I suppose I am a man without a neighborhood.
As a life-long San Diegan, I have called many neighborhoods “home.” Often I find myself in the minority and my native claim second only to the Kumeyaay Indian (though an admittedly distant second). However, my ancestral neighborhood is proudly the College Area.
At the crossroads of El Cajon Boulevard and College Avenue lies a bustling, run-of-the-mill strip mall which used to be a drive-in movie theatre with a scantily-clad, baton-twirling white chick, complete with Sioux Indian headdress, facing the intersection (one can still spot this anachronistic SDSU mascot if they look carefully). It now boasts a Vons, Starbucks, Coldstone, and Burger King. Talk about a place with true character, originality, and tradition! Adjacent to this strip mall rests another smaller, corner strip mall with a Washington Mutual and a Subway.
It used to be a Wells Fargo and an independent bike shop.
All exciting, historical developments — I know.
Across the street is a Little Ceasar’s that dishes out five-dollar pizzas hand over fist. If you’re lucky you can catch an underpaid teenager or recently released mental patient skillfully spinning a promotional sign — “Hot and Ready!” High standards. If it wasn’t for the price I’d be extremely unsatisfied.
This Little Ceasar’s used to be a 7-11.
I was addicted to Slurpees as a child. I loved that 7-11.
Now it's gone.
Even the long-lived, but easily forgotten Vietnamese restaurant that must have served as a criminal front for decades was stripped and renovated. Now it’s an upscale coffee shop called Cutter’s Point that makes mochas for SDSU students that either can’t appreciate the character, or find a place to sit, at the Living Room Cafe.
The only architectural image from my childhood that remains in the College Area is the 40 year-old Aztec Budget Inn. It’s described by Yahoo!Travel as a “hacienda-style inn” that has become “a landmark in the area of town close to SDSU” for prospective students and teachers. Having lived in the area for over 20 years, I would alter that description just slightly to something like this: “A multi-cultural, brothel-style inn, it has become a landmark...." It has hourly rates for Chrissake!
On the brighter side of the community, there’s Los Ponchos—or Senor Ponchos, as it is now called. The omnipresent but always unique local taco shop may well be the epicenter of unity, pride, and gastrointestinal difficulty for every Southern California neighborhood. (In fact, if one is planning on sparking a grassroots revolution in San Diego, I highly suggest starting at Adalberto’s and working your way up alphabetically to Zamberto’s). I could proudly say I had eaten everything listed and unlisted on Los Ponchos’ menu without once getting sick. Now it’s Senor Ponchos — and totally different. No more mysteriously creamy, light green, fake guacamole or extra grease-infused sauce. Luckily, Trujillo’s Taco Shop has entered the fray, and they make the best carne asada burritos on the planet. Really.
And — though insignificant in comparison to the local Mexican food — the residential community has really cleaned-up too. Police helicopter noise is now a rarity. Many homes have been remodeled and over-appraised. More children and dog-walkers roam the streets than stray homeless men or crackheads wandering off of El Cajon Boulevard. Why, you may ask? It seems that about ten years ago a few well-dressed, stylish, wealthy young men and their partners decided to work wonders in this neighborhood-- raising property values through the roof!
Great if you’re a homeowner. Tragic if you ever plan to be one.
The bottom line is that things have changed in my old SDSU neighborhood — even the name: College Area, El Cerrito, “near La Mesa”— I don’t exactly know what to call it anymore.
So here I am: a San Diego native without a neighborhood.
And, by all means, feel free to have about as much sympathy for me as you would for the guy who regularly complains about the weather.