think the tourists are good for the economy. I just think that they should learn that it's okay to miss the turn and make a U-turn and come back and try again, instead of cutting across four lanes of traffic. That creates a little bit more chaos for us in the summer.
"Friends of mine who've moved away, stayed away mainly because of things they wanted to do that they couldn't do here. Like, maybe a dancer wants to be in New York, or someone into working with certain types of technology wants to be more up north. But a lot of people who don't like this place end up having a negative attitude, because it's not easy to be here. It's an expensive city, and you have to hustle to make it. People come out here with this Wizard of Oz thing going on, and then when they realize they're going to have to move and work and do stuff, they start to realize that this place isn't just one big holiday.
"Whenever I go anywhere else, outside the country, I never speak about being an American. I say I'm Californian. Because California is its own little thing. This is the most progressive, innovative state, and we have that pioneering spirit. We are the last frontier. We're the farthest west you can go. And that's just the way it works.
"But if I could live anywhere else, I would live in Europe, because I like the lifestyle. I like their approach to day-to-day life in terms of socializing.
"For a lot of Americans, and a lot of Californians as well, there's still that Puritanical guilt about enjoyment. But, for working this hard, what are we doing it for? There's a lot of people in this country, and even in San Diego, who go home every day after they're done doing whatever they have to do to get paid, and they don't leave their house. In Europe, they might go have a coffee with a friend on the way home. Or, you know, go for a walk in a park. Or something. But don't just go back to the box!"
Alexandra Schlein, born February 29, 1984, in Blythe, CA. Went to Point Loma High School and lives in University Heights. Waitress and student at UCSD.
"Technically, I wasn't born in San Diego. We lived here, but my parents drove me out to Blythe because my uncle was an obstetrician, and my mom gave birth to me out there with him.
"So I've lived here my whole life, but I've spent a lot of time on the East Coast, because that's where my dad's side of the family is from. New York City and Vermont, and also New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. I've also been to Colorado a bunch of times, and Switzerland. I backpacked through Europe after high school. I've been to Switzerland a lot, because I have a kind of side job where I'm a courier of luxury watches.
"Growing up, I would spend my summers away. I was in Colorado or New York a lot. But I would say I've spent over 80 percent of my life in San Diego.
"I'm growing to like this city. I mean, growing up, I hated it. Because it offered me very little that excited me. You know, I got to sail, which was cool, but, I mean, as far as exposure to the arts, or people who were highly driven and highly educated, I got a lot of that good stuff in New York, or when I went to Vermont, even.
"I think I was lucky to grow up here, but it would have been nice to have a white Christmas, you know?
"San Diego is sort of like an orgy of all different types of people. The best thing about this place is that the cream of the crop of people from around the country end up here, because it's got a lot of good resources and amazing weather.
"But I could die a happy woman if I never saw another tourist. We need them for industry, but the ones who come from Arizona, or the ones who come here for the good weather, I mean, they're like the people who don't know how to tip well and don't know how to drive. Economically, we're driven by them, but aesthetically, I have no liking.
"I do think it's better to be an adult in this city than it is to be a kid here. Because as a kid, living in Point Loma, I was surrounded only by what was around me, and San Diego natives are less interesting than people from the rest of the country. Now I have a wider range, and I can move around and pick and choose and find what I need to sustain me.
"I would say that San Diego's blessing is its curse. The weather. Because we're completely unseasoned people here. It's like in wine. The things that you add to stabilize a wine also make it less dynamic and interesting. We have such a complete stability here and just a lack of seasoning.
"Whenever someone moves here, I'm always a little skeptical. My initial subconscious reaction is, 'Okay, you're a complacent person, aren't you?' Because people come here to enjoy the complacent weather. But I have to say that isn't totally valid. It's just sort of my first thought, like, 'Why would you come here?'
"There's an Elizabeth Bishop poem that actually expresses my thoughts perfectly about people who come here. The poem's called 'Florida,' and the last line is 'Far from the love affair, far from the storm.' And that's the San Diego mentality exactly.
"This just seems to be a city that utterly lacks any sort of rapture. That's the price of stability and comfort, I guess."
Everybody I Knew from High School Moved Away
Wendy Kellogg, born Scripps Hospital, January 2, 1981. Went to the Bishop's School and lives in Rancho Bernardo. Manager at Loews Coronado Bay Resort and Spa.
"I've traveled all over Europe. I've been to Argentina and Russia as well. My dad is chairman of the USTA, the tennis association, and there's Davis Cup matches all over the world. So he would travel wherever the teams played, and I tagged along. When I was a junior in high school, I was a student ambassador, and I got to go to Scotland and Ireland and England. I've never lived outside of San Diego, except when I was in college, and then I lived outside L.A., in Claremont, when I went to Pitzer for four years. I'd say 95 percent of my life has been spent here, though.
