Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Roses and Surfers of I.B.

by Pa Rock
Cultural Explorer

I got off the bus at what I assumed to be roughly the center of Imperial Beach. When I asked the bus driver for directions to the beach, he pointed out the door and said, "Seven or eight blocks that-a-way." So off I marched, that-a-way.

The residential area that I was traversing was about what I expected. Small homes, some neat and some not. Several residences had rusting vehicles or boats parked in the yard, while adjacent homes would be very well maintained. One thing was certain, though, the value of these houses was minuscule compared to property prices just up the road in Coronado. Mrs. John McCain might own two multi-million dollar condos within hiking distance, but I was willing to bet that she had never parked her pretty pumps on the sidewalks of I.B. It was a whole different world.

I was heading down 9th Street when I came upon an Hispanic lady pruning the roses in her yard. Her house was modest, but her abundant rose bushes were in full, intoxicating bloom. "Your roses are beautiful!" I told her as I walked by. "Thank you," she replied. Before I could get past her yard, she stood up and started to engage me in conversation.

It was Sunday, Mother's Day. She told me that she had gone to Guadalajara (Mexico) yesterday to see her mother, because Saturday was Mother's Day in Mexico. She started showing me her roses, and naming them. They were growing all over the yard, and several were in large pots on the porch. There was also a gigantic amaryllis in a pot on the porch that had four gigantic blooms. She told me that she just put the bulb in the pot and gave it plenty of fertilizer. Anyone could do it - in the southernmost coastal city in California! The rose lady told me that she had two sons, and that she had told them she wanted twenty dollars from each of them for Mother's Day so that she could buy more roses.

I made an off-hand comment that I loved the scent of roses - those that haven't had the scent bred out of them. She rushed to a corner of the yard and clipped a fragrant bloom that she then handed to me. "Wait here," she then instructed as she rushed through the gate and into the back yard. She returned with another fragrant bloom from a different rose variety. She named the kinds that I held, and also started naming the others that were close-at-hand. "I have a book," she said, "that tells me all about roses."

Eventually she went back to her pruning, and I walked on that-a-way taking deep whiffs of my roses. The next time I am in I.B. I will be bringing a rose bush to the lady who loves roses.


Along about block seven I still had not even felt a hint of the ocean. I saw a man sitting at a bus stop across the four lanes of 9th Street. "Hey," I yelled, "is that where I can catch the 901 back to Coronado?" "Yes," he yelled back, and then he started walking across the street with a bus schedule in his hand. I walked out and met him in the middle where he gave me the schedule and told me when to expect the bus. When I asked for directions to the beach, he pointed to the upcoming intersection, told me to go right there, and it would be about a mile. (Lying bus driver!)

Well, I had come this far, so I took the right turn and started hiking off the next mile. I passed the fire station, library, and Mar Vista High School and not too long thereafter, spotted the seaside motels.

The beach was almost empty except for a few hardy surfers riding the waves close to the pier. One couple sat in a big hole in the sand and appeared to be playing some version of lick and tickle. The beach itself was covered with patches of seaweed and was nothing like it's highly groomed cousin behind the Hotel Del Coronado. Clearly I.B. lacked the ready resources of Coronado. I watched the surfers for awhile and then headed back.

I had been to I.B., walked its streets, and felt its pulse. The lost-in-time beach community was populated with real people. It had a beat, perhaps a rhythm, and it was much more real than its posh neighbor to the north. I left feeling that HBO had gotten it right.

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