I was really looking forward to spending some time in San Diego – surfing for the first time, skydiving with a friend of a friend, crossing the border into Tijuana for cerveza…then I woke up my first morning there feeling all out of sorts. And our full-on fun day turned into something much less exciting. Poor Jon, my new friend by way of Lyft. Lucky for me, he was a tremendously good sport, even when he sometimes rushed my snail’s pace just a tiny bit…!
Jon lives in Oceanside, just north of San Diego, and my upset stomach told me a driving tour of the area might be our best option for the day – obviously a far cry from original plans. So, we headed south along the coast, and he introduced me to each of the little beach towns and told me about their culture, inhabitants, industries, and best-known sites. The great thing about having a local tour guide is getting the inside scoop on a place, stuff I could never glean from the internet or information books or a visitor center or even a few-day stay. Some of the “big picture” stuff you can only get from long-timers, and I was glad to have that resource. I’d been craving good Mexican food and decided to brave it despite my funny tummy… It was delicious, even if it wasn’t quite south of the border.
Folks I know who’ve visited the city before recommended I check out Balboa Park, and that seemed docile enough, so we made our way downtown. It’s 1,200 acre city park that was the setting for the 1915 and 1935 California and International Expositions, respectively. The city has preserved a number of the elaborate structures from the time, and they now house museums of different sorts (all of which were closing as we arrived). I don’t know the difference between World’s Fairs and Expositions, to be honest, but they all seem to have been a really big deal back in the day, before we were so inter-connected and…self-absorbed. Remember the historical fiction book Devil in the White City? It was a book club favorite a few years back and intertwined the stories of the readying of Chicago for the 1893 World’s Fair and the exploits of a serial killer operating in the city during the same timeframe. It was fascinating to me, and Balboa Park brought back memories for me of that read. I can only imagine similar planning, creativity, industriousness, competition, expense, and drama went into the San Diego Expositions as Chicago’s earlier Fair. And as I walked around the park, I couldn’t help but imagine what it might have been like to attend such a prolific event a century ago! As such, I found myself often staring off into space trying to envision an earlier time and place and pace, whilst Jon rushed along wondering where the heck my head was. Oh, those modern Americans…!!
Something that has struck me over and over and over again on this trip is how people just…start talking to me, seemingly out of nowhere. Maybe they sense the small town in me and just think I’m up for small talk…or maybe they sense my snail’s pace and figure I have the time; I don’t really know the why. But the most surprising thing to me is that usually the conversations go pretty deep pretty quickly. And it happens almost every day! In fact, it’s become such an ordinary occurrence that I find myself wondering Who’s next?
Today, as we were walking out of the park (after we happened through San Diego’s Pride festivities!), I was talking to Jon about the Midwest, and a gal we met in passing snapped “What about the Midwest?” At first, we thought she seemed ready for a fight…but she quickly relaxed into conversation when we found out we shared roots in America’s “Heartland.” She (Amber Rose) was from Michigan. At first we talked in generalities, but very quickly we covered all kinds of hot topics, from gender and sexuality to race and ethnicity to politics and current events. We hugged (all three of us) after the conversation, and she actually invited us to a concert that night. We passed…but I find it absolutely wild and amazing how people just open up and how quickly strangers can form unlikely friendships.
I was most looking forward to solitude on my journey, but as time passes and some of my most enriching experiences involve complete strangers, I can’t help but think there’s something I’m supposed to discover in the meaningfulness of the connections I’m making…