On the Road: San Diego County, CA
Date: 20 Sep 1994 to 28 Sep 1994
Subject: Surf notes
Potrero, CA (Peoples’ Republic of Southern California) — So this is the weekend update from out here, and let me tell you, things are definitely strange out here. It’s a different tempo for life. I drove the rent car down the hill Saturday morning to see about a paper and some gas.
The closest gas is in Tecate," said one native.
That’s Tecate, Mexico, home of the brewery. The native was trying to be helpful. He was just passing through and had a much bemused expression when he realized that I was definitely not from around here. Tecate is in another country, along with the concept that the world shifts when one goes into Mexico. Which, in case you haven’t been lately, it does. Shift, that is.
But Potrero and the surrounding terrain are strangely unique for a this area. Less than 60 (sixty) miles away is the raw beat of San Diego, or as some call it, Insane Diego. That’s a major population center, the heart beat of Southern California, the beach, the style, the blood boiling fast and furious-downtown, there’s a few places downtown where airplanes, the big jetliners, land; and the boats coming steaming up; and there’s even active rail service. So here’s the activitiy, not even an hour away by car, and then there’s the calm of Potrero.
Big difference. The wild pack of coyote howl at the moon in Potrero.< It's called the East County or the Back County or some other rural name which implies that the area is rustic and full of less than desirable people, the inbred, tailer house trash associated with places like Frontage Road, Texas; all of Oklahoma; and most of Arkansas. In Arkansas, of course, the exceptions are Hope and Little Rock.
Rustic and rural, this is rough country along the backside of the coastal range. The actual terrain itself is a nasty form of ground cover which includes a variety of sage and wild rosemary to tough manzanita, yucca and a minimum of eleven kinds of unidentified plants with burrs and thorns. The dense undercover makes light of the fact that this is a desert.
"Pretty lush desert, not like what I was used to in Arizona," one host observed.
What isn’t tough vegetation is granite. In fact, the plants exist on a thin layer of sand which nothing more than granite which has crumbled apart from age. This is an old area.
"The house at the bottom of hill, supposedly it was a stop on the old Butterfield Stage Line…."
I would tend to allow that statement a chance to wander little bit more into the mythical area rather than the reality department. The house, now no more than a four walls and a badly decaying wooden roof, looks old enough to be, by my dead reckoning, forty to fifty years old. Old granite pieces stuck together with solid looking conrete and cement, one of those structures which was assembled by hand, and only later it was bricked up in places, like plumbing was an afterthought. And electricity, too, came later. There are really two structures like that, down alongside the highway, State (Peoples’ Republic) Highway 94.
"He’s a got a bmpersticker, did you see it when he was up at the house, ‘Pray for Me: I drive Highway 94’?"
94 is a tight road, winds up from the freeway: in fact, it is part of the Southern California Freeway System at one point.
Not far from Potrero, just twenty miles or so down along 94 towards the port city of San Diego, there’s the first of the encroaching civilization although it’s hard to use that word when one gets rapidly used to the idea of waking at sun up and sleeping after a breath taking sunset. Like all the other towns and areas around here, the names is some hybrid Spanish-Mexican-Anglo-Indian-Native name. It means that the owners of the Urban Assault Vehicles are roaming and roving closer and closer. It won’t be too much longer before Potrero is discovered.
See: this town is perfect, just far enough away from the city to make it an impossible commute, at least, an impossible commute to San Diego. It would be a pretty comfortable commute to Tecate. Matter of fact, that’s the easiest population center to reach in order to get some groceries, or dinner, or a six pack. Just bring your returnable bottles with you when you go.
So: Potrero has the Mexcian Frontier on one side, what some folk refer to as the Taco Curtain, a fourteen foot high iron fence. To the north is some National Forest land, all protected. There’s this ten mile stretch from border to governement land which is so wonderful. The Baja State of Mexico is wonderfully independent although it is showing a glut from foriegn investors as new real estate developments spring up along the coast, just south of Tijuana. There goes a good thing, but then it was bound to happen.
Potrero: it’s stuck halfway from no where to no where. While 94 is a fun sports car kind of a road, and it does attract a number of "crotch rocket" motorcycle riders on the weekend, the road is’nt the easiest way to get into the city. Back track ten or twelve miles to the Interstate, that’s the easiest way to get to town. On a full moon kind of craziness night, the Interstate is probably the safest way to get to and from town. The easy pace of life catches on really quickly: less than twenty four hours and the tempo is the relaxed, when-ever attitude.
"It not the same thing, not now," Mick said.
"Not with the Yuppie Urban-Assault vehicles, not the gear head, you know, the ones with all the toys. Too many pieces of equipment. Just not the same," he said.
The beach may be an idlic place to frolic, but for Mick it is also a spiritual place. He likes water, and he’s a good surfer. Maybe one of the best. An Endless Summer type. To be blunt about it, Mick knows the best spots for the waves on the Baja pennisula. That’s the good news. The bad news is that just about every body else has also made Mick’s revelation. Where the sand is the softest, and not too hot on a summer afternoon. And where the waves roll in just right. Size and texture is important; Mick understands this. He’s got a liter of Pacifico beer between his legs, and he’s looking out over a beach from a small cliff, about forty-five kilometers south of Tijuana.
"Can’t even get to K 38 anymore. See the signs? ‘No Surfers.’ It’s the gear heads who screwed it up; coming down here expecting something for nothing."
The road to Ensenada is more than a coastal highway now. It’s a Mexican toll-road, super-highway type of route. And the access road which isa two lane black top winding in and around, like serpent coiled around prey can take an extra twenty-five miles. Not an expedient route. Mick swigs at his beer, watching the receding tide and rolling breakers. People, predominately Anglo, are dotted along the coast line.
Mick has the golden blond hair of a California boy, and yes, he does live close to San Diego. But not too close. In fact, he lives back in a little town called Potrero, population 287, elevation 2,323. Potrero is close to the thriving metropolis of San Diego, but the little town is far removed from the big city. On a calm night, and most nights are calm, when a big, full moon rises up over the mountains, the coyotes howl in huge packs, yelping away in the middle of the night.
"Doing Lunch" with Mick is different from most civilized sandards. There’s a lack of an air of urgency, and quite a bit of calm associated with it down in Potrero. And the closest population center, the easiest place to go to get food, is across the border in Tecate, Mexico. Fish Tacos, or maybe Carne Asada. Something like that and a cold beer or two. Part of it is the difference in ambience. I pointed that out once, the difference in ambience.
"Ambience? Can you eat it? Does it taste good?" Mick asked.
No, you can’t eat it, and yes it does taste good. In fact, the lifestyle in Tecate helps add to this flavor. That’s the same feeling which gets carried over towards the ocean when I was traveling with Mick. It’s a good arrangement. The border people, on both sides, know that Mick is suspicious: long, surfer blond hair, clear blue eyes, usually with a cooler full of beer ("remember the limit: one six pack per adult"), a couple of surf boards in the back of an old truck, and maybe a pair ofteenage boys in the back of the truck, too.
Mick has a son, now living with Mick, and Jay is a different sort of bird. He’s a teenager with a camper shell full
of rock and roll posters, pictures of exotic cars, and beer women. Or women beer commercials. A normal, teenage male child. One of his friends from school is with him, too, and the friend has brought his beat up "boogie board" along for fun as well. Both the boys sport ankle length shorts which seems to be the fashion these days, along with matching shoes, and haircuts which Mick is forced to raze the boys about.
"You look like some tribe out of National Geographic, right off the television," he teases.