Last spring when I was out of work and sponging off my husband I managed to talk him into green lighting a trip back west, to the city of my misspent youth. San Diego shaped me in many ways, in the 1990‘s it was a great place to start adulating, there was no internet, no feeling of constant social injustice – just a free spiritedness that bordered on hippy but was years away from its counterpart in San Francisco. At the time it was a sleepy seaside town not yet the sought after destination that has raised housing prices astronomically and clogged up the freeways – my first apartment cost me $200 a month in rent.
I thank my shitty teenage work ethic and bad follow-through that allowed me to walk away from a somewhat promising college education and throw caution to the wind – to sink the last of my pizza slinging money into a carton of Marlboro reds and board a slow train to the west coast.
While I was out there this spring reconnecting with some amazing friends and swigging back cocktails like I was 20 years younger I did manage to stay sober long enough to go on a mini tour of all of my various residences I inhabited in America’s finest city. Here for your enjoyment is a rundown of 7 years’ worth of late rent checks and unpaid security deposits.
A little background:
In 1994 I started my second year at West Chester University – this should have made me a sophomore but since I only passed three classes my freshman year (thanks beer!) I was really a third semester freshman – a title that did not sit well with me. Also, my second freshman year I got a new roommate – gone was my first year roomie who had taught me the wonders of rap music, how to chug colt 45 like a pro and how to feel comfortable in situations I was until then unaccustomed to. My first year roommate was awesome and even though we may have been each other’s mutual downfalls, we had great fun doing it.
My second year at school I was paired with Chrissy – Chrissy was great, she came from an unbroken family that got together every Friday night to hang out with each other, she had a long standing boyfriend who her Mother loved and a younger brother who was captain of his football team. Chrissy was WHOLESOME. I wasn’t really sure what to do with Chrissy, she was… off-putting. That’s not to say that we didn’t get along, we did, we just never clicked and it was really nice that she was gone every weekend.
The day I decided that I wanted to drop out of school and move to Southern California, Chrissy, instead of trying to talk me out of it immediately offered to drive me to the train station! Either she was trying to be really supportive or just really excited to get rid of me (probably the later). She helped me pack and even stood in line with me at the registrar’s office while I dropped all of my classes and walked away without hearing the part that I had missed the add/drop period by 2 days (several years later while trying to get back in to college I would realize my mistake and be presented with a large bill from a collection agency who had been trying to track me down for a long time). At the time though – who cared!
I had $227 to my name – I bought a one-way ticket on Amtrack’s Sunset Limited line, a carton of cigarettes and a 12 pack of Mountain Dew, I had $6 leftover when all was said and done. Most people would have been worried that $6 wouldn’t feed them for 4 days on the train, but if I’m being honest the thought never even once crossed my mind – I was 19 and my head was already on the beaches of San Diego.
The ride out there was truly an adventure – and yes for most of it I was starving but I was also delirious from a lack of sleep and the chain smoking helped. At one point I had become close with a group of 20 something’s that were on their way to work on fishing boats in Alaska – they were transferring trains in Los Angeles and heading North to make their fortunes, they offered to bring me with them and I have to tell you I seriously considered it. Up until we actually arrived in LA a large part of me was saying “come on, you’ve come this far – how amazing would Alaska be?” Sometimes I still wonder what would have happened if I had decided to take them up on their offer. But alas I did not; I was 19 and sure that many other wild opportunities would make their way to me. I took that train two more times across country in the ensuing years and never again was offered such an opportunity.
My first six months in San Diego was something of a mixed bag, I fell in love instantly with the wide palm-tree-lined streets and the cheap taquerias on every corner, I got a job selling $600 Mont Blanc pens to people that would one-day star on the real housewives of San Diego (is that a show? I have no idea…) I lived for a while above my half-brother’s garage, a situation that did not end well and doesn’t bear retelling.
My first actual apartment was a small two bedroom in Mission Valley that I found by responding to an ad in the paper (yes, the paper – this was long before Apartments.com was invented). I had seen a bunch of places at that point and even with my super low requirements (had to be by a bus line, had to have laundry) the list of options in my price range (dirt cheap) were mostly unacceptable. The last place I visited was a lovely Spanish style two bedroom rented by a man named Craig, Craig was creepy in a maybe-he’s-a-child-molester sotra way and clearly stoned out of his mind when I got there, but after touring the place I realized that even living with creepy stoner Craig would be infinitely better than any of the other places I had seen. I think, however, that Craig felt my hesitation and mentioned at the end of our meeting that his ex-girlfriend Christina was also looking for a roommate, I didn’t stop to think what kind of girl would date a man like Craig, but she was female and lived in the same neighborhood as the mall I was working in – I agreed to live with her sight unseen.
Christina was horrible, in a way that privileged young Californian’s who have no depth or worldly experience can be – she worked at a tanning salon and spent all of her money on expensive skin creams. Her best friend’s name was Pilar, Pilar carried her dog around her in purse and was an au pair to a family in La Jolla – this was back before au pairs where a thing, she learned that was what she was because this family took her to Paris and because she had been to Paris, she knew everything, Seriously, PILAR KNEW EVERYTHING, she was insufferable, also she was over a lot. It became clear right away that Christine and I could only get along if we were under the influence of well… anything. I wasn’t a big drinker back then but– hell I would have huffed paint if it meant that we could just have a pleasant evening together.
Because at the time I was making $6.50 an hour working at a defunct gift store at the mall, didn’t have a car and was dating a guy whom I was pretty sure was dating a host of other people I was home a lot. The situation went from bad to very bad to intolerable and the day that I came home and found a note that read “I have news, good for me bad for you – my brother’s coming to live with me”* (did I mention Christina was a real asshole?) I nearly shouted for joy.
to be continued…
*Christina didn’t have a brother.