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San Diego…Sea and See Worthy

By Ted Heck


It took me only 88 years and $3,000 to get from Philadelphia to San Diego. Long ago I wanted to visit the seaport in Southern California, after watching movies of World War II sailors and soldiers moving in and out of the harbor, kissing wives and girlfriends on the dock.

Years later I sat glued to a TV set whenever Joan Embery of the San Diego zoo dropped into the Tonight show to let Johnny Carson wrestle a python or laugh at an orangutan. What finally got me here was the graduation of Louis Topper from the University of California, San Diego. A grandson of my fiancée Connie, he had spent five years in Earl Warren College earning honors in mechanical engineering.

Connie, her daughter Wendie and I sat in a Sunday morning sun, behind nearly a thousand mortarboards. We listened to a phalanx of faculty administrators and professors, as they egged the class on to further achievements in the real world. We could feel the pride oozing from families and friends as their graduates walked across the stage. They paraded later to the huge recreation field, where hundreds of cameras captured handshakes and hugs.

The ceremony was one of six conducted over a weekend by colleges that comprise the huge university, whose campus adjoins the attractive village of LaJolla. Louis, who had worked part-time as a guide around the 50-year-old school, showed us manicured gardens and the ecological reserve that overlooks the Pacific coast, where he occasionally rides his surfboard. He took us to the cove where sunbathing seals had evicted surfers.


We gave Louis an afternoon off to visit friends he might not see again until a class reunion. His mother drove us to Balboa Park, where Connie and I were overwhelmed by the complex of nine museums. We focused on the art museum: Wendie lingered over Italian Renaissance, Connie wandered into Islamic art and I sought the comfort of Impressionism. Nobody went for Modern.

Alas, no time for the zoo. We missed other opportunities for sightseeing by spending time at the pool below our suite in the upscale Estancia Resort Hotel, which was within a short walk to the campus. A barbecue with families of Louis’s friends, long lunches and dinners in Little Italy also cut into planned excursions.

We had a built-in “safety,” a two-hour summary of other offerings in the city. Old Town Trolley Tours has 17 sightseeing buses in San Diego, with driver/guides whose routines are loaded with anecdotes, facts, humor and only an occasional bromide. Our tour was expanded by hopping off at critical points and back onto a later bus making the same tour. A $34 ticket bought a lot of visual adventure.
Among things I remember best: huge convention center, Padres baseball stadium, harbors full of sailboats and motor launches, banana boats, several aircraft carriers, World War II B-24 aircraft factory, U.S. Marines center.

Connie’s most dramatic recollection was the 2 ½ -mile-long bridge that arcs across the bay to residential Coronado island. The high bridge looked scary, but passengers enjoyed the ride as they calmly looked back to the mainland and downtown skyscrapers. On the island we ogled the white beach that stretches nine miles down to Mexico.

Beyond our wish to be with Louis and his family on his memorable day, we found San Diego and its environs to be a vibrant and colorful blend of commerce, culture and unmatched topography.

More by Ted Heck




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