I'm walking down Bacon Street last Saturday, four days before the state primary election that you probably snoozed through, and stop to check out the closed office of Ocean Beach City Councilman Sam Albrecht.
This is an off-beat politician's office: large, cheaply framed photographs of the pier and Newport Avenue, a giant O.B. mermaid poster, shelves full of legal books and model ships, a cluttered desk, coffeemaker, plants, oak conference table and chairs, “Re-elect Sam” signs in the window and, on the front door, a window decal of the official seal of the city of Ocean Beach, founded in 1908.
What's wrong with this picture? Ocean Beach was not founded in 1908. It was founded more than two decades earlier. Also, it is not a city and does not have a city council. I wish.
While it feels like a separate planet altogether, O.B. is a neighborhood with a homegrown town council that lobbies the San Diego City Council. Oh yeah, and there is no Sam Albrecht.
What's going on? Once again, Hollywood has descended on Ocean Beach.
O.B. has become one of the most recognizably filmed locations in San Diego, perhaps even surpassing Balboa Park, whose architecture was featured in Citizen Kane.
O.B. represented 1970s San Diego in Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous and has been revisited as a location for many movies and programs created by former porn impresario Stu Segall's sleazy B production house in San Diego.
In 2008, O.B. was the setting for the shortlived Fox/CBS TV series The Ex-List. That show's O.B. was a sanitized playground where photogenic young people in swimsuits spend their carefree days giggling at each other. I griped about this in 2008, when they were disrupting the neighborhood, blowing their wad of fairy-tale bubble gum all over the place.
O.B. is isolated, stuck in the past, funky and nearly untainted by corporate homogenization.
My concern is that too much attention could lead to the death of the character of Ocean Beach by attracting TV-brainwashed myth-seekers, who would be more than happy to replace O.B.'s complicated reality with all the nonthreatening, comforting crap found everywhere else. Fortunately, The Ex-List was cancelled.
So, here I stand in front of Sam Albrecht's office, a set for the new FX series Terriers. This show gives us yet another mythological Ocean Beach—this time it's a whole imaginary city— but I'm not quite as worried about this one for two reasons. One is that nobody watches FX. And two is that the show is about private investigators with maturity issues. This premise has the potential to address the complex realities of a little beach town and seems less likely to attract the type of person who would whine that there's no Jamba Juice on Newport Avenue. I'm not saying, though, that I'm glad they're filming here; I'd rather Hollywood just leave us the hell alone. It's hard to stay isolated and local when they keep shining the spotlight on you.
A young man and woman, who look as cute as something straight out of an Ex-List episode, walking by on their way toward Newport Avenue (probably to the fucking Starbucks), glance over at Sam's office. I set my bicycle against the wall and ask them:
“So what do you think of this guy, Albrecht? Gonna vote for him for Ocean Beach City Council on Tuesday?” They look at each other for help. Finally the man speaks: “I dunno. What do you think?” I tell him: “I think Albrecht's a big phony.
I'm not voting for him!” “Thanks,” he says, “for the information.” Another couple approaches from the other direction, a little older, a little more granola.
They must know what's up.
“Voting to re-elect Albrecht?” I ask. They both respond that they don't know enough about him. They're not sure. I point inside the office.
“I don't think you should vote for him,” I suggest. “Look at that ship in a bottle. Is that the ship in a bottle of a real candidate?” They gaze for a moment into the window, as if trying to put their finger on what's wrong with Sam—or with me—and then move along.
I spend several hours there, asking everyone who passes by if they're going to vote for this nonexistent councilman of a nonexistent governing body of a nonexistent city.
None of them has anything to say. None of them informs me that Ocean Beach is not a city or that Albrecht is make-believe. Except for one guy.
He is wearing a hoodie and dark shades.
First he laughs his ass off at my question. Then he says, “It's a TV show, man. They were filming here all day yesterday.”
“Well,” I ask, “can I still vote for him as a write-in?” I return Monday, the day before the election, and the set's being packed up and placed on trucks. I take a photograph of the iconic, mythological O.B. city seal and Sam's name on the door of the empty storefront.
Truth in O.B. has always been stranger than fiction, but now it's in constant danger of being replaced by it. When it happens, will anybody even notice?