The other day, while strolling down Union Street, a charming shopping street in my neighborhood, I spotted a tall man of a certain age across the street. I could see him well enough to notice his shirt, brightly boosting PACIFIC BEACH in large red capital letters.
I caught his eye and waved, calling out “Pacific Beach!” He gallantly waved back, and I went on my way.
But when I returned home, I couldn’t forget his shirt, a colorful reminder of an unforgettable year, roughly spanning August to August a few decades ago, and it reawakened my memories of that remarkable year.
We landed in San Diego in early August after a cross-country road trip from Ann Arbor, Michigan. My husband (I’ll call him Marv) had a visiting professorship lined up at the University of California in San Diego, and I’d lined up a professorship (as an adjunct) at the University of San Diego Law School. They were totally different schools, one a branch of the University of California, the other a law school located on the beautiful campus of a Catholic university. But those initials—UCSD and USD—were so darn close. One of my alumni magazines got my school’s name wrong and published a blurb stating that I was teaching at UCSD’s law school. The only problem: UCSD didn’t have a law school.
UCSD’s campus was, and is, located on the fringes of La Jolla, a posh (then and now) suburban-style area that’s actually part of the city of San Diego—although it likes to pretend it’s a separate city. Marv and I, ecstatic to have escaped our life in Ann Arbor, began our hunt for a place to live near Marv’s campus. He would be spending all day every day there, while my commitment to USD was far less. In the fall semester, I taught only one class, Poverty Law, one afternoon a week. Teaching it required substantial preparation, but I could do much of it at home.
While we apartment-hunted, we stayed in a small motel on La Jolla Boulevard, where the proprietor showed off the exquisite tropical flowers she cultivated. And we discovered nearby Pacific Beach, which featured a delightful collection of small restaurants and shops. An early favorite was Filippi’s, a great spot for pizza we returned to again and again.
Our apartment-hunt led to our leasing a place that seemed to be a pretty good fit. But while we waited for the telephone installer to show up, the kitchen’s fridge emitted a loud din that filled the entire apartment. We extracted ourselves from that lease and kept looking.
A couple of family friends who’d left Chicago were now living in a beautiful apartment development on La Jolla Boulevard, not far from Marv’s campus and downtown La Jolla but still close to Pacific Beach. We loved everything about it, but our first attempt to rent there resulted in failure. Our friends encouraged us to keep trying, and when we tried again, the universe smiled on us: the perfect apartment was available! Not only could we rent a cheerful two-bedroom apartment with a geranium-filled terrace, but the development also featured two swimming pools, a sauna, and a great outdoor parking space. We moved in quickly and soon felt right at home. Marv and I loved splashing in one of the pools and tried out the sauna as well.
At the pool one day, I met a charming new friend: a newly-retired nurse (I’ll call her Lyn). We’d chat while we splashed around together. Later she introduced Marv and me to her husband, a semi-retired physician (I’ll call him Ted). They went on to play an important part in our lives.
We also enjoyed spending time with our family friends, Chicago transplants Tammy and Norm. They were fond of a nearby pub called Bully’s and enticed us to try it. It turned out to be a great neighborhood spot where Marv and I liked to linger in one of its red vinyl booths, relishing a beer and a perfectly-grilled burger. When Bully’s closed in 2008, it garnered a heap of online comments bemoaning the loss of a revered pub.
After our furniture arrived from Ann Arbor, Marv and I began watching the Watergate hearings on TV. We’d earlier witnessed some of the most dramatic events during the hearings, which began before we left Ann Arbor. The testimony of John Dean and Alexander Butterfield was especially notable. Soon we resumed watching the televised hearings in La Jolla. Marv was busy getting to know his colleagues and preparing for the fall semester at UCSD, but I was able to watch a big chunk of the gripping hearings, which featured one Tricky Dick revelation after another.
In Ann Arbor, we’d also learned that Harvard Law Professor Archibald Cox was sworn in as a special Watergate prosecutor. Although I’d never taken a course with Professor Cox when I was a law student at Harvard, I viewed him as a remarkably kind person, unlike many of the other, often arrogant, members of the faculty. Walking through the tunnels that ran under the law school buildings (used by students and faculty to avoid Cambridge weather), I would sometimes encounter Professor Cox. I firmly believe that he intentionally nodded, smiling, acknowledging me as one of the few women students at the time. I would of course smile back, fervently wishing that I could be a student in one of his classes.
Later that year, now in La Jolla, Marv and I followed the notorious “Saturday Night Massacre” that resulted in Cox’s outrageous “firing.” Live TV news coverage made clear what was happening before our eyes. We weren’t shocked by anything the Nixon administration was doing or had done, but it was nevertheless absorbing to follow every despicable twist and turn.
Meanwhile, we were relishing our new life, feeling immensely lucky to be in an exciting city filled with colorful flowers and charming Spanish-style architecture, as well as glorious views of the ocean we could see all along the coastline. We walked everywhere in the gorgeous sunshine, surrounded by the beauty of a city jam-packed with countless inspiring sites. The contrast with Ann Arbor, where we’d faced long gray winters and hot humid summers in a city that was far too limited for us, was stunning.
We discovered the extraordinary beauty of Balboa Park, and we spent many hours exploring its museums, flower gardens, and other color-saturated spots. We also relished shopping and eating at a variety of businesses on Garnet Street in Pacific Beach. (La Jolla shopping was usually a bit too pricey for us.)
I almost never did any cooking that summer. But on one visit to a local supermarket, I came across a piece of meat that spoke to me: a brisket of beef. So, one afternoon, with great anticipation, I put the brisket in our oven and took off for the Fashion Valley Mall some distance away. I figured I’d be back in plenty of time, but I spent too long searching for the perfect top to go with my new blue pantsuit. You can probably guess what happened. I got home much later than expected and…I burned the brisket.
I very much wanted to have my own desk in our new home, and one of our bedrooms had a corner with just enough room for one. Strapped for funds, we found a slightly-damaged desk at a random garage sale. We promptly bought it, soon matching it with a hideous dinette chair I bought at a bargain-priced store.
August ended with a terrific change of pace. A wonderful law-school friend (I’ll call her Arlyn) traveled from NYC to visit us in La Jolla. Marv and I happily showed her all around the city we already loved, including a trip to the famous San Diego Zoo (where I wore my new pantsuit with the Fashion-Valley-Mall top). Arlyn slept in our second bedroom (usually used as Marv’s office) on a cot we purchased expressly for her visit. She swore that it was comfortable.
The three of us then took off for LA, driving together to the city where Marv and I had met and married. We stayed in a small hotel near our old haunts in Westwood, where I blissfully dove into the pool as many times as I could. It was Arlyn’s first trip to LA, and we were delighted to show her many of our favorite spots. Our great trip to LA ended when we dropped Arlyn off at the airport just before Marv and I drove back to La Jolla.
September was about to begin, and the whole month looms large in my memory.
Just about the time I began teaching my class at USD, I began to feel nauseated. Astoundingly nauseated. And the nausea was relentless. Nothing I did could make it stop.
To be continued….