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Anywhere I Lay My Head October 19, 2009

Posted by monty in travel.
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I’ve gotten good at introducing myself in the last three months.  As part of the new job and the new location (in the metro Atlanta area), I’ve had to explain numerous times where I’ve lived for the last fourteen years.  Whenever I say I moved here from California, the response is always a variation on, “Ooh.  Sorry you had to come here.”

Hey, Georgians.  Psst.  C’mere, and I’ll hip you to a little-known fact.

California sucks.

That’s right.  I said it.  Now, look: I’m not impugning your right to love the state.  I’m speaking only about myself here.  And I’d be the first to admit that there are many, many things to love about California: Yosemite.  Joshua Tree.  Mono Lake.  Mammoth.  Anza-Borrego.  Death Valley.  Vast expanses of desert.  Wind-whipped beaches.  Geologically speaking, the state is one of the most amazing displays of natural beauty you’re ever going to see.

Unfortunately, to enjoy those beautiful places, you also have to put up with mind-numbing traffic.  Pollution that’s starting to creep farther and farther out from the city centers.  A public education system that’s collapsing in on itself like a dying star.  A populace that voted for Schwarzenegger and against equal rights for gays and lesbians (which also means, on the latter issue, a populace dumb enough to be swayed by Mormon propaganda).  Big-city douchebags in the metropolitan areas and rednecks to rival anyone in the Deep South in the rural areas.  There’s also a general callousness that gets mistaken by many for that renowned “laid back” California attitude.  But having been there, that’s not what it is.  Just because you don’t care about anything but yourself doesn’t make you laid back.  It makes you an asshole.  And I saw a lot of that in my fourteen years on the West Coast.

And, you know, having typed that, I think that’s a big part of my problem with California: the ego that says California is the center of the universe.  I hate to point it out, but the things that make California amazing have absolutely nothing to do with Californians.  California is great specifically – and only – because of its geography and geology.  There’s nothing else it has that I can’t get elsewhere, including where I currently live.

This doesn’t mean, lest you make the mistake, that I’m now a dyed-in-the-wool Southerner.  I don’t feel anymore at home here than I did in California.  The point I’m making is that California isn’t a special and unique snowflake.  The rest of the country has great museums and fantastic restaurants and concerts and live theater, and they get the benefit of all those things without the omnipresent threat of wildfires and mudslides and earthquakes and sitting in traffic for two hours just to go ten miles.

But maybe I’m just irritable and impatient.  Maybe normal people are willing to put up with inconvenience just to be near the things they love.  And, like I said, there are certainly things I love about California.  It was nice to be thirty minutes from wine country.  It was nice to drive a couple hours and be in the mountains.  It was nice that I could begin and end my run looking out at the ocean.  It was nice that the nighttime desert sky let me in on the vastness of the universe.

I love those things, but I don’t miss them.  And as much as that reflects the state’s shortcomings, I’m also willing to admit that it reflects my own restlessness.  But the rest of the country need not apologize for not being California.  The rest of the country does just fine on its own.


Current listening:

Tindersticks bloomsbury theatre

Tindersticks – The Bloomsbury Theatre 12.3.95



1. Fred "Col. Matrix" Mowery - October 19, 2009

We’re having similar feelings about Chicago. Great, great city…but damn, its expensive. And the joke of corruption is very real and scary here.

rcm - October 19, 2009

Are you actually thinking about leaving, Fred? Is there anywhere else you’d be likely to settle?

2. thoreauly77 - October 19, 2009

gonna have to disagree on this one rob. california is indeed the center of the universe. you must have missed something in those 14 years. maybe you should come back?

rcm - October 19, 2009

Ian, the old saying, “It’s a nice place to visit but I’d never want to live there” comes immediately to mind.

thoreauly77 - October 19, 2009

i feel that way sometimes, to be real for a second. san jose is a pretty rad place to live, santa barbara was easily one of the most beautiful i have ever lived in, but i find myself wondering what it would be like to go teach for the department of defense schools for some time in order to travel and get paid to do so.

the question remains, however, is it our surroundings or is it just us? i found myself despising upper michigan, florida, and the central coast while i lived there, but now think fondly of them all, and all for different reasons.

big city californians are some of the most obnoxious though, easily, especially LA and san francisco folk, but at least san francisco is cool!

3. Christopher Dean - October 19, 2009

I’m not sure this self-regard is a “California Thing.” Years ago, in New Hampshire, I was accosted at a friend’s party and asked: “Don’t you think that New Hampshire is the MOST beautiful place.”

I grew up in Southern Oregon, with towering mountains and crystal clear rivers. I was 90 minutes away from Crater Fucking lake for the first 18 years of my life. I had lived in Portland, Oregon, where I had a view of Mount Hood on clear summer days.

I wanted to say something like, “Are you fucking kidding me?! As far as I can tell New Hampshire seems a place dedicated to the preservation of private property and fucking the poor.”

However, I’m polite, and said, “parts of it are lovely.”

Over time, I came to love New Hampshire, then Connecticut, and now–much more grudgingly–the central coast of California.

I think the thing that most annoys me about the inital comment, and about the people who say, “Don’t you just love Santa Barbara,” is the idea that there is one edenic sort of place–one place to love. It also overlooks the real problems in places, like the piss-poor funding of schools in New Hampshire, the piss poor funding of schools in Oregon, and the piss poor funding of schools in California. (Maybe there’s a national pattern here.)

Anyway, cool thoughts Rob. I’m now going to try to temper my love for seventy degrees and sunny.

rcm - October 19, 2009

Chris, I would also add Seattleites to the list of the obnoxious. It’s a great city, but really – get over yourself. Part of my problem is that no matter where I live in this country I’ll never be able to get past the fact that London, England, for lots of reasons (although none of them having to do with actual heritage) feels most like home to me. The weather, the people, the scenery, the culture – I feel more comfortable, more at peace, there than anywhere else. My U.S. home will always pale in comparison, no matter where that home happens to be.

4. Amanda - October 19, 2009

“Just because you don’t care about anything but yourself doesn’t make you laid back. It makes you an asshole.”

This is why I like reading your blogs.

rcm - October 19, 2009

Thanks, Amanda. I’ll try to keep the zingers coming.

5. Fred "Col. Matrix" Mowery - October 19, 2009

Rob, we’re thinking about it. Not sure where, though. Not back to St. Louis.

6. Katie Reed - October 20, 2009

I don’t like anyone, anywhere. This makes moving easier for me.

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