I have lived in California my entire 39 years of life. I have every intention of living in California until I draw my last breath.
As a Californian, I am often confronted by The Myth of California. One of those myths is that everyone either lives in The Haight or is a Movie Star. Sometimes folks remember that there is a REALLY big zoo just south of the Movie Stars. Once in a long while someone will remember places like Yosemite and Lake Tahoe.
California is the third largest state, square mileage-wise, largest state population-wise and would fall somewhere around 6th in the world as a nation, if we were our own nation.
And then there are those who think that 'own nation' thing is a good idea.....
What is less known about California:
We are an agriculture state. When you drive between The Haight and The Movie Stars, you drive through some of the world's richest farmland. We grow walnuts and almonds, peaches and nectarines, strawberries and artichokes, rice and cotton, lettuce and corn. Drive through the San Joaquin Valley and you'll go through a bunch of little ag towns, including Selma, the self proclaimed Raisin Capital of the World. If you eat Sun Maid raisins, you know Selma. Selma grows raisin grapes. Surrounding communities grow table grapes. Napa, Amador and Sacramento counties grow wine grapes. You know you live in grape country when developers can name a street "Flame Tokay" and everyone knows that's a kind of grape. And no one wonders why the people down at the corner have 2 acres of grapes planted; they are going to make wine obviously.
Los Angeles is frequently used to describe any place south of the Tehachipi Mountains. Natives know that Los Angeles is a vastly different place in every way from Orange County. And NO ONE calls it "The O.C.". No...it hasn't caught on. If you want to look like a tourist, skip the black socks with shorts. Just call it "The O.C." You'll go there if you go to Disneyland. The original. The Disney Empire began in a garage in Burbank, but it took root in an orange grove in Orange County. Back then, it probably took Walt about 30 minutes to make that drive. Today? You better leave a solid hour. Once you spend some time in Southern California, you'll never confuse LA and Orange County again.
In California geography is measured not in miles, but in time. "How far is it from Burbank to Anaheim?" I don't know what the mileage is, but I can tell you that it is at least an hour. We know we're different that way, but it is much more accurate for travel planning.
San Francisco is a strange and wonderous place. It is as gritty as any city can be. But with FLAIR! And you can go see the Bison without a lot of effort, most any day. You can STAND on Ocean Beach and dip your toes in the Pacific. Stay out of the water...killer rip tides and it is COLD. You can eat crab caught an hour ago. And if you need a tie-dyed shirt... this is your town.
I live in Sacramento County. My city is just south of The City of Sacramento. It seems the eyes of the nation are on the state capital today since Arnold has announced he's going to announce he's going to run for re-election today. Sacramento is a couple hours from San Francisco, a couple of hours from Tahoe, a couple of hours from Oregon and about 6 hours from L.A. Sometime during this school year, our school district, Elk Grove Unified, will acquire more students than San Francisco and will be the second largest school district in the state (and God help us if we surpass LA Unified...). Our best air conditioner here in the Sacramento County is the Delta breezes. Unfortunately, they also bring all the smog and pollens and whatever else is in the air between San Francisco while they bring that cool air off the Bay.
California has some wonderful natural beauty. The blue of Lake Tahoe. The majesty of Yosemite. The wonder of the Sequoias. The awe of the Pacific. I grew up near the ocean. I live too far from it now. It makes me sad that my children are in awe when we go to a beach. It also makes me glad that my children are in awe when we go to a beach.
We are as freaky liberal as everyone thinks we are. We are as staunchly conservative as you can imagine too. Politically, we are Sybil. We elect executives of one party and a legislature of the other. Then we wonder why nothing ever gets done. In rural areas, we are a red state. In the cities, we are blue. Save the "city" of Orange County, although they have been electing some Democrats lately.
This state was built on hard working dreamers. They came to find gold in the hills, but stayed, worked the Earth and grew crops and livestock. They built railroads and started a whole new industry out of that new fangled moving picture camera. Throngs of people still come here to seek their dreams. Maybe it's to be one of those Movie Stars. Maybe it's just to work at any job so their children will have the chance to grow up in America.
While we ARE the land of nuts (almonds, walnuts) and fruits (apples, nectarines, peaches, strawberries....), we aren't just the fruits and nuts of the other variety. Most of us are not much different than the rest of the people in the rest of country. There's just more of us and we just have to figure out how to get along in this cornacopia of people and geography.
I once was told by someone in a midwestern state how those of us who live on the coasts look down on the "fly over" states. Trust me... that isn't the case. It's just that by the time "it" gets there, we've been dealing with it for years. We are quietly laughing at the rest of the country's consternation at high gas prices right now. We've been running about 50 cents a gallon higher than the rest of you for YEARS. We've worked it into our budgets for quite some time. Immigrants? Yea. Old news. Meth in your town? Yea, we've known it's bad news for decades. Traffic? Housing prices? Yawn....
As Californians we know that we do not live on terra firma...but rather a constantly shifting plate on the Earth. We have built to survive all but the most severe earthquake. Every day the ground moves beneath us and we don't realize it. It makes us angry when "points East" say that the country would be improved if California fell into the Pacific. (see aforementioned 6th largest world economy and ponder how losing that would affect the other 49 states) We pay our taxes to points East and get pennies on the dollar in return services. We are told that if we REALLY want the southern border protected, we should do so ourselves. But generally speaking, we are pretty laid back and we don't get too riled up over national decisions. So forgive us our bemusement when you too have to take out another mortgage to fill up your car.
Come. Visit. Stay a while. If you want to stay...we can show you how to absorb the concept of a $3000/month mortgage payment without use of a defibrillator. We'll show you where your polling place is so you too can vote in intiatives that make governing the state harder and harder (we are really really good at that). We'll make sure your ski boots and your bathing suit are always at the ready. We'll show you how to eat an artichoke and how to peel an avocado (and remove the pit). We'll throw a locally grown, ground beef burger on the grill and ask if you want a veggie burger instead. At the block party potluck, you can travel the world by walking down the buffet. We'll make sure you have your Annual Pass to Disneyland. We'll share our recommendations for books on tape/iPod for your commute. We'll invite you to church, temple, mosque and invite you over for the football game. And we won't think badly of you if you decline. We'll give your kids a great education despite what our test scores say. It's hard to educate the world's children when they all speak different languages, but we try.
All we ask in return? Don't complain about who we are. Embrace our way of life. The beauty of it is that it doesn't matter what your way of life IS, it is here. There is a place for everyone, no matter who you are.
Welcome to California.