WHEN I USED TO GO to San Diego I would always stay in the Gaslamp Quarter. Even if the conferences were over the bridge on Coronado Island, or up above the freeway at the Town and Country, the Gaslamp was my home. There were some festive Mexican restaurants with chili rellenos and mariachi bands, and loads of both young urban professionals as well as aggressive, toothless homeless people pushing shopping carts and howling about Obama and Jesus. The names of the other neighborhoods were the usual fare of bland American names that meant vaguely nothing — Golden Heights, Southcrest, Normal Heights — or were named after some historical curiosity that had long since been engulfed by fast food restaurants, parking lots, and cheap motels — Mission Hills, Montecito. Then, somewhere to the south, America ran out of land and turned into Mexico. Just like that. A few tram stops and this gringo paradise of meaningless English names, indoor shopping extravaganzas, and expensive but soulless residential areas, turned into the wild cactus MexTex-Aztec beast. If all of North America could be seen in such a light, as a struggle between pale gringos, hungry for a Burger King on every street corner, and swarthy Mexicans, just hungry, it would make far more sense. That’s all it is still, England versus Spain, with some wily French fur traders mixed in up north. I felt bad for the Europeans I knew in San Diego. I felt bad for them when they had to get in their leased SUVs to drive down to the Gaslamp for that European feel of rolling out of bed and strolling down the street just to get their lips around some sunshine, street scenes, and espresso. I felt bad for them as they sat in traffic many hours a day on a conference call, their shades on to block out any sunlight that made it past the tinted windshield. Only in the Gaslamp could they get any of that old-timey, lived-in feel, of listening to bar brawls at 2 AM and some woman screaming over mariachi horns, or waking up to the clamor of construction at 6 AM and drilling. Only there could they sleep deep in the belly of the hairy California animal. They had given it all away, you know. They had traded away everything for palm trees and this.