Monday, May 31, 2021


San Diego, March 2020: My very first lock-down experience (but unfortunately not my last)

Editor's note:  Remember how surprised we all were -- back when the lock-downs first started?  'It's only going to be for a few weeks," they told us.  "It's only until we flatten the curve."  Yeah, right.  Here is the first chapter in my proposed book,
"2020: My Year of Living Dangerously During the Lock-down".   It will take you back to a time that we can now barely remember -- 441 days ago, back when we weren't all locked down and injected.

March 9, 2020:
  For some unknown reason, I'm not getting very excited about my upcoming trip to San Diego.  "Just think about the adventure!  The possibilities!  All that stuff to write about!" I keep telling myself -- yet all I'm feeling right now is anxiety and a headache coming on.  Not even stepping onto a BART train to the airport with a suitcase in my hand is perking me up -- although it was kind of fun to do my chicken dance at the TSA checkpoint after they had completely ignored me for ten minutes.

      I was trying to patiently wait my turn for that metal detector thingie but the TSA guys were working really hard at ignoring me, but it's pretty hard to ignore a 77-year-old lady who is doing a chicken dance and singing "Take a chance on me!" at full throat for ten minutes.  The bastards are lucky I didn't twerk.

     All that turbulence on the airplane didn't help either.  How am I going to fly all the way to New York City in April when I'm this disinterested in merely flying to San Diego.  But the good news is that I only got lost four (4) times on the way from the airport to my AirBnB, way out in the suburbs.

     However.  Now that I'm here, it's not really clear if I'm going to survive spending the next six days with a hovering-helicopter-style AirBnB host.  I already love her dearly -- but she's definitely a germaphobe freak.  I have to swab down the bathroom and kitchen sinks every time I use them.  Not allowed to eat in my room.  Have to wear special disposable house slippers.  Arrgh!  Sooner or later she's going to find out the deep dark truth about me -- that I'm not all that afraid of germs.  No, I'm not a slob.  But I'm not exactly a neat-freak either.  What am I to do?

     Walked over to stock up on food at Von's supermarket and buy toiletries at Walgreens.  Welcome to San Diego.  I could have done all that shite at home.  My book convention is being held at the Marriott Hotel so I took a bus and the light-rail trolley over to check it out.  Next?  A microwave dinner was involved.  And I cleaned up completely afterward, honest.  Even wore disposable rubber gloves and used Clorox wipes too.  This is unnatural.  Germs are good for our immune systems.  Clorox isn't.

     Tomorrow it's supposed to rain all day.  Really hard.  Guess I'll be spending the day in bed.  Coulda done that in Berkeley too.  Maybe there's a branch library nearby that won't involve hours on public transportation?  Maybe I should just concentrate on reading, dreaming and watching TV?

March 10, 2020:  I've been up since 4:15 am.  Shitty day so far.  "The time is now 9:16 am."  I've still got a headache.  Am I having fun yet?  I'll be okay tomorrow for sure but today sort of sucks eggs.  Guess I'll hobble down to the library.  That's about all I've got planned for today.

      But.  "Actions speak louder than words."  So I finally dragged my sorry bootie down to the bus stop, caught the #120 bus to Fashion Valley, caught the downtown trolley and ended up at Old Town San Diego -- which turned out to be the perfect place to go. 

      First off, there was a real blacksmith's shop -- with a real smithy too.  Three of them.  And boy did they know their stuff.  A pleasure to watch.  Back in time at least 150 years.  Hell, the whole town was back in time at least 150 years.  My kind of place!  I used to be a history major in college, remember?  And a wannabe archeologist too.  Plus it was Taco Tuesday at the Cantina.  And with guacamole too.

      Then I visited the stable, the haunted house, the courthouse, the church, the tobacco store -- loved the old-timey tobacco store.  Then I felt better.  Much better. San Diego might be fun after all.

      Next chapter in my life on public transportation?  Back to the trolley, followed by the #120 bus again.  Up to the Linda Vista branch library wherein I got locked out of my Yahoo account on their computer and even after an hour of cursing under my breath, still couldn't get logged back in.  Arrgh.  Then back to the #120 bus.  "Hey!  That was my stop!"  Rats.  And the bus didn't stop again until I was back to freaking Fashion Valley.  Waiting for the next bus, an hour later.  No more #120 bus for an hour.  Sat on a bench.  Read a book.  Finally.  The bus finally took me back up the hill.

      Back at the AirBnB, my attitude had completely changed, I was happy to see my host after a day of getting lost in the rain and I even asked her for helpful tips on how to clean a bathtub.  Next I'm gonna ask her what she uses to clean floors.  My host is a gold mine of cleaning information.  This could be just what I need. 

