Secret Chickens

I always pause while driving up the street from my parents’ yellow, end-of-the-cul-de-sac house. My headlights fill the gap left by the sunken sun and illuminate my half of the mountain. Looking beyond this stretch of high beams, you can see the few hundred luminous spots that dot the valley below.

There are exactly three stoplights in Alpine. The rest of the dots are signatures of a few shops, one grocery store and thousands of homes housing families of well-off manual labor fathers with their stay home wives. Alpine is small but half the houses are big and spare garages are full of speedboats, RVs and dirt bikes. Not everyone has a stash of toys for weekends at the desert or river, though. There is one part of the main street where the apartment kids live in cubicles and just a stretch of freeway away is the Viejas Indian reservation. Its high rate of diabetes and suicide is tucked behind the brightness of the outlet mall and casino but locals know where to find it. 

Most making the 20-mile trek from San Diego go the extra half hour up to the higher town of Julian, with it’s famous apple pies, but some stop in my mountain town instead. They come on Sundays and they come for pancakes at Janet’s Montana Café or to dress up in boas and oversized hats at the Cobblestone Cottage Tea Shoppe. Meanwhile Alpinians go to one of the many churches off Tavern Road or the Alpine Beer Company; I prefer the latter. We were once famous for brunch at the Alpine Bread Basket or dinner at the Alpine Inn, but anyone whose parents waited tables in high school can tell you sanitation horror stories.

Now there’s a Carl’s Jr., as many Mexican restaurants as churches and a Starbucks. It was a travesty when a set of golden arches sprung up strategically near a freeway exit.

You can see most of Alpine by driving a seven-mile loop along Tavern and South Grade roads. Tavern takes you past restaurants, apartments, the tea shop, a surprising number of antique stores, the brewery, the two-watt radio station that broadcasts country music and little league games, and one of the few bits of sidewalk in town. South Grade then curves along by the vast chaparral of Wright’s Field where people ride horses through the dry landscape. It is also home to two gated communities. The Old Ranch has the little lake, where I ran barefoot through the mud as a child, and the more affluent New Ranch has the big lake, where I swam out to the docks at teenage birthday parties. You’re out of luck if you don’t know someone who lives in the Ranch though; they don’t hesitate to kick out those lacking the coveted Ranch sticker on their car. They’re very serious that way.

People have their little ways of rebellion though.

My friends keep chickens in the back yard. Don’t tell the Home Owners Association.


  1. Hi Ash,

    I really enjoyed this article! You’re making the everyday interesting! That is the sign of a GREAT writer! You are on your way for a breakthrough. Don’t give up keep plugging along and keep THE FAITH it will happen!

    Love, Daddy-O

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