Marina, California. It’s official. I’m leaving California. In two weeks time, I’ll be relocating back to Florida.
For much of my life, people told me that I belonged in California. They told me I had that California laid-back vibe and attitude, and that I’d find it a land of kindred spirits. And as my environmental and political views matured over the years to left of center, my friends in the east even more so associated me as misplaced from the “Left Coast”. But after five years of forging a life out in the Bear Republic, I’ve come to the conclusion that I never really belonged here at all.
In California, I discovered a land of stunning mountains, dramatic coastal wilderness, wild deserts and forests, and, amongst its diverse people, a truly unique strain of the pioneering American spirit. Growing up in the northeast, California surprised me in many ways. I recall being bewildered that L.A., the city that literally invented urban sprawl, was surrounded on three sides by vast wilderness areas. I was pleasantly shocked to learn that almost all of California’s major urban centers are equally blessed with rich natural areas in very close proximity. Rather than the sprawl that seems to connect east coast city centers into one enormous mega-city, California’s cities are truly metropolitan islands in a sea of some of our country’s most beautiful natural landscapes. And the weather! Oh, for good and for bad, I never expected the weather. The perfect sunny days of Southern California that seem to go on without end, and the dreary, fog-inundated months of the Central Coast that seem to do the same. I was never surprised that California had great beach weather – everyone from Singapore to the Ukraine knows that. But I was surprised at California’s brisk evenings – that even in the summer, hoodie sweatshirts, jeans and caps are a necessity, not the copy-cat fashion statement they are in the east. As an east coast kid, I would have never figured out that California’s distinctive outdoorsy style is a direct consequence of utility rather than just being “cool” as we east coast beach town brats saw them to be.
But in addition to California’s unparalleled natural attributes, I also discovered a dark underbelly of fierce competition, cruelty, corruption and perversion. I discovered that wonderfully sweet and kind California cool types can utterly lack compassion, whereas their sometimes gruff, rude and uncouth east coast counterparts might lay down their life for a friend or neighbor. I found a place where the violence of gangs is only overshadowed by the violence and collusion of the police force. Where the cops themselves are the gang to be most feared. I learned that despite it’s status as the 10th largest economy in the world, it also has the largest prison inmate population. And that this population is fueled by a distorted judicial system that has created and nurtured a completely unnecessary and totally interdependent criminal class. I found an insane culture, where “legal” marijuana is available at medical clinics at nearly every corner of every major city, yet hundreds of thousands are locked up behind bars on petty drug use and distribution charges. Its a place where movie stars are sex addicts, and the Governor is a movie star. Where aging hippies walk naked through the streets, blocks away from some of the most powerful and distinguished financial institutions in the world. A place where the government sends a leadership delegation to the UN climate change conference, yet the populace prefers breathing smog to building high speed rail. I discovered a land where higher taxes, lower pay, and an astronomical cost of living force you to be rich or to be poor. Where the American ideal of the middle class is something marketed and sold in Hollywood, but not often lived on the streets of that same town.
In short, I found a wildly beautiful, exotic and alluring temptress who has somehow lost her soul. A woman of the evening, desirable to no end, but full of peril and lacking in long-term satisfaction. I did not find a kindred spirit.
My path is now taking me back to Florida. Home of sun-burnt swamp-caked Crackers, tasteless over-development, right wing shock jocks, flamboyant Cubans and alligators. Where every intersection seems to have a mega-church, a strip club and a dive bar working prosperously alongside each other in hostile symbiosis. It’s a place where I don’t fully fit in. But it’s home. It’s where my friends are. And it’s where, in the strangest way, I’m a part of things for being a bit different. I’m not the one of many eco-conscious people on my California block, I’m the crazy enviro nut at the end of my Florida street. I like it that way. It works for me. Plus, I get a great tan.