"San Diego is the best. The weather is the best thing about it, but it's also the worst, because we don't have seasons.
"I know a lot more nonlocals than locals, and I suppose they're different, but it depends on how long they've been here. I think that this place relaxes people. They seem to slow down. It's different out here. Different priorities, I suppose. Everybody likes to be outside. San Diegans are outside people. They also like to spend a lot of time doing very little, I think. Not that they're lazy, just laid back.
"I don't like the tourists here, though. They're great for the economy, and I respect that, but I don't like them in the summer. They ruin the city. Because you can't get anywhere. I grew up in La Jolla Shores, and I couldn't even park in front of my house in the summer. I mean, they're fine as people -- I grew up with tourist friends because I spent my summers at the La Jolla Beach and Tennis Club -- but maybe it's just the sheer number of them. I don't like how they congest our city.
"Everybody I knew from high school moved away. They went to Boston, San Francisco, and a lot went to New York. And they stayed away. Strange. I don't know anyone who moved away and came back. Not yet, anyway.
"If I couldn't live here, I like Florida -- surprisingly, actually. I like the humidity there. It was nice. Although I went in May, and May in Florida is perfect. And everybody there was nice. Everybody said hello. They weren't rude to strangers. Unlike the people here, who don't seem to have any manners. But I guess I'd like to live in a walking city, like Boston, where you don't have to drive. That would be really cool.
"Family brought me back to San Diego, though. Familiarity. It's a good place."
This Isn't a Well-Read City
Lizz Huerta, born February 25, 1979, at Bay General Hospital in Chula Vista. Went to Hilltop High School, lives in Golden Hill, and works as a faux-finish painter.
"I've traveled all over Mexico and Europe, and Puerto Rico, and a lot of the United States. I've also lived in central Mexico, and I lived for about four months in Switzerland as well. But I've probably spent 90 percent of my life in San Diego.
"I like the weather. I like that my family's here. I like being on the ocean. And I like being on an international border that offers a whole different world just a few minutes away.
"I don't like traffic. I don't like that this doesn't seem to be a very well-read city. This city seems to lack the intensity that you find in cities in other parts of the world. I think there's places in the world where you walk around and you feel this connectedness to the people and the place. Like Paris, New York, Mexico City. I don't like that you can't walk anywhere here. If you don't have a car, you're screwed in San Diego.
"I think the nonlocals that I've spoken to have all given me the same feedback, that it's very hard to make friends in San Diego.
"The friends I have are very specific to my interests, since I'm involved in the arts scene. We've worked together as artists. I'm a poet, and I'm involved in Voz Alta, downtown, the nonprofit Latino arts organization. And I have some other friends from high school here as well.
"I don't really interact that much with the tourists, but they seem to enjoy themselves here.
"A lot of people I went to high school with have moved away for college and careers, and although no one's really come back, I'm only ten years out of high school, so I think people are still building their lives at this point.
"My sister moved away for a while and then came back. She went to college in San Francisco and then worked up there for a while and then came back. The family business required her presence here.
"Family, pretty much, is what brought me back here as well. I work for the family business too, and it's an ideal situation for me. I can work for my dad for part of the year and then take off a couple months and travel and then come back and work and then take off and travel, and I always have a job waiting for me.
"But I love to travel. And what I really want to do as a poet is to live poetry. I feel like when I'm out in the world, away from everything that I'm familiar with, I get distilled down into the very purest form of myself, and my writing seems to come from a purer place because I'm not surrounded by things I'm familiar with. So I go out of my comfort zone. I have a great situation where I can go back and forth between the two poles of being very comfortable and way outside of any comfort and free of any responsibility.
"But if I couldn't live here, I'd probably live in the south of Mexico, because it's a tropical climate and it reminds me of Puerto Rico, where my mother's from."
I'm Never Leaving This Place
Jill Tatman, born December 12, 1950, in the Navy Hospital in Coronado. Went to Hoover High School, lives in Jamul, and currently goes to culinary school.
"I've been to Australia and all over Europe and the U.S. My husband's an electrical contractor, so his job has taken us all over the world. I've traveled a lot, but I've never lived outside of San Diego. I mean, when I was little, when I was probably four, I lived in Missouri for six months, but that was it. I hated it. It was cold. And I got really homesick. I just went there to stay with my grandparents for a while, but I didn't like it at all.
