When my friend Jon visits from from the murk and damp of Michigan, he always looks up for what he thinks of as a real San Diego sky: not merely cloudless, not merely blue, but a blue that’s genuinely and evenly deep, as if it were so pure that it admitted some measure of influence from the black beyond. An unsullied, gossamer mantle of azure over our coastal paradise.
That’s awfully high-flown, I know, and this afternoon’s sky doesn’t even qualify: it’s all hazy at the edges, so that the towers on Coronado and what glimpses I can catch of the bridge are mere shadows against the golden glare of the ocean, six miles distant. But then again, I can see the ocean, six miles distant, as I stand on the flattened top of a knoll above and within the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park in South Encanto, realizing exactly why they call it Skyline Drive. Beyond the perimeter ring of concrete sidewalk (T.B. Penick & Sons, 1983) 200 feet in diameter the earth falls away in every direction. I am alone and on top of this little corner of the world. The ocean breeze barely stirs the eucalyptus and pine. Straight above me, a plane cuts through as fine a blue as ever Jon could wish for. High-flown comes easy here.
Back in La Mesa, at cramped, viewless Collier Park four blocks south of the Village (as locals call the downtown strip) they’ve added parking spaces, cut down a bunch of old trees and planted a few new ones, and replaced the old wooden sign with a metal monstrosity, and surrounded that with a concrete ring they call a sitting space. Across Palm Avenue, they’re cramming a cluster of townhomes onto a narrow lot. Prices start in the low $400,000s, about what I paid for my fixer-upper on a large lot with a pool 15 years ago.
Back in La Mesa, the gentrification genie has granted the hipsters’ wish to have a little bit of North Park in East County: City Tacos on the Boulevard. (They’re great tacos, but my teenage daughter worries she has to be cool to properly inhabit her hometown now.) Back in La Mesa, I am middle-aged, settled up, and done. And the new grass at Collier Park is soggy with excess watering.
But here on Skyline Drive, great swaths of sward stretch out below, springy and green. Here, there are vacant lots littered with possibility, within sight of a park so big and open and clean and outfitted — pool, tennis, and basketball courts, baseball, and a concrete slide like the ones they swoon over in San Francisco — that it’s enough to make you believe in city government. Here, Zillow tells me, I can buy a nearby fully remodeled three-bedroom/two-bath on a third of an acre for under $400,000.
Sure, there’s a cop car on the park’s lawn — looking out for kids from neighboring O’Farrell Charter School fighting after school, the young officer told me — but it’s there.
I’m not kidding myself; I’m unlikely to move here. Crime rates are still a little high, school ratings a little low. But I will come back, if only to look into finishing the gazebo above the concrete platform at the knoll’s north end