       Now I'm still trying to hack my own e-mail while lying around my room in my nightgown, watching the Hallmark channel on TV and eating microwaved enchiladas.  Life's good again.  But I still hate airplanes.

March 11, 2020:  "My name is Michael Grossman," said some guy in my dream last night.  He kept popping up there -- in the midst of a bunch of spooky goings-on in my childhood home.  No idea who he was.  Then the phone rang in real life and it was Ann, another author attending the book conference, who also wanted to visit Tijuana today.  Grabbed some microwaved sausages, ran out the door and jumped on the #120 bus to meet Ann at a downtown trolley stop.

     After the usual confusion we finally found the trolley to San Ysidro, the last California city this side of the Mexican border.  Ann told me her entire life story in the ensuing 45-minute ride.  I told her mine.  We're good. 

      Bought burgers and fries at the famous San Ysidro McDonald's, walked across the border and here we are.  Ann is all talking about "El Chappo".  Huh?  "No, not to worry.  He's in prison now." 

       Our goal in Tijuana was to meet some asylum-seekers.  Border-crossers were a big deal in the news just then -- Trump's Wall, the kiddie prisons and all.  We snagged a taxi driver after going through customs.  "$100 for four hours," he said.  "$50 for six hours," Ann replied in Spanish.  We settled for $75 for five hours.  Let's go!

     First he took us to PLDHA.  Don't ask me what that stands for.  I have no idea.  But the place was totally awesome.  We met actual real buscando asilos!  Real asylum-seekers, running away from violence in Central America.

     One man had experienced a gun being held to his head back in Honduras.  There were mostly men at this shelter.  So much to write about -- can't write it all here now because I am totally worn out by all this information.  Will get to it tomorrow.  Hopefully.  But it was a completely amazing day.  Totally amazing.  And our cab driver turned out to be our knight in shining (Nissan) armor.

March 12, 2020:  And it's raining like hell right now.  It's not spozed to rain in sunny San Diego, right?  Trudging in the rain is gonna be no fun.  So I won't.

       Anyway, back to my Tijuana report.  "My story," said another man, "is that my parents took me to America from Mexico when I was four years old.  But last year, ICE suddenly showed up and deported me.  They just took me down here and dumped me out on the street.  I knew no one here, had no family here, had no money.  Nothing."  He found this place and now serves as their majordomo and translator.

     Then he showed me where the men slept -- in two rooms that were crowded with three-tiered bunk-beds constructed from scrap wood.  50 bunks to a room.  And only one shower.  It was primitive as hell.  But it was far better than sleeping on the streets.

     Then we met the director, a kind, compassionate and well-educated woman from a prestigious Tijuana family who has devoted her life to charity and good works.  "We operate on a shoestring budget here -- but operate we do."  I gave the director a big hug -- and then another big hug.  She didn't have to be doing this.  But she was.

     Next Alberto took us to a shelter for women, run by Italian Catholic nuns.  "We have 72 women and children staying here," said the director.  This shelter was so obviously more well-heeled than the men's shelter.  It even had real store-bought bunk beds -- only two bunks high and not hand-cobbled together out of scraps.  The kitchen was modern and immaculate.

       But enough about writing about Tijuana.  Will write more about it later.  The rain has just slowed down for a minute so I'd better run off to the #120 bus again.  But did I get wet?  Oh yeah.  It was a disaster.  Soaking wet.  Missed my trolley stop.  Again.  Waded through flood waters.  Clung on to a chain-link fence while doing a balancing act over said flood waters -- all the while desperately clutching my umbrella.  Finally arrived at the book convention.  Sat for two hours in a cold draft while volunteering at the registration table.


     I did win a free book at one of the author panels.  Met some old friends.  Started to finally dry out.  Started to actually have fun!  Plus I managed to recruit several celebrity authors to join my own panel on Saturday.  Scored some interesting free books.

     But then the other shoe dropped.  "I'm sorry but we need to shut down the conference," announced its director.  "County board of health's orders."  And, boom, that was that.  Sadly, I took the trolley and bus home in the rain, trudging along with at least 25 pounds of free books.

     Free books!

     Everyone at the conference suddenly started giving them away.  It was like Christmas at a library!  Everyone sorted through the piles of books and unzipped the gift bags in delight.  A happy ending after all.  An accidentally-one-day conference but that one lone day was totally fun.  "Books in a time of plague."

     Tomorrow I'll have all day to write more about Tijuana.  And on Saturday too.  And the day after that.  Nowhere to go now.  Even Disneyland is closed.  Hopefully the library won't get shut down.  Hopefully my airline won't get shut down.  I'll see what Expedia has to say.  I should just go home early.  But why?  What's happening at home that isn't happening here?  Plus I'll have to explain to my apartment-sitter why I'm back so early.  Screw that.  I'll stay.

    Plus this lock-down is only going to last a week -- 14 days at most.  "Just long enough to flatten the curve."

