Recently I found myself in Del Mar, a picturesque California seaside town north of San Diego and the first location mentioned in the Beach Boys classic, "Surfin USA."
You'd catch 'em surfin' at Del Mar, Ventura County Line ...
I wasn't looking for frothy waves to ride; instead I just needed gas for my rental car. Unfamiliar with the area, I opened Yelp on my iPhone and counted at least 20 gas stations within a 5-mile radius of my hotel. Considering I had not seen a single station during the 30-minute ride from the San Diego airport, this was a pleasant surprise. One station, specifically the San Diego Gas and Carwash on Valley Centre Drive in Carmel Valley, had garnered 100 reviews.
For a gas station/carwash? This could only be possible, I assumed, for one of three reasons: It contained the world's best gas, the world's worst gas or Jay Z and Beyonce regularly frequent this location to wash their matching Bentleys. Intrigued why so many people would take the time to review an establishment as innocuous as a gas station, I began scrolling the reviews. Yes, I learned a few facts about the facility itself but I learned more about the residents in and around Del Mar, many who felt compelled to intertwine their life histories and personal tales of woe into reviews of gas pumps, grab-n-go food items and car wash equipment.
Abby from San Diego wrote, "I own a pug who is spoiled rotten and constantly going for rides with me. In case you aren't aware pugs are notorious for shedding and my car is typically covered in a coat of pug hair. The car wash includes a vacuuming but I'd have to pay for a detailing to get all the pug hair out, (which would cost about twice as much) and I don't see the point in that considering that she'll just add more put hair to (the) car within a couple of days."
Yelp asked me if Abby's review was helpful. Only in the sense that I know I made a good choice when I selected a non-shedding cockapoo as our family pet.
Elle, also of San Diego, gave me a glimpse into her professional life when she wrote, "One time I came here right when they opened and they cleaned my car super fast so I could pick up my boss from a nearby hotel."
Uh, Elle, is it normal for your boss to be LEAVING a local hotel at 9 a.m.?
Finally, there was Carolyn from Carlsbad, who dropped her daughter in the station's play area and returned to find her "ruthlessly being pelted by two teenagers" with plastic balls.
Now, fearful of being bullied while pumping gas, I decided it would be best to look for other options. A Chevron in Mira Mesa was close by and apparently is frequented by budding romance authors, as evidenced by this review from San Diego resident Adam after using the facility's car wash:
"To my complete and utter surprise, the car is spotless ... the droplets of water falling from the car's chassis mirrors the tears of joy falling from my cheek. It's going to be okay after all."
Roll the closing credits while I reach for a box of tissues.
Eventually I chose a nearby Shell station, careful not to satisfy my sweet tooth after Jamie R. warned me and fellow Yelp users that "sometimes you get that crusty candy bar that doesn't even look like chocolate anymore."
Despite social media's ability to turn everyone into critics, I have never posted a Yelp review, having neither the energy nor the vindictive tendencies necessary to open my laptop or mobile device and verbally shred a restaurant, hospital or local service. But if Yelp ever expands its category list to include geographical locales, I will be the first to submit my review of Del Mar:
"Beautiful city with ideal climate and slow pace, loaded with residents who have too much time on their hands, are impossible to please and can't stay on point.
"Surfers, consider driving north and catching waves 'all over Manhattan, and down Doheny Way ...'"