Dear California

I love the way you wiggle. I love the 200 ways you smile.

I have enjoyed not writing for a couple of days, after a long streak of writing every day through the holidays, finishing a book proposal, writing these silly blog posts and penning love notes that I leave on random bus benches for strangers to find and think, “Wow, I had no idea anyone felt this way. Yes, my eyes do twinkle like a Versace gown. I’ve kinda noticed that myself!”

Some guys build much-needed houses for Habit for Humanity. I leave love notes on bus benches. Same thing.

That’s my new revenue stream, by the way, leaving random love notes on bus benches. Pays about the same as journalism, and the perks are substantial: You’re out in the sunshine, amid the sooty buses, etc.

In many ways, it’s better than journalism. It represents the new, new journalism — free yet meaningful. And straight from the gut.

When not writing, I have painted the new bedroom doors, installed by a carpenter who told me he was leaving for Montana the moment he was done.

This great exodus out of LA — to Texas, Colorado, Toledo  — is in full swing, and people say it joyously, as if announcing they’re having twins. “I’m leaving LA today! So long, California!”

So long, California Dream.

Look, I just want to warn you: No one is leaving love notes on bus benches in Texas. It’s just not a Texas thing to do. You might find an NRA pamphlet on a bus bench in Abilene. Or a broken Bible in Ft. Worth. Either of which might be more useful than an anonymous love note, that’s true.

There are places with magic, and there are places without. I would venture that California still has more than most places, and it also has more junkies, more grifters, more traffic at 5 in the morning. It adds up, that stuff.

The trouble with great locations – Machu Picchu, Rome – is that they draw a crowd, and though crowds can be fun at ballgames and such, they also trample the tulips and clog the best bistros and signal left when they are actually turning right.

In short, they’re too fond of the place. As I always say, love ruins everything it touches.

“California, you have the best sunsets ever. And when the wind blows, I can hear you giggle a little.”

So, is this really the closing act of the California Dream? Were the Mamas & the Papas wrong all along? Can a place thrive based primarily on idyllic weather and perfect boobies?

Well….

Look, California has always been the land of last resort, and almost too forgiving for its own good. Like a Camelot where no one ever locked their doors.

The tech sector is leaving but the actors are all staying. I don’t see that as leading to any kind of future, do you?

There is no one as worthless as an actor, till he or she finds the right story to tell, and then – like California – they inspire all of us to be better than we were the day before.

I see hope in that. Yep, I actually see hope in every ditsy out-of-work actor who slings a plate of food at me like she’s mad. I see hope in all the dreamers – in food trucks and street rappers. In the public murals popping up everywhere.

I still see in California a tanned, sassy version of the American Dream. In its tolerance and creative spirit, I see much of what the rest of the nation is losing.

So here’s my love note to California, which I just left on a bus bench at the corner of Pico and La Cienega, under a gentleman named Flo:

“Dear California. I have known you a long time. I hope to know you forever. You’re the rum in my punch. Sometimes, you are also the wasp in my ice cream.

“No one blends pines and palms like you do. No one is equal parts sand and snow, happiness and hurt. You have the best sunsets ever, and when the wind blows, I can hear you giggle a little. You’re a painting that never really dries.

“California, I don’t think I can ever truly know you, which probably explains why we’ve been together 30 years. You might be crazy – no, wait, you’re definitely crazy. And I might be crazy to love you. Yet, you are where we made a life, where my kids grew up, where most of my friends reside. You are either America’s greatest gift, or its biggest, blackest sheep.

“Why not both?

If all you had was Burbank, that would be enough. But there is also Torrance, and Encino, Cerritos and Irvine. People lead real lives in places like that. They raise Cub Scouts and go to mass. They fall in love, just as you and I have. They have great and creative kids. On Saturday nights, with nothing better to do, they walk the dog.

Like nowhere else, there is an eros and an ethos, an air of mystery … a genuine shot at the impossible.

“Sure, California, maybe you’re not for everyone anymore. Maybe that’s good. Maybe it weeds out the carpet baggers and the evil genius tech moguls, who never really got you anyway. Leaves more room for those of us who do. For those of us who appreciate the wiggle in your beaches…the shimmy in your chimichangas. And the 200 lovely ways you smile.”

— Forever yours, me.

14 thoughts on “Dear California

  1. I was born in California and have never lived anywhere else. It’s crazy expensive because if it weren’t, the whole US population would move here in winter and we would tip into the Pacific. You thought of a few wonderful things about this magical place I never thought of before. And as of today, our new Vice President is a California native too. Many thanks for the quirky cute love note to California… I am sure Kamala would agree.

  2. Ah, your column this week reminds me of a variation of my Facebook posts the past many years to people, from out of state, who ask me how I could possibly live in such a crazy place.

    I ask them, rhetorically, “Just what do you think goes on out here?”

    We go to work, cook dinner, take our kids to soccer practice, make pancakes on Saturday, root for our local teams, have friends over for drinks and barbeque. Where does the closest movie star live in relation to our houses? No clue. How much effect does that radical congressman that you like to rail about have on our lives? Not as much as our HOA president. Last time we went to Disneyland? The last time a relative came (from your state, BTW) and begged us to take them.

    I do get in one dig, however: “Oh, and by the way, we do all of this in 70-90 weather.”

    Sure enjoy your columns, Mr. Erskine.

    Glenn Baxter

  3. I am a transplant. Came at age 12, fast approaching my 7th decade. Married a native, so I might be a naturalized native. Wouldn’t live anywhere else. Thank heaven we are a sassy version of the American dream. Tolerance alone is worth it.

  4. Finally an appreciate note about California! Touché all you CA bashers! Where else can you play volleyball, tennis or golf 340 days a year and sit under a palm tree afterwards? If I were a younger man with more energy I would push for a succession from the USA to make us the 5th richest country in the world which we are. Yes, it is expensive to live here due to the preverbal “supply/demand” ratio. There is plenty of supply so I guess the demand is high..da! Why? Well as Chris says…it must be the sterling sunsets I guess or are there a plethora of reasons why CA is so awesome? I can think of about 20 reasons but that story is for another time, JB

  5. Chris,
    You are a poet and a dreamer and
    you remind us of the beauty in our mundane world. You continue to make the everyday magical and add extra meaning.You turn a lowly bus bench into a monument.
    Thank you for your vision, for your creative inspiration, and for being in our lives.
    – Linda

  6. Illinois: “gee why doesn’t she look at me the way he looks at California?”
    This was lovely.

  7. Where else can you go from a snowy mountaintop to a beach in one day? Ordered and received two of your books. Arrived just in time to assuage the grief from a loss in our family this weekend. Thanks for the comfort.

  8. Is my email not working, or did you take a day off? Looking for my word fix today, but you didn’t show up! I guess I will survive on your books that arrived a few days ago! Hope you’re ok!

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