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August 20 - 21, 1999

As I left the apartment I locked eyes with two grey kittens on the sidewalk outside. I immediately grasped the situation and their plight - one emitted a tentative "mew" as I simultaneously felt their hunger and thought of the tin of cat food stockpiled in my kitchen cupboard back inside for just such an emergency. Alas, no time, a tight schedule; had trains and a plane to catch so I turned and walked away from them, destroying any possibility of our life together

As I strode purposefully towards the CalTrain station I passed a little knot of three strolling babushkas conversing loudly in their native tongue. I restrained the sudden urge to wonder aloud "Ten years ago could you possibly have imagined that you'd be living not just in America but in the Californian paradise? And where will I be in ten years - Moscow?"

SFO a crowded madhouse, I suppose the end-of-summer rush. While waiting to board I read the current New Yorker in the gate's newsstand-gift shop, finding the Bill Bruford article about his night camping out in Central Park interesting but really enjoying "Endurance" by Bruce McCall. I flew Southwest, and encountered excruciating head-pain as the aircraft descended through certain altitudes and isobars that affected my sinuses strangely but this faded I disembarked through the jetway.

Conference and information gathering at the Travelers' Aid booth in San Diego's Terminal 2 of Lindbergh Field. They provided the needed transit information; as usual at these venues I generated camaraderie by mentioning my years of past experience on their side of the counter at LAX (Los Angeles International). Waited a bit for the 992 "airport flyer" bus which dropped me into the center of town - I walked along Broadway past the Horton Center mall where I ducked into the Westin Hotel to get their LA operations' phone numbers (since one of those're where I'd be meeting Molly in a couple days). Moved south a couple blocks, and a vast Ralph's supermarket beckoned - at their salad bar I assembled a small plastic clam-shell of fresh which I carried over to the Gas Lamp district, a few blocks east, and dined sitting on the sidewalk, absorbing the trendy scene with a brick wall as my backrest. Walked back north along 5th Avenue, the main drag through this zone of high gentrification, to the trolley stop for a ride to the Old Town station for another tourist-familiarizing walkabout around the 'Old Spanish California' Bazaar del Mundo, eventually reboarding the tram to continue on to Mission Valley.

I found that area to be what I characterize as 'Franchise Hell' - all-new commercial development centered in an asphalt parking sea; composed only of the usual suspects, like Bed, Bath and Beyond; Borders & Noble; and the inevitable Starbucks; where I had a cuppa. Hung around the enormous Gordon Biersch across the way, drinking only mineral water while watching the youthful crowd fill the place up until finally spotting the Calvin Klein T-shirt The Gus said he'd be wearing, and introduced myself to him and his charming companion Kim. She invited me over to their place later for a little soiree, which was most intriguing. But I had to meet Cheryl first, my hostess in San Diego - she's a former workmate I've known for a decade now, and a main purpose of this trip was to see the house she bought recently over in the Normal Heights district. Shortly after Kim & Gus left I gave up on waiting inside; meeting anybody in that now-dense crowd could be iffy although this was our agreed-upon rendezvous point; she could've already been searching amidst the throng but I went outside to wait and she turned up immediately, as if on cue. Over to her very nice house, where her Irish beau Dermot eventually arrived. They'd hatched a dinner plan involving a classy Mexican place in Old Town so it seemed I wouldn't be at the soiree, but it developed that a fourth they'd invited was Scott, who lived in Ocean Beach (like Gus & Kim). So I was dropped at their house to hang for ten minutes while Scott was fetched; there I met another Scott, a Gus co-worker who asked how I met him and I said in cyberspace, that we have web sites that are kinda similar; he pressed for details and Gus replied with an explanation I found pleasantly oblique (although enough for Scott, it wasn't an adequate explanation for Cheryl when I repeated it later): "We do some non-traditional on-line storytelling.". Their neighbor Lisa came over too, then my ride returned and was outside honking so I had to leave.

