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Monday, January 20, 2003

It Never Rains on California...

...but it pours, man it pours.

I lived in Silicon Valley from 1994-1999, and I noticed neither alienation nor any sort of myopia. Maybe that's because I'm a short-sighted alien. I loved living there---loved it, loved it, loved it---and would go back like a shot, for a halfway decent job. Yeah, there were problems. Traffic was bad. And, um...well. There were a lot of people. Land was at a premium, so stores are smaller (and so have fewer things) than they are in other places I've been (Houston, St. Louis). But after Sydney I'm not sure I'd notice that anymore.

The people I worked with were all scientists, about half native Californians and half transplants. I noticed very little difference between them. Maybe the natives were a bit more relaxed. (My first boss, a native New Yorker, had married a California girl. He was the most relaxed one there.) This was sometimes aggravating, in an amusing sort of way. When you're a girl from a working-class family in rural Missouri, the idea of going to college, getting a PhD, and ending up at hot research lab in beautiful Cali! Fornia! is sheerest fantasy. So I was thrilled to be there.

But the natives took it in stride as just, you know, another lifestyle choice. "Well, I was always interested in science, so when I graduated from TechGeek High 314 I went to Stanford, y'know. Then I went to grad school at Berkeley and worked in N. Bel Laureate's lab, and got my PhD with him. But I coulda owned a head shop! This guy I know wanted to me to go into business with him, but I got a job with NASA instead, so..." I had several conversations like that.

I will point out that Californians aren't the only ones with their heads in a bubble. Shortly after I moved there, there was a letter in the San Jose Mercury News from a woman who had recently moved to the area from some Southern or Midwestern area. She wrote a condescending, smug, scolding letter to the effect that the locals had better shape up and grow up and live like Real People do. Real People, you see, have children and acquire Family Values and go to church. That's the way it had worked in Flat River, Missouri [town chosen at random], and that's how it has to work in San Jose, too. So you all had best remember that, and get busy reproducing and get your little hinder to church.

Really, she seemed somewhat taken aback that millions of people could choose not to embrace conservative values and still think of themselves as responsible adults. The specific complaint that I remember was that she had four children, and this was considered rather a lot in California (probably because you can't afford the room for them). She was particularly under the impression that the woman of the region were self-absorbed and selfish and "neglecting" to have children. It didn't seem to occur to her that this was a choice.

Non-Cal bloggers will often claim that the Bay Area, in particular, is hostile to lifestyles like that of the woman above. When I got there, I felt an overwhelming relief that no one cared what my lifestyle was. I was free to be single, childless, married, whatthehellever. No one gave a damn, which is more than I can say for Missouri.

I've noticed a hell of a lot of California bashing on the blogs I read. Yeah, yeah, it can be funny, but after a while it makes you grit your teeth. It also seems less in fun than in earnest now. Glenn thinks that conservative areas of the country were denigrated during the Clinton administration (which was, note, when I lived in California). Why would this be? Are there people who flip-flop from election to election, taking on the values of the current majority and bashing the minority? Or is that when you're in the minority you keep your head low, and once you're in the majority you gleefully beat up on the opposite side? Isn't either behavior kind of childish?

I look forward to one day being derided as a "Californian" again.