Growing up in the 60’s, I thought California was the center of the universe. I didn’t live there. I had only visited once or twice, but one of those visits was to Disneyland. Back in the days when it was the only Disney Land. California was a magical place to me; the entire state was Fantasyland.
As I came of age, some of the best music from the rock era came out of California: The Mamas and the Papas, The Beach Boys, Crosby Stills and Nash, Linda Ronstadt, America, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, to name a few. Even the singer-songwriters who did not hail from California congregated at The Troubadour nightclub in LA: James Taylor, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Van Morrison, Dusty Springfield.
Didn’t almost every TV show I watched as a kid take place in California? The Streets of San Francisco, Kojak, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Julia, The Big Valley, The Rockford Files, Barretta, CHiPs, Emergency 9-1-1, Columbo, McMillan and Wife, Sanford and Son?
So unique and quirky and diverse and living on the edge of the San Andreas fault, California is where everything happens first. I came to think of it as “the California.” Not THE California, as if it were the original in a slew of wannabe states claiming the same name, but a name that requires a definite article in front of it, like the Mona Lisa or the David. Everyone knows it; it defines itself. The California.
I recently spent a week in the California. Just driving from Reno, Nevada, to Monterey I saw towns on the road map whose names I knew: Livermore, Petaluma, Mill Valley, San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Cruz, Salinas, Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur. How do I know these names? They were featured in countless news stories, homes of research centers, universities, computer manufacturers, celebrities, and surfer dudes. This is where it was all happening while I was growing up, and still is.
Did you know that if the California were its own country, it would have the fifth largest economy in the world? (Okay, Wikipedia says eighth, but fifth is the ranking I’ve heard being tossed around.) In the world!!! That alone requires a definite article. Salinas Valley produces 80% of the lettuce eaten in the United States. The California has an ocean, several mountain ranges and deserts (it is home to both the highest and lowest elevations in the lower 48 states), volcanoes, and some very big-ass trees. It is an amazing state. I am a fan. Would I want to live there? Not really, they also have one of the highest costs of living in the United States. I couldn’t afford to buy a house there – or, more likely, I wouldn’t want to live in the kind of house I could afford there.
If you have any doubt that this is an awe-inspiring state, make the drive from Monterey to Big Sur sometime on the Pacific Coast Highway. But be prepared to stop every few minutes to take photos. I’ve traveled all over the world, and I’ve never seen coastline like that.