Waiting on a Stoplight

     The two Americas that our nation is dividing into can be seen so easily at the local level.
     In Oceanside, next to the Marine base at Camp Pendleton, there lives a mix of surfer-waiters, ex-military families, police men and women, fire fighters, and city agency employees. But the cars and trucks parked at their homes in the evening identify them as working not for Oceanside but for nearby Carlsbad and Encinitas, cities to the south where they cannot afford to live.
     The Buena Vista Lagoon divides Oceanside and Carlsbad and it serves as a borderline between levels of income and ways of life. Carlsbad, particularly the southern half, is largely made up of master-planned communities with million-dollar homes.
     At the Forum Mall next to those homes are two yoga studios, a wine merchant, a fitness studio, the East of Bali spa, and a raft of high end boutiques and nice restaurants.
     The locals tend to be young executives for big private companies, especially in the biotech, satellite and cell phone industries that have huge plants and office buildings in the area.
     Their houses are nearly identical from one to the next, and they have to know the security code to get past the community gates. If perchance a car gets a bit old or hasn’t been washed, a helpful neighbor will put note under the wiper saying your car is not keeping up with community standards.
     The ethnicity of the gated communities is almost purely, blindingly white.
     “Think of it as a little OCD, a little elitist, a little discriminatory, it’s all those things,” said a local realtor.
     Over on the north side of the lagoon, the polyglot area around my place in Oceanside is definitely not a master-planned community. When I take a walk, I see open doors and windows, a guy playing a guitar on his front step, wetsuits drying, a lot of black baseball caps turned backwards.
     The central intersection of Oceanside Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway hosts a Rite-Aid pharmacy, a beat-up 76 gas station, a Church’s fried chicken restaurant and a Tire store. No yoga studios or wine merchants here. There is, however, a worn storefront with light blue, thin curtains and a sign in the window, advertising “Swedish massage.”
     Two storefronts down is another for “Thai massage.”
     Across the street is a used car lot.
     I arrive at a taco shop called San Francisquito’s. It displays posters of girls in short skirts and boots promoting Mexican beer and, in an odd but very local juxtaposition, a pastiche of stickers for heavy metal bands. A friendly Mexican woman takes the order and the clientele is mostly brown.
     After a bit of ceviche, a couple fish tacos and a Negro Modelo beer, I walk out and hear a funky, soulful beat coming from a burgundy, beat-up car, one that would get kicked out of the gated communities to the south. The car is stopped in line, waiting on a red light.
     Inside the car, I can just see the arms and shoulders of a young man moving wildly to the beat, shoulders shifting way back and far forward as he rolls in rhythm.
     A couple steps further and the driver’s face comes into view, framed by the open passenger window.
     He is of an unidentifiable mix of races, Latin maybe, a trace of southern Asian, possibly Laotian or Thai. And as he sees me watching, he breaks into an enormous smile and keeps on dancing in place. I can almost feel the rays of the huge, happy, exuberant expression with not a bit of self-consciousness. He is so joyful that it does not cross his thoughts that someone would not share in that blast of emotion.
     Stuff like that, the funk, the life, the chaotic random commercialism, the tattoos, the music, that is why I like Oceanside.
     There are not a whole lot of beautiful people around. The rents are low and it is a weekly battle to get work, pay the rent and buy food and beer. But there is an awful lot of life around here, and just the very fact of existence gets celebrated in odd moments, like waiting on a stoplight.

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