Rich is right about SF... ...and yet...and yet. True confessions: Part of me wouldn't be that sad to learn that, in the aftermath of a major seismic event, the majority of California fell into the Pacific Ocean. Or became its own country. Or both. The whole state is so strange, but I can't quite get my finger on why it feels this way. I have a hypothesis that has everything to do with the entertainment industry--specifically the visual (movie and television) kind--but the explanation can't be that easy. There must be something else, something peculiarly California about the weirdness. (It could just be me, too, though I've now confirmed this feeling with other non-Californians.) Yesterday, we drove down the 101 from San Fran to San Jose and, eventually, to Pismo Beach. (Greta pronounces it "piss mo," with a distinct pause between the syllables.) We wanted to see the coastline without taking Rt. 1 (which I've been told takes 13 hours to get from SF to LA--sans toddler--a luxury of time we don't have). Large sections along 101 are completely unpopulated. Other portions are lined by vast farms worked almost exclusively by squads of migrant workers. Given the intense political debate regarding the status of these workers, you would think that the tiny little farm downs that dot the thin heavily-farmed valley between the coastal cliffs and scorched-brown Sierra Madre range and its offshoots to the north might display something regarding their feelings on the issue. Or at least political placards telling Latinos to voice their opinions. But at every Costco and KFC and Chevron and ubiquitous Jack-in-the-Box, there are the same dusty smiling white faces on one side of the counter and lined red-brown faces of the Spanish-speakers on the other. On this trip I've been reading the old classic Angels, Apes, and Victorians by Will Irvine. It's one of the best joint biographies of Darwin and T. H. Huxley ever written, describing in lurid detail the reasons behind the controversy that sprung up around Darwin's Origin of the Species. Though it's hard for us to imagine it in universally low-brow, twenty-first century America, opposition to Darwin came not from those interested in preserving God's' role in the universe, but from those who wanted to preserve their own (whether religious or otherwise). At stake was not a passionate God of the Cross: he'd been given the boot by "natural" theologians, moralizing politicians, and (gasp) power-hungry clergy almost a century before. What people on top socially were worried about is that through Darwin they would relinquish some sort of supernatural underwriting for their treatment of the lower classes. Here, I think, is a hint to follow regarding the strangeness of California. Is it possible that in this near-paradise -on-earth a quasi-Victorian social order has sprung up once again--not just between whites and Latinos but between the famous, the rich, and the beautiful on one side, and everyone else on the other? Is it consumer classism: buy as much as you can to look white, wealthy, and beautiful but know that you'll never truly cross that magical line, however thin it may seem, because you're just not our type? Is that why people are so frustrated around here? They seem to have some carrot dangling in front of them, just out of reach. And in their frustration to grasp that carrot, they'll shove off of anyone that's within pushing distance. For the rich/beautiful, it might be the sales clerk at Saks. For the sales clerk it might be the disgruntled restaurant server who's been trying unsuccessfully to catch a break in Hollywood for years. For the server, it's the person driving a smoking 1991 Mazda hatchback in front of them on the 101. For the driver of the Mazda, its the young hispanic woman behind the register at Jack-in-the-Box. And for that woman, it's her non-English-speaking mama and papa who still travel the San Joaquin Valley working the lettuce fields and running from Immigration. We're still grubbing off of my mom's corporate hotel points, staying at the nicest BW i've heard of. (We're calling it a seventh anniversary present.) While the sun comes up over the Coastal Range and splashes down onto Pismo Beach, seagulls, ducks, and the single largest pelican i've ever laid eyes on swim in the pool and poop on the towels tossed haphazardly on the ground and the deck chairs. The drunk 40-somethings that tossed those towels there last night during their loud, late night revelry will no doubt expect the towels to be cleaned, pressed, and waiting for them in a bright white pile on the towel cart in a couple of hours. Woe to the laundry person that just leaves the towels there. Even here, in a place of barely comprehensible natural beauty and serenity, the carrot bobs just a few inches in front of us. Why does California feel so alien right about now?


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