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Sprawl and Strip Malls?

Some visitor reviews of San Diego might come as a surprise.

Edited by Thomas K. Arnold

THE SUMMER TOURIST SEASON officially ended last month, and now is the time to reflect: Is The City Formerly Known as America’s Finest really that? For some answers, let’s turn to the popular opinion site operated by the folks at Shopping.com, Epinions.com, which, according to its tagline, offers “unbiased reviews by real people” of everything from cameras, movies and jewelry to restaurants, tourist attractions and theme parks.

Overall, our city draws high marks, with a rating of four and one-half stars (out of a possible five) from 82 recent visitors. Kudos range from cruise-ship visitors who call San Diego a “great port of call” with “so much to see and do here, one day just doesn’t do justice” to summer vacationers from all over, including one from Houston who calls our fair burg “a fun, elegant and friendly destination, blessed with a beautiful coastline and enviable weather.”

Still, there are some detractors. One complains, “Leave the tourist areas and you will see the real San Diego—sprawl and strip malls.” The posting continues, “The far majority of San Diegans live in cookie-cutter homes that look exactly like their 500 neighbors. The only way you know where you live is the distance from the local strip mall. New Wal-Mart equals new neighborhood . . . San Diego can be a model example of what happens when developers take charge of a city. It will make those of you who come from true cities really appreciate where you come from.”

Among local attractions, Legoland receives an overall rating of four out of five stars. Though one critic calls it “an utter and complete waste of time and gas,” the prevailing opinion is that the Carlsbad theme park is great for little kids. “Unlike Disneyland a few hours north in Anaheim,” writes one Epinions.com reviewer, “Legoland is interactive, manageable and relatively calm and quiet.”

The San Diego Zoo draws high marks, with only a few dings. One reviewer with small children derides the lack of a tram from the parking area, while another blasts the proliferation of gift shops: “The panda and koala bear exhibits seemed to be the most ridiculous—blatant marketing toward young children. T-shirts, stuffed animals, mouse pads and ball caps were just a few of the items to be found (at high prices) next to all the major exhibits. We didn’t end up buying anything from the zoo. . . I think I felt too inundated with merchandise. It was such an obvious ‘tourist trap,’ I just could not participate.”

SeaWorld receives high marks for its unusual assortment of marine animals on display, as well as its rides and shows. But even fans blast the park as “too expensive,” particularly the snack bars, where one visitor complains of having to spend “$8 for a not-so-tasty cheeseburger.” She liked the gift shop better, where she spent just $5 on a “12-print pack of postcards to send to the folks in Arkansas.”

A wide swath of San Diego restaurants made the Epinions.com grade, from high-end The Prado at Balboa Park (“Every single server was extremely good-looking”) to tiny Barrio Logan walk-up Las Cuatro Milpas (“THE place for authentic, home-style Mexican food!”). Ironically, a longtime favorite among locals, the Old Town Mexican Café, only garners two out of five stars from two reviewers, one of whom sums up his critique with the words “mediocre food, bad service.”


From the Toolbox to the Catbox

FOR YEARS, San Diego’s WD-40 has reigned as the world’s most famous lubricant, mostly for taking the squeak out of door hinges and making screws go in a little easier. So one can only imagine how WD-40 makers cringed a few weeks back when they picked up USA Today and saw a huge photo of South Korean protesters burning a North Korean flag, using a can of WD-40 as an accelerant.

But that was hardly the only unorthodox use over the years of WD-40——which, incidentally, was developed in 1953 and used by Convair to protect the outer skin of the Atlas missile from rust and corrosion. Consider:

• Last year, a British newspaper reported police were urging pub owners to spray toilets with WD-40 to discourage drug users from snorting coke on them.

• A health Web site reports the growing use of WD-40 as “an unproven and potentially harmful folk remedy for [arthritis] pain relief” by rubbing it into the skin over affected joints.

• In 2002, police in Chattanooga, Tennessee, took a domestic disturbance call and found an angry woman who had thrown a can of WD-40, “busting a window.” Two years later, a man in Medford, Oregon was sentenced to nearly six years in prison for breaking into a neighbor’s home and spraying him with WD-40.

• In the 1996 spoof Spy Hard, Leslie Nielsen plays a secret agent nicknamed WD-40.

• In 2000, a Web site asked the public how they’ve used WD-40. Among the more unusual responses: to shine the leaves of artificial houseplants, to lubricate the metal fasteners on a corset and to keep “kittydoo from sticking to electric cat-box rakes.”

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