I went for a walk yesterday, after finishing work. From my hotel on a corner just off the downtown Gaslamp Quarter, I head north. Over a highway and through Balboa Park I walked. I walked north for an hour. Then I turned west for a few blocks, turned to the south and walked for an hour back.
Though only a few blocks apart, my walk north had a very different feel to my walk south. The tenor of the neighbourhoods was different; the feel of my pavement compatriots distinct. As I walked north I passed expensive looking houses and modern blocks of flats. I walked past houses flying the Stars and Stripes, and houses flying rainbow flags. I walked past high-rise offices belonging to banks and I walked through a beautifully landscaped park, with tended borders and carefully labelled plants. I walked past middle-class dogs on middle-class leads taking middle-class constitutionals trailing middle-class women in middle-class tracksuits. I walked past families imploring their youngest to start pedalling and learn to cycle. I walked past bottle-blondes pouting at television cameras while dressed in clothes so tight and stilettos so tall that my eyes watered. I walked past private swimming pools, children playing basketball and fancy little restaurants.
As I walked south I passed family cafes with well-upholstered families beaming at a son chomping, open mouthed, on his food. I walked past a shop of unidentifiable trade declaiming through posters in its windows that it was open for business in defiance of the massive boards above the window suggesting that it had been shut down and the premises offered for lease. I walked over uneven pavements and crossed roads the tarmac of which was doodled over with a ramifying pattern of widening cracks. I walked past shops selling things no one could want, and shops selling discount cigarettes (or so the sign proclaimed), discount groceries and discounted discounts. I walked past gossiping gangs on street corners; a shrouded body lying prostrate in the middle of road, surrounded by police; shuffling men with downcast eyes trailing quilts behind them.
I felt, after two hours, that I had walked past a good spread of San Diego’s spectrum of life. But I felt too that I had witnessed the different halves of that spectrum on the different halves of my walk.