Simon Says STOP

September 2014

I made an earlier post which tells about various rail-based transportation options I used to travel around the San Diego area.  This is a “street trolley” I also rode one day while downtown:


I have ridden these in many other cities (Savannah, St. Augustine, New Orleans and Key West, just to name a few) and they are a GREAT way to get acquainted with a city, especially if you have limited time there.  For one price you can ride around town all day and have the driver explain what you are looking at and not have to worry about traffic or parking.  You can get on and off at any of the stops so I generally ride the entire length, then go again and get off to spend more time at venues which interest me or to take photos.

One of the places we visited on the San Diego tour was Balboa Park, a HUGE (1,200+ acres) city park east of town which features the San Diego Zoo and many, many museums.

While we were driving through Balboa Park the driver told what I thought was an amusing story, one which I have repeated to several people and which I will share with you now.

First, another photo to help tell the story:


This is part of a photo I took of a map of the area while I was out on Point Loma.  I have cropped the photo to focus on two specific things:

First, the San Diego International Airport – at the center of the photo.  Second, Balboa Park – the green area above and to the right of the tan area (downtown San Diego) in the lower right corner.

The black line separating the tan and green areas is a highway.  Balboa Park is above where the highway “dips,” then goes up a little before dropping almost straight down.

The San Diego airport only has one runway to service large passenger jets.  It slopes from west-northwest to east-southeast in the photo.  Because winds are almost always coming in off the ocean, jets generally land by coming in near the downtown area and depart by taking off west, towards the ocean.

OK – If you take a ruler and extend the runway right you will see that the approach path  crosses directly over the southernmost part of Balboa Park.

Now – the amusing story the trolley driver told us:

There is an outdoor amphitheater at the southern end of Balboa Park called the Starlight Bowl.  Because it is close to the airport, jets are quite low as they pass overhead.  Consequently the noise from these jets presents a problem for people watching and listening to performances at Starlight (again, an outdoor, open-air facility).

Solution – The theater established a set of small, strategically placed “traffic lights” (red/yellow/green) which could only be seen by on-stage performers, the orchestra and the orchestra conductor.  During the performance a “lookout” would watch for approaching aircraft and turn on the yellow light, then, when the plane reached a specific point, the red light.  When the red light came on EVERYTHING stopped.  Performers froze in place and the orchestra stopped playing.  After the jet passed the yellow, then green light would come on and everyone would resume with the production.

After explaining this the driver started a cassette tape which played the following:



Sound of jet flying over


-la-homa where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain….

I find this story very amusing, however in researching this post (and after repeating this story for years) I learned that although I was in San Diego in 2014, the Starlight Bowl fell into disrepair and closed in 2012, so while what the driver told us was true (at one time) it doesn’t pertain any more.  I’m glad I didn’t stick around to go to a performance and experience it for myself.

Patrons didn’t find it very amusing as productions suffered from numerous interruptions and what might have been a two-hour show could easily extend to almost three.


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