|Monday, July 1, 2002
12:02 - California Dreamin'
You know, it's really sort of disconcerting to discover how disconnected one can become from general, popular, non-blogosphere-related opinion when one goes on vacation from the computer.
While in Nashville, for example, one friend that I met there-- who is otherwise a very fun guy, very talented and very sensible-- spent one car ride from one point to another on a little ranting tangent. It went sort of like this:
It's so ridiculous, this whole "War on Terrorism" thing. I mean, you declare war on a country, not a person-- and it was just one person behind 9/11. But no, now we're being condemned by every country in the world for going in and effectively nuking a third-world country-- I mean, what was the point of going in and bombing Afghanistan into the Stone Age? They were already in the Stone Age! ... And you know it's all just because we're helping out the Israelis. I don't understand why we're helping the Israelis in the first place...
"Because the Israelis are a capitalistic, freedom-loving democracy who has made the desert bloom, and the Muslim nations fighting against them are a bunch of medieval, fascistic, petty-warlord-based fanatical theocracies whose stated goal is the destruction of the West", I didn't say. No, I bit my tongue in the interest of harmony. But nobody's keeping me from blogging this.
I must admit, Nashville wasn't a place where I would have expected to find rampant anti-globo and anti-Zionist and anti-US-policy flowing. I come from Silicon Valley to Tennessee and find myself in a liberal swing so hard the wheel's locked against the stop? Whatever. But it seems to me that if one doesn't look terribly hard at the details behind any of the news that filters by on CNN's headline crawl, it's pretty easy to conclude that we deserve every blown-up building in New York or Tel Aviv. After all, quoting Churchill out of context is always a quick and easy way to appear cultured; talk about making the rubble bounce, and you're sure to get people nodding sagely about how stupid we are to have done anything but declare the 19 hijackers to have been adequately punished for their crimes by the suicide itself, and since they obviously acted alone, do nothing to root out any so-called state-sponsored terrorist organization that may or may not have sent them.
But, like I said, I didn't say a word. And if it's any consolation to me, most everybody else in the group seemed to be sitting in a throat-clearing silence as well, and a quick change of subject got things rolling again. But I tell you, I'm glad for more reasons than just the humidity to be back in California.
While we were on the disc golf course, I was musing to one of the guys about how no matter how expensive it is to rent housing around here, I'd still rather live in California than anywhere else. He looked genuinely surprised, and wanted to know why. I hadn't really thought about it, actually, and as I lined up my shot all I could say was, "The weather rocks, the food is excellent, and the people rule."
But I've traveled now to every part of the US except for Alaska, and I can say quite confidently that living anywhere else is just not something I could imagine. Maybe Oregon or Washington, sure-- but there's just something special about this state, whether our governor is corrupt and our power is expensive and in short supply or not.
Maybe it's the landscape. The mountains around here are spectacular, I'm sorry-- and it isn't until I visit other areas of the country (e.g. the South), where the landscape is one anonymous wooded rolling hill after another, where you can't see any interesting topography on the horizon, where the lenticular haze in the air makes distant clouds fade into indistinct light-gray ghosts at the edge of vision, where the only interesting objects breaking up the line of trees are the sixty-foot fast-food restaurant signs that cluster around freeway exits like redwood groves-- that I understand just how special a thing it is to see burly and severe hills thirty or forty miles away, the fog rolling over them through the low passes, the detail on their sides and around the edges of the fog and clouds as crisp as though they were right above your head. Being able to drive up Quimby Road and see the dark and light patches on Mt. Tamalpais north of the Golden Gate, sixty miles away, is something that makes my heart race. Maybe not everybody's... but mine, yes indeed it does.
Maybe it's that in the urban areas, space is at such a premium that the roads themselves take on personalities. Go ten miles outside the Bay Area and suddenly you're in rural farmland-- but within the city, each street has a history and a face. Lawrence Expressway. Montague Expressway. San Tomas Expressway. El Camino Real. You can stand on a Civil War battlefield and know that the Blue and the Gray fought right there on that spot-- but somehow it isn't as real as standing on a bustling commuter artery that you know two hundred years ago connected the Spanish missions up and down the coast, and was just as vital a thoroughfare as it is today.
