The highway signs welcoming motorists into California provide little warning for the harrowing ride ahead. The little towns bracketing the inlets along the Mexican border are mostly on the other side, and one carefully checks the fuel gauge to ensure against an unscheduled stop in a foreign country. Eventually you may have to pull over during the 250-mile drive, and this may be your first taste of proletarian life in Baja California.
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The small towns sprouting indifferently along the road to San Diego are frightening caricatures of life on the fringes of the American border. The neon lights of Taco Bell, Mc Donald's, Burger King and other greasy-spoon eateries beckon, but most close before 10 PM to mollify the paranoia of employees and employers. Trying to get one's bearings draws you deeper down the funky boulevards bracketed by metal railings, pawn shops and seedy, overpriced motels. At once you are boxed in by antiquated fin-tails, low riders and rustboxes that careen past impatiently as you search for road signs ensuring certain passage back towards San Diego.
Pulling into one of the better-lit motels, like Mary and Joseph, you find there is no room at the inn. A stable would do at this point, but instead there are the flickering lights of half-closed gas stations whose owners stare furtively past you to the garishly-marked patrol cars in the deserted parking lot. You get tentative directions and emerge to face the Border Patrol, brown-shirted and in shorty pants, finishing their junk food and bounding into their cars like Batman and Robin to answer the latest call to arms against intruders threatening the security of the US frontiers.
It is this spirit that overwhelms as you continue on your journey. Rest areas are no longer well-lit or paved, accommodated only by portable toilets grudgingly afforded to those whose means restrict them to egress along this forsaken inroad to Hollywood. Aliens mill about their dying vehicles, muttering in strange tongues as you stop to confirm your bearings. The lights along the highway are as candles mocking in the distance, and to your left there is only blackness and the unseen hordes of aliens marching relentlessly towards their goal of liberty or death.
Checking your ammunition, you finally pull over along the road despite signs forbidding such foolhardiness. The proximity of a State Park quells your fears after speeding past posted warnings of two state prisons nearby. One is chilled by the mountain air as well as historical record of the enchanting forests surrounding the concentration camps of Austria during the heyday of the German Reich. However, the captivating beauty of the star-spangled sky convinces one that this is, indeed, God's designated place of rest.
At daybreak, you rev up the engine and proceed with caution. You are at once overwhelmed by the sight of the mansions built into the niches of towering cliffsides through which this expressway of the nouveau riche was carved. The farther you go, the more you realize that, literally and figuratively, you have become as an ant in the sight of such financial wizardry. You dare not guess what a cheeseburger costs in the marbled wonderlands and platinum arches of Gucci Mc D's, but are eventually forced aside to refill your tank. Rocket fuel should cost so much, and you are astonied to find no credit cards are accepted, but you break into your reserves and barter for the gas to make it to your destination.
Lo and behold, San Diego is the haven of refuge blessed by God to provide shelter to the common man. I was overjoyed to see its resemblance to Manhattan Beach in my beloved NYC, where small, gaily-painted two-story homes are crowded together on snug and comfy blocks. Sprouting between them are a multitude of ethnic-oriented enterprises, where Italian pizzas, Jewish blintzes and Irish beer can be purchased in Mom-and-Pop shops right alongside Tex-Mex taco joints and black hip-hop CD stores. Your spirits are buoyed as you follow roadsigns leading you right to the beach.
And what a sight for sore eyes. There are a multitude of inlets, each immaculately manicured and replete with benches and picnic tables. The shores are finely sloped, with nary a shell or pebble about, and freshly-cleaned trash cans remind one to do their share. Palm trees line the beaches to provide both ambiance and shade. Even the restrooms are a delight, motion detectors courteously providing water in toilets and sinks, while graffiti remains an urban curiosity reminding one that Jack loves Jill or the Laredo Trash Boys made it this far.
Unfortunately Hollywood Boulevard beckoned, so we didn't have time to visit the fabled San Diego Zoo or pay homage to the home of the Oakland Raiders' favorite whipping boys, the Chargers. Rest assured, however, that this town stands as a reminder that the American Dream is still a reality, and Horace Greeley's immortal advice is yet as good as gold.
"Go west, young man." San Diego awaits.
Best Suited For: Families
Best Time to Travel Here: Anytime