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The most reliable fund raising device in this folksy city is the exorbitantly priced dinner for any good cause - staged under the guise of honoring some willing citizen whom no one wishes to offend by failing to send a check or to attend. Groups like Meals on Wheels, and Planned Parenthood.

Any San Diegan addicted to this form of night life can be out four or five nights a week - lulled into the sense that they are the sustaining core of San Diego life. If you add in their day jobs and volunteer work, they may in fact be just that.

This dinner you and I are walking in on now is a trump card in the social deck - a stand-alone among dress-up evenings. We are honoring more than 500 men and women who have done something good for this region, and been interviewed by Fred Lewis over the past 10 years on ITV's Heart of San Diego.


We are all on our best behavior, trying to think of amusing brief bursts of dinner conversation, anything except golf or politics. Doug Manchester sits with his wife Betsy across the dinner table here in the ballroom of his very own Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel. Waiters throng as far as you and I can see, enough to perform the improbable task of serving warm dinner plates to 500 guests.

"Red, Madame, or white?" Wine glasses are emptied and silently refilled. The sound level rises. A mellowness begins to ease care in faces across the ballroom.

San Diego's favorite emcees, Jack White and Cathy Clark, are at the microphones warming up the house. Several of the honorees offer quick glimpses of San Diego history. Malin Burnham talks of the city's pioneering families, including the Burnhams. Peter Q. Davis, an almost mayor who was born in Coronado, talks of harbor history.

Dessert and coffee come, and soon we smile at new friends across our table, stroll out through the towering lobby and join the long queue for our cars. We have done it, one more time.

Some sorehead is mumbling that she would really rather just mail in her check. But, I wonder, would you?


And you, by the way, look great tonight.