By Ernie McCray
“No, Golden Hill,” I say and they, like we’re in a debate competition, and they’ve got me on this one, start quoting passages from a map to prove that I’m not a Golden Hillian. And then I have to explain to them, in a nice friendly “home is where the heart is,” kind of way, that no matter what some chart has to say, I live in Golden Hill.
And I don’t say that out of any animosity towards them or South Park. Not at all. It will be a slow ride if it happens but I might claim to live there some day since I do “officially.” It’s just that I’m a Golden Hill O.G.
Been kicking about its streets since August 23, 1975 when I moved in with my beloved Nancy in her little cramped apartment at 24th and Russ, right up against the most western portion of Golden Hill Park. We moved from that little space to the penthouse in the same building as our family grew to five.
Living in Golden Hill has always made me feel so vibrantly alive. I bask in its hip-ness, its open-ness, its tolerance of differences. I feel comfortable being around people of a variety of hues and ethnicities and sexualities and artists of every stripe and thinkers and movers and shakers on the political and social scene.
In Golden Hill there’s a little of everybody, it seems, human beings of a range of means, some really raking it in, most middle class hustling citizens, some fighting to keep heads above water, some digging in the trash and recycling bins. We’re everybody in these parts. I love that.
When we decided to buy a house where I still reside just a few blocks away from the place we were leaving, because we couldn’t think of any other community in which we wanted to bring up our children, we didn’t consider ourselves crossing some demarcation line of some kind into another world as all of the blocks were Golden Hill back then.
They all had that mellow Golden Hill spirit, that funky Golden Hill life rhythm that those who’ve come since us old timers arrived have joined without missing a beat – although some of them have not realized that the good feeling they have about living in “South Park” was already very much alive when they got here, a spirit born in Golden Hill a long time ago.
I say that because often, when I find myself in one of the Golden Hill/South Park conversations (which usually get underway at functions where people are looking cute and sharing witticisms and sipping wine and eating tiny pieces of food off the end of toothpicks), it is implied that Greater Golden Hill was once rundown and depressed and riddled with crime until, “We got here!”
Hmmm, I don’t know where I was when all that was going down. Other than a couple of eyesores here and there and a few truly depressed folks in more than our share of halfway type homes, I don’t remember much going on ghetto or low spirited-wise. As to crime I’ve never lived in a safer neighborhood and problems just aren’t allowed to linger in Golden Hill as there’s always somebody around whenever action is needed to be taken.
Oh, what a life I’ve had in this delightfully progressive community.
What memories: jiving with Whoopi before she was Whoopi; doing poetry and monologues and taking part in forums and concerts and dialogues and doing far-far-far-left political skits at the old Grass Roots Cultural Center, breathing life into the Zapatistas’ Subcomandante Marcos’ “Old Antonio,” the symbol of the movement, on stage; hanging out with and driving Pete Seeger around when Peter Brown, of Grass Roots, brought him to town to honor our friend, John Handcox, whose songs were anthems that rallied workers throughout the world, “Roll the Union On,” and “Mean Things Happening in This Land”; seeing Peter’s Schools in Chiapas Project evolve from a very nice idea to a refreshing reality in our living rooms; sharing moments with Cesar, at the LeGerrettes, always open home, with people who had worked alongside him or in his and the United Farm Workers’ behalf in some way; meeting Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden at a gathering for CED (Campaign for Economic Democracy); doing poetry with kids at the Albert Einstein Academy; watching Amy’s Market morph from a dive store to Grant’s Deli; welcoming so many new eateries and small businesses that keep popping up like some wonderful fungus; yoga at Ginsengs… It all sings “Golden Hill” in my soul and in my mind.
But everybody has their place, their times, and those who claim South Park as home in their souls and mind feel no less excited about this part of town than I do. I can tell by that sweet feeling of belonging someplace special that gives itself away on their faces. I can easily see that they like the feel of the place, the aura of it, as I watch them, on my walks, taking in the sights that I’ve enjoyed for 38 years: majestic palm trees swaying, jacarandas with their branches spread sturdily and wide, displaying the splendorous beauty of their purple coloring, downtown skyscrapers energizing our magnificent views, feral cats darting in and out of the shadows in our yards, the skunks and raccoons and foxes and hawks.
We all perk up listening to the howls of coyotes, at dusk, that spill out to us from the greens and fairways of the golf course, letting the rabbits thereabout and pussy cats nearby know that they could be a menu item at any moment as the gentle Golden Hill breezes blow… We all love our community so.
And I do appreciate that the newer people to my hood have kept the good vibes of the community going, bringing a kind of gentrification with them that has been gradual and nice, blending in smoothly with Golden Hill’s special style.
They’ve brought me to a place where I’m thinking I might soon become comfortable saying, when someone asks me where I live, that I live in Golden-Hill-Slash-South-Park. It’s going to be a slow ride but I’ll get there. Some things just take time.