If I can just get off of this LA freeway…

… Without getting killed or caught/I’d be down that road in a cloud of smoke/For some land that I ain’t bought

— Guy Clark, LA Freeway

Oceanside, California is an interesting little town. It’s next to Camp Pendleton, the huge Marine Corps base, and because of this it has a long and glorious history as a military R&R town with bars, tatoo parlors and motels that would rent rooms by the hour. Apparently the town fathers (and/or mothers) didn’t really think that this was a sustainable economic model and have been scrubbing at Oceanside in an effort to make it less interesting and therefore more tourist friendly. Fortunately they have only slightly succeeded.

A honky tonk feel still lingers around the downtown. It has a number of bars I wouldn’t enter in the evening unless I had a very short haircut and the ability to really mean it when I shouted SEMPER FI! Likewise all the shops that sell military surplus goods. In addition, the town is also a big draw among surfers and is home to a surfing museum that is only slightly larger than the postcards it sells. Because of this residue of seediness, the town remains wonderfully free of the chain stores and mallification that has engulfed the rest of the state.

Searching for breakfast one morning, I and the rest of the Collateral Damage clan headed south on 101 in Oceanside and came across Bessie’s diner, my one encounter with the sublime during nine days in the Golden State.

Bessie’s hasn’t been redecorated since it opened in what I guess would be the mid-’50s. Since then the decor has changed more by accretion than design and consists mostly of a number of trophies for playing pool, a poster of John Wayne and a large black-and-white picture of Rigo, who is either owner or co-owner. In the picture he is dashing in the 1940s movie star way with a pencil thin mustache and a dashing look. Today he still speaks with a hispanic accent and his looks have made the transition from the star to the character actor. The pencil mustache remains, augmented by the creases of age, some gray mixed in his hair and a slight paunch.

He had such an air about him that I asked if he was ever in the movies to which he said no and laughed, then went in back to tell his wife who may or may not have been the original Bessie but who found the comment as funny as he did. In addition to a magnificent plate of huevos rancheros and superb coffee, Bessie’s also featured a wonderful selection of locals wandering in and out: Surfers — both caucasian with long-hair and African-American with dreadlocks, Hispanic workers only speaking in Spanish, and what looked to be a retired Marine or two. Everyone spoke to each other with the familiarity of regulars if not outright friends. It feels like the only place I was in during the entire vacation that didn’t sell t-shirts and coffee mugs emblazoned with its logo. It felt authentic and not calculated. A blessed relief from the pre-packaged feeling endemic to the region. That morning will now stay in my head as the cherished moment of the vacation, a memory I can pull out that relaxes me and makes me happy. Which means Bessie’s now has a slot in my mind next to the rear-courtyard of the Louvre at dusk, staring straight up the center of the Eiffel Tower, a long wonderful walk through the pottery district of Kyoto and looking down from the hills into the center of Duluth.

A few other notes from Southern California:

  • Had the ultimate Cali experience … waiting in the drive through line at Starbucks in a big SUV. Wee hah.
  • I was only at Disneyland for one day (unlike Mrs. CD and CD jr.) which was more than enough for me. Loved seeing three teen boys in black t-shirts for Nirvana and AC-DC and trying to look cool. It is impossible to both be cool and at Disney. Give it up kids.
  • By contrast I was also in the Disney neighborhood for the Goth Day @ Disney weekend and the Goths were overwhelmingly friendly and not overly concerned about being cool. Maybe it’s easier to not worry about being hip when you look like a cadaver. (Image courtesy of the most righteous Skellramics.)
  • If you ever get a chance visit the Old Town Rootbeer Company in Temecula (they have stores elsewhere but this is the one to go to) where they stock every kind of root beer known to humanity and take friendliness to a whole new level, giving away LOTS of free samples and showering a certain younger member of the CD family with free candy and t-shirts. And they make a killer brew themselves.
  • I will never ever complain about traffic in Boston again.

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