I’ve been trying to put my finger on what makes California so…well, I guess I’m still trying to put my finger on it, so I’ll begin with a photo. The other day I was driving my sisters Gun-metal Grey Prius–which starts by pushing a button and appears to run off rubber bands–when I took a left turn and saw “THE HILL” to my right. I will randomly pass THE HILL while battling car sickness from the backseat or talking on my cell phone so I’ve never been able to capture a photo of it. But this time, I was all alone. I wasn’t on my cell phone, and we all know I don’t have a real job so I have ample time to pull over and sneak through bushes to take pictures of things that I find noteworthy. THE HILL seems to embody almost everything I feel about California so we’ll begin there. Alas, I introduce to you: THE HILL.
Does this song pop in your head? Little boxes..on the hillside..little BOXES MADE OF TICKY TACKY! Me too.
Here it is close-up.
There are a few things about the photo that effectively sum up some general truths about California. Let’s start with number 1. The weather is basically perfect here. While there is a term called “June Gloom” which refers to a cloudy, overcast weather pattern occurring mostly in late Spring, it’s pretty much paradise the rest of the time, with a dusty cloud now and then and the average annual temperature right at 75.4 degrees. I’ve heard people complain that they miss not having four seasons here, which I get. I happen to love rain and we all know how much girls love sweater weather. However, there’s something to be said for never having to shovel a driveway or scrape away ice off your windshield with a credit card. (I lived in Colorado for 10 years; snapped one license and one library card in half.) It’s also comforting to know that if the air conditioner breaks in your car, you’ll survive. You’ll thrive even. Whereas if this scenario were to occur in New Orleans, not only would you literally vomit and die of heat exhaustion, you’d most likely be in a really shitty mood for the last few moments of your life. Having been here a few weeks, I’ve encountered the June gloom a couple of days; it’s tolerable. And it doesn’t last. The real problem is attire. It’s not quite cold enough to wear a real jacket but it’s too cool for short sleeves. These are called California problems, and they’re not real problems. You stock your closet full of every color cardigan, and you bring one with you wherever you go. It’s called cardigan weather people. You’ll get used to it.
Now let’s talk about outer beauty. A place that feels this good must look like trash, yes? It couldn’t have it all could it? Hahaha. The first time I stepped off of the plane in Orange County, I felt like I was in Never Never Land. A rainbow cast its arc over the airport and that song “I’m Walkin’ On Sunshine, Whoa-Oh, and Don’t It Feel Good?!” was playing on repeat from what must have been underground speakers placed strategically around OC. I remember thinking how beautiful the Ritz Carlton looked as we drove by and then noticing at the last second that it was actually a Walgreens. I couldn’t believe it. I kept rubbing my eyes and pinching myself. If this was all real, why in God’s name would you live anywhere else? “Holy shit. Is that a Burger King?” I asked, pointing to a beautiful stucco building with neon lights and palm trees out in front of the entrance. “The palm trees aren’t indigenous,” my sister reminded me. Which is kind of like showing a dude your boobs and then saying “They’re implants. Is that OK?” Sometimes it’s so nice I wonder if things like hangovers even exist here. It’s like this place was a movie set built in the 80’s that they never tore down and people just kept moving here so they said Ah screw it, we’ll just make this a town.
Speaking of Walgreens, (you know I gots to talk about Walgreens) let’s talk about overly conversational vendors. When you walk into the Walgreens on St. Charles avenue in New Orleans, you pass the same dude asking for money for food out front. It’s now understood that when you give the guy money, he’s going to buy drugs, not food. (I know because he didn’t accept food when I offered it. Cash only baby!) So I give the dude a buck or two, which I’m told only perpetuates the problem and I ought to be ashamed of myself but it’s what feels right so I do it anyway and enter Walgreens to get drugs of my own. Once inside, I’m lucky if I can find someone working there. There’s usually an obnoxiously long line with the clerk mysteriously nowhere to be found and a fire alarm going off in the back, which seems to alarm no one. In Orange County, you walk into Walgreens and are immediately greeted by a smiling vendor and asked if you need help finding anything today. “Uh, I’m fine, thank you.” But I say this with a little bit of scepticism because why are these people being so nice? Do they work on commission? As I get distracted by the “As Seen on TV” aisle and am considering whether or not I should buy Pajama Jeans, I see the same blue vested employee in my peripheral. “Find everything you’re looking for?” “Oh, uh..yeah, yes. Yes, thank you.” I’m nervous because I’m not used to being approached by smiling Walgreens employees and I’m wondering if he’s about to go postal up in here. “What are you up to today?” he asks and I feel like it’s a trick so I mutter something about living on my sisters couch and cautiously make my way over to the Indigestion aisle and look for the bottle of Pepto Bismol that is most economical. I peek around a shelf of “Snuggies” and see the blue-vested employee asking an old woman about her family and is ushering her slowly to the diabetic aisle. I thought the Walgreens commercial said “Perfect” didn’t exist? I pinch myself and get out of there fast.
What about topography? Well let’s see. You have the ocean on one side, the dessert on the other, hilly landscapes in-between and the outline of mountains in the distance. This means you can effectively surf, snowboard, rock-climb and camp all in one weekend. It’s like it’s never heard of the phrase Do one thing and do it well. California’s like Hey, Let’s Do Everything, and Let’s Do it All Perfectly.
There are a few questions I have about California which I have yet to find the answer to. For one thing, where are all the poor people? Like, is it illegal here? Something tells me that dude that I give money to outside the Walgreens on St. Charles Avenue wouldn’t linger here for long. But I don’t exactly know why. It’s like there’s no problems here! Or there’s no appearance of them anyway. Did you know they have scented dog shit bags here? I’ve also never seen a natural piece of litter here. One of the only dirty things I’ve seen since arriving is this:
This is my brother-in-law next to a pool at a bank-owned foreclosed home that he and my sister were being shown by their realtor. (Note the June gloom in the background) But surprise, there were one too many problems with it. So far, it’s the only real glimpse of dirt or grime I’ve encountered. So once again, I took a picture. Here are some more photos of California I’ve taken.
Most people are willing to tolerate general sameness, (the same weather, the same houses, the same freaking nice people) for the payoff of perfect in virtually every other category. But there’s also this grade school mentality I feel sometimes that I’m too much of a mess to fit in here. Like I’m under-dressed for a party, or that feeling you get when you’re peeing in a bathroom and you know people in the outside room can hear you. It’s hard to explain, but there’s something about “perfect” that’s rough to compete with. Something that makes you feel more spectator than participator. When My Stupid Friend Jess and I were on my brother-in-laws boat and we had just literally played in a pod of dolphins, we were laughing at how amazing everything about California is. Our conclusion was this: There’s nothing left to contemplate in California. It’s perfect here.
Health, Happiness, SoCal.