March 13, 2020:  Friday the 13th.  Rainstorms so far this morning.  I'm not self-quarantining.  I'm weather-quarantining.  Rats.  Bored already.  Time to write down some more Tijuana notes before I forget what all else happened down there.  Next we went to a tiny restaurant and had a delicious beef stew.  "It's called barbecoa.  They cook it overnight on slow heat."  Yummers.  We also ordered some tamales.  And tacos.  Guacamole.  Wow.

     Next stop was at the Catholic shelter for women and children run by nuns and another compassionate director.  But the beds were much nicer.  Did I already say that?

     "It is difficult for Mexico to absorb so many refugees into our economy -- but not impossible," said the director.  "We have teachers, a clinic, a psychologist, attorneys and even a beauty school here."  Salon de belleza.

     "It is not people who are bad.  It is the political situation that forces them to be bad.  We must bring down the violence, lift our hearts, lift up the bad."  Turn it into good!

     "Who we are is not what we own.  If every human being performed just one good deed a day, the whole world would change for the better.  It would be a revolution.  We must work on the individual level."

      She told us that many women there had been raped.

     Next we asked the director about the approximately 100 men we had seen across the street from the sanctuary as we drove up.  They had been sitting or standing against a wall across the street, eating plates of rice and beans.  "We also serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to homeless and migrant men," she replied.  "We serve around 300 meals a day.  Women living here cook and serve the meals."  We saw long tables with large pots of beans and large pots of rice being ladled out.

     The women and children here were cheerful.  It was a cheerful place.  Children played in the sunny courtyard.  Women nursed babies.  "We try to get families back together."  Making the best outcome from tragedy.  Happy yet sad.  I almost had tears in my eyes.  Ann definitely did.

     Then came our reward for our hard day's look into sadness and pain.  Alberto drove us off to the beach!  We sat on bar stools at a counter that overlooked the Pacific ocean and watched the waves roll onto the sand.  Drank margaritas.  Gobbled down tortilla chips.  Looked at Trump's Wall as it plunged into the ocean.  Heaven.  But with a tinge of reality thrown in. 

     Next it was time to walk back through the border crossing.  As we stood in line waiting our turn to present documents, about 100 young men walked by us in single file, each one dragging a small roller-board suitcase.

     "Where are you off to," I asked.  "De donde?"  Los Angeles.  But why?  Porque?"

     "Fresas."  They were going to California for three months to pick strawberries.  They were braceros!  Legal immigrant workers to keep agribusiness happy and do the painful stoop-labor that most Americans turned down their noses at.  Why else would immigrants be allowed across the border -- if it benefits large corporations, why not?  If it merely benefits human beings, then forgetaboudit. 

     "Watch out for back pain," I gestured by stooping and holding my back.  They laughed.  They were hopeful.  They would work hard but bring money back home to their families, doing the work that Americans don't want.  I wonder how much they will get paid.  Paid by the hour, by the basket?  Fresas.  For Americans to eat.

     Going across the border was easy.  Back to California.  Back onto the trolley.  Boom.

     Meanwhile, back at Friday the 13th in San Diego and the new lock-down.  UPS just delivered a package to my Air BnB so I guess the lock-down isn't total.  I'm trying to figure out how to change my flight.  No luck there.  So.  What do I want to do today?  No idea.  I should self-quarantine but where is the fun in that?

     Going to the library is always fun.  Central branch.  Perfect!  I now have a San Diego library card!  Plus the new central library is awesome, is right next to the trolley line and has free wi-fi!

     Then I walked over to the Gas Lamp district and met a nice homeless man who directed me to Jimbo's, the local healthy answer to Whole Foods.  And they still had toilet paper on their shelves!  I bought the homeless man a gluten-free cherry-chocolate energy-bar thingie out of sheer gratitude -- and in return he told me how to get to the Green Line trolley station. 

     "It's right next to where they have the Comic-Con conventions.  They even make the station announcements there in Klingon."  I'm in awe.  Reached the trolley just before a huge downpour.  Another one.  It's not spozed to rain in San Diego.

     I'm now trying to figure out what to do tomorrow.  Legoland is closed!  Now that's going way too far.  "I can take you up to Mission San Diego tomorrow," said my Air BnB host.  Perfect.  How nice of her.  She has turned out to be really nice.

     Can't get Expedia to change my flight to earlier -- but I am bravely having a great time anyway.  Stiff upper lip!  But I still can't believe that Legoland is closed for a month.

March 14, 2020:  Today has turned out to be a most perfect day -- especially since it started out so badly.  2:00 am?  No sleep at all so far.  None.  Zero Zip Nada.  Sleep remedies to the rescue?  Homeopathy, herbal remedies, melatonin, tryptophan, circular breathing, counting sheep?  All of them.  Downing pills like tequila shots.  Nothing.  Finally!  Around 4:30 am, one of them worked.  Have no idea which one.

