Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Angry Coast

The medical marijuana isn't working...

Maybe the "Left Coast" has always been this way.  After all, this is the place where the SDS was born, the Symbionese Liberation Army was formed, and where Charles Manson decided to go on a killing spree.   The reputation of California and the rest of the Pacific Coast of the United States as laid back and mellowed-out may be a bit overstated.

Or maybe it is just any urban area where people are tense and wound up.  When I moved to Washington, DC, I could not understand why people drove so aggressively - right off your bumper.  And if you left even a foot more than a car length between you and the car ahead of you - even at 70 mph - someone would swerve into that spot, convinced they were "getting ahead" of traffic.   Sadder still, within a year, I was driving that way, myself.

I think it is the nature of cities - the competition is great and people feel they need to "win" at everything from a parking space, to commuting, to getting off a subway car.  And let's not even talk about getting in line for something - people will knock you over to get their Starbucks five seconds ahead of you.  Cities are just that way, they breed competition.  And the West Coast is turning into one giant city - just as Miami now extends from Homestead to Jupiter, and New York extends from Washington to Boston.

Or maybe I have been living in the South too long.  Southerners take things a little slowly.  As a Northerner, you go into a store and say, "I'm looking for a left-handed widget!" and the clerks will just shut you down. "Don't have one" they will mutter, even if the back room is stacked to the ceiling with them.   Instead, they expect you to saunter in, look around, and say, "How are you doing today?" followed by a conversation about their health, their Mother's health, the weather, and local politics.  It is only when the man behind the counter finally says, "well, what can I help you with today?" that you are allowed to state your business.   But don't expect things to expedite from there, either.

I haven't fully adapted to the Southern lifestyle just yet, but maybe some of it has sunk in.  I call people "sir" or "ma'am" now, and say, "how you-all doing?" without even thinking twice about it.  But I'm still a Yankee at heart, and when I hear a fast-talking New Yorker, I feel a sense of nostalgia.  In New York, conversation is a contact sport.  You don't wait for someone to "finish" their thoughts before you chime in.   A friend of mine just doesn't get that - thinking that everyone has to "take their turn" speaking like they are in kindergarten.  He'd never last a minute in a New York Deli, sad to say.

But getting back to the Left Coast, I have never seen so many miserable people in my life.  Everyone is frowning all the time, driving like a maniac (even if traffic is at a standstill) and screaming at one another.   All this talk about the "laid back" West Coast is bullshit, from what I can see.   I think they are stressed people.  Everything is expensive here - not by a lot, but by a little.  Gas is a buck-a-gallon more expensive than in midwestern and Eastern States.  Not enough to be prohibitive, just enough to be annoying.  Housing is expensive, and restaurant meals cost a lot as well - the $50 lunch here is the norm, not the exception.  I expected this in Malibu (where lunch was $200) but not in some small dive in Washington State.

So people have to rush off to work to make that six-figure salary in order to pay for their overpriced homes, overpriced gas, and overpriced food.   No wonder they are so angry.  No wonder they want a $15 minimum wage - a king's ransom in rural Georgia, by the way, which is why a federal minimum wage of $15 makes no sense.  Everyone out here is trying to compete, to get ahead, and to win.   And no one is winning, either.   It is, in a way, very sad.

And maybe this is why so much angry rhetoric is coming from the Left Coast these days - people angry with the government (on the right) or with Trump (on the left).   It doesn't matter what the politics are, anger is the common denominator.  "If only!" they say, their guy was in office or their policy was enacted, all this stress and competition would go away.

But I doubt it would.   I think the problem is, folks here are trying too damn hard to get ahead.  And it has resulted, in some circumstances, in spectacular results.  After all, some of the best new ideas and new technologies have emerged from the West Coast of the United States - from Seattle to Silicon Valley, to San Diego.  While the East Coast rots and stews in its own juices - organized crime, rustbelt cities, old and dirty technologies, political corruption - the West Coast has promised a "new frontier" of solar-powered cities and underground hyperloops.   Whether any of this comes to pass, remains to be seen.   But there is vision here.

That, and topless drive-in coffee bars.  That is one innovation that has been brought to fruition, in a big way.  Hubba-hubba!

But yet, I sense something missing here.  Something intangible.  A soul, if you will.  Maybe "California Cool" Jazz is fun to listen to, but Dave Brubeck will never supplant Satchmo.  The cool, clean, and modern design ethic of the West is stunning, but leaves one with a sense of something lost - something human perhaps.   And the only human thing you do see is squalor of epic proportions, all kept carefully under wraps, of course.

It is fun to visit here, but both Mark and I realize we are East Coast people (and as Woody Allen put it, the East Coast is a Coast, too).  Maybe we prefer the humidity and the mold and mildew of the damp coast.   Maybe we prefer a place that is doused with hurricanes on a regular basis instead of being perpetually on fire or shaken by earthquakes.  Maybe we prefer a place where everyone isn't a gym rat, a movie star, a super model, a tech guru, or who thinks they are "all that".

Maybe we prefer a slower, less expensive, way of life.