I had been lucky enough to be an aimless college student in San Diego during my formative years.
Despite being a freshman, I had been blessed with a spacious 1999 Honda CR-V that I had driven down from Los Angeles. Since a sprawl of eucalyptus trees spanned the circumference of our campus, I felt suffocated in this self-serving ecosystem largely detached from the outside world. Unless, of course, I had my car. At a time where life consisted largely of personal matters, the car became my escape - escape from our fabricated college biosphere, escape from hopeless determination, escape from homogeny. Soon enough, I knew how to navigate between the interstate 5’s and 10’s to stereotypical tourist traps to places where driver’s licenses were as optional as turn signals. Young, reckless, and parentless, I ventured into the secret details of the city. My car gave me freedom, and I took full advantage of it.
The beach, as expected, became one of our primary destinations. On one of our weekly pilgrimages, we took the curved road towards the cove where the rows of towering eucalyptus slowly faded into high-end boutiques and coffee shop until there was no real vegetation at all. The traffic also increased, but this was expected. Time slows down here, and unlike other metropolitan cities, San Diego congests at its tips. It makes sense that people retire to this city - something about the beach naturally drives people away from the financial epicenter. Yet, as I sat there, locked inside my hot car, a nice, cool office building seemed appealing.
In that moment, I suddenly felt ill. Perhaps it was the heat or perhaps it was not having moved in ten minutes. From my car window, I saw the unobstructed view of the Pacific Ocean spanning out to a single point on the horizon, and today, the sky was clear enough to see freight ships floating off in the distance. Closer towards the beach, however, was a circus of bobbing heads and neatly aligned cars baking in the sun. Sparse honks from all directions interrupted any prolonged thought. Immobile and caged in between the same two cars, I decided to turn around. I never returned to that beach for the rest of my college career.
Instead, I would often find myself at the end of a remote road with an immovable gate. There were no automobiles here; rather they served no purpose. Crossing over the gate, I pitter pattered down the scalding asphalt until the road became sand and the sand became water and the sea overtook me. Outside a few surf bums, the only inhabitants were the sounds of sea gulls. The road doesn’t lead you here. Just you. As the sun dragged along overhead, I immersed myself until my fingertips looked like a topographic map of my identity. Off in the distance, a car horn faded into the air as the water washed over my ears and my mind wandered until nothing really matter at all.
Written for San Diego: The Architecture of Four Ecologies