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MY LIFE WITH PLANTS: Head South Young Man

30 years ago, October 17 1983 to be precise, I moved to San Diego. I’d been in the Bay Area four years and it seemed so idyllic, I assumed I'd live there forever. Still there were issues.

1983, my first house on Coolngreen Way in Encinitas

First, I never felt like I fit in. It’s hard to explain, but you are familiar with Armistead Maupin’s character Mary Ann Singleton in Tales of the City, that was me... a vacationer in San Francisco who impulsively decided to stay and got caught up in the lives of all the colorful locals. Well not entirely accurate, but I'm sure you get the idea. Second, the company I worked for had been bought by General Electric. This created a huge culture clash at work between staid east coast executives and Silicon Valley creative types. I spent most of my

days working long hours in a windowless computer room and rarely saw the sun in the winter. Third, 1092-1983 had just been the two of the wettest winters in Bay Area history. It seemed like it never stopped raining. I got fungus on my hands and developed seasonal affective disorder. When spring and summer finally came, I developed severe allergies to the native grass and oak trees and the only place I could escape the pollen was the beach. Finally there was just the oddness of the Bay Area: nightly aerial Malathion sprayings, traffic that never moved, cable cars shut for years for an overhaul, BART always on strike, and the big party in San Francisco that was turning to fear and panic as gay men were suddenly dying from an unknown cause. But mostly --- I wanted to own a house with some land but couldn't figure how to afford it unless I lived in a drug gang neighborhood, or way outside the Bay Area with a very long commute. So. it wasn't too surprising when in a meeting with the Software Quality Assurance manager from our San Diego office she said she was looking for Mechanical Engineers to test the software that my ears perked right up.

I knew a just little about San Diego and Southern California, having visited Orange County friends several times. I'd also made some business trips to San Diego, and had visited Balboa Park and the Zoo a few times. I knew houses cost less and it mostly had pleasant weather. I also had heard the stereotypes: superficial, sleepy Navy town, no life east of I5, no good restaurants, no culture, all the water was stolen from Northern California, earthquakes, fire, mudslides---you get the idea. Still I took a trip to interview and check it out. The offices were in Sorrento Valley near the lagoon and at the base of Torrey Pines State Park. People went surfing before work and jogging on the beach at lunch. There was almost no traffic on the very fast and large freeways. It was a sunny April day and all the hills were green and covered with mustard and grass. The people at work seemed very nice and best of all I'd be able to trade up my small Bay Area condo to a house with land!

The front garden after several years

In August, I returned to San Diego for a house hunting trip. It was much hotter and felt very muggy. I was determined to live near the beach or in town...but San Diego was experiencing a housing crisis, record interest rates and almost no affordable houses on the market. I had a wishlist of a garage, a red tile roof and somewhere to garden. My realtor could only show me 3 houses, all located in this odd place with a strange name, Encinitas. Someone said, “It’s where Poinsettias come from and they have a nice public garden with lots of bamboo.” It didn't feel quite right being so far out, so another realtor gave me some other ideas of neighborhoods to check out. I quickly ruled out anything that looked too suburban or had lots of RVs parked on the street. I’d heard of good things about Mission Hills, and drove by to check out a house next door to where I currently live, but decided to pass since it was too expensive, had no front yard and was above a freeway. I found two small houses on canyon rims in North Park that were intriguing but needed lots of work. I quickly found out that due to their age and condition, lenders wanted a large down payment and an even higher interest rate than the prevailing 12%. This put them both out of my reach and in odd twist of fate, both burned down in the 1985 Normal Heights fire. So I decided to buy the first house I had seen; the 2 bedroom, 2 baths, 2 car garage house in Encinitas with the red tile roof and mismatched Asian-styled front garden. The relatively large backyard had just 4 plants: one lawn tree trimmed into a giant lollipop (Ficus microcarpa), 2 big slopes of Disney ice plant, a Bermuda lawn and a few agapanthus. I finally had my place for gardening - on a street named Coolngreen no less! - and not a penny left to spend on it.

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