HomePublicationBurbankChris Erskine: California: A Miracle or a Mess?

Chris Erskine: California: A Miracle or a Mess?

California is contagious. If only every state were as active, healthy and open to new ideas.

California is a mess. Too many deadbeats. Too many fascists. You can waste half a day just picking up a pal at LAX. Or waiting in line at the DMV.

Is California our nation’s single greatest triumph? Maybe.

For a century now, it’s shaped our storytelling and cinematic concepts of family and success. If you’re humming a love song, chances are it was written and produced in California.

California exploits the rich and abuses the desperate. How it treats laborers and pickers defies belief.

Yet, California feeds the world.

And not just garlic, lettuce and pistachios. The best, most interesting cars are made here now. And, occasionally, a decent TV show.

California’s dating profile: “Sexy, brilliant. Moody too. At odds with conventional thought.”

That may be what I like about it most, its flippy, sun-baked idealism.

Plus its misty bays. Its bears. Its mountains.

It’s home to a celebrity class that lives like czars. They pretend to be soulmates to the downtrodden, yet they fly private jets, unable to stand the stench of commercial air travel. They live behind great walls, staffed by bodyguards with automatic weapons.

California is an enigma: Beacon or bomb?

Generally, the public schools are pretty rough, but it has the finest colleges in the world. Like Boston, only better and bouncier and more full of life.

Indeed, California is the land of contradictions. Moist. Scruffy. Snowy. Molten. Buttery. Fried.

It’s built on questionable concrete (earthquake faults). On any given day, the whole state quivers a little, threatening physical and emotional collapse.

Amid this, California produces the most beautiful human specimens ever (see Beverly Hills on a sunny day. Even Burbank).

It produces the best quarterbacks too. And the best ballplayers — Trout, Ohtani, James — all come here for work.

The finest Pinot grows here, the earthiest Cabs. The wineries are castles. Did the Medicis live like this?

California feeds the world And produces some of the earthiest Cabs

Listen, far as I’m concerned, you could carpet-bomb Silicon Valley, but it’s probably too late for that. The worst robber-barons reside there now, entrenched behind thick wad/walls of money. Lacking oversight – or our permission – they rule the world.

Provocative political minds used to flourish here too. Brown. Reagan. Nixon. Earl Warren. Hanoi Jane. California used to be subversive, then it became conservative, now it’s what exactly? A gurgling cauldron of spoiled children intolerant of anyone else’s views?

No, wait. That was the ’60s. Or the current Congress.

Indeed, the whole world now seems ungovernable. Yet, California remains the breeding ground for fresh ideas on the environment, lifestyle, inclusion, fairness.

Will democracy die here? Or flourish like never before?

To some, California is ancient Rome in its last days: too robust, too big for its britches … overspending and overtaxing.

To others, California is the Golden Age of Athens.

Certainly, no place hits on as many cylinders: Tech, entertainment, agriculture, aerospace, cars, porn, medicine, shoes.

The surfers are our mascots (like regular people, salted). And look out for the Hells Angels. In California, motorcycles race the freeways like runaway colts.

The cops are great, till they’re not, driven loopy by the lunatics and the goons. The DAs seem to have lost their collective minds.

The media overreacts to almost everything. And they spend far more time covering Sydney Sweeney than Laphonza Butler.

She’s one of our senators, by the way. The average Joe probably couldn’t name the other one either.

Over the years, California launched or nourished the Beach Boys, Mark Twain, Julia Morgan, Frank Capra, Marilyn Monroe, Donny Osmond and Waka Floka Flame.

For all its engineering savvy, you can’t build anything here anymore, with all the NIMBYs, the corruption and the red tape.

Yet, that’s exactly what California needs, some sort of WPA for housing, like something Roosevelt would’ve conjured. Because the land is here, it’s just that working folks can’t afford a single tree.

You know, God once had a crush on California. Then late last year — November, I think — he/she broke the lease and moved the whole operation to Dallas.

So now we’re on our own, folks. All we’ve got left is that preening boy-governor.

Meanwhile, on a frazzled freeway full of Lambos darting this way and that, with a gloppy Philippe’s French dip in my lap — the CHP merely a pleasant memory —  I can love, loathe, mock and revere California almost all in one garlicky rant.

So maddening, this place.

So lucky to live here.

Are you an Erik Larson fan? I’ll be chatting with the best-selling author of “Devil in the White City” and his latest, “The Demon of Unrest,” on May 28 at the Hermosa Beach Community Theater. Tickets include a signed copy of the new book. For information, pagesabookstore.com.

First published May 23-25 in Outlook Newspapers.


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