Southern California has been a conundrum and confounding for us. If there is a place that spotlights our cultural failings, it is here. Here among this beautiful landscape of rugged coastline, hills, mountains and fertile valleys something has gone terribly awry. It is tough to know what has more plastic in it, the ocean from the cavalier attitude towards the environment, or the peoples’ souls from all the garbage they cram into themselves. Like the temple of Zeus on Mt. Olympus, mansions line the hills and mountain tops, while the Mexican labor toils in the heat of Hades in the fields below. The latest new age spiritual fad is discussed at length on cell phones while swerving through traffic, or at the hot new cocktail bar. Cigarettes are banned, but the smell of skunky weed fills the air. College students riot in the streets, not for a political cause, but when simply asked to turn their music down (Deltopia). It is a place where people look at you while passing on the street, only to look the other way if you smile. All of the area woes are blamed on the people from The Valley and the illegal immigrants. Enabling homelessness and drug addiction seems to make people feel better about themselves. There is a law for just about everything, yet common decency and civility remain elusive.
This place is adrift, like the 17th century maps that depict California as island; it is sinking under the weight of mismanagement and self indulgence. The State and municipal governments are massive bureaucracies that are corrupt and are no longer able to be effective due to poor leadership and a heavy burden of an overly generous pension system. Slowly, the towns are going bankrupt while education, parks, and infrastructure take a back seat to retirement funds and the regular occurrence of waste and abuse. A two year drought has done little to change water usage despite the pleas of local officials. It is the land of perpetual adolescence, as can be observed by 65 year old men, and mothers’ of three dressed like teenagers. People here do not actually develop along personal or spiritual lines; they adapt personas and wear them like gang colors. Yes the cliché of Southern Californians being fake is true, they just don’t know it. Long gone are the days of the laid back surfer dude, or counter culture hero; these are the times of self affirmations and revering celebrity. Disney-fication and the corporate takeover of the mind are seen here more intensely than anywhere else in America.
“We are so fortunate to live in such a beautiful place,” drones off the lips of the residents like a mantra confirming that despite all the troubles it is worth it. While real estate prices are astronomical, there are few jobs that pay high wages so many people work multiple just to get by. Once their youth has worn off, people here look tired, frustrated, and a few short of a full deck. There is a lot of crazy in Southern California. Homeless, schizophrenics, and addicts who have just given up, are seen with regularity and accepted here. Sometimes I feel like they are the ones who have figured it out. Southern California entices with beauty and glamour, but it leaves us a bit baffled and feeling a little weary.