San Diego: Almost Home

Point Loma from NAS North Island, CA. 1986
Photo Credit: Will Pennington

My business trip with the Navy to San Diego last week was like going home.

The joy began when, while riding the bus to the rental car center, I spotted the USS Carl Vinson — my last ship — tied up at North Island. Ohh, the memories.

USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70).
Photo Credit: US Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano/Released)

I can’t look at her without remembering, feeling, tasting, hearing, and smelling the awesome mighty power, the flightdeck, the wardroom coffee, the action, the all-consuming sounds and constant vibration.

I spent four of my twenty-seven years of active duty Navy service stationed and training aboard NTC San Diego, NAS North Island, and 32nd Street Naval Station.

I did my Ensign tour deploying aboard the USS Tripoli and attended various officer and enlisted schools including shipboard firefighting and S-3B Viking structures and hydraulics maintenance training.

Here comes our baby! S-3B Viking during testing aboard USS America. 1985.
Photo Credit: Will Pennington

Tail Hook down and aiming for the Three Wire. Pilots challenge their proficiency by catching the third of four arresting cables.
Photo Credit: Will Pennington

I served in the footsteps of my Dad who sailed from 32nd Street during WWII and after the war (I think he got his tattoos there).

Quite a few of my shipmates retired in San Diego.

Amazingly, I ran into an old girlfriend from the Philippines at the Navy Exchange in 1994. That was kind of awkward 🙄

Heading back to San Diego after a week in San Francisco. USS Tripoli. 1995.
Photo Credit: Will Pennington

I can’t visit San Diego without finding constant reminders of my past: liberty in the Gaslamp Quarter, cashing my paycheck at the Navy Exchange, watching SEALs train in the cold San Diego waters, turning wrenches on the S-3, having one last round at McP’s Irish Pub on Coronado before heading back to the USS Carl Vinson and deployment to the Gulf.

I’m a Shellback! Crossing the Line Ceremony off the East Coast of Africa. Aboard USS Tripoli, 1994.
Photo Credit: Will Pennington

My wife and I love San Diego and would live there were California not so bonkers — gas was seven bucks near the airport!

We lived in La Mesa while I was on the Tripoli and spent many weekends at Point Loma, Old Town, Balboa Park, and the San Diego Zoo, and many, many evenings at McP’s Irish Pub where Jayne’s mudslides were served in 16 oz Guinness mugs at the regular mudslide price.

She’s priceless anyway and usually finds her way into most bartenders’ good graces.

Hey, Maury. Get yer hoof outta my butt. San Diego Zoo. 1995.
Photo Credit: Will Pennington

We spent our last New Year’s Eve in San Diego at McP’s. I had to carry Jayne out over my shoulder.

Unfortunately she wriggled around so much I dropped her on the sidewalk. Next morning, after visiting the porcelain goddess, she said, “Ooooooooohhhhh, why does my head hurt so bad?” She’s mostly recovered by now. Mostly.

Balboa Park was always fun on weekends. The street performers were so much fun.

One Sunday we stopped to watch a fantastic juggler. He picked me out of the crowd to toss him a bowling pin at his signal. It would have gone much better had I not just drank a beer (something I had never done at Balboa Park).

When the juggler nodded, I launched that projectile like a rocket. He caught it but all the other pins fell to the ground. He was good-natured about it though and gave me a second, successful, toss 😄😄🎳🎳

Panorama of San Diego and North Island from Point Loma. March 2020.
Photo Credit: Will Pennington

Road trips were often and always great times. We never visited LA but passed around it plenty of times on the way to other places like Yosemite, Sequoia National Park, Napa Valley, cruising up the PCH, Tahoe and Vegas.

Closer to San Diego we roadtripped just about everywhere there was something to see in southern sunny Southern California.

The Sunrise Highway National Scenic Byway was our favorite roadtrip and hiking getaway.

Jayne. 1986. San Diego. Married Five Months.
Photo Credit: Will Pennington

I make 3–4 trips a year out there for work. Staying in Old Town means I’m within walking distance of my workplace and great places to eat and have a drink with co-workers.

But traffic congestion has increased so much that it’s not much fun driving around town anymore. Adding to the changes is the exponential increase in the homeless population.

Pacific Southwest Railway Museum. Campo, CA. 1986.
Photo Credit: Will Pennington

Wednesday, I drove to NAS Point Mugu for a meeting (which turned out to be a bust. But we rescheduled for early December 🙂 We left at 0345 and arrived at 0615. Not bad, but then we left so early SoCal was still asleep.

Driving back just after noon took a little longer, though, with slowdowns on the 405, but even that only took three and a half hours.

Dinner with the crew at Phil’s BBQ. L-R Tank, Speedy, Miguel, Moi. March 2020.
Photo Credit: Will Pennington

Breakfast before work was, and always is, at Perry’s Cafe on the PCH at Taylor Street. Lunch is usually at Little Italy (the Torpedo sandwich is killer!) or Rubio’s.

When we want a change from Mexican food at Old Town we head for Point Loma Seafoods or Point Loma Fish Shop on Rosecrans Street. The food is fabulous but parking can be tough. Don’t ever drop people off to hold a table while you look for parking. They’ll be paying the tab by the time you get back….

Old Town is always fun though I’m tiring of it a bit. I’ve spent tons of pesos in the shops there on swag and trinkets, not to mention food and drink. But, it’s always a good place to people watch, especially during the Day of the Dead celebration.

There’s a cigar bar there – Churchill Cigar Lounge – a co-worker frequents. I accompany him once in a while for the wide variety wine list. I gave up cigars years ago but still enjoy the aroma. Oddly enough, I didn’t catch a whiff of weed this trip.

The highlight of our trip was a mummified cat I found in one of the shipping containers we brought back from Okinawa. The poor thing must have been hiding inside when the door was sealed and either suffocated or died from lack of water. We named it Memphis.

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading. I hope to catch up with everyone’s latest soon. If you love San Diego too, let me know in the comments what you love most.


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