I’m standing with the food writer Ari LeVaux outside the Omni Hotel in downtown San Diego, where tourists zip through the streets on electric scooters and the homeless people don’t smoke cigarettes.
They’re almost exclusively white, the homeless, though the city is as multicultural as any in the United States, with its own Little Italy, strong contingents of Asian and Middle Eastern folk and enormous swaths of Spanish-speaking people.
From where we stand we can hear the sharp, wooden crack of bat against ball and the rising tide of the crowds inside Petco Park, home of the San Diego Padres, in town for a home stretch against the Arizona Diamondbacks. We can hear the susurrus of the tourists lumbering through the Gaslamp Quarter, the lap of San Diego Bay just over our shoulders. And we can plainly hear the woman on the phone pacing on the sidewalk in front of us, negotiating the price of a massage, a word she finds occasion to repeat at least a dozen times in this one conversation.
“You just gotta tell me what kind of massage you want, honey,” she says into the handpiece. “I do all kinds of massages. Yes, I can come right up to your room.”
We’re both pretty sure there is no one on the other end of the line, that this scene has been created for our benefit. It’s marketing, guerilla style. We both can appreciate that, though neither are interested in the proposition.
LeVaux has already wandered into the outlying neighborhoods on a taco run — he says there’s no Mexican food of consequence in the Gaslamp Quarter — and in a couple days he’ll scratch his itch for another dish the city for which the city is known: linguine and clams.
I’m after oysters, and before I’m through I’ll have slurped more than two dozen, raw, roasted and Rockefellered.
I haven’t been to this city in almost 20 years. The last time we drove in from Las Vegas, my wife just a few months pregnant with our first. We spent three days in the funky Ocean Beach enclave, never venturing even close to downtown’s critical mass of tourism.
This time it’s business so I stick close to the hotel, never venturing further than my feet can take me unless it’s for oysters or tacos.
Like the clandestine offer by the streetside massage therapist, I let everything else slide by.