In all my 56 years, I’ve spent a total of 15 days in California, so saying I’m no expert about that state is putting it mildly. But I didn’t realize just how many silly misconceptions I had about it until driving nearly its entire length this time around. And the only source of these ideas has come from TV and movies. I’m sure I replaced a lot of those old misconceptions about it with some brand new ones, but I hope they’re slightly less idiotic.
First of all, the entire state is NOT full of 10 lane highways with bumper to bumper traffic. There are actually stop signs and stop lights and everything. And there are vast swaths of rural areas. It’s not all urban sprawl. Imagine.
And here’s a big shocker: Not everyone is beautiful and thin and young. Not everyone surfs, and those that do wear wet suits, not bikinis or swim trunks. And I’ll hazard a guess that more than half the beaches are NOT wide and sandy and easy to access. And I didn’t knowingly see a single movie star. Not one.
And guess what? Californians are human like the rest of us. They require grocery stores and pharmacies and mechanics and hardware stores and gas stations. The California in my mind was devoid of all of these things. It makes me laugh to think of it now.
I thought that in San Francisco I’d see trolleys everywhere. I don’t know what it was like pre-pandemic, but they’re not running right now, so mine was a trolley-less experience. And I seemed to be wearing the only colorful face mask in that city, which made me despair, but in other places I saw some colorful ones, so I guess I didn’t have to fear the face mask police after all.
I will say that one belief I had about the area is painfully true. It’s freakin’ expensive. Gas is expensive, food is expensive, the sales tax will make you blink in astonishment, and we saw thousands of houses that were anywhere from a million to 9 million dollars, so I don’t know how anyone but the ultra-rich can afford to live there. We saw one hovel of a house that was only 800 square feet, in a rather scary neighborhood, going for 2 million dollars because it was in a beach town and only a few blocks from the water.
I did feel a tension between the rich and the poor that was more extreme than I’ve felt elsewhere. It’s got to be hard to be a poor person who has to scrub the toilet in a waterfront mansion. It must stink to have to mow the lawn for some rich jerk who should be xeriscaping due to the drought. There were a lot of tent cities in the more populated areas, just as we have around Seattle. At least those people aren’t having to cope with the rain, but it’s still tragic and heartbreaking and wrong.
The number of rich people flitting about is also wrong. While dining at restaurants, I heard several ultra-privileged conversations that would make the average person gasp. One was about how eating the types of healthy, organic, expensive foods (that most poor people can only dream of) is actually “a gift from your higher self.” Another was about having to fire someone because she couldn’t grasp the proper way to fold her son’s sportswear, and how that was “simply beyond the pale.” I wanted to barf in her endive.
Rich people, in general, seem pretty clueless, but it’s even harder to take when they are so dependent upon poor people who can barely survive in that economy. I kept thinking, “Let them eat cake.” Lest we forget, that perfect farm-to-table salad is the result of a lot of backbreaking toil in the hot sun for someone else.
The Los Angeles area stressed me out completely. There were a lot of amazing things to see, but traffic there was a total nightmare. I’m glad my husband did all the driving, but I still felt the need to sit in the car with my eyes closed on the freeways so as not to become a nervous wreck.
The area is so crowded that I felt this constant buzzing tension and a low-grade claustrophobia. It’s one of those places that I’m glad I visited, but would never want to live in. It’s also very dry and very brown. Northern California is a lot more lush and green.
But California flora is pretty amazing, I have to admit. Redwoods, of course. I’ll be writing a great deal more about them. And kelp in the ocean. And Pride of Madeira plants in the north, and Jacaranda trees and succulents the size of your head and Bougainvillias in the south. And everywhere, the California Poppies that I adore.
So, yeah, I’m guessing that most of us who haven’t been to California have a warped view of the place without even realizing it. Give it a visit. It might surprise you. It frequently shocked the hell out of me, but mostly in the best of ways.
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