"...this really funky corner of a city that would grab us and hold us and speak to us as no other place..." - Zip Code 92107 by Franklin Straus, hanging in the OB post office
It was a Friday evening, like any other, unusual only in that I could not find a companion to accompany me to my favorite fish taco joint. The sun was about to set and I wanted nothing more than to chow down whilst watching the sun melt into the ocean behind the pier and palms. South Beach has the perfect outside patio for just the occasion.
The notion that rent is skyrocketing and my time here could potentially be limited is, unfortunately, always on the back-burner of my consciousness. The changing atmosphere, vacation rentals, and condos replacing my previous apartments, the breweries, and now swanky wineries...suffice to say it’s not looking good for regular folk like myself.
As I sat there drinking my beer, I struck up a conversation with two women next to me. One was an older individual who had finally moved here from Sacramento, a lifelong dream accomplished. All she ever wanted was to soak up this beautiful landscape and be at one with the funky OB-ness which defines this place. My love for Ocean Beach and why I sacrifice a small space with high rent to be here was reignited. I remembered: there are still people like her here.
Exiting the bar, I grabbed my bike and was suddenly struck with a sense of lonely melancholy. Nostalgia for my recently dubbed ex-boyfriend hit me. As I slowly pedaled towards the grass by the pier, I saw it: The Bubble Man! I’d seen pictures of his 30 foot plus bubbles splayed across all avenues of social media, yet had never had the privilege of witnessing it firsthand. Children were frolicking about while people of all ages, sizes, and colors congregated in awe.
The sun had just set. There were spotlights set up around a keyboardist who was next to the Bubble Man. The lights were shining upwards onto the bubbles, giving them a heightened sense of beauty in their rainbow iridescent amorphous shape. A sense of surrealism surrounded the scene. The Keyboardist began singing a melodic tune, his voice soothing and full of a peaceful passion. It took me a few beats to realize it was Jesus-inspired. It didn’t matter. The magic of the musician and Bubble Man duet overcame me. All my worries dissolved. If I weren’t Jewish, maybe I’d have converted.
I biked quickly home to recruit my neighbors. By the time I returned, the duo was packing up.
“Wait, why are you leaving? Will you be back?” I asked as the Keyboardist tucked his instrument into the back of a white Subaru.
“We’re here from 5:30 to 6:30 every other Wednesday and Friday,” he said. His eyes had a soft shine to them.
“OK, well...you guys made my night. Thank you so much for doing what you do!”
“God Bless!” one of his helpers exclaimed as I biked away.
That was it. I had to know more. I must understand the motivation behind this Bubble Man / Keyboardist duet. Why did they bring their fantastical show to OB and what inspires them?
I came back promptly at 5:30 that Wednesday. Much to my dismay, the keyboard wasn’t there. I wandered over to the bubble set-up where the Keyboardist was trying to teach a child how to make the massive bubbles. Where his instrument had been, there was now a tiny table with Bibles and a sign reading, “Calvary Chapel: Point Loma.” I knew if I started prodding around there someone would come talk to me. I managed to get the attention of the Keyboardist.
A Brief Interview with the Keyboardist
“But why here, why Ocean Beach?” I inquired, after explaining my reverie for his act and how it had uplifted me that evening.
“Well, you know, Ocean Beach has a diverse group of people. Everybody comes here. I don’t want to thump you over the head with a Bible. I want to inspire people, like you that night, and help bring them closer to the light of Jesus, of God.” His eyes twinkled, suggesting some inner peace and purpose rested within him.
“Hm... well, I’m planning on writing a piece on you and your stupendous feats here in OB, get the word out there,” I relayed.
His response exemplified an aspect of what I consider to be essential to this little beach town, a place where people do things for no apparent commercial value.
“Oh, we’re not doing this for any kind of recognition. We do this to spread the good word of God and help people.”
At the end of the conversation, I thanked him for the information and said I’d be on my way.
“Won’t you join us for Church sometime?” he asked kindly.
“Oh, I’m Jewish.” Which is true. Not that I go to temple, or necessarily believe in a religious God, but few Jews do. His reaction surprised me.
“That’s great! I’ve learned so much from my Jewish brothers and sisters. They have taught me things from the Old Testament, shown me a new perspective on [I can’t remember which biblical reference he made].”
I wandered over to join the crowd of people admiring the bubbles as well as a myriad of somewhat mesmerizing activities that tend to occur on any given Wednesday evening farmer’s market in Ocean Beach. You can be certain there will be a drum circle, hula hoopers taking the “sport” to a seductive, full body twirling level I never thought possible, acro-yogis, and slack liners, to name a few.
“You bout to jump on there?” I asked a woman standing near me as both of us watched in silent awe while the slack liners hopped from the ground onto the line, landing on their calf, knee, or some other body part.
“Oh, no!” she chuckled. “I used to live in OB for about 10 years. This was my life. I’d hang out at the beach, come down here every Wednesday. That was 20 years ago. So much has changed.”
“I can only imagine. I’ve heard people complaining about all the new breweries and whatnot,” I trailed off.
“I don’t mind that so much. And ya know, it’s changed and it hasn’t. There are always people like you who’ll just come up and talk to you. Always a good feel in OB.” Thus, my growing suspicion of self-grandeur that I am an indelible beacon of OB was reaffirmed.
The other day I was skateboarding at a sloth’s pace towards the beach, nonchalantly chomping on a massive carrot in one hand. As I meandered around a corner, a young attractive male noticed me while sitting in the driver’s seat of a parked car. His door was slightly ajar, and as I slowly sailed by, he barked “Killin’ it!” There is something to be said for the random cheers of complete strangers who encourage and praise your behavior, particularly when you are doing exactly what you feel like without caring what anyone could possibly have to say or think about it.
I never experienced anything like that growing up in Albuquerque, or anywhere else that I’ve lived for that matter. As a kid, people would literally yell out of their car windows, “Girls can’t skate!” when I’d be cruising around on my skateboard coming home from middle school. Here, I was skating home a couple years ago with filled grocery bags in either arm. Dusk had begun to fall, during that brief time when darkness encroaches on the road just before the streetlights flicker on. I heard a car pull up behind me and shine its brights at me. There was no oncoming traffic so I swerved to the other side of the road. The car pulled up next to me and the driver said, “Hey man, I was just trying to light your way. Letting you know it’s all you!”
OB is the type of place where the citizens rejoiced when a Lamborghini was flooded after moving into a recently built luxury condo. This condo represented everything many of us dislike about the new arrivals in Ocean Beach, the extremely wealthy coming in without any prior knowledge of the neighborhood and building massive structures which block the view of the beach. The parking garage did not accommodate for nor foresee the occasional winter flooding. The picture of that drowned Lamborghini flew across OB social media. A victory over the intrusive modern conquistadors trying to rip out the laid-back soul of OB.
"The body cannot be cured without regard for the soul." - Socrates
And now. The Bubble Man and Keyboardist combo discovery. The wealth of awe, love, and utter glee I harbor for having the privilege of living in this little beach town is, yet again, replenished.
A few days later, the neighbors and I were commiserating on the communal porch area after the rent in our apartment complex was raised $50, again.
“My family’s been here since the ‘40’s. And I’m not a rich kid either. We always found a way to make it work,” one of my neighbors said to me, upon seeing my eyes water up at the thought of having to leave OB. “We’ll find a way to make it work,” he ended, giving me a fist bump. He’s onto something.
As long as OB continues to be a place where human bodies form the words “Impeach” on the beach, where people like the Bubble Man and Keyboardist come to inspire the masses, somehow myself and those who fuel the soul of this glorious place will continue to find a way to make it here.