This past week my wife and I went on our daughter’s senior class trip as driver/chaperones. The destination was La Jolla, California; from my memory of the Spanish language, this means, literally, “The Jolla.” (Fortunately, the school’s Spanish teacher was also on this trip, and she provided the more accurate translation of “The Jewel.”). What a perfect name; La Jolla, a seaside suburb in northern San Diego, is an absolutely gorgeous area filled with beautiful homes, awe-inspiring vistas and breathtaking prices.
La Jolla is approximately a six-hour (400 miles) drive from my hometown of Tucson; the drive, from just outside Tucson through to the last forty miles or so, makes almost anywhere else more beautiful by comparison. One would be hard-pressed to find a longer, more featureless, God-forsaken stretch in which to drive through. This section of west Arizona and southeastern California are patches of eczema and psoriasis on the skin of these two otherwise scenic states. In order to catch a glimpse of bikini-clad, voluptuous, gorgeous San Diego, one must first meet her haggard, hump-backed, pimpled sisters, strangely named Gila Bend (AZ), Yuma (AZ) and El Centro (CA). If memory serves, Gila is Spanish for “Armpit”; Yuma -“Anal Polyp”; and El Centro means “The Colon.” I’m wrong, most likely, but you get the picture: how many early settlers must have turned back after days of wagoning across North America’s seemingly endless backside, only to miss out on the incredible beauty that awaited them had they continued to its southwestern shores? As if the lunar-esque features of the area weren’t enough to repel prospective residents from these towns, the ridiculously high temperatures in summer would surely do the trick. It was 109F at 12:30p.m. in El Centro when we passed through. That is one hot colon.
Once you arrive at La Jolla, however, all is forgiven. The scenery is amazing, the town relaxed and inviting, and the daytime temperature in the mid to high sixties. There is a lot to do: surfing, kayaking, swimming, playing on the beach, shopping…but the best thing to do there is what I do best: absolutely nothing. As I lay on the beach one day, I half expected a team of marine biologists to come by and take some skin scrapings to help them identify this particular species of dead, beached whale, as I hadn’t moved for hours. You’re probably thinking I was a lousy chaperone, and you’d be right; fortunately, these seniors from Desert Christian High School are a truly special group. Self-disciplined, well taught, confident and smart, they were always where they said they’d be, where they needed to be, and left to make their own choices (in groups, of course), they invariably chose well. My wife and I were blessed to have been able to be with them one last time.
One of the special things about La Jolla is the abundance of wildlife mixed among the tourists who cram its coastline. A diver emerged from the shallows with a fish over four feet long that he had speared. (This is one reason why I don’t swim in the ocean). Because he speared the fish right around dawn I, a normal person who was also on vacation, naturally missed it and therefore have no picture for you. Rock squirrels, seagulls and loons hang out in abundance, but the sea lions are the real draw. They lie around everywhere like teenagers on a Saturday afternoon. As I understand it, where you find sea lions in numbers you will also find Great White Sharks. (This is another reason I don’t swim in the ocean). There were several people, some of considerable girth, wearing wetsuits and wallowing among them, from underwater likely looking like fat, clumsy, injured seal lions; this, to me, was a bad idea.
There are many tide pools that one can walk in search of crab, mollusks and other vile tasting creatures (one of the adults got food poisoning from some Crab Bisque; I could have told her this would happen) to look and prod at. I failed miserably at this particular endeavor, as I slipped off the slimy rocks literally seconds after starting and soaked my tennis shoes, undies and wallet, and briefly exposed my southernmost orifice to all manner of insidious oceanic colon-invading parasites.
I did see this little guy as I tried to right myself; he seemed to take great pleasure in my anguish, and I silently wished he tasted better so that I could kill him, pull off his arms, crush his shell and eat him for his indiscretion.
One day my wife and I dropped a group of students off at Mission Beach in San Diego; on the way back, we decided to drive around in some of the coastal neighborhoods of La Jolla to see how the other half lives.
They seem to live pretty well. Each house seemed nicer than the next; some of them looked a bit dated, though, and when their owners croak and their heirs sell, those homes will no doubt be razed so a newer, more opulent one can take its place. The owners of this house probably suspected my wife and I, as we sat in our nondescript white passenger van, camera lens protruding from the passenger side window, were either with the I.R.S., a private investigation firm or a rival cartel….Good!
At first glance, La Jolla seems like the perfect place. Like most of California, the only thing outwardly wrong with it is it’s filled with Californians. Then add the tourists, the prices, the traffic, the potential for your home -nay, your entire town – to slide into the ocean at any time, and La Jolla becomes like a lot of places I’ve been to: a really nice place to visit, but not one where I’d want to live.