By Bill Batchelor
I often hear someone say, “… and that is why I moved to Carlsbad” or “ … and because of that, I might leave Oceanside.”
May I ask your indulgence to express my thoughts? I grew up in Mission Viejo, south Orange County. My family moved there in 1966 when it was barely a town — one gas station, one small grocery store, a single butcher, one hair dresser, a bank, and a pharmacy.
After my parents divorced, my mom did everything she could to hang on to the house. My brother and I grew up clinging by our fingernails to the lowest rung of the middle class. To be honest, it was a bit of a facade. We were likely lower class but we had the foundation to fake it while the town around us grew to be upper middle class.
We never went without the things we needed. We had clothes, we were clean, well fed, loved, went to good schools, and we were safe. I hated it. As a teen, I had no appreciation for any of those things. All I knew was that after Christmas my friends had raccoon-eyes from the snow-reflected sunburn that they received on their family ski trips. Many received a car, sometimes modest but still a car, for their 16th birthday. Members Only jackets and brand name shorts were the dress code. I am sure it was not as ubiquitous as my teenage mind experienced, but it was penetrating, and the difference between us and them felt very real.
With that backstory, I hope you won’t be too hard on me for my worldview. I get really tired of our neighbors proclaiming either publicly, privately, or in the confines of their own heads that we in Oceanside in some way wish we were more like _________. (Fill in the blank). We do not.
About three years ago I was sitting at the bar at The Urge Restaurant and started a random conversation with a stranger to my right. He found the burgeoning food scene in Oceanside exciting. He said most nights when he went out, he found himself driving to Oceanside for dinner. Then someone on my left joined in and said they drive to Oceanside because the culture feels more interesting and organic. Then someone else in the newly formed clutch said, “I’d like to buy a house here. You know, this could be the next Carlsbad.” About four heads shot around and collectively said, “Oh, please no!”
The visitors looked both embarrassed and puzzled at the same time. It was meant to be a compliment — Oceanside, you are coming up! I knew I was not alone in my love for my town, but this moment made me fall in love with my neighbors. At the risk of appearing rude, I want to publicly rebuff the idea that we wish we were more like _______ (Carlsbad, San Marcos, Solana Beach …).
I’d like for those outside of our town to understand this. We know we are a little rough around the edges, and we love ourselves for it. We have diverse cultures, diverse incomes, diverse attitudes, diverse races, and diverse ways of dressing. While we have our challenges, it is this diversity that makes us love. I know it is hard to believe that we don’t want to be the next “X,” but we don’t. We are the original “Y,” and we are proud of it.
When I look at a large bulldozed flat-dirt commercial lot in one of our neighboring towns — when only the plot-sticks with orange flags have been placed, I already know everything I need to know. I know what their shopping center will look like, what the stores will be, what the architecture will look like (fake stacked rock cladding or faux Greek columns anyone?). I know what the cars will look like, and who the people getting out of those cars will be. Admit it. So do you.
In that predictability I find boredom as I suspect so do the residents of those areas. Protected behind gated communities to keep out the lessers, they appear to need to shop to replace their first-generation Keurig with the second in order to bring some sort of momentary stimulus to feel at least a touch alive. They have worked so hard to protect themselves from any sort of discomfort or exposure to something outside of “normal” that they have lulled themselves to sleep and can’t figure out why — why now when they finally “have it all” are they so bored. A new car fixes the inertia, but only for a few miles. New lips, or a new nose, or a facial peel can carry the weight, but only for a few weeks. Insidiously, boredom creeps back in.
I lived in that world growing up as an outsider, and I admit my worldview is altered because of it. Until I found Oceanside 30 years ago, I could not figure out why I was so restless. So tonight, I stand on my keyboard and decide to take the heat for saying I love this place. It needs to be protected. It is unique, interesting, loving, and diverse. I have seen a few cities such as Austin and Portland that have adopted the slogan “Keep Austin Weird” or “Keep Portland Weird.” Tonight, I proclaim my own slogan for my town, “Keep Oceanside Real.” We don’t want to be someone else. We take this place as our home, warts and all.
Bill Batchelor is an Oceanside resident.