"But I've been all over, and I have to say that San Diego is the best. My dad was from Missouri, and he came here when he was 17 and he was in the Navy. He called his mom, and he said, 'You know what? The sun is shining, and I'm never leaving this place.' My mom was from Chicago, and it was pretty much the same thing. They never wanted to go back. My husband's from Chicago as well, and he's the only one on his side of the family who got out. And we tell the younger members of his family, when we go back there, you know, 'Get out while you're young.' When you live in those cold areas, you have to escape before you're strapped with a family.
"The weather and the people here are the best. You talk to other people, and they say the people here are kind of snobbish, but I don't see that. I'm a real people person anyways. I talk to everybody. And I think you learn from everybody that you talk to.
"I think the traffic now has become the worst thing about San Diego.
"I think people are lucky if they can afford to move here. And I think it's great that everybody wants to come here to visit.
"I have a friend that lives in Kansas City, because she married a man who's from there. And she comes back to visit and she misses it here. She stayed away, but it wasn't by choice.
"I've never even contemplated living anywhere else. There's no question that I'll never leave here."
I Didn't Know
I Lived in Paradise
Joan Kirkwood-Miley, born August 29, 1950, at Quintard Hospital downtown. Went to Hoover High School, lives in Mount Helix, and works as a legal advocate.
"I left San Diego in 1969. I met my husband very close to my 17th birthday, and he was drafted, during the Vietnam War, so we went to West Germany and lived there for a year and a half. And then we moved back to Ohio, where my husband is from, and we lived there for about 20 years.
"But I had never left here before that, except for short vacations. I had no clue how snow worked. I had no idea about freezing pipes. I didn't know about ice on the roads. And I didn't own a coat or a pair of boots. So by the time we got to Chardon, Ohio, which is 35 miles east of Cleveland, which is right in the middle of one of the only snow belts in the country, I wasn't really ready for 150 inches of snow a year. I didn't even know about storm windows. I couldn't believe that I would open the window and there was another window. But my husband was transferred to Chardon for his job, so we lived there for two decades.
"We finally moved back about ten years ago, because the timing and the situation just worked out. But I always knew that I couldn't grow old in Ohio. It's hard to be old there. They had this phrase, 'If the weather's okay.' You never hear that here. If you plan a picnic, you have a picnic. You don't worry about whether it's going to rain. So that's a phrase I don't miss.
"I have never found anyplace like San Diego. And I'm not just talking about the weather. There were things I liked about the Midwest, don't get me wrong, but because so many people migrate to San Diego, and they're not from San Diego, new ideas are usually welcome. Other places, the people seem to like things not to change.
"In the Midwest, people are family oriented. Which is nice, in a way, but it also keeps things kind of closed. Here, if you stand in line at the bank, and there's six other people in line, five of them are going to talk to you. And it's not so much that way in other places. One of the first questions I was always asked in Chardon was 'Who's your family? Who are you connected to in town?' They weren't used to outsiders. Once you get to know them, they're very friendly, but they need to connect you to something, and they need to know who and what you are. That doesn't matter so much here.
"The number of people in San Diego has made it difficult nowadays. I miss a lot of things about the '50s. Like the drive to L.A. There used to be a lot of orange groves. And there used to be a lot less traffic.
"You get such an exposure to so many different cultures here. I like the melting pot in San Diego. I always have.
"I remember the joke when I was in high school was, you could always tell a tourist because they would have on a Hawaiian print shirt, Bermuda shorts, hard-soled shoes, and black socks. The tourists are funny. The locals like to laugh at them.
"My husband's cousin, who was also my best friend in high school, moved away, and she never moved back. I happened to run into her again at a wedding last year, and she just doesn't care for San Diego. And she was born and raised here. But she lives now in Maryland. She didn't elaborate, but she did make it very clear that she would never move back here. She didn't care for it. I think she likes the change in seasons, for one thing. And I must admit, if I could change one thing, I would have autumn. I had never seen the leaves change, and that was spectacular. Sadly, what followed it wasn't. Once the leaves fell off the trees, I just gulped. I knew what was coming.
"If I couldn't live here, I wouldn't move any farther away than Orange County. I never want to live away from Southern California again. I grew up in paradise, but before I moved away I didn't really know it. I literally just had no clue."
I've Never Seen Snow Fall
Arron Reynolds, born November 22, 1975, at Sharp Memorial Hospital. Went to James Madison Senior High School, lives in University Heights, and is the general manager of the Pearl Hotel.
"I've been to New York, Miami, San Francisco. I go to Las Vegas a lot because my family has a house there. The only time I've ever been outside the United States was when I've gone to Tijuana, Ensenada, and Rosarito. I've been here my whole life.
