Editor’s Note: Adrian Florido and Sam Hodgson are getting to know a different San Diego neighborhood each day over the next two weeks. They spent Tuesday in Clairemont and will be in Linda Vista on Wednesday.
Sam Shepherd has one of the only two-story houses in his Clairemont neighborhood, and he built the second story himself. But it was born of trouble in paradise.
“My wife and I couldn’t get along, so I moved upstairs,” the 82-year-old former contractor said Tuesday afternoon.
It was 1994, and Shepherd was living at the house with his third wife and her son from a prior marriage. But her son refused to share in the household chores.
One day, Shepherd remembers expressing an only thinly veiled opinion about his stepson’s worth. His wife didn’t take kindly to it, and they had an ugly falling out.
By seven o’clock the next morning, there was a dumpster in the driveway. By 11 a.m., his friends had scraped the roof clean of its shingles.
“She got home and she said, ‘What are you doing?’”
“I said, ‘Moving.’”
It took him three months to finish his “living quarters,” as he calls it, and he’s lived there ever since. His wife moved away two years ago, but he decided to stay upstairs.
“The second story is nicer than the first,” he said with a mischievous grin just visible behind his bushy white beard.
Shepherd moved to Clairemont in 1969. Just before, he’d been living in Pacific Beach and installing drywall for a living. But it seemed like every other day that he had to make the long drive to a new planned community called Rancho Bernardo, whose construction was pushing suburban San Diego even farther into the backcountry than Clairemont had two decades before.
“I met a gal who lived in Clairemont and realized it was convenient,” Shepherd said, “because I like to fish so I didn’t want to be too far from the water.”
He bought his house for less than $30,000 and made improvements to it over the years. Until, of course, marital unrest led him to the biggest improvement, “which I was happy to do,” he said.
In the years since, he’s built second stories for a few other Clairemont residents. The soil there is firm enough to support it, he said. But recently he’s working on a new labor of love. On Tuesday, Shepherd was decked out in measuring-tape suspenders and working on converting a 1987 Chevrolet El Camino into an electric car.
A few years ago, he bought a book on building an electric car and studied it for about two weeks.
He tried to do it with a Chevrolet S-10 first, but the electric batteries in the truck were so heavy that they overburdened the brakes, and once when he was coasting down Genesee Avenue he couldn’t get the car to stop. Last week, he accidently dropped a connected jumper cable onto the batteries of his El Camino and triggered a minor explosion.
It’s been a process of trial and error along the way, something he was never able to successfully navigate in his three marriages. (“I’ve got a bad disposition,” he admits.)
“The more you go, the more you find out you need something else,” he said. “It’s like a wife.”
I’m reporting from Clairemont today as I explore a different San Diego neighborhood each day this week. Have a story idea for me? Email me at email@example.com or call me at 619.325.0528 and follow me on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido.