There is a place that devours overly curious postdocs in much the same way that a Venus flytrap devours bugs. It deposits its postdoc victims on a nude beach from which there is seemingly no escape. This is the story of the time I was eaten by that Venus flytrap and how I fought my way back to civilization.
You’re fresh out of graduate school and have just arrived in La Jolla, California, for a postdoc position at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). Try not to do what I did.
First of all, I should point out that I’m talking about the 1996-1998 time frame here. I don’t know how things are now in 2014 and beyond. If things are still as I recall them, however, you are probably staying at The Lodge at Torrey Pines. It’s a rather attractive place — comfortable rooms; golf course overlooking the Pacific — and conveniently just a few blocks north of TSRI (part of the golf course runs behind TSRI). If, like me, you make the mistake of arriving on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, forget about apartment hunting since none of the apartment complex offices will be open on Monday. Doh!
If you’re going to do what I did, go ahead and find a Roberto’s Taco Stand now, because you’ll need the calories. There used to be one at the lagoon between La Jolla and Del Mar where you can enjoy the ocean breeze as you scarf down your taco.
When I arrived in La Jolla, the first thing I did after checking into the hotel was grab a phone book and start looking up apartment complexes. But since, as I’ve already said, all the offices were closed for the extended holiday weekend, I decided to relax a little and go about the area and get familiar with things. To my surprise, it was not a terribly busy local. Torrey Pines Road is certainly a busy highway, but it isn’t too busy, and I never really saw traffic get backed up on it when I was there. Scripps was just south of The Lodge at Torrey Pines. — just passed one other hotel, actually, and beyond that traffic got busier as you continued south into the UCSD vicinity. Walking south along Torrey Pines road, one quickly comes to a small road just south of TSRI that juts toward the ocean to the right. Follow that, and you’ll come to a hang glider park (Torrey Pines Gliderport).
I watched the hang gliders for a little while: It was something I had never seen before outside of a movie. They would run down a slight slope and usually gain a little bit of lift before reaching the edge of the cliff, and then they would sail out over the beach 300 feet below.
It occurred to me as I watched the hang gliders that I had never seen the Pacific Ocean before, and I suddenly wanted to get down there. But how? Looking around, there was one rather precarious-appearing “trail” that meandered dangerously down one cliff wall, but when I went over to inspect it, I saw that the way down was marked with a warning sign stating that the path was too unstable due to recent rains. It looked to be a hair-raising descent, regardless. As I hung out and watched the hang-gliding though, I noticed periodically that a person or two ignored the sign and made their way down the path. I watched how the various people navigated the precipice on the way down, and having seen several people over the course of a half hour or so make the descent and arrive on the beach unscathed, I decided, rather timidly I admit, to give it a go. And so I descended the cliff.
The Pacific Ocean in the vicinity of San Diego is quite blue. In contrast, the Atlantic waters off Myrtle Beach have more of a green tint. The water at Black’s Beach is also somewhat cold compared to the water at Myrtle Beach, but that didn’t matter to me as I had on my street clothes anyway. Once I was down on the beach, I realized it was a little bit of a mistake since I was already getting sand in my shoes and I really wasn’t prepared to roll up my jeans to try to wade in the water. I walked along the bottom of the cliff for awhile and found a shady, rocky spot where I crouched down and enjoyed the weather as I listened to the soothing sounds of the surf.
The beach was very sparsely populated, which surprised me a little. Then again, the only way that I could see down was the cliff trail that I had just descended, which was a pretty hair-raising way to get to the beach and which required one to ignore the “DO NOT USE” sign.
As I crouched down there in the nook in the rocks, watching and listening to the surf, a guy strolled passed me. He was a blonde, muscular-looking tan guy, and he stopped maybe fifty feet from me. He was also naked. Interesting … so THAT’S how it is in California! He put a beach towel down on the sand and lay upon it, and I watched him for a few minutes before it registered on me that I was staring at a naked man, then I quickly looked away and pretended I didn’t notice him. A little while later, a rather attractive woman strolled passed, and she was naked too. Golden breasts; neatly shaved twat — very nice. I watched her, wondering how painful it was to get sunburned nipples, when I suddenly had a horrible revelation. These people walking passed were all naked, and I was dressed entirely in my street clothes … and I was crouching in a semi-hidden spot between the rocks … and I was leering at them all. I looked like a god damn pervert! They probably all thought I was jerking off over there or something. Look at the little perv over there! Oh Christ Almighty. I sprang up out of my little nest in the rocks and quickly started to walk down the beach.
Not everyone was naked, but quite a few people were. I didn’t know the name of the beach I was on at the time (Black’s Beach), but as I discovered later, it is a clothing optional beach. Technically, I think this is (or was at the time) against the law in San Diego, but it’s one of those things that the police pretend not to notice.
I made to leave the beach, but I quickly discovered I had a problem: The precarious trail in the cliff I had come down looked infinitely more daunting from this end. Yes, it was dangerous as hell coming down and I was lucky I didn’t break my neck, but at least I didn’t have to fight gravity to get to the beach. Going back up though — it didn’t even look possible. I scanned the horizon to the north and south and could see no clear breaks in the cliff in either direction. To the south, I could see a bridge or similar structure very far away, but it looked to be several miles, and trudging along for several miles with my feet sinking into the sand was not something that appealed to me. I saw no structures at all to the north, but I had to go one way or the other and the north won the coin toss.
