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Late afternoon aerial view of the Laguna Beach, California coastline. (Photo: Matt Gush, Shutterstock)

The California Whimper

Now friends ask, ‘When are you leaving that shithole?’

By Thomas Buckley, April 5, 2023 5:01 pm

WAs the glint of the Golden State – rub worn by misdirection, doubt, and fear – fades just another little bit each day and its diminishment to darkness slinks on cat feet over the Sierras to hollow out a once enraptured nation, the pressure to preserve – if not for the practical present then at least for public posterity – the promise inherent in California grows on its people like an invasive vine, strangling and supporting, suffocating and sacrificing that which it encases, that which it is meant to save.

The disinclined decline of the dreamstate started years ago, proceeding slowly – even fitfully at times – until finally the cartoon character running in the air nature of the desperation became no longer sustainable and then the look pleading for help, or at least belief, then the fall, the tumbling slidewhistle, and finally the far-off thud of dust.

The dream has turned into the whimper of a Hollywood addict, once famous and feted, now foaming and footless, eyes tracking the sidewalk, hungrily looking for even a glimmer of recognition in the faces that swim by quietly, faces desperately negating the man who could once do anything who now can do nothing except remember and beg.

And fall.

The California Dream was not just a pride of place – it was the deluxe box set limited collector’s edition of the American Dream itself, the avatar of what could be in a nation where anything can be. 

It could happen anywhere, but it would happen in California.  The end of that truth – that permanent progress possibility – damages not just our state but the state of the American experiment.  The elimination of the heavenly goal, the subduction of the ever shimmering California answer to the quest of United States, to the question that is its national anthem guts the belief in the possible impossible of not just every American but of every single person on the planet who has ever heard the word “California” on the wind and been made even just a touch happier by knowing such a place existed.

The myth of California was its greatest strength and, as with all myths, when people stop believing the myth dies and can never be resurrected.

When talking to friends on the east coast, we always basked in the reflected glow of the California archetype – almost Jungian in its universality – and giddily enjoyed the brightly expectant jealousy on exhibit from those unlucky others.

The weather, the beaches, the wonders, the chances, the reinventions, the comfort, the calm, the pride, the work, the new, the joyous, the freedom were all on daring display to any and all.  

As with the friend, if you happened to meet a stranger at an airport and they asked where you are from and you said “California,” their face would change, crow’s feet momentarily banished as they were immediately, primitively flooded with fleeting thoughts of a youth that might have been  – is it really like that? Can you ski and surf on the same day? Have you ever met so and so? You nod knowingly, secretly deciding that seeing them at the grocery store was close enough if it would make this wistful stranger happy.

It was the California Way – a bit shallow, a bit smug, a bit kind, a bit proud, a bit smart, a bit risky, a bit honest, a bit polite, a bit naughty, a bit selfish, a bit nouveau, a bit rich, a bit generous, but all content in the knowledge that things were really a bit better here than anywhere else.

No other place on earth drew the same reaction, engendered an even remotely equivalent beautiful stranger moment in time – telling a stranger you were from Kansas prompted nothing more than a shrug, a tacit acknowledgement and acceptance of the fact that you were just a schlub like them.

Now they ask, “When are you leaving that shithole?”

A piece on the California Dream would not be complete without the song, but, obviously, not the original, so here’s a cover version… Unlike the condition of the state, it’s quite good:

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7 thoughts on “The California Whimper

  1. Ex-pats.
    Most of the bad-mouthing of California comes from people who either never lived here or who moved away and secretly know they made a mistake. I take the comment “When are leaving?” as a cry from someone who made a mistake and wants others to make the same misstep.

    1. Let’s welcome the Ex-pats back, California Stayin’. Have not decided yet to leave/stay myself. Will wait to see what happens in 2024.

  2. if you don’t think california is dead, you haven’t been here long enough. I moved from Kansas in 1994, at which time I was the envy of everyone I knew. Now, Kansas has a higher per capita income (much) better schools, cleaner air, and generally a high economic standard of living (although admittedly not a higher lifestyle/environmental standard of living). So, the question that used to be unthinkable is reducing down to a math problem….do you value weather and natural beauty over higher effective income, school quality, and nicer people? for me, it still makes sense to be here, but I can see how for others it doesn’t.

    1. Hi Erik. I have been here over 60 years but have also spent time in the truly magnificent state of Alaska. You were fortunate to arrive here in 1994 – by then smog was a thing of the past. There have always been issues with the state. I have learned not to let the politicians affect my mental attitude. Yes, I know it is corrupt. I know my vote does not count. I know the elites are insane. But aren’t official corruption, voter disenfranchisement and whacked out rich people endemic to every nation and form of government? Check out the 1876 election fiasco for just how things really have not changed in those three areas. Not sure if I should sign this as “frog in a boiling pot” but I stay here because of the people I am connected with.

  3. As a 30-year Cal-Ed K-12 Educator, (who was shot in. the back & fired for telling the truth), I’ve seen plenty of high school students who couldn’t even write their own name. The Big Truth is that Cal-Ed’s statewide average of student test scores is at The Bottom of the nation~! There are many great teachers, but, . . . they cannot override the Vast Criminalities of Cal-Ed’s insider stakeholders, (who have Destroyed Hundreds of Great Programs, to enrich themselves or to harm others who are doing a better job)~!

  4. Good weather and natural beauty can only cover up so much of the atrocities committed by the leftists on its citizens in California. Sometimes I wonder how we got to a situation so unbearable that people would leave the state by the hundreds of thousands. The answer is, people flee oppression.

  5. “when are you leaving that shithole?”

    Funny, a friend that fled Cali for Utah recently said that to me verbatim.

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