Fridays in San Diego

I reside in Arlington, Virginia, right now. Today the temperatures reached into the 70s, capping the first week of nice weather this year. Today I got off work at about 2:30, and as I slowly made my way home, I recalled a time in my life when nearly every Friday of the year was like this.

Ah yes, the heady days of 1999 to 2002, and 2005 to 2008, when I lived in the Pacific Beach neighborhood while stationed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, which was tucked hard against San Diego’s Lindbergh International Airport near downtown, and then later at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, just northeast of the city. The weather was nearly perfect every day, and when we were done with our duties, we took advantage of it. As I have written before, San Diego is an absolute gem, and once you’ve spent any time there you will agree when it calls itself “America’s Finest City.”

For instance, at MCRD, we had the best physical training routine I have ever experienced, either before or since. We could run the 3-mile loop of the entire base, or we could venture outside the gates and do what we called the “Airport Run,” which went around the Naval Training Center and the entire grounds of the San Diego airport, a 7-mile gut check. Sometimes we would go over to North Island or down to Mission Beach and do a beach run. Sometimes we would do what we called the “Hill Run,” heading across Interstate 5, running through Old Town, up several switchbacks, until we leveled out through Presidio Park, then down the trails on its northern flank to Interstate 8, west and then south along Pacific Highway, and back to the north gate of MCRD. And yet other times, we would venture up into Point Loma, another dreaded hilly course that wound up into the hills west of the base and afforded immaculate views of the ocean crashing hard against the rocky shore cliffs below Sunset Cliffs Boulevard. Peer pressure of the positive kind was the order of the day; no one slacked off. We all went. I was in the best shape of my life.

Our leaders encouraged this and sometimes even came with us. At MCRD it was all about working hard, playing hard, and adventuring hard. It was about trying and experiencing things one had never tried or done before. We ran 5Ks and 10Ks on Saturdays, and built up to half and finally full marathons. It was friendly competition between friends and colleagues with a common background.

As for work, our hours were 7:30 a.m. to at least 5:00 p.m. every day. But typically by 2:00 p.m. on Friday afternoons, I was done with my work for the week. I can remember going out about that time on Friday more times than I can recall to run the three-mile loop around the perimeter of the base, just for the pure joy of it. I remember thinking as I slowly circled the base how I might never have it this good anywhere else in my life: I was living in the most beautiful city I had ever seen, the weather was spectacular year-round, I was in my dream job and treated like an adult by my bosses, and no one ever complained about what I was doing at that moment — working out on a Friday afternoon in the 75-degree sun and cool breezes drifting in off San Diego Bay. The world was definitely my oyster.

Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego

At the end of the day we would invariably head to Pacific Beach and finish the week off at one of PB’s fine establishments, where the happy hour prices should have been criminal because they were too low. Sadly, in an all too common situation, the old, fun places with character — almost every place I used to go with my wife and friends — have closed under the assault of pretentious martini bars and swanky “upscale” places for people who don’t even live in PB. The venerable PB Bar & Grill, Moondoggies, Longboard Grill, Tokyo House, and perhaps my favorite of all, the Tiki House, have become victims of “progress.” But there was a time now reserved to memory alone when these places were the site of seldom-matched fun and merriment. And the powers that be will never be able to push out our old reliable, the Pacific Beach VFW, Post 5985, that was and continues to be the scene of veterans from all types of campaigns coming together to raise a glass and tell yarns that grow larger by the year.

San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge at dusk

Wherever we were, the setting was the same; the brilliant, languid, sun-drenched Pacific coast afternoon would slowly dissolve into a crisp, comfortable dusk as we sat around the table swapping war stories about the week in the glow of a crackling fire pit. The temperature never seemed to change. I felt like I could sit there forever with the most important people in my life outside my family. Such is the cameraderie of the profession of arms. In Stephen Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, about the Battle of Thermopylae, a soldier is asked to recite the “pleasures of war,” to which he responds “shared hardship, triumph over adversity, camaraderie and philadelphia; love of one’s comrades in arms.”

On days like today, I am whisked back to those days that never seemed to end; a place where I always felt rested, full of vigor, and ready for anything at any time. Oh, to be there right now on this late Friday afternoon. Go ahead powers that be; close all my old hangouts. I don’t care. You can’t stop me; drop me off somewhere on Garnet Avenue, and it wouldn’t take me long to find a place. I would locate just the perfect little dive bar or ramshackle, Tiki-themed cafe, sit down on the patio near the fire, and watch the sun dip into the vast Pacific. And never tire of it.

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