[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 29, 2016] © 2016
June 30 will be the 43rd anniversary of my former husband and I arriving in San Diego. A less auspicious beginning you’d be hard put to find.
It had all started four years earlier shortly after my husband, a recent medical school graduate, and I were married in 1969 during the height of the Vietnam war. Mere weeks into his internship year, he received a letter asking if he wanted to go to Vietnam next month as a general medical officer, or serve two years after he’d finished his specialty training (a program called the Berry Plan). Well, that was pretty easy. A year of internship and three years of residency training later, we were assigned to San Diego.
We’d never been to California before we moved here but reports from the newspapers in Denver where we were living (and on the East Coast where we were from) had formed vague images in our minds of a land of eternal sunshine, swaying palm trees, exotic Spanish addresses, nude encounter groups, mass murders, and drive-in churches. So we were (mostly) pretty excited.
I’m still trying to analyze why everything went so wrong during that move. Maybe it was my husband’s ambivalence about a two year assignment to MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) – a truly abysmal use of his specialty skills - that led him to rupture his Achilles tendon playing tennis a mere five days before he had to report for duty in San Diego. We immediately tried to get an extension on his July 1 report date but were told to show up or “pay the consequences.” (Firing squad?)
Maybe our cat, Harry, wouldn’t have had a psychotic break if the freight train hadn’t passed right next to our car in Glenwood Springs. (The poor kitty spent the rest of the trip in a catatonic state underneath his litter box.)
And maybe I, as the only hope for this mobile sanitarium, shouldn’t have eaten the burrito from the roadside stand the very first day, forcing my disabled husband to drive.
And thus we wound our abysmal way across the West in the late June heat taking scheduled breaks for my husband to take aspirin for his spinal anesthesia headache and unscheduled breaks for me to be sick.
The third day we were bombing along at 70 mph just out of Zion National Park when I signaled him to pull over.
“I can’t right now,” he said, checking his rearview mirror. “Try to get your head out the window.”
The harsh reality, as we discovered, is that when you stick your head out the window to be sick at 70 mph, it all blows right back in, splat against the back window.
“Did you have to do that?” my husband grumbled, finally able to pull over. “Now I can’t see out the back.”
I opened the car door and fell out into the scrub brush. Because of his heavy plaster cast and crutches, he couldn’t get out of the car without my help.
“Inga,” he said anxiously. “Get up. People will think you are dead.”
“That’s all right,” I said. “I am very close to it. Why don’t you just leave Harry and me here and remember us fondly?” (After three days of severe nausea, you’d sell your grandmother not to have to get into a moving vehicle.)
California at last. Even though we’d heard that they’d search us carefully at the state border for fruit and foliage (to protect local agriculture), the guy just took one look at my husband’s cast and Harry’s rigid tale and the back window and waved us through without even asking if we had oranges.
Our first night in San Diego had been pre-booked at the officers’ quarters at Miramar Naval Air Station which we were dismayed to note when we arrived expressly prohibited pets. Neither of us slept that night, not only because of the deafening noise of jets but because we were terrified they’d find our cat and shoot it. (If they’d shoot my husband, what chance did the cat have?)
We moved the next morning to the Biltmore Motel in Bird Rock, which , like every other motel in San Diego, also expressly prohibited pets, then went down to MCRD to buy uniforms and check in. As I drove, my husband was frantically studying the officers manual trying to memorize rank insignias and figure out who was supposed to salute whom. As it turned out, it didn’t really matter initially because with crutches, he would have fallen flat on his face.
Unfortunately, in our absence, Harry decided to sunbathe in the window of our motel room, even though we’d closed the curtains, so we when we returned, we found a “what part of ‘NO PETS’ do you not understand?” note on the door. We were evicted.
Meanwhile, we borrowed a wheelchair from MCRD so that I could roll my husband around downtown La Jolla (location of our next no-pets motel) to see the sights. Unfortunately I lost control of him on the steep hill on the south end of Prospect Street and crashed him into a storm drain, miraculously not breaking the other leg. This wheelchair stuff is harder than it looks.
But we finally did make it down to the water. So that’s our “having a wonderful time” photo on Day One in La Jolla, 43 years ago this week. Fortunately, it all got better (well, until we divorced ten years later). Every time I look at this picture, I can’t figure out: How on earth did I get him off the ground?
Having a wonderful time – wish I could walk!
First picture in La Jolla, June 30,1973
Inga and Harry in our temporary apartment
(Note 1973 state-of-the-art communication device –
Smith-Corona Electric typewriter
Reporting for duty