Saturday, November 17, 2007

En Passant

California sees at times embarrassingly large, certainly too large to be pinned down on one dissecting board.

Having within the past half hour completed driving the middle third of it, the three hundred some-odd miles from the Bay Area to Santa Barbara on the occasion of my every-other-month writing workshop in a Woodside, a small enclave between Palo Alto and Redwood City, I am as filled with the sense of the changes going on in an about the topography as I am the steady, stroboscopic flash of approaching headlights on my retinas. Darkness descends at about five thirty and because of the need for some longish exegesis and probing, we were barely able to call it quits and be on the road by five. Just time to see dusk descend on the rolling hills outside Stanford, the encroachment of housing arrangements pricing Palo alto and Menlo Park off the map of affordability, unless one has stumbled on inheritance or some income source that is one step beyond the hedge fund.

San Jose, even in the darkness, looks like a men's hairpiece purchased at Wal-Mart--good enough coverage of the bald spots but wanting more color and naturalness. The small towns southbound along 280 to the intersect with the more serious 101 seem like trailer parks split like feuding families, the smaller trailers on one side, the splenetic RVs and SUVs across the way. Morgan Hill, Gilroy, and the approaches to Salinas remind us of pet cemeteries or large outlet malls for name brand clothing chains. It is not until we get past the stucco insistence of Salinas that we begin to see visions of real California and, thus, real America. Chualar (a Spanish word for a type of bunch grass), Gonzales, King City, and my favorite, Solidad (Isolation). As some of these names imply, the demographic and indeed the future is Latino, but the same fate awaits these places as the fate already eroding the rural, horsiness-prone Gringoness of Paso Robles and Atascadero, where Gringo money is buying property, installing vineyards with winemasters imported from France and the Napa Valley and named for women who sound like the new generation of models in Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.

Small malls and clutches of condos called townhouses are pushing the Mon and Pop stores to the other side of the tracks, even in places where there are no tracks.

Most people who are migrating to California are drawn to and quickly find San Francisco and Los Angeles, Sacramento an San Diego too expensive for start-up costs. Some, having at least found the dream of home ownership in these places back when the price of a home was about the price of a contemporary SUV are cashing out and moving with their nest egg to places along 101 and I-5 in the interior.
Even with the steady rise of oil and gas prices, California at all extremes is being transformed into an analogy of the geese in Strasbourg, force fed with the goal of producing a thick, rich pate.

The handwriting is on the walls, not the Mene Mene Tekle Uparashins handwriting, the one-size-fits all franchise handwriting, wherein one city looks and behaves pretty much like the other, and the other is, well, it is straight out of Disney, and the only good thing to have come out of Disney was Donald Duck, but how long has it been since you've heard him throw a tantrum?

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