If you have ever flown into San Diego, you are well aware of the treacherous landing approach. Outside your left window, you are taking in the lovely view of the bay when suddenly you can literally see inside the hotel windows of the El Cortez. The plane’s landing gear seems to graze the roof tops of the businesses in Little Italy as it quickly descends onto the runway that sits only 17ft above sea level. Happy to have made another successful landing at the airport that I first visited in 1990 when I toured the campus of the University of San Diego, I exited the airport only to be graced with the pristine San Diego weather. Approximately 69 degrees, sunny with a few scattered clouds, slight cool breeze out of the West. At that moment, I was not about to get into a taxi and head straight to the hotel after the 2.5 hour plane ride. I had to be outside, right now, for as long as possible. So I decided to walk from the airport to my hotel in downtown San Diego with my backpack and my carry on suitcase! Im guessing out of the 10’s of thousands of people that came and went from San Diego International Airport that day, I was perhaps the only one that left there with luggage on foot, destined for the historic Gas Lamp District.
As I started to leave the immediate airport property, I crossed the parking lot and walked past the fence that marked the boundary of the parking lot. Suddenly I was thrown back to a memory I had not recalled in a very long time. As a young child, I lived in a small suburb of Ft Lauderdale called Davie, FL. This was a horse town literally bordering on the Everglades. I remember the canal waters in our neighborhood crawling with alligators and water moccasins. We lived way out in what used to be the back woods of South Florida with our 3 horses, 6 cats and a dog.
The year was 1980 and I was in second grade. On several school bus rides, I remember plotting out the bus route in my mind and realizing there was a much quicker route we could take to and from school…if it weren’t for all those other kids! After much frustration and too much time on the bus, I decided I’d had enough. Today was going to be the day that I walked home from school. I would easily beat the bus home and surprise my babysitter.
I had a friend that lived close to the school and he always walked home. So at the end of the day, I walked right by my bus with my friend to the end of the school property and ducked through the chain link fence that marked the border of the school property, in just the same way as I just left the parking lot at the airport. My friend was going right and I was going left, so I waved goodbye and set off on my journey. I can’t quite remember the exact street address of our house back then, but we were somewhere on SW154th Lane. Plotting this general area on Google maps and then routing it to my elementary school, Flamingo Elementary, provides and approximate distance of 8 miles. One thing I didn’t calculate in all my second grade wisdom was I probably walked about 2 miles an hour at a brisk pace. This would make my journey last about 4 hours on foot. The bus ride was probably no more than 30-45 minutes max I would guess.
I can only imagine my babysitters shock when the bus driver opened the door and all the kids from the neighborhood got off except me. Panic ensued. Calls to the school. Calls to my parents. I can only assume the police were notified as well. Hours passed and still no sign of me. The next details differ depending on who you ask, but here’s what I remember…I remember waving to some of the nice folks that lived along the way. Finding a walking stick that fit my 7 year old height. Avoiding the intermittent flotsam on the side of the road. Picking up rocks off the dirt-road and testing myself on how far I could toss each rock. And generally not worrying about a thing.
I was navigating the much shorter and obviously quicker route when a van leaving a violently large plume of dust behind it, like a jet engine, started to appear. My babysitter was taking the much quicker route to school to try and find me and sure enough, there I was. Not a care in the world. For certain, my parents were not amused and although my dad threatened me with the belt, it was my mom that actually delivered the blow. Nonetheless, what an adventure and after the licks were dealt, I recall thinking, that wasn’t that bad. Definitely worth the journey!