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Escape to San Diego, 2008, Part II: The Desert

There are a few things you need to know about San Diego. It’s huge: over a million people. It used to be in Mexico, and now it’s practically in Mexico. The weather attracts young adults and bums from pretty much all of the southwest, and the bums can get away with shaking down tourists in the Gaslamp because no one actually lives there.

If you missed it — Part I: The Coast

If you are a student, going to class and running one errand requires you to own a car and drive at least 30 miles. The weather is nearly perfect, yet you can throw a rock and hit a tanning salon. There is a special unspoken derision of obesity; you will see a disproportionately small number of fat people at the beaches. Strip malls grow like stultifying weeds between houses. You can find anything you want if you’re willing to find it, except for Tibetan food, which I couldn’t find. Did I mention the perfect weather?

Don’t get me wrong. I like San Diego, mostly because of its bizarre quirks, which include the unmatched seediness of the bars and rock clubs near the airport. Not to mention that San Diegans seem far less miserable than people in the Northeast.

Speaking of easterners, a lot of them seem to think that San Diego is superficial. Maybe that’s because the city is, literally and geologically, a thin layer of stuff that sits atop a vast nothing. If you resist the temptation to go to the beach, to head north to OC or LA, or head south to TJ or Ensenada, well, then, you have to head back east. That means traversing a vast desert where no one seems to live anymore.

Here are some vignettes from the interior:


Ex-home in Jacumba.


This is the Mexican border fence under construction. T. and I had massive burritos for lunch at the hotel in town. The locals dining there complained that the fence would only keep them from hunting, fishing, and hiking on the Mexican side. They said the only thing that ever came across from Mexico was the occasional wayward cow.


Houses like these are sitting right on the main drags of the ghost towns in the desert, just about an hour from San Diego.


El Centro is a tiny agricultural city in the Imperial Valley. It sits fifty feet below sea level, as this tank advertises. On satellite imagery, El Centro is a splotch of green in a sea of brown. In person, both desert and farm are the color of dust.


Irrigating.


Dogs in Jacumba.

— Rob Bellinger

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