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Last week I spent a morning helping scout locations in the Tijuana River Valley for HBO’s new “Repo Man”-meets-“Dogtown” David Milch-produced TV series about Imperial Beach, “John from Cincinnati.” I was in the company of Brian O’Haynes the show’s location manager. Brian is a pretty cool guy and as a longtime Hollywood film industry vet, he has great stories to tell (e.g. a promo tour in Japan for “Star Wars” with Carrie Fisher). His ranking on the pop culture cool scale is super high not only due to his current involvement with Milch’s epic “Deadwood” but having worked on the ’80s teen epic “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
Since many of the members of the downtown cabal who rule the kingdom of San Diego aren’t really from here and appear to be have descended from a homogeneous cloud colony of milquetoast drones, they might not know that “Fast Times” is based on Cameron Crowe’s book of the same name about his undercover stint at Clairemont High in which Crowe documented the fact that ’70s and early ’80s teens were (gasp!) screwing, smoking pot and throwing keggers. Anyone who grew up in San Diego in the ’70s is aware that Clairemont, Patrick Henry, Bonita and Grossmont high schools were the epicenters of San Diego 70s Camaro-dude, Farrah-hair, inland cultures where bongs, kegs and babes ruled. Back when going away to college meant living at home and driving your VW Bug or Datsun B210 to Mesa College, SDSU or UCSD.
Talking about “Fast Times” and its connection to San Diego (Crowe also filmed his San Diego inspired memoir “Almost Famous” in OB and at the Sports Arena) got me thinking about how our bizarre airhead-by-the-sea city has changed since I was a kid in the bygone and carefree days of the 1970s, when San Diego really was “America’s Finest City.”
Back when Pete Wilson was a normal and moderately good mayor (before a he became a horrible and unpleasant right-wing crank) and San Diego morphed into a suburb of Starbucks. You know, when Horton Plaza was a real plaza filled with prostitutes, winos, pimps, pushers, and vagrants. When downtown at night meant a trip to the Skeleton Club along with a pre-show visit to Arcade Music to buy promo copy records. When the Brass Rail and the Chicken Pie Shop were the culinary and cultural epicenters of Hillcrest, and Kensington was a strange place filled with freaky teens obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons and XTC who hung out at the little park near the Ken.
Unfortunately for our dear city, the cloud drones are still in charge. San Diego killed off the Skeleton Club, we switched from pot and beer to haze inducing triple no-foam lattes and ignored the non-stop John Tesh inspired symphony of CopleyHedgecockO’ConnerGoldingMurphySanders while sitting in traffic on the I-15. Now according to Arthur Levitt, someone has to pay the bill.