As I strolled along the beach heading north, I heard the splashing of watery footsteps gaining on me from behind. I turned to look and saw something rather peculiar. It was an Asian man, Chinese judging by his hair style and clothing (more conservative and subdued than, say, Japanese or South Korean). The guy held a pair of dress shoes in one hand and a plastic gift shop-looking shopping bag in the other. His black dress pants were hitched up by about a foot as he splashed along. He wore a white, long-sleeved dress shirt and tie, and on his face was an awkwardly large-looking pair of thick-rimmed glasses. He kept his head pointed almost straight down as he splashed along very rapidly, looking up only now and then very quickly to make sure he wasn’t about to bump into someone. Instantly, I recognized him for what he was: Another god damn lost postdoc. Hell, he probably came down to the beach the same way I did, and now he was trapped like me, desperately trying to find his way off this depraved alien world of naked people!
That cliff trail I had come down at the Torrey Pines Gliderport — it’s like a god damn Venus flytrap or the mouth of a pitcher plant to postdocs.
That Chinese guy was the first of three lost postdocs I saw on that beach other than myself. You could tell because they — um, I mean “we” — stood out like sore thumbs. We were all horribly inappropriately dressed for a clothing-optional beach, although at least I had jeans on: Those other three guys all wore black dress pants like they had just stepped away from presentations they were giving. The other three were also all Asian, and walked very fast with their heads down, trying their best not to leer at the naked people, or trying to not appear flustered or uncomfortable in their strange new environment. It’s kind of like, if you accidentally find yourself surrounded by bears in the woods, you don’t want the bears to smell fear on you, so you just look away nonchalantly. Pfft — bears. Meh.
I continued walking for — for fucking ever, really. The beach just went on and on and on. What are you going to do? Stop and ask directions? I didn’t want to walk up to some hot naked chick and start talking to her for fear that some pissed off boyfriend might spring up out of nowhere and pound my ass into the sand. I didn’t want to get beat up under any circumstances, but come on … getting beat up by a naked man would just be fucking humiliating. And I didn’t want to ask some naked man to point the way off the beach for fear of which appendage he might chose to point the way, so I just kept walking. For fucking miles. Eventually, the beach ended, but not the cliff.
I came to a place were the surf reached right up to the boulders at the base of the cliff, and the only way to navigate along was to hop along the tops of the boulders. I did that for awhile, hoping to get around the corner and see a nice place where I could ascend the cliff. Once passed the rocky outcrop, there was indeed a trail of sorts that did in fact lead away from the coast. Kind of … yeah. It wasn’t what I was expecting though. I expected to find a nice path off the beach and up the cliff that would lead back to Scripps or the hotel or something. Instead, I found a god damn desert.
It wasn’t just a desert. I found myself on a sort of wilderness trail. The trail led to the top of a hill, and once there I hoped I would see civilization on the other side. The top of the hill didn’t seem all that far away. It was just right there in front of me, really, and if I could just travel in a straight path, I would be at the top of the hill in no time. Let me show you the trail …
So yeah, the trail wasn’t all that straight. Boy was I thirsty. And tired. The trail zigged and zagged worse than the queue to get on a log flume ride at Six Flags in August. You know there is something cool and refreshing at the end, and that sliver of hope is just enough to keep you from giving up or passing out along the way.
Eventually, after navigating this trail that reminded me a lot of the wasteland from Beyond Thunderdome, I made it to the end and emerged onto a dirt road. A … dirt … road. Fuck me! Where’s the god damn hotel? Water …
Fortunately, I had walked north along the coast for so long that heading south on the dirt road was pretty much a no-brainer. I went south and tripped along, my legs no longer wanting to lift themselves up off the ground. If you could have filmed me walking along that road, I probably was doing a pretty good impersonation of a zombie, sans the makeup. The road I was on was Torrey Pines Park Road, and after staggering along for 500 or 1000 feet or so, I came to — Oh thank God! — a golf course. I staggered along in my zombie gait, knowing that my hotel was just beyond a fairway or two. I got to my room, drank a glass of water, and collapsed onto my bed.
So anyway, that’s my tale of surviving Black’s Beach on my first or second day in San Diego. If you’re new there, just be warned that at Torrey Pines Gliderport, there is a path leading down to the beach that functions a lot like a Venus flytrap bred to prey on newly arrived postdocs. If you’re a postdoc, it will eat you and deposit you in an alien environment in which you just don’t belong. You are an invasive species there. Your nerdy business attire and your awkward demeanor will give you away. That laser pointer in your pocket will be of no use to you there, nor will that flash drive you have that’s stuffed with PowerPoint presentations (and porn too — admit it). That beach might look tempting from up high, but once down there, you’re just going to end up hustling along, moving hurriedly passed the nakkid indigenous tribes in a desperate attempt to climb your way out of the trap. Good luck, my friend! 🙂
— R. S. Huber