It’s weird. As I sit down to write this blog, I’ve only just realised that as of yesterday I have been home from my summer in San Diego for two months. Two whole months, which is well over half of the time I actually spent in the U.S. And yet, strangely, these two months have flown. You hear cliches like “time flies when you’re having fun”, but I’d like to think it’s just the effect of falling back into routine again. Just another lecture, just another night out-that sort of thing. For me if anything these two months have been a struggle for words, and as a writer that is essentially problematic. This is the fifth time I’ve sat down to tell this tale of sorts, with the prior four being a mix of writing a sentence, deleting a phrase, humming, hawing, and then closing down my laptop and telling myself I just need more time. But time is against me, it would seem. Each passing day is another lost memory, and though I’ve confined myself to the fact I can’t really “capture the j1”, in ways I guess that says more about it than all the words I’ll leave below. So, in the essence of the title, it’s time for the tram doors to close and for me to get a move on.
*Breathes* Next stop: Rio Vista. Rio Vista is next.
It seems like years ago that our pharmacy j1 group huddled around hot chocolates in Gloria Jeans on Patrick’s Street,most of us still dealing with the fact we had just booked ourselves a ticket to San Diego. The trip wasn’t for months, but from that day on pretty much any conversation could be spun back to our plans. It hauled us all through the exams, and before we knew it we were gathering one by one in Cork Airport, with about 20 kilos of personal belongings in tow. We didn’t have jobs lined up and we had hit a wall finding accommodation. Effectively, we were going out there blind. It was 90% “this is going to be class” and maybe 10% “What are we going to do when we get there?”. We spent 8 hours on a layover in Heathrow, exhausting every last question on that damn “Would you rather” app. From there, it was an 11 hour flight across the world. It’s not often you watch three movies one after another and eat about fourteen packaged meals in a row. Virgin media were as good to provide wine for the occasion, which we happily indulged in. The j1 was ticking all the boxes already and we hadn’t even set foot in America.
Walking out onto the streets of LA was a bit like putting your head into a TV world. Buildings shot up everywhere and traffic raced by smoothly. Everything I’d ever seen in movies was right there in front of me, but now it was so real. I think half of us fell asleep in the mini-bus down the coast, but at some point I felt my shoulder being rocked. I can still remember lazily opening my eyes and catching my first glimpse of Downtown San Diego. Unlike LA, the main streets were hushed. It was like the city was on standstill for our arrival, but as we stumbled up to the door of “Lucky Ds Hostel”, we realised San Diego was alive at all hours. The hostel was like a transition for us, with as much Germans, Italians and British as there were Americans. We had booked in for a week, giving ourselves a little window to find somewhere more permanent for our gang of eight. I picture us sitting in room 314, signing into SEVIS to tell the U.S. we were in fact in their country. Most of us were still in shock. We were there. After months, we now had no parents, no jobs, no exams and little if any responsibilities outside indulging our dream summer. I went to bed that night to the sounds of The Rolling Stones literally playing a concert two blocks away. And that was night one.
The next morning was my first sight of the California sun. We were out on the streets, walking around Downtown beneath the skyscrapers of banks and insurance companies. San Diego was still in what they called the “June gloom”, but as far as we were concerned it was shorts, t-shirts and a day at Sea World. Most of us had interviews that day, and as I hurriedly changed in the bathroom into something more interview-y, it dawned on me I was literally in Sea World. Two days before I was probably in my front room watching Friends re-runs. Unfortunately for myself, Katie and Michaela, Seaworld wasn’t to be, as we walked out of our interview in shock as the two Fionas and Aine filled in their employment paperwork. I sat on a bench outside waiting for them, and talked to about six different Americans. That was something we all noticed right from day one. While the Irish pride themselves on small talk, an American will tell you his life story if you so much as look at him. Over the next few days, we swapped handing out resumés with late nights in the hostel. Poor Fiachra was still a fortnight short of 21, so in the spirit of our group we all just got drunk in the Hostel kitchen and kept the staff up til all hours. Lucky D’s was always up for a session, which to us was part of our American Dream. If there is one part of our culture that perhaps I never thought I’d be proud of, it’s that we can drink America under the table. Period.
