Reflections on the OB Mystique

by on January 3, 2011 · 9 comments

in Culture, Ocean Beach

Editor: This nostalgic-seeming post by former OBceian now living in the Bay Area Michael Steinberg got to us a little late for an “end of year” article, but here it is anyhow.

San Francisco, December 31, 2010 -Some might look at this phenomenon as a sociological thingie, others as the convergence of a particular time and a specific place

But no matter how you look at it, you’ll never convince me that there isn’t something you might call the OB mystique.

In my experience, the more you try to deny it, the more it comes rolling over you like a wave so big it crashes into the bottom of the OB Pier.

And this in spite of the fact that I haven’t lived in San Diego’s Ocean Beach in a quarter of a century.

In fact I haven’t even visited since the beginning of this century. And even then the OB mystique raised its graceful head.

In 2001 I drove into OB from Back East, not knowing where I was going to stay. For some reason I thought of Kathy Sorrell. I parked on Bacon Street and walked up to the door I guessed was hers.

I knocked but no one answered. I knocked again. Same thing. Yet I knew it was Kathy’s place. I could hear a bird singing, and Kathy always had birds.

After a walk along the beach and the cliffs I returned to find Kathy there. She was surprised and glad to put me up.

But this year the “phenomenon” really came a-knocking. Actually the recurrent tapping started in the latter part of 2010.

And it all happened in San Francisco, where I returned to about a year and a half ago.

It all began in early October at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park. On Saturday night I was maneuvering my way through the masses to get closer to the stage to see Steve Earle and the Dukes close out the show.

Suddenly I heard someone bellow, “Hey, there’s a Peoples Food Co-op in San Diego, where we live!”

I looked up to see a burly lit-up 20-something guy grinning at me. I was wearing a hoodie from the Kalamazoo (MI) People’s Food Co-op a friend originally from there had given me.

“You mean OB Peoples?” I returned without missing a beat.

“You know it?”

“Yeah. In fact I used to live in OB and worked there.”


“And this sweatshirt? It’s from my friend Sande who used to live with at the end of Muir Street.”


“We used to work together at Peoples too.”

“Whoa! What do you do now?”

“I work at a food co-op here. It’s down by the Pacific. They call it Ocean Beach. I call it SFOB. One of the guys I work with used to work at OB Peoples too.”

Whoa! Unreal! Well, all these people here live in OB too!

I looked around to see about a dozen more lit-up 20-somethings nodding and smiling at me.

Whoa! Now I felt all lit up too. But it was close to show time, so I made my farewells and struggled on toward the stage.

Later in the month of October I was at home. The phone rang. Usually I let it go to voice mail, like most Bay Area denizens. But this time, for some reason I picked up.

“Hi Mike,” my sister Sue said. She lives in Connecticut, where we hail from. I hadn’t heard from her in a while.

“Sue!” I blurted, filled with anxiety. Typically an unexpected phone call means bad news, like somebody died.

“Guess where I am?”

“Uh, here? I tried.


“I have no idea then.”

“I’m sitting on the OB wall.”

“What!” During the times I’d lived in OB my other two siblings had visited me there, but never Sue.

Turns out she was there with her boyfriend Jim, who was out working a union job in southern Orange County. They soon came north to visit and we went out to eat on Haight Street and watched the World Series.

While in the Southland they loved to hang out in OB, hence the phone call. Jim had worked at OB Peoples back in the day, after hitchhiking across country as a teenager.

As Thanksgiving approached I was working at Other Avenues Food Co-op down at SFOB. A young couple shopping asked me, “Is this a co-op?”

I should have known, but it still always takes me by surprise. Yes, they were from OB, and were members of Peoples.

“Yeah, we live on Cape May,” they told me.

“Uh huh, the first place I lived in OB was on Cape May,” I said. “It was between Cable and, uh…”

“Sunset Cliffs,” they filled in.

“Right. I think it was 4831.”

“You’re kidding!”

“There was a big avocado tree in the back and…”

“That’s where we live!”


“We just bought it!”

“Yeah,” I said, “last I knew Bonnie was living there. But that’s been a while, so…”

“Isn’t that the name of the woman we got it from?” the woman asked the man.

“Uh huh,” he answered. “And” he said to me, “I grew up in the apartment building next door.

If you needed more convincing about the OB mystique, do you need any more now?

But that’s not all.

In mid-December I was taking my lunch break at work. As usual I was walking down the four blocks to the Pacific, where I gaze out at the ocean, the surfers, the Marin Headlands and Point Reyes when it isn’t too foggy, and the Farallons when it’s really clear.

On the way my eyes caught on an OB sticker on the back window of a white sedan. Not all that strange, as it’s a surfer town here too, part of the circuit.

But then, further down, I spied a pickup truck, white as well, with an OB sticker affixed to its tailgate.

What were the chances?

Happy New Year Obecians!

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Em January 3, 2011 at 1:22 pm

No kidding, I was in Portland a couple months ago and our bartender had lived in OB at the hostel, crazy how many ppl pass thru our town


Geoff Page January 3, 2011 at 4:42 pm

I’ll go you all one better. I was walking through Raglan, a surfspot on the west coast of New Zealand’s north island in December 2009 wearing my favorite OB t-shirt when someone yelled out OB! Imagine my surprise. It was a young guy who had lived in OB and loved it and we talked for a while about how great a place OB is. He was on his way to a job in Australia but it was clear he left a part of his heart in OB.


Frank Gormlie January 3, 2011 at 4:45 pm

“Rag Land”?


Geoff Page January 3, 2011 at 5:06 pm

The name has a royal origin according to Wikipedia:

The current name of Raglan was adopted in 1858 in honour of Fitzroy Somerset, 1st Lord Raglan, who was the commander of British forces in the Crimean War at the time.

The original Maori name was Whangaroa, which I liked better.


Genie-zuchinni January 3, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Michael! you gave me goose bumps…. What a very cool tale. If you ever do come down you sure can stay here with me (I am actually a little under a mile away, but a nice walk, bike, bus, or what-ever). You did leave out the kids name for you was Michael Mimi-cycle, which I still refer to you as when I ask about you. ha ha. So glad you are doing well, and thanks so much for the ‘good vibes’.


BillRayDrums January 3, 2011 at 11:45 pm

I can see my house from this post. :D


Helena January 5, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Having met this red-headed rascal journalist Mikey O’Steiney while also working at OB Peoples, oh what memories! And this story is now viral, having forwarded its link to all my FB friends who also worked there once upon a time. A magic time and place indeed!


Claudia Queiroz January 5, 2011 at 2:50 pm

My Dear Friend Michael…
We haven’t connected yet, but we are getting closer…
As in “Club Claudia”…


Alissa January 5, 2011 at 8:18 pm

CLASSIC. I was born in OB and mostly feel like a part of it, but never really got too involved…
Love this.
I miss the old peoples still…
This reminds me of a photo at the OBHS photo showing that I absolutely loved – an OB sticker on a car in Scotland!
Good times.


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