Maybe it's that here, people are friendly but not invasive. Stand at a bus stop with strangers, and you'll get smiles and nods all around, but no boisterous and paternal conversation or stories about people's home lives. Everybody here is understood to be a mover and/or a shaker, and we figure that if that person over there wanted to be talked to, he or she would have said so. So: no outright hostility, á la New York. No insincere, forced smarminess, what a friend called "Minnesota Friendly" while I was visiting him in Minneapolis. No eerie sense that you're being sized up and judged, like in the South. Just laid back live-and-let-live.
But probably what it is, most of all, is the weather. Where else but LA can you wear shorts and a t-shirt at 4:00 in the morning in January? Where else but LA or San Jose (or, well, Hawaii) can you live comfortably in a house that has neither central heating nor air conditioning? In the South, I've found, the rain likes to leap out from behind doors, dump buckets on you, kick you in the balls, and then run away. Lightning storms are the rule, not the exception; over the course of a day you can expect to see it go from partly-cloudy to thundering rainstorm to tornado-watch and back, all without the temperature dropping below 90. But in California, if it's going to rain, you know it: it comes over the horizon, squaring its shoulders, rubs its hands together, and says, "Hey! I'm gonna rain now!" The people yell back, "Okay!" And then the rain goes about its business, gets everything nice and soaked for two or three days, wrings itself out, and leaves. "See you in November!" it calls back over its shoulder.
I know it pisses people off no end to hear Californians talk about "dry heat", but honestly I have to say that it's got to be one of the most fundamental issues behind regional personality differences in this country. The weather here is our friend. I can walk around outside in 114-degree heat on an August day in Ukiah, because the humidity is under 25%. But in Atlanta or Nashville, 85 degrees is unbearable, and 95 is agony. We came out of an air-conditioned Murfreesboro video store a couple of nights ago into what I thought was going to be the cool night air. But instead of feeling a crisp breeze prickling my skin, my glasses fogged up. I'm serious. A cloud had just done a drive-by raining at the intersection there about an hour before, and now the air was so laden with moisture and so hot that it was like stepping into a particularly aggressive sauna.
I don't mean to degrade an entire region for its weather; I really don't. But to have to scuttle painfully from doorway to car, and from car to doorway, hoping your anti-perspirant holds out for just one more minute until you can get to the shelter of the vents-- that's just no way to live. Skulking in fear of the very air, from air-conditioned haven to air-conditioned haven-- it's enough to make one wonder, as one of the guys living there even said, how anybody ever survived there before air conditioning existed. I wonder what life there was like when that technology was brand-new and just being adopted?
I have to say, though, that I can see what kinds of personalities can come from these different kinds of climates. In California, the weather isn't your enemy. It goes about its business, you go about yours-- and so the people behave similarly. But in the South, and indeed in the Midwest and some parts of the East Coast, or anywhere where the humidity is that oppressive-- well, growing up where air conditioning is an inextricable part of life, and where rain can come kung-fu kicking at you from any direction at any time, I can easily see how one might grow up spoiled, dependent upon technology, unwilling to bear hardships in the natural world if there's any choice in the matter. Those people who are able to hike or jog or even play golf in such an environment I admire greatly, and in particular those who are able to cultivate an appreciation for the natural world against a backdrop where that world so vividly represents an adversary. But if you're looking for a reason why religion seems to have taken such hold in the South, I say that the weather's got to have a lot to do with it. In no other region is it so apparent that we're at the mercy of higher powers, and that God-- with his air-conditioned churches-- is on our side.
I don't mean to sound as though I hate these other regions. I don't. Indeed, if it weren't for the humidity (and possibly the church density), I'd find Nashville to be a charming and livable place. But ... well, you know, getting off the plane in San Jose, standing next to the shuttle bus to long-term parking with the sun beating down on me and yet my hands remaining dry and not a drop of sweat on me-- when I ask my brain what the possibility would be of my moving away, its immediate response is, What, are you nuts?