Walk in to the downtown San Luis Obispo post office on Marsh Street. Find the row of post office boxes closest to the main lobby. Go back about three-quarters of the way, near the top. P.O. Box 801. That’s me. That’s my home in San Luis Obispo.
Charlotte and I have had a running battle for nearly a year. Since moving to Nipomo, we’ve opened up a second box down there for our mail. “We don’t need two P.O. boxes,” my wife now insists. “Why don’t we just close the one in San Luis Obispo?”
To answer, I have to back up a bit, all the way to March of 1996, when we made the move from Los Osos to San Luis Obispo. Charlotte was excited. I was excited. The little house on Pacific Street was everything we wanted, a dream come true. After five years in the hinterlands of Morro Bay and Los Osos, we were returning to the SLO Life.
One of the first things I did was to walk to the post office on Marsh Street and rent a box. We hadn’t had one before, but felt it was time. A good excuse to come downtown, an easy way to collect the mail. I plunked down my money and the clerk handed me two keys. P.O. Box 801.
The number had a nice, strong ring to it. And easy to remember.
We dutifully shared the new post office box number with friends and family, making it our official mailing address for everything from magazines, to bills, to Christmas cards. In those days, my radio show was on in the mornings, broadcasting from an old house on Chorro Street. I’d finish the show and always swing by the post office before heading home.
It became a good, comfortable routine. Living so close to downtown, Charlotte and I walked everywhere. Going to fetch the mail was fun because there was always someone we knew standing in the lobby, or waiting in line. If we went out of town for a few days, well, there was no need to worry about the mail. P.O. Box 801 became a smart investment.
Then came the house fire and the loss of our five beloved animals in December of 1997. The cards and condolences stuffed the tiny P.O. Box 801 as Charlotte and I wrestled with what to do next. Atascadero came calling, so we reluctantly moved north. But we agreed to keep the San Luis Obispo mailing address. Yes, it was partly because of SOGS (South-of-the-Grade Snobbery), but also because we needed to maintain some kind of emotional connection to San Luis Obispo.
Ten years later, living in Nipomo, Charlotte keeps asking about the need for two post office boxes. I keep insisting that we need 801.
My dad worked in retail, so our family bounced around like gypsies. Before the age of seven, I had gone from New Jersey to Washington state, with brief stopovers in Oregon and California, back to New Jersey, and then out to Illinois. My parents never stopped moving. Once, I accepted a teaching position in Indiana, in large part to be closer to Mom and Dad in Chicago. They retired to Seattle less than six months later.
My older brothers did not share my dad’s wanderlust. John anchored himself in a Seattle suburb and raised all three children in the same house. Bruce still lives in the house he bought in 1981 and has no plans to leave. Their roots are firm.
I am somewhat settled given my twenty years on the Central Coast, but I bounce around on a smaller scale, having lived locally in Los Osos, Morro Bay, Atascadero, San Luis Obispo, and now in Nipomo. Who knows how long we’ll be there?
And I don’t make it downtown as much as I used to, so visits to the post office become weekly, instead of daily, at night when there’s rarely anyone around to greet.
But P.O. Box 801 is my small, slender connection to the town I love. It is the one tiny root I have been able to plant. Year after year, friends and family still know where to find me. Besides, it’s one of the few places in San Luis Obispo where the rent is actually affordable.
I intend to keep that little “downtown rental” for as long as I live on the Central Coast. Feel free to write. P.O. Box 801. Anytime. Give me a reason to go home.
SLO City News (March 2006)