SAN DIEGO — --This was easily our weirdest Christmas.
That's what my brother-in-law, a recent East Coast emigre to La La Land, kept saying: "This is the weirdest Christmas I've ever spent."
The statement says a lot, since he and I were once confined to a living room in Portland, Maine, for a week during a blizzard at this time of year. Up there, after you've gone to L.L. Bean (which never closes) 12 times in a week, you've pretty much run out of things to do.
This was weirder. Fear and loathing in "America's Finest City."
We are by no means night owls. My brother-in-law is a self-described "choir boy." I'm a happily married San Carlos suburbanite with a 9-month-old baby. My idea of a hot time is clear reception on ESPN.
Our predicament was live. We were headed to Lindbergh Field to pick up relatives from Boston, knowing they wouldn't be coming in at 7:45 p.m. (as scheduled). The fog was so thick we couldn't see.
"Oh, nooooooo," I, the eternal optimist, kept saying. "They'll never get here."
"In this?" my brother-in-law scoffed. He's a computer programmer with a brain the size of Turkey and an unflinching trust in modern technology. "They have instruments nowadays that'll cruise that baby right in. They won't even need to see."
I was not reassured. What kind of instruments? Pea-soup cutters?
Sure enough, Delta Airlines, they of recent litigation following a crash at Dallas-Fort Worth, were diverting the plane to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). It would stay on the ground at LAX (one of my favorite acronyms) "maybe two hours," the smiling hostess said, then "attempt to land" in San Diego. (Curious, I thought, that American Airlines was landing some of its flights.) If San Diego was too foggy, she said, the plane would return to LAX, and everyone would bus to America's finest fog bank.
Earliest arrival would be 10:03 p.m. by sky, 2 or 3 a.m. by road. Leave the driving to us.
We had some time-killing to do.
San Carlos was too far from Lindbergh Field to go back home, we reasoned foolishly. We would simply hang out, scarf down a much-needed meal, then sample some of San Diego's night spots.
Surely, in the nation's eighth-largest city, my brother-in-law deduced, night life would glitter--even on Christmas night.
Of course, I naively spouted. Of course, of course. Why not Mexican food to start with? Let's get on the other side of some refried beans!
Old Town--dead as nuclear winter.
Swingles-oriented El Torito--Des Moines must be livelier, leaving me to wonder, "What does a swingle do on Christmas night?"
Julio's, a late-night favorite in North Park-- manana all the way.
In the course of our tooling about, cutting our way like gliding defensemen through a hockey rink of fog, we spotted the brightly lighted signs of Tower Records. Stumbling inside, we were startled to find we were hardly alone. They weren't cleaning up--they were selling records .
The Beatles were yeah-yeah-yeahing over the stereo speakers. Purple- and orange-haired lovelies were strolling about, muttering darkly to themselves about the lack of this or that compact disc (New Wave Yuppies?). And almost everyone had the appearance of having gotten a weekend pass from some of the city's finest detox centers.
We were strangers in a strange land, lost and sadly adrift on Christmas night. Ah, but what a nice bit of plastic won't fix.
We, too, cruised the aisles and pretty soon had maybe $175 of Tower Records' inventory.
The guy behind the counter, a tall sleepy-looking dude with an Afro the size of Crown Point, was asked by me why on earth they were open Christmas night. He glanced back accusingly, with a look that suggested he hadn't heard of Christmas night.
"Hey, I'm glad you are," I mumbled. "I just wondered why . . . you are."
"We're always open," he said. "Every day, 9 to midnight."
He looked at my album of "East Texas Serenaders," done by some guys from Lindale, Tex., circa 1927-1936, as though it might be a moon rock or the latest strain of Legionnaire's disease.
"Funky," he said. That's what I think he said.
My bewildered-looking brother-in-law asked about a classical album that I was sure would leave Record Man scratching his Afro. I leaned back and waited for the confirmation.
After a hollow silence, he scratched his 'fro and muttered hoarsely, "What? What's that, man?" And finally, "Did you look over there?" pointing skyward as though he had spotted Halley's Comet. His eyes resembled a street map of Tijuana.
After deepening our credit card debt, we drove back to Lindbergh Field energetically. The fog was almost gone--at least from our vantage point, which is, of course, one of acute meteorological naivete.
The woman at the Delta counter--a voluble sweetheart, compared to her Luftwaffe-type colleague--said the plane definitely wasn't coming to San Diego. Everyone would arrive by bus, say, at 2:15.