Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Summertime And The Livin' Is...Congested

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published July 4, 2013] © 2013 

I think all of us year-round residents of La Jolla feel incredibly lucky to live in this beautiful oceanside community.  But just as people on cell phones treat the rest of the world like deaf mutes, one can’t help but notice that summer tourists at a beach resort seem to have beamed themselves mentally to a parallel universe where traffic laws do not apply. 

I actually do my best to make out-of-towners feel welcome here – loading up on extra La Jolla maps to hand out, offering to take group photos, suggesting restaurants to people who ask, and especially to pointing seriously lost people toward The Cove.  (They’ve usually overshot it and ended up in Bird Rock.)  I’ve been a tourist a lot myself and I always appreciate kindness from the locals.  I’m proud of my community and I want people to have a good time here.
But I also want them to live to tell about it.  At the Shores, beach chair-laden visitors wander at will across busy streets in front of oncoming cars.  They look stunned to hear the screech of tires, a blank look appearing across a puzzled face as they attempt to process what that annoying sound might have been. 

In downtown La Jolla, meanwhile, visitors with the same Normal-Rules-of Safety-Do-Not-Apply expression obliviously walk behind cars that are clearly backing up, launch their own cars in reverse into oncoming traffic, and even stop dead in the middle of the street to point out a scene of interest.  Sometimes it amazes me that so many locals and tourists survive the summer season.
In vacationers’ defense, their confusion in negotiating our town is probably linked to the fact that all the street names in La Jolla are basically permutations of the same ten Spanish words.  Some long-ago real estate developer figured out that places with Spanish-y names sell better. (And sí! they do!) The street words camino, avenida, paseo, rancho, playa and via are variously followed by the descriptives vista, hermosa, villa, mira, bella, mar, alta, baja, cresta, monte, bonita, oro, sol, posada, mesa, norte, sur, and corona. Then you just mix and match, as in Paseo Bella Mar Norte, Vista del Monte Oro, Via Rancho Mesa Alta, etc.  Occasionally an Americanism creeps in in situations that the early Spaniards couldn’t have anticipated (Avenida del Discount Drug).  That the long-ago developer didn’t speak Spanish himself is obvious when streets labeled monte or alta are on flatlands.  A visitor  stops and asks you for directions to Caminito de la Cresta Bonita, and you say to yourself, is that the one next to Posada del Mira Monte?  No, that’s Camino de la PLAYA Bonita.  Or is that Cresta de la Vista Bonita?  Vista de la Bonita Cresta?  Sorry, folks, the locals can’t figure it out either.

One could not have a discussion about summer in La Jolla without discussing parking.  Or more specifically, a lack of it.  Parking is never easy in the downtown area any time of the year but becomes a statistical impossibility come July 4.  Those of us who live here know where the two hour spots are and are prepared to hike a few blocks to a lunch destination, but people who don’t end up making endless frustrated loops before parking in a guaranteed-ticket one hour spot or stumbling upon that rare garage that still has room. 

Last August, always the busiest month in La Jolla, I was meeting a friend, her visiting Mom, and her ten year old daughter at the Whisknladle for lunch.  My friend dropped off her Mom and daughter and went in search of a parking spot.  It was a full hour before she was back, valiantly trying to hold back some well-deserved crankiness.  But thanks to that wait, the ten year old had had time to completely program my new iPhone even though she doesn’t personally have one herself.  It’s all intuitive, she explained, adding that she’d just programmed her Dad’s who is president of the technology company my husband works for.  My friend reported that if she hadn’t already dropped off the others she would have been seriously tempted to turn around and go back to Carlsbad.  Even the garages were full.

Come Memorial Day, I try to keep my maximum speed at 15 miles per hour in downtown La Jolla.  That’s actually not too hard to accomplish since most of the time you couldn’t go faster than that if you wanted to.  I fantasize having a neon blinking sign on the top of my car that I could broadcast “Look both ways!”  “The light is red!” or even “AIIEEEE!”  But soon enough, it will be Labor Day again and life in La Jolla will return to its normally congested self.  In the meantime, we hope everyone had a really nice time!

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