El Agave turned out to be on the edge of Old Town but I didn't recognize its location from my previous reconnoiter. "Agave" seems to be a cactus product used in the manufacture of tequila, hence the place was also a tequila bar with a multitude of unique tequila bottles on shelves lining the walls. The separate tequila menu listed prices up to $140, which was the price, we concluded, for single shots! But we were drinking only wine and margaritas. I had a chicken molé entree, one of the six molé1 choices on the menu - whenever I'm at a Mexican restaurant and molé's on the menu I try it - each time it's different and the sauce (which usually, but not always, contains chocolate among its many ingredients) is always tasty.

In the morning Dermot's plan was to go over to Scott's to assist with some home improvement project there, so I requested a lift - en route we discussed Standard of Living vs. Quality of Life, America vs. Europe. He dropped me off near the Zen Bakery on Voltaire in Ocean Beach, where Gus and Kim (and their schnauzer-dog Sophie) showed up eventually, and we hung around out front - see Gus' August 21st entry for illustrations of us in animated conversation. After a time we strolled down to the ocean where I finally got to experience Dog Beach, a place my group's secretary (Carolyn Carroll) was always nattering on about in the early 1990's - she eventually moved down there, said San Diego was cheaper than LA. I thought being on Dog Beach was like walking around barefoot in an enormous cat box, but the canines were amusing, all running loose, and all kinds - it was like being at a prolonged recess of a school where all the pupils were dogs. Then we walked back along Newport, the main business road through Ocean Beach, and after some more discussion with Gus & Kim in the living room (as Michael Feldman's "Whad'Ya Know?" played on the radio2, prompting Kim to detail some other Things Wesconsin 3) I bid them adieu, glad I'd made contact.

Waiting around at the bus bench, a group of colorful Ocean Beach characters gathered, growing in numbers until our coach finally motored into view. This bus took me back to the Old Town station to board a trolley to Fashion Valley, where I caught another bus which drove north, passing through Miramar, the former Naval and now Marine Corps Air Station, to a point where Stevie D picked me up in his SUV and then showed off his town house in far suburban Rancho Penoskitos. He's a classmate from high school, who evolved into a member of our college druggie crowd - sometimes, in our dissatisfaction with the excess of those sloppy times, we called the flat he shared with Tim 4 the "burn-out apartment." I met him at our 1997 class reunion and decided to see how he lives now. It was sterile suburbia, to be sure; but I had some slight envy for his small back yard with palm tree, his garage workshop where he assembles beautiful wooden kayaks, and his cute 2.5 year old son Alec; but not for his collection of wooden tennis rackets (displayed all over the guest room wall) nor his utility company billing system job involving COBOL programming.

Steve drove me back and dropped me off at Cheryl's house in Normal Heights. By this hour Shari had appeared, a former coworker of Cheryl's and mine, who'd driven down from LA to visit for the weekend. Dinner was a backyard barbecue, the turkeyburgers prepared by Dermot. I'd never eaten turkeyburgers before. Afterwards, television - when South Park came on, the highpoint of their viewing evening, I hid in the pink bathroom and tested Cheryl's bathtub - its dimensions were almost perfect, superior to the equipment in my current apartment. When I emerged, drying out, they let me hold the remote for a while, but since the PBS channel showing a Native American variant on "Riverdance" called "Firedance" was the only place I stopped the surfing they took the remote away from me.

NEXT: Newport, Huntington and Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica and "Encounter"

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1 I'm spelling it with the accent to indicate its Spanish pronunciation; but that's actually MO-lay, not mo-LAY.

2 Gus finds him much preferable to the disagreeable Garrison Keillor, who's audience, he imagined, was middle-aged suburban housewives - I didn't admit as to how I now numbered among GK's enthusiastic audience, although when I was younger my reaction was the same as Gus's. As I grew more habitual about spoken-word public radio broadcasting (via Joe Frank) I discovered Michael Feldman also, but the Persian Gulf conflict bumped him out of the schedule of KCRW, never to return during my LA tenure, and since "Whad'Ya Know?" wasn't available on DC public radio during my three years back east I got into the Lake Wobegon habit. (And I'm middle-aged myself, now.)

3 that's how she pronounces it

4 Molly's brother, with whom I'd share quarters in downtown DC in later years.