Tourism in San Diego

Last week I was in San DIego for the annual CSUN Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference. Usually when I go to this conference I take a side trip to Tucson to visit my mother and her partner, but after several years of that, I suggested they meet me in San Diego this time. We found a few interesting touristy things to do.

It was Easter weekend, much to the consternation of Canadians who couldn't imagine taking a business trip over such an important holiday. But as theocratic as the US is, it's just a day for chocolate and eggs. Spring Break (March Break for the Canadians) was the bigger holiday and San Diego was indeed full of people escaping school and winter. This led to some traffic and crowding, but not too bad.

On Saturday I was recovering from a post-conference late night with colleagues, so we took it easy then went to Baja Betty's for happy hour. This is right in the middle of the gay  district and certainly had a staff who could work the clientele. It was one of the most integrated gay neighborhoods I've been in, there were a lot of different types walking around, and the gay ones did seem quite open. I've mourned the loss of gay space as places like Monreal's village, Toronto's Church Street, London's Old Compton Street attract the PC crowd, but the integration here did seem more natural and earned.

Sunday morning we went to the Hillcrest Farmer's Market, around the corner from where we were the previous evening and quite amusingly (and deliberately?) at the intersection of Harvey Milk and Normal streets. Of course this is California, so there was more product diversity there than I see around home, and again the social diversity was quite evident among the stalls and patrons. We were buying ingredients to cook dinner in and I couldn't buy much that I could take home, but it was fun to see it.

For the afternoon we went to Balboa Park, which is where the San DIego Zoo is located but is its own collection of museums and stuff. We went to the San Diego History Center which I hoped would cover history of how San Diego was settled, and had a little of that, but mostly had an exhibit of how the San Diego Zoo was formed and became what it is today. That was somewhat interesting, learning about the visions people had 100 years ago, which weren't common ways of looking at things, and seeing how that evolved to modern ideas of zoo care and species conservation.

The higlight of this part though was to hear the Spreckels Organ play. This is an outdoor pipe organ that had a performance underway as we walked by. Between sets the organist talked about the history of the organ and some of its mechanics. What made it a highlight was that the audience could go into the organ while it was playing and hear the sound right there. We couldn't actually go among the pipes, but could go on catwalks right beside them inside the enclosure. There's actually not much to see because the pipe vibration usually isn't visible, but sometimes I could see the valves moving, or the percussion components, or the louvers that control volume of some of the divisions. Hearing the sound from right among the source was pretty impressive though, the sound really fills the space. It's an impressive instrument capable of a great variety of sounds; one I hadn't encountered before was the use of dissonant 64-foot pipes to create a rattling sound from the beat frequency. Even consonant notes on those big pipes go right through the body in a powerful way.

My mother, John, and me on the MidwayMonday we visited the Midway, which is a decomissioned aircraft carrier that has been turned into a museum. I've never had much interest in military paraphernalia but found this quite fascinating. It's a huge machine with room for I think dozens of airplanes, which can be launched with a catapult and stopped upon landing by hooking an arresting wite. As large as the machine is, it's a very short space to accelerate or decelerate an airplane to / from flying speed. Seeing the mechanics up close answered questions I've always had. But then we went into the other parts of the ship, the command tower and the sick bay and galley and laundry engineering section and sleeping quarters and all the like. One sees these things on TV and movies all the time, but it was quite a different experience to be inside those awkward and small spaces. It was really hard to move around, I was in constant danger of bashing my head on low projecting metal things, and one had to consider everyone trying to move around one. It must have been amazingly claustrophic for people to live months at a time in this environment, and then consider the stresses of long hours and naval operations. It was also interesting to see how precise everything is with such low tolerances for error, it gave me a much greater appreciation for the challenges of conducting military activities well.

That was the adventures. My annual visit with my mother and flew home Tuesday.