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By VALERIE SCHULTZ, Contributing columnist
"Look at those people," my dad used to say on every New Year's Day that we lived in Connecticut, as he watched the Rose Bowl Parade on television. "Those people are in their shirtsleeves! While I'm shoveling snow! " He was so impressed that he relocated his business to Los Angeles. Which is how, at the age of 16, I became a Californian.
At first, I hated California. It seemed brand-new, and fake. I felt like I was finishing high school in a foreign country. I went to college in Dallas, just to get away, and spent my first year of married life in Minneapolis. The pull of family is strong, however, and so my husband and I ended up as Californians, with four native-born children. A funny thing has happened over the years, in that now, when I hear anyone bash California, I get defensive. I'm ready to put up my dukes and defend this state I've come to love.
California is uniquely multifaceted. I may not spend winter in my shirtsleeves, since I live in Tehachapi, but if I want to, I can get in the car in January and be in my shirtsleeves pretty quickly. This points out one of the many charms of California: We have every climate, every terrain, every extreme. We are the third largest state in area, but the largest in population. We boast the highest peak, the lowest point, and the largest living tree in the contiguous United States. We have mountains and fertile valleys, desert and ocean. One of the things about living in Minnesota that surprised me was how landlocked I felt. In spite of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes, to which the natives directed my attention, it wasn't the same. It wasn't the ocean.
My uncle in New Jersey used to say that the country is tilted to the west, and everything loose rolls down to California. The ironic thing is that he himself eventually moved to California. I say: Let it roll! The richness and diversity of our population only adds to our innovative abilities. We are the Golden State, El Dorado, from the poppies on the mountains to the sunset over the ocean to the actual gold in them thar hills. We are the state people write songs about, the one whose motto -- Eureka! -- describes how we really feel about living here.
When you travel as a Californian, everyone you meet assumes that you subsist on oranges that grow in your backyard, that you run every morning on your private beach, and that you wave to the movie stars who live on your palm-tree-lined street. I admit that I went to high school with the daughter of a well-known character actor whose name I can't remember: you know, the kind of actor you see in many films and totally recognize his face, but you do not ever remember his name. I was jealous of the actor's daughter's beautiful smooth long hair, but otherwise, she was a normal girl. My parents once lived in the same neighborhood as Dr. Dre, but my dad wondered what his medical specialty was. You sometimes see famous people around Southern California, but you realize that, at that moment, they're not at work. They just want to be normal, picking up take-out for their family, just like you are.
My daughter, who is attending grad school in Missouri and was home for a visit before starting a summer internship, was listing the things to move back to California for: Fruit. Avocados. Produce in general. In-N-Out. Decent Mexican food. Earthquake drills instead of tornado warnings. Predictable weather. My daughter said that just watching the car commercials while she was home, with vehicles purring over beautiful Californian landscapes, made her want to stay. Her visit made me see with new eyes the things we take for granted in California.
Then there are the things to love: Trends. Movies. Music. Styles. Clothes. Cuisine. Movements, both kooky and cathartic. Languages. Lingo. Cities with their own personalities within California: San Francisco. San Diego. Monterey. Sacramento. Santa Barbara. Santa Cruz. Los Angeles. And yes, Bakersfield. Beaches north, south, and central, also with their own personalities. No smoking anywhere anymore. Two women senators. The ninja cat. A governor with nine lives, who may very well be part cat. Grapes, both wine and raisin. Polite drivers. People who say "Have a nice day" without irony. Diversity everywhere, and normal: just another sunny day in California.
I've been a Connecticut Yankee and a New Yorker, a school-year Texan and a hesitant Minnesotan, but now I'm a vehement Californian. I'm a transplant in a family of natives, and like an ex-anything, we transplants are the worst. My dad would be proud: I'm writing this in my shirtsleeves.
These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.