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)


ib said...

Glaswegians must have a deal in common with folks from New Jersey.

Even at that, I am often - unfairly, I feel - accused of abrasiveness bordering on belligerence in my dealings with some people. Usually when it is quite clear they are trying to shaft you: business dealings with civil servants and customer service advisers in the main.

On the other hand, I have also been accused of being far too laid back and open.

Go figure, as they say. It no do doubt depends which side of the bed I fall out of in the morning.

Ever since I heard the Flowerpot Men's SF 45 in the 60's - better than Scott McKenzie's take on the same - I have always rather fancied relocating to California.

I have a soft spot for the Great Society too; even some early Jefferson Airplane.

@eloh said...

I lived in Redlands for a year. I spent my time at the University. There were some good people and some really bad people, pretty much the same as the rest of the world.

On the whole, though, I'd have to say it was the dirtiest place I have ever lived. To include a couple third world countries.

Big Bear and all the beauty and diversity could not make up for the "drive" to get to these places. Dead animals and mountains of trash left to rot on the freeways. But then there didn't seem to be a "time" when it would be safe to get the roadways cleaned up. The whole place seemed to be in an endless commute.

Jon said...

eloh, yeah that's California. The entire city of San Francisco smells like a huge outdoor toilet. That's because it is a huge outdoor toilet. Thousands and thousands of low income rental units were destroyed in the last twenty years to make room for yuppies. A lot of people left the area, but some of them didn't have anyplace to go, so they ended up on the streets.

The filth is part of the general republicanizing of what is really a very liberal state. Unfortunately there is a concentration of rats in a rather small area of the southland who have big enough numbers that they are ruining the place. Year after year, seven eighths (geographically) of the state votes for more schools, parks, hospitals and transit and year after year the other eighth votes for more freeways and water diversions.

@eloh said...

I lived there in the mid eighties. It was all pretty hard for me to believe. Growing up (50's & 60's) Iowa and California always fought for the top spot in education. It was just so hard to take in.
If I recall, it was Jerry Brown that held the reins when they fell from grace in education. But, I've always thought a lot of him because of his "help" in the Wounded Knee Incident for Dennis Banks. No matter what else, the man had guts.

Anonymous said...

So the fact alone that you love grace slick is totally cool. But I also like your no BS style. Glad I found your blog. I'm off to read some more. Thanks for having me.

Oh I too have been accused of be abrasive, to forthright etc....

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

San Frankenstein is so much like Dope City.

Nazz Nomad said...

There was an interview with Grace Slick on CNN on-line last week.
She looks scary old. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I've been to Cali several times. As a born and bred Noo Yawker, if I was to move there, I would be institutionalized with-in three months.

Frankiecon said...

Hey Jon,

Go Fuck yourself. : )

Jon said...

You too Frank

Madame Pamita said...

I always ask people what Los Angeles is like because I was born here and, apart from 2 years living in SF, have always lived here. I can no more describe Los Angeles or California than a fish can describe water. I know no other way.

Jon said...

Pam, This is one of my pieces that I rushed into print because I realized if I didn't write it and put it out in less than perfect form, I wouldn't do it at all. I think California, New York and Texas are almost like separate countries from the United States. I wish I had time and focus to really explain my understanding of California. Then again, I might not have an understanding of California because I really don't get LA.

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