California is a myth.
It’s an asphalt and parking lot-ridden landscape with four-lane freeways from which you can look up at the arid, tan hills as they blend into the arid, tan skyline. It’s all the Big Box you’ll find in flyover country (and Queens) five years before it debuts out yonder. None of the churches have steeples and I’ve never seen a bike lane, outside of would-be Amsterdam West, a la SF. Buzz over Chipotle and frozen yogurt predated the rest of the continent by six years. Regardless of its temperate weather, it’s not the type of landscape that could make a woman cry.
No one’s interested in loving the Golden State as it is. Ignoring the smog, the fumes, the car-after-car-after-car roadways, the residents of the other 49 wax about the palm trees, the glory of Lake Tahoe, and majesty of Big Sur. Marin County might as well stand in for the rest of the Bay Area. Bakersfield. Fresno. Modesto. All decently sized and likely represented by a Flying J super gas station. California. Where big country rebranded itself as corporate farm land and trailer trucks perpetually terrify motorists through the Grapevine.
No one’s condemned to live there. Indeed, most folks profess a surge of pride recognized only by New Yorkers as the satisfaction of sticking out an extraordinarily pricy place. (In this case, the residence in question is likely a McMansion in a hackneyed development, not a parkside condo/co-up.) But it’s lonely and vacuous and everyone wants space and togetherness, fresh air and short commutes, culinary variety and cheap food. For it’s alleged progressive values and Silicon Valley swagger, its architecture and shopping malls feel predictably capitalistic and terribly generic. We don’t have half as many Target’s as Minneapolis if only because we have Costco and Walmart too.
You want California to build up to its potential; to let be for the sake of its beauty. Donner Pass, the Mohave Dessert, Mammoth Lakes all indicate that there’s so much more to be demanded from a state so devoid of Midwestern geography. There’s the elegant clay walls of the missions, the Golden Gate Bridge for God’s sake, the zaniness of the Santa Cruz boardwalk, and the quaint magic of El Cajon all invoking the spirit California’s duped so many into believing has infiltrated the place.
It’s my birthplace, my childhood, my life landmark and my baseball team. But there are other states that are my home.
(Photo caption: The author with her sister and father at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, December 2014)