Let Inga Tell You: Coming to California



June 30 will be the 43rd anniversary of my former husband and I arriving in San Diego. A less auspicious beginning you’d be hard put to find.

It had all started four years earlier shortly after my husband, a recent medical school graduate, and I were married in 1969 during the height of the Vietnam War. Mere weeks into his internship year, he received a letter asking if he wanted to go to Vietnam next month as a general medical officer, or serve two years after he’d finished his specialty training (a program called the Berry Plan). Well, that was pretty easy. A year of internship and three years of residency training later, we were assigned to San Diego.

We’d never been to California before but reports from the newspapers in Denver had formed vague images in our minds of eternal sunshine, swaying palm trees, exotic Spanish addresses, nude encounter groups, mass murders, and drive-in churches. So we were (mostly) pretty excited.

I’m still trying to analyze why everything went so wrong during that move. Maybe it was my husband’s ambivalence about a two-year assignment to MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) — a truly abysmal use of his specialty skills — that led him to rupture his Achilles tendon playing tennis a mere five days before he had to report for duty in San Diego. We immediately tried to get an extension on his July 1 report date, but were told to show up or “pay the consequences.” (Firing squad?)

Maybe our cat, Harry, wouldn’t have had a psychotic break if the freight train hadn’t passed right next to our car in Glenwood Springs. (The poor kitty spent the rest of the trip in a catatonic state underneath his litter box.)

And maybe I, as the only hope for this mobile sanitarium, shouldn’t have eaten the burrito from the roadside stand the very first day, forcing my disabled husband to drive.

And thus we wound our abysmal way across the West in the late June heat, taking scheduled breaks for my husband to take aspirin for his spinal anesthesia headache and unscheduled breaks for me to be violently sick.

The third day we were bombing along at 70 mph when I signaled him to pull over.

“I can’t right now,” he said, checking his rearview mirror. “Try to get your head out the window.”

The harsh reality is that when you stick your head out the window to be sick at 70 mph, it all blows right back in, splat against the back window.

“Did you have to do that?” my husband grumbled, finally able to pull over. “Now I can’t see out the back.”

I opened the car door and fell out into the scrub brush. Because of his heavy plaster cast and crutches, he couldn’t get out without my help.

“Inga,” he said anxiously. “Get up. People will think you are dead.”

“That’s all right,” I said. “I am very close to it.” (After three days of severe nausea, you’d sell your grandmother not to have to get into a moving vehicle.)

Our first night in San Diego had been pre-booked at the officers’ quarters at Miramar Naval Air Station, which we were dismayed to note when we arrived expressly prohibited pets. Neither of us slept that night, not only because of the deafening noise of jets, but because we were terrified they’d find our cat and shoot it. (If they were willing to ice my husband, what chance did the cat have?)

We fled early the next morning to the Biltmore Motel in Bird Rock, which also expressly prohibited pets, then went down to MCRD to buy uniforms. As I drove, my husband was frantically studying the officers manual trying to memorize rank insignias and figure out who was supposed to salute whom. As it turned out, it didn’t really matter initially, because with crutches, he would have fallen flat on his face.

Unfortunately, in our absence, Harry decided to sunbathe in the window of our motel room, even though we’d closed the curtains. When we returned, we found a “what part of ‘NO PETS’ do you not understand?” note on the door. We were evicted.

Meanwhile, we borrowed a wheelchair from MCRD so that I could roll my husband around downtown La Jolla (location of our next motel). Trying to get down to the water, I lost control of him on the steep hill on the south end of Prospect Street where he crashed into a storm drain, miraculously not breaking the other leg. This wheelchair stuff is harder than it looks.

So that’s our Day 1 in La Jolla photo, 43 years ago this week. Fortunately, it all got better (well, until we divorced 10 years later). Every time I look at this picture, I can’t figure out: how on earth did I get him off the ground?

Inga’s lighthearted looks at life appear regularly in La Jolla Light. Reach her at