Welcome to Tool Town

Tourism is, of course, huge in this town. Myself, I never thought of San Diego as a destination. I’d given the place pretty much no thought at all — it was filed away under an unused synapse connection marked “military town,” and by 1973 I’d had enough of those…until I sailed a 48-foot ketch down from Santa Barbara and rounded the kelp beds off of Point Loma. That boat trip is another story (one no one believes, anyway, except my ex-wife who was there) and so is my history with military towns, but all things San Diego have pretty much become the point. Occasionally I am taken by surprise by the reality that I have lived here for almost three decades. It hardly seems possible. I have no recollection of ever saying to myself, “I will live in San Diego for the rest of my life.” But that’s what has happened. It is likely that all objectivity about the place has fled and so — maybe out of a sort of alienated curiosity — I typed “insidesandiego” into the search window of my computer just to see how this place looks (or at least how it is presented) to the rest of the world.

Here are some cut-and-paste samples from that Web page:

Re: The U.S. Grant Hotel and downtown’s skyline:

“Also known as ‘Tool Town,’ due to the skyline that vaguely resembles socket wrenches, screwdrivers, and/or electric shavers, San Diego is Southern California at its best. The city’s prime entertainment and recreation spots are within a 5-minute walk to a 15-minute taxi ride from the conference center at the U.S. Grant Hotel.”

And so forth:

“Visit the adobe village at Old Town Historic Park. Sample the diverse cuisine and nightlife of the Gaslamp Quarter. Spend an afternoon at the world famous San Diego Zoo, Balboa Park, or Sea World. Or use your afternoon off to take the trolley to Tijuana, Mexico. Cruise north to explore the ocean caves and cobblestone streets of the quaint coastal village of La Jolla. Catch a live show at one of the top performing arts theatres — the Globe, La Jolla Playhouse, Lyceum Theatre, and Spreckels Theatre.

“If serious shopping is on your agenda, bring your sunglasses and sunblock because San Diego’s best shopping areas are outdoors; for example, the eclectic Horton Plaza is immediately across from the conference center.

“Essential Info (Weather, Clothing, Dress Code): San Diego has an enviable climate; so, weather-wise, November is as good a time as any other to visit. Put another way, chances are good if it is not in the 70s and sunny on the day you arrive, it will be before you leave. Be sure to pack your sunblock and hat (remember, no tan is a healthy tan) and a light jacket for the evenings.

“...San Diego is fairly ‘hip’ at night.”

The chamber of commerce tone goes on. I had no idea about the Tool Town thing or that we are fairly hip at night. I guess so…I mean, we are the home of Russ T. Nailz, right?

Under the heading, “Places to think twice about,” you’ll find these listings:

“Old Spaghetti Factory. 275 Fifth Ave. Although the decor is interesting, the food is less than authentic. Not worth the very LONG wait.”

“Dick’s Last Resort. 345 Fourth Ave. They have a nice patio and pretty good food; however, you should know their servers pride themselves on having an abrasive attitude.”

These are the big caveats. Nothing about exploding meth labs. Nor did I find the phrase, “Come here on vacation, leave on probation,” a gem of 20/20 hindsight I saw written on the underside of a bunk in San Diego County Jail.

Speaking of which, as a resident of San Diego, originally from elsewhere, you never get to know these tourist spots quite as well as in that first year here when all your relatives and friends from back East want to come stay with you and visit every single one of them plus Disneyland. Between 1980 and 1983, I may as well have been a tour guide. I have resolved never to set foot in Sea World or the zoo (or Disneyland) again.

In 1981, a bartender friend of mine came out from Brooklyn. I picked him up at the airport and drove to the Grant Hotel because I thought he would like the bar there. I parked across the street (when you could still do that) and we crossed in the middle of the block. There was little traffic at 10:00 p.m. (it was 1981). A squad car screamed up behind us, lights flashing, out of nowhere. My friend got a jaywalking ticket but not me. I have no idea why but I did not point out this oversight. My friend laughed and ripped up the ticket. I told him that was a mistake. Until 1988, a warrant hovered in cyberspace and over the state of California for my friend. Had he returned and been stopped for anything, he would have done a year, I’m guessing, in county jail.

Here is what the site has on clubs and nightlife:

“The Bitter End. 770 5th Ave. (619) 338-9300. The top floor is a fancy lounge area with big soft chairs, loveseats, couches, and fireplaces. A nice place to relax after work or a conference...it’s very mellow and quiet. The main floor is your normal bar with tables and chairs, pool tables...a louder, more upbeat type crowd with the loud music. The bottom floor is a dance club...just dancing and very loud. There is a bar on all three floors, so you never have to go far for a drink. It’s located on the corner of 5th and F.”

“Jimmy Love’s. 672 Fifth Ave. (619) 595-0123. This is a pretty cool place to hang out as well. The main floor has a dance area and usually a live band. The bottom floor is more mellow...quiet, pool tables, and much cooler in temperature. Both floors have a bar for drinks.”

“4th&B” 345 B St. (619) 231-4343. Named for its location, literally being on the corner of 4th and B Street downtown, is a great place to see live music — bands more rock oriented than pop.”

Sounds fairly hip, but it can’t be completely hip: I’ve performed at 4th&B with Jose Sinatra. Sinatra is hip; I am not — even “fairly.” The last time I was in Jimmy Love’s was years ago when Billy Thompson was firing off Bloomfield-like blues runs onstage. I have never been inside the Bitter End; I have plenty of memories of the one in New York. Even if I could fight down the rising in my throat at the sight of all the beautiful people lined up to get in the Bitter End and drinking cosmopolitan/chocolate/fuzzy-peach/melon martinis at Jimmy Love’s bar, I could not go in. I’m pretty sure it’s a probation violation.

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Hey, Johnny B. I didn't think I would end up almost anywhere I have lived!

I hope you will tell the sailing story (the one only your ex-wife will believe) sometime soon.

I'll believe you, my friend.

Tool Town? Did insidesandiego just make that up? I've lived here for most of my thirty years, and I've never heard that nickname before. But I guess One America Plaza does have a bit of a Phillip's head.

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