An Ode to the West Coast

Earthquakes, fires, and mudslides aside, California is an awesome state. You’ve lived at both ends, and it is like leaving one country and entering another.
San Diego is warm, sunny, and filled with swaying palm trees. You were only there for 18 months, long enough to visit every beach and experience every tourist attraction. You should’ve bought a house there in 1986. It almost doubled in value in three years.
The Bay Area, as in San Francisco, Oakland, Silicon Valley, and surrounding cities, has been your home for thirty years. It’s a beautiful place to live, even though there is too much traffic, smog, and criminal activity.
The Central Coast has Santa Cruz and Monterey, heaven on earth. Just visit Point Lobos State park if you don’t’ believe it. You hike to the edge and look south to Big Sur and north to Carmel. Sea lions, seals, otters, birds, whales, fish — they are all there.
Being from Iowa, you have to pinch yourself sometimes that you ended up here. Iowans don’t think much of California, except the ones who have come here to stay. Of your four siblings, three of them are here. It’s warmer in the winter (no ice and snow) and cooler in the summer (no mosquitoes, no humidity).
And the culture – everywhere you go you run into people from other parts of the world. You learn tolerance, acceptance, and appreciation. Your mind broadens, and you see there is more than one way to live, to worship, to be (studying abroad helped with that, too).
Yet there is a huge disparity here between the haves and have nots. You see it every time you drive past a homeless person holding a sign at the end of a freeway ramp. You see it as you ride BART through gang graffiti’ed neighborhoods or go to San Francisco and see the barefoot people sleeping on cardboard.
You volunteered for years, driving cars filled with gently-used books to schools in Richmond. You had to tell the drivers not to bring their new SUV’s, not to wear their jewelry. You stuck out like sore thumbs. There were so many day-time shootings that none of the mothers would drive there anymore.
Then you decided to donate your new books to libraries. The garage is filled with your remaindered books with Spanish. You have mailed them to Union City, San Jose, San Francisco, Salinas, Hollister, anywhere there is a need.
The home health care ladies for your sis are immigrants. Who else would do that kind of work for $12.00 an hour? The first three months, they were all named Maria. You give them jars of jam and bags of chocolate or ten dollar bills if they stay late so you can go dancing.
You worry that your children can’t afford to stay here. It is tough to be in your twenties in California. Everything is expensive, except fruit and wine. Someday they will be able to make it here, after you are gone.
People here can’t spell. They call everything past Nevada “back east.” They think Iowa, Ohio, and Idaho are all one state filled with potatoes, pigs, and Cleveland — the fly-over states, they call them.
People here dance and party all year long, especially in the summer. Some have never left California. They can’t appreciate it like you do. You’ve seen the winters that chill you to the bone and chap your lips when you step out the door, and the summers that mat your hair into a steamy mess.
The Super Bowl is in Minnesota on Sunday. God help the coastal people who go there. They are in for a frozen surprise of miserable cold, such that they’ve never experienced before, just getting to the indoor game at the U.S. Bank Stadium.
Except those who are from there and have lived it. Wait! They won’t be going; they will wisely stay home and watch it on their big screen TV’s.

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