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The Crossing
Rich Simons, 11th Street | This piece appeared in one of the earliest issues of the Sandpiper, in 1997.

Photo Art Olson

Living (as we do) in a small, serene village, we perhaps take too much for granted the slow pace and the casual lifestyle that we enjoy, without pausing to consider what makes it all possible. Alert readers will know immediately what I mean. I refer, of course, to the traffic lights at the corner of 15th Street and Camino Del Mar.

On a recent morning I had a chance to experience, and reflect upon, the subtle but ingenious way these devices control the pulse of life in our village. Arriving at the SE corner of the intersection, I pressed the button signaling my desire to cross Camino Del Mar. After fifteen minutes had passed with no break in the traffic, I remembered where I was - the village with the unhurried pace, the “mañana” attitude - and resolved to immerse myself in its spirit.

Ambling up the steps to the Union Bank (of California, of course), I managed to engage Dennis in a long chat during which we restructured all my loans at the bank, after which I was able to share a few jokes with David and Sam and Joanne and the rest of the gang. I then discovered that I had time before the light would change to take a brief course in flower arrangement from Penny on the corner, sip a double latte at Starbucks AND nearly complete the New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle.

The light changed just as I was mulling a four-letter word for “misplaced highway”. Actually, the puzzle asked for nine letters but the only words I could think of had just four. Well, I thought, maybe if I write real big.

A sizeable crowd had gathered for the crossing and I quickly benefitted, for as soon as we stepped off the curb a flashing orange hand insisted we go back. I would have, if not pushed from behind by a more experienced villager. Gratefully attaining the other side of Camino Del Mar, I was immediately struck by the amenities thoughtfully provided on that corner: fake Tudor-style buildings. No, sorry, I mean: places to eat. Having pressed the button to cross 15th St., I settled in at ACME Bar & Grill for a leisurely lunch of turkey spinach meatloaf with a light jerk-spice, pesto and sun-dried tomato flavoring, served with potato leek pancakes and carmelized apples in a sesame mandarin sauce.

At the end of it, I found I still had time to stroll up to Ocean Song Gallery to exchange a “monton” of gossip with Virginia Igonda in (my) halting Spanish, and browse through Earth Song Bookstore, eventually locating a desperately needed volume: “Achieving Peace and Inner Oneness While Watching Traffic Go By Through the Use of Substances Which Mercifully Are Not Too Well Controlled”. Fortified with this tome and a pint of Grey Whale Pale Ale from J.J. Maguire’s, I was able to last it out until the light finally changed.

Arriving at the NW corner (site of the Olde/Newe Hotel/Inn/L’Auberge at Del Mar), it was clear I had time before the next crossing to stroll down to Seagrove Park, where I managed to spot a couple of whales (in a gold Lexus; Arizona plates) and count all the passengers on a passing Amtrak (3). Returning up 15th, I stood in line at the Post Office until my arches straightened out nicely and then found my way to the Durante Pub in the Olde/Newe Hotel/Inn/L’Auberge. There, in a matter of only a few hours, an elderly gentleman taught me “Patience” while another chap entertained us with operatic interpretations of favourite olde ballades.

Mercifully, as he began to wail “take a train, take a car to Olde Del Mar” for the fourth or fifth time, I saw the light was about to change and joined the hundreds of villagers amassed for the event.

The Plaza is a sort of Dizzyland that Ivan and David have built to amuse villagers waiting to cross the street. Here I was able to do the entire week’s shopping at Daniel’s, enjoy a cappuccino and biscotti at Esmeralda, contemplate the relative virtues of black clothing versus white AND purchase an oriental carpet once owned by the Aga Kahn, all before the light changed.
Returning at last - not too long after dark - to whence I had begun that morning: the SE corner of 15th Street and Camino Del Mar, I could only wonder at that miracle of technology which sets the unhurried tempo of life in our village: the totally laid-back traffic light.

Only in California.


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