     Then I ran off to the nearest branch library and totally indulged myself on Yahoo and FaceBook.  Off to Mission San Diego after that.  Loved it there!  Maybe it was the happy souls of the padres at the mission (doubt it -- those guys were merciless) that made this place feel so holy but more than likely it was the untarnished souls of the innocents they slaughtered in the name of building churches and securing slaves.  The bastards. 

     In any case, there was a strong aura of sanctity surrounding San Diego de Alcala.  This particular saint was famous for his healing powers.  Boy could we use him now -- to heal all our greedy politicians and corporate vampires.

     Mission San Diego was only two long blocks away from a trolley station.  So.  Where should I go next?  Seaport Village!  Where I could stand on the embankment and (almost) see Point Loma, my sweet childhood home.

     I remember back when my mother used to take me to visit all the missions in California -- or at least most of them.  So I decided to finally forgive her for being such a money-grubbing social-climbing warrior queen and try to only concentrate on the good times we had every summer when she took my sister and me on road trips to Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, San Diego and Tijuana.

     Checked Seaport Village off my list.  So far I'm loving today's trip down memory lane.  What happens next?  "I'm gonna take my trolley to the Old Town Road," to paraphrase Lil Nas X.  Another good experience there, wandering around the Old West again.  Mariachi music this time.  An old schoolhouse.  An old hotel.  Refrigerator magnets!

     Then I chatted with a nice lady on the bus, walked back to the Air BnB, drank some cheap wine and ate too much "healthy" junk food.  COVID was the farthest thing from my mind.

March 15, 2020:  Another miserable sleepless night.  What's with that?  It's my last day in San Diego and I'm being shut out of the dreamtime.  No matter how much you want it or struggle to catch it, sometimes you just can't force the dreamtime to arrive.  What a shame.  I do my best work when I'm asleep.  Screw it. 

     I only have one more day in San Diego -- so time to make the most of it even if I'm a sleep-deprived zombie.  That woman I met on the #120 bus just called and asked me to meet her in Point Loma.  Point Loma!  "Get off the trolley at Old Town and then catch the #28 bus."  But that bus only comes once an hour so I went to the Lane Field Waterfront Park instead and stared at all those abandoned cruise ships.  And saw a baby manta ray too.  So cute.  And threw a penny into the San Diego Bay in order to make a wish. 

     "I wish that people would just freaking shut up about COVID-19 and stop being such wimps."  The entire media has gone freaking nuts about this coronavirus -- but nobody in San Diego is coughing or even wearing a face mask.

     Next stop?  Back to the central library.  I love libraries.  But tomorrow this one closes for three weeks.  "And my church was closed today too," said the bus lady.  Seems just a bit extreme.

      Then I jumped on the San Ysidro trolley again, got off at the borderline McDonalds, bought some fries and crossed over into Tijuana.  Again.  I'm so proud of myself.  "No Fear!"  And the photos of me on top of the famous Zebra Donkey were awesome.  They looked just like the one taken of me as a kid on a Zebra Donkey way back in 1953.

     Then I bought more refrigerator magnets, priced some tequila (too expensive) and snagged a taxi back to the border.  The cabbie only drove me one freaking mile.  "That will be 22 dollars."  Nice try, buddy.  I handed him a ten-dollar bill, threw in a dollar tip and fled.  Whew.

     Back to the USA.  Back to McDonalds.  Back on the trolley.  Wonderful day.  I can safely say that I have experienced San Diego to the fullest extent -- given that I only had such a short time.

March 16, 2020:  I actually got seven (7) whole hours of sleep last night.  Now I'm good to go.  And I checked in with my house-sitter back in Berkeley.  She'd already left.  "But I totally stacked your refrigerator before leaving, even bought you a whole leg of lamb -- so you are all set for the lock-down."  That should last me for the full 14 days of the lock-down.  Now all I gotta do is pack up and head off to the airport. 

     But wait, what?  The State of California just issued a verdict that anyone over the age of 65 has to stay at home because apparently they get the disease more easily and can therefore spread it.  Say what?  Now anyone over age 65 has become the new Typhoid Mary?  Xenophobia against seniors as well as Chinese?  That sucks eggs.  What?  We're just spozed to stay out of sight and quietly starve to death?  Will I need to get Botoxed before I can go out?  Screw that.

March 17, 2020:  I may not have seen everything in San Diego but, damn, I've come pretty close.  And considering that both Legoland and the Zoo are out of bounds due to COVID-19, I did amazingly well.  I miss San Diego already.  I miss Tijuana.  I even miss my Air BnB host's obsession with being super-clean.  I wonder, however, what she will think about hand sanitizer now.


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