"I've never seen snow fall. I've maybe seen rain fall ten times. Never seen leaves turn. But you know what, honestly, I went to New Orleans for a month to work once, and going to New Orleans, and coming back here, and going to New York for, like, two weeks, and coming back here, I really have been able to say that I appreciate where I live. I'm so used to this culture. It's so multicultured. You know what I mean? I go to New Orleans, and I think, 'Where are all the different cultures?' Maybe not so much New York City, but everywhere else, if you go into one area, it's mostly this, and then in another area, it's mostly that. It's not like here, where all the people are sort of scattered together. And I like that.
"I love the weather, of course. And having all the beaches just a hop, skip, and a jump away. And I love the people. For the most part, everybody here is friendly and outgoing. And we're a very relaxed city. A lot of my friends who come here ask why everybody wears flip-flops and shorts every day. That's just our style. Some people think that's crazy, you know, but I love it.
"The worst thing is that it's very expensive to live here. Especially when you're living on your own.
"The people who move here are cool. I don't think San Diego would be San Diego without the people moving to San Diego. I don't think we would be on the map, otherwise. But instead, we're one of the top ten destinations and top ten places to live.
"Because I'm in the hospitality industry, I think having all the tourists is wonderful. I think it's wonderful how families come here from all over the world. I've met a lot of different people because of that. And that's why I love this place. Because I get to meet so many different people, and I don't have to go anywhere to do it. They come to me."
Not a Real City
Mark Lippman, born May 10, 1959, in Grossmont Hospital. Went to La Jolla High School. Lives in La Jolla and works at his own law firm.
"I've been all over. I've got a place in every port. I've been all over Europe, Mexico, Tahiti, and the East Coast of the U.S. I've lived in L.A. and San Francisco, and I also lived in Italy for a year and a half. I've spent maybe 80 percent of my life in San Diego, though.
"The weather's awesome, and coastal San Diego is pretty, but we lack some of the features of a cosmopolitan city, like sophistication in the arts and entertainment. We're more of a suburb as opposed to what a real city has to offer.
"In La Jolla, in particular, there's an awful lot of materialism. A single-mindedness for money. But that problem doesn't exist all over San Diego. There are pockets here and there. But I'd say that's the biggest problem in La Jolla.
"I have no opinion about people who move here or about the tourists. I don't like it when it's crowded, but I don't blame anyone for coming here.
"I think this is a good place to raise a family. And although I say we lack the cosmopolitan lifestyle of some of the bigger cities, I only like to visit those places. I wouldn't want to live there. San Diego is a good composite. And for me, the weather is a big deal. Heat and humidity kill me. And when you think about it, there aren't many places in the summer where you can avoid that."
San Diego Will Never Be Anything but Home
Rich White, born May 29, 1965, in Sharp Hospital. Went to James Madison High School. Lives in Mission Valley and works as a retail manager for Cal Stores.
"I've been to New York, New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco...But I've never been out of the country. Well, I've been to Mexico, but I don't consider that out of the country. I lived in L.A. for a year, and I lived in Palm Springs for four years. I came back to San Diego to get myself out of problems. I was young, and I was partying too much. I couldn't support myself. I had to get my life back together again. But I had family here, so...
"It's beautiful here. You've got your beaches and the mountains and the deserts, all in your backyard. And it's home to me. It's always home, and it'll never be anything else but home.
"I've played in snow, but I've never seen snow fall. I've never seen the leaves change. I guess I take it for granted what I have here, but I don't see what I would gain if I moved somewhere else.
"I don't know where else I would live. I really don't know. I guess I would just make the best of it, wherever I ended up."
Less of a Perfect Place
Ron Hall, born January 1, 1950, in Mercy Hospital. Went to Mt. Miguel High School in Spring Valley. Lives in Middletown and currently has a screen-printing and embroidery business.
"I wouldn't say I've traveled extensively, but definitely some. The only time I ever left the U.S., I went to Mexico. I went to school at Cal-Poly Pomona, and I lived over in Hawaii for about six months, but other than that, I've spent my whole life here in San Diego.
"And San Diego's awesome. I always knew it growing up. At the right time of the year, you can go up and be in the snow in the Lagunas and then, on the same day, go surfing. That variety is all nearby.
"The crowding that's happened in the last, well, 40 years has made this less of a perfect place. And I've definitely had some disappointments about some of the leadership of our city at different times.
"But growth is something that sustains us. So you have to have some kind of growth, but I would hate for San Diego to become just some kind of retirement city. And the expense of this place is starting to make it difficult for anyone who hasn't made a lot of money to buy a home and to live.
