The old El Camino Motel in Imperial Beach inspired Leah Stephens “for reasons of absurdity.”
She took a picture of the motel and began inserting random objects in its abandoned pool by hand—a 1970s roller skater, a mountain of peanuts, bunny rabbits with a bride and so on.
“I’m not attached to the place,” Stephens told Patch via Skype. “I didn’t do it for sentimental reasons. I did it for the reasons of absurdity I guess.”
Stephens, 42, had moved to California from the Midwest to fulfill a dream to work for a postcard company. It was a good job, she said, but the repetitive nature of the work drove her away.
In 2008, she says, she quit her job and developed an alter ego named the Patron Saint of Postcards and started producing thousands of her own handmade cards.
Her persona came complete with a crown, cape and apron adorned with postcards.
Stephens then spent her days wandering around Imperial Beach and other San Diego communities meeting people and selling or giving away postcards.
“I wasn’t necessarily going out in the world looking for anything in particular, but I was just going out and resonating with people who really enjoyed the concept of these handmade postcards,” Stephens said.
One day she stumbled on the closed-for-business El Camino Motel, took a picture of the pool and began inserting random people and objects.
Ultimately, Stephens made more than 100 variations of postcards inspired by the El Camino Motel.
The El Camino Motel was demolished last fall. A part of Imperial Beach for decades, people outside IB may know the motel off state Route 75 as a backdrop in the short-lived HBO series John from Cincinnatti.
To keep track of who got a postcard, she took pictures of recipients.
“It was this weird business practice I developed,” she said. “There’s not a real logical component to any of this. … Absurd ideas really do fuel my life. There’s no other way to say it. Random is a way of my life.”
Stephens eventually expanded her wandering beyond San Diego to Slab City and Salvation Mountain in Imperial Valley.
"This was a time of freedom, and even though I ended up barefoot and pregnant by the end of this phase, I can honestly say that I lived life to the fullest when I was the Patron Saint of Postcards," Stephens said on her website.
Stephens now lives in Kansas City, MO.
El Camino-inspired postcards are no longer for sale. Other postcards made over the course of more than a decade include the Wrongland USA collection—still available for purchase at Caldwell Antiques in Encinitas.