Why I Went West as a Young Man and Why I'll Stay 'Til I Grow Old


“Kate, California is going down! Pack up the kids now!

It’s not just California. It’s the whole goddamned world that gone to shit.” (John Cusack, 2012)

It’s surprising to me how often it seems like Sacramento wrote the plot of its own disaster movie and is now acting the part it has written for itself of panicking, incompetent government.

John Nolte, editor of Big Hollywood, has joined that great mass of reverse Joads (of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath), in search of a better life anywhere but California. I imagine him, with his affects, trucking across the Mojave Desert in search of the better life that eluded him in California.

“The Mojave is a big desert and a frightening one. It’s as though nature tested a man for endurance and constancy to prove whether he was good enough to get to California,” Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley in Search of America. Now the desert, notwithstanding the government-induced drought in the Central Valley, is more metaphorical and all around us. There are no jobs but government jobs or the jobs the government has yet to destroy.

“You know what’s remarkable? Is how much England looks in no way like Southern California,” Austin Powers once said. But he was wrong. We are England, circa 1970. We’re still looking for our Thatcher. We hope if New Jersey can get Christie, maybe this state can come back, even if our last Republican governor merely played the part of a conservative. Indeed, the fattest governor in America could have taught the body builder a thing or two about trimming the fat.

Call me silly or foolhardy, but I’m not yet ready to leave the party. To be sure, the state’s fiscal matters are a mess and now it’s at war with Amazon.com in its vain hope to tax the Internet, its political class wants to kill off both its tax base and the middle class. If they could figure out a way to tax the weather, they would. (Oh wait, that’s what the global warming law – AB 32 – is all about!)

You see, I’m a refugee from Massachusetts, so I’m used to getting taxed and taxed hard. In California, at least I have the weather, the beaches, and the babes. The Beach Boys let me tell you, really were right.

So about four years ago I showed up with no job, $40 dollars in debt, without having ever visited L.A., let alone my college (which I picked after spending the afternoon trying to find the college the furthest away from the Ivy League cliques). In Southern California, all you need is money, good looks, or grit. People spend less time asking you where you went to school and more time asking you where you want to go and how they can help. With its shallowness, it’s oddly more meritocratic than the supposedly deep political class that runs the country. With its love of beauty and the good life, it is fairer than the petty, soulless liberal prep school I went to.

Though I had no way to pay my bills, I was determined to make a go of it. Besides, I figured that if things didn’t work out, there were worse places to be homeless. Despite scholarships I still was so broke that I did odd jobs on Craigslist – the least pleasant of which was pulling a dad cat from underneath a house – and worked three different jobs, sometimes competing with illegal immigrants for the cash jobs I wanted. I still couldn’t afford the plane ticket back to Boston and saw my parents only a handful of times. Times, as they say, were hard.

But in the evenings, I saved up enough money to take myself and my then-girlfriend, now-fiancée (remember what I said about California girls – she’s a sensible Berkeley grad) to the movies. And there we escaped together.

I had always thought she and I would leave the state altogether, but a recent movie finally convinced me to stay, Battle: Los Angeles. Its critics to the contrary, the film delivered exactly what it promised: a battle in Los Angeles. Having spent way too many misspent hours on the freeways, the prospect that those freeways were to be destroyed was reason enough to make the trek to the theatre.

The plot was simple enough: genocidal aliens roamed about murdering people indiscriminately and then the Marines showed up to fight them off. In a situation room, the Sgt. Major put the situation darkly and grimly: “This is a textbook military invasion. We are the last offensive force on the west coast. We cannot lose Los Angeles.”

Something stirred in me hearing those words. Yes, we cannot lose Los Angeles. We cannot lose California. We’ve got to get back to the fight.

No matter where we run, the Left will eventually come for us. Even liberals flee failure, though of course, they import it with them. Just ask Republicans in Colorado or New Hampshire, which are now swing states. Though many of us might move to the Texas – the land of the Alamo – California must be our battleground. It must be our Alamo. After a brief stint in New York City at the Wall Street Journal editorial page, I’m going to come back to fight.

And yes, it’s true that California, once among the world’s greatest economies, would be under I.M.F. receivership were it independent, its worth it to get its financial house in order.

We need not be fatalistic about it, for as Shakespeare once said, the entire world’s a stage, we are merely actors, waiting for our entrances and exits.

Well, now is our cue.


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