Even so, for me anyway the first few days were tough. As the crew around me landed interview after interview, I was still coming up empty-handed. We had an ongoing joke that Fiona D had about six job offers to hand, which wasn’t true but wasn’t a huge stretch of the imagination either. In terms of accommodation we also were in the same boat as everyone else. As more and more Irish flooded into San Diego, landlords and apartment complexes wanted nothing to do with us. Considering any given apartment might be home to up to twenty twenty-somethings (that’s 400 somethings!), I didn’t exactly blame them for their casual racism at first. A couple days before we were due out of our hostel, a friend of mine found himself a place on the Green tram line. It was called “Promenade at Rio Vista”, and already had leased to a whole host of Irish students. A couple of the girls had heard the same, and considering there was also a “Missions at Rio Vista”, we felt it was worth a shot.
You have to remember these were very tough conditions to operate in. In the space of a week we were looking for jobs, getting social security numbers, setting up bank accounts and trying to rent a flat for many times the occupancy limit. This was organisation on a huge scale and we didn’t even have more than one or two working phones. So that day in Rio Vista was never going to be easy. As myself, Michaela and Fiona M rocked over to Missions, Katie, Aine and Fiachra went to the offices at Promenade. We had no means of contacting each other. Our group probably got the first bite, as twenty minutes later we were being shown our possible new flat. I have to admit, getting shown this *cough* 3 person flat was a bit humerous. We had to do all the necessary ooohs and ahhs for added effect, but to us this seemed a good deal. We were on the point of putting down a deposit, when we said it would be worth running over to Promenade and hoping nobody swooped our spot at Missions in the mean time. Lucky we had. Over at Promenade, the other three were already signing the lease, and as myself, Mic and Fiona stared at the giant fountain costing a million dollars, Katie and Aine raced out to tell us the good news. It was done. We had an apartment, and never have would you feel such relief, no matter how many exams you finished.
On the job front, a day later I got an unexpected surprise. A few days prior, I had struggled on handing out CVs in Fashion Valley, and had spent 40 minutes filling in an application for Macys. The morning after we signed our lease, I was called for an interview. A day later, I was down in Irish Outreach (where Irish students went to print and try snake any job going) when I was told jobs were coming up in a summer camp. I ignored it….at first.
Perhaps the biggest stroke of luck we got was that our move-in date was just one day after we were set to leave the Hostel. We were only too happy to book in for the extra night, as it became apparent we really were going to miss Lucky D’s. At that point, we started wondering how many people were going to fill our apartment. We already had eight, so weren’t looking for a huge group, but considering the cost knew that a couple more wouldn’t hurt. A group with an apartment became hot property in all respects, and we had no shortage of offers. The San Diego j1 students facebook page was rife with offers and one by one we found flaws with people who got onto us. As our time at Lucky Ds drew to a close, we got talking to a group of lads from Cellbridge. I remember the table where I sat eating my cookie crisp, next to some lad who was nursing a hangover. Fiona and Aine chatted away, but I took no notice. I felt it wouldn’t be long until our apartment came up in conversation, and given our track record with people looking to live with us at that point, I wasn’t exactly hopeful. Hungover breakfast lad was Adam, and soon after I met Mark and Paul. As a group, we quickly warmed to them. I wonder what the summer would have been like if we had turned them away, or taken someone sooner. Maybe I would have hated my j1. But that’s not what happened. A couple days later as we all sat out on the beach on a sort of “trial run”, the original 8 gave our silent nods of approval. Our group had grown, and a day later, it was time to go to Promenade.
Our apartment was one bedroom, and if you walked into it when it was empty you would have thought it was fairly big. But I remind you, there were now 11 of us now, all of us with suitcases and the various paraphernalia that were already building up around us. Move-in day was very fun. It’s not every day you sit at a tram stop for four hours with all your personal belongings waiting for the all clear to leg it up to your overcrowded flat. The ingenuity of Irish people is incredible. Give them a set of rules and they’ll already have 16 different ways to circumvent them. This is what life in the U.S. became for the Irish cohort, which in Promenade was rumoured to be possibly 600 strong. Armies have won battles with less troops. And it was apparent. Those first few days in Promenade were like walking around O’Connell Street. With a fully unfurnished apartment to fill, trips to IKEA, Walmart and the complex trashroom became routine. I mean sure, a gym bench isn’t exactly a great couch and why exactly do we need a toastmaster. We didn’t know, but if it was free and plugged into the wall it was ours. Meanwhile my Macy’s interview went well, with a job offer on the day and a date for my training. A summer working in a department store, I thought. Could be worse. But soon, a facebook chat, an email and a mad dash to Overland Avenue would change all that. But that my friend, is a story for the next day……