"I know a lot of people who moved away because they were priced out of the market.
"I guess if I couldn't live here, I'd have to live in Hawaii. Having grown up here, with the temperature and the beach and all that, I couldn't live anywhere that doesn't have those things."
The Greatest Place on Earth
Carl Howell, born February 15, 1960, at Mercy Hospital. Went to University of San Diego High School. Lives in Banker's Hill and works as vice president of sales for Frazee Paint.
"I've been all over the U.S. and many parts of the world. I've also lived in the L.A. area and in Arizona for ten years.
"San Diego is the greatest place on earth. There's the marvelous climate and the small-town feel. It's a great place to raise a family. It has the whole package, really. It has professional sports, great shopping centers, great restaurants. And it has the nicest beaches, literally, I think, in the world.
"The worst things are the traffic congestion and the high cost of living.
"I think the people who relocate here are genuinely trying to find a home. I don't think San Diego is a big transient area like some of the bigger cities. The people that I know, who are professionals, who live and work here, are here to stay. They truly love San Diego.
"The tourists don't bother me at all. I think the tourists are great. Other than trying to find a parking space at the beach in the summertime.
"I do know people who moved away from here, but not by choice. Most of them were transferred for work or they were in the military. I can't tell you too many people with any type of roots whatsoever in San Diego who left and stayed away.
"I do know some folks who moved away because of the cost of living, and they went elsewhere trying to find a home but then realized that the cost of doing that outweighed the benefits. They've come back with no complaints.
"Sure, I like to visit other places, but I can't think of another place where I'd like to live. Certainly there's nowhere else in the United States."
God Bless Anyone Who Wants to Move Here
Peter Farantelli, born June 3, 1937, in Mercy Hospital. Went to San Diego High School. Now retired, he lives on State Street, in the same house where he's lived since 1940.
"I've been to Europe, the East Coast, Canada, and some parts of Mexico. But I've only ever spent a minuscule percentage of my life outside San Diego -- I'd say much less than a year of my whole life, total.
"I do think I have some perspective on San Diego. The place has become large, but it still has a small footprint in most people's minds. This is a city that a lot of people don't understand. Many years ago, people thought that San Diego was nothing more than a military town. And nowadays, people think it's just a tourist destination.
"The best thing about this town is that people are very copasetic, in general. And there are so many people here from so many cultures and from so many different parts of the United States. People seem to like the bayside location and the weather and the casual atmosphere. So we've ended up with a unique populace here.
"I'm sorry, but I haven't been able to find anything that I could point my finger to that I would say is the worst thing about San Diego.
"God bless anyone who wants to move here. If I lived in 30 degrees below zero, someplace in the Dakotas, I'd want to come here, too. So I say, 'Welcome.' Because everyone brings something to this city.
"The only person I know who left here, and stayed away, moved back to his roots in Tennessee. I know more people who've moved away and then come back. They haven't talked down where they were, but they just seemed to miss this place.
"I've never thought about where else I might live. I would probably maybe have multiple residences in a bunch of other places. But I wouldn't want to go anywhere where it's hot and humid or anywhere where it's cold."
San Diegans Are Two-Dimensional
Kyra Redenbaugh, born September 28, 1987, in Mercy Hospital. Went to San Diego High School and lives in North Park. Student at City College and works at Bread & Cie in Hillcrest.
"I've been to Canada, Tijuana, and Washington DC. I went to all of those places when I was little. Tijuana for a day, Canada for a week, and Washington DC for a week. I've also gone to San Luis Obispo and Long Beach, for a day or two, but other than that, does Del Mar count? So, I guess I've only been outside of San Diego for about 18 days of my life. I even grew up and went to school in the same neighborhood where I live now. One house, two apartments, and three schools, all within a mile and a half of each other.
"I keep hearing that San Diegans are really compartmental and two-dimensional. In other words, everybody here does what he does, and we separate everything. We don't mix work with school, and we don't share a lot. A lot of people seem to think that San Diegans don't make good friends and that we make better acquaintances.
"A lot of people come here to become San Diegans, which I really hate. They dye their hair and wear flip-flops and try to look like we do. But being San Diegan isn't a fashion statement.
"I was definitely spoiled by growing up here. I admit it. Anything below 74 and above 75 degrees, I'm not happy with. I hate when it rains. I even hate when it sprinkles. I hate clouds. I do think I complain about a lot of stuff. And I think if I lived anywhere else, I'd be angry. But I don't plan on leaving. And I don't plan on being anywhere that isn't super sunny, happy, and two-dimensional."