Tuesday, August 25, 2009
If You're Going To San Francisco
"Just moved here? Far out! Well, have a nice day on the planet man!"
A childhood friend just visited California for the first time. She really liked it, but she sent me an email asking about the differences between California and New Jersey. Here's an edited version of my reply:
"Q: What's the Difference between New York and California?
A: When a New Yorker says, "Go Fuck Yourself", he means, "Have a nice day."
When a Californian says "Have a nice day", he means "Go fuck yourself."
The superficial, breezy cheerfulness one encounters among so many Californians is not to be trusted. Californians are constantly competing for a bigger piece of paradise. The place is crowded with people who are looking to get over and chances are they view you as a threat. You're on their beach, buying into their real estate market, crowding their street and taking their table in their restaurant.
While there is relatively little geographic separation into ethnic enclaves, don't let that fool you either. California may be the most segregated place I've ever lived. Traditionally, California was the White Man's Paradise. White people are still relatively privileged and they will do what they have to to retain that privilege. Immigrants and native born minorities know that the system is stacked against them and are just as ruthless in their pursuit of success.
Finally, sociopathic behavior is not uncommon here. In fact, in many circles it's considered cool; the mark of a real man or a strong woman.
Don't get me wrong, phoniness, financial and social competition and criminal mindedness are common everywhere, but they seem to be a little more normal here. Still, most Californians are, all things considered, nice enough. Funny thing is that a lot of Californians can embrace high, if judgmental, idealism right alongside those negative qualities.
I got in a little bit of trouble because I was relatively abrasive, or at least brusque in my conversational style. At the same time, a lot of people considered me naive because I tried to be forthright in my dealings.
Ultimately, I don't know that Californians are any better or worse than anybody else, but there is a California way of doing things that can be quite disconcerting when you first get here. To a new arrival Californians seem to be laid back, open minded and idealistic; the land of flakes, nuts and fruits. That's just "front". You might say that there is a California regional demeanor. New Englanders are a little more formal. Midwesterners are a little more shy and reserved. Southerners are a a little more loud and jovial.
I'd have to say that the California "front" must be working OK because California is an OK place to live. It's not terribly corrupt. There's at least a sizable minority that believes in social fairness. People generally value education. Most people are well traveled and genuinely interested in the rest of the world.
The Schwarznegger/Bush wing of California and national politics has done a lot to damage those traditional values. The real estate bubble made the place just miserable as did the phony dot com boom. A lot of people really have gotten rich quick here and a lot more people think they deserve to get rich quick too. California is all about gold rushes and that mentality, when exploited by the right wrong people can get really ugly.
I've spent about half my life here, but the above is what it looks like from the other half. (A mutual friend) used to complain ceaselessly about California. One day I pointed out to him that he had become a certain kind of Californian. He had become the kind of Californian who moved here twenty years ago and spent the next twenty years complaining that California is not like New York.
Oh, if you're planning on visiting again, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair."
I will always have a soft spot for Grace Slick. Whatever else she was, she was never a bullshitter. Here she is with her first band.
Free Advice- The Great Society (Buy)
Posted by Your driver at 10:49 PM