Decades ago, I'd show up weekly to clean the Philadelphia apartment of a California transplant. Daughter of a Hollywood executive, Jacqueline confessed she had to escape California because "California women are too beautiful." To save her self esteem, she had to flee to Philadelphia.
Ah, California as the perfect state with the most beautiful people! In spite of mud slides, wild fires and many blase places like Bakersfield and Fresno, California still captures the imagination of not just Americans, but foreigners. With its elaborate landscaping, it imitates Hawaii, even as Hawaii mimics California by laying on strip malls and freeways. Much of California, though, is no tropical paradise but a desert that's running out of water, and its fresh water crisis has become so severe, it has made salient a hushed up concept, namely the fact that there are limits to growth, and that all resources can become scarce if not run out completely.
Newly condemned and mocked for their swimming pools and golf courses, Californians are lashing back by charging, rightly, that other Americans are no less profligate. Though less than 5% of the world's population, Americans burn up 26% of its oil and 27% of its natural gas. Our houses are larger than anyone's and still expanding. We have more cumbersome cars than fat drivers. So what, I can hear some of you saying. If we can afford it, then it's no one's business, but the problem is we haven't been able to afford any of this for a while now. We are the world's biggest debtor nation, lest you forget.
Coming into the Bay Area this month, I saw mostly prosperity, however. From San Francisco down into San Jose, there is one affluent city after another, while on the East Bay, there are a few pockets of destitution and squalor, but nothing compared to the hundreds of miles of decay that mark the Rust Belt, for example. Even Oakland is rapidly gentrifying, and becoming very expensive, with the average rent for a one bedroom going for an astounding $3,078! That's more than three times what I must cough up, with much anxiety and bile, in Philadelphia, and I get two rooms. In this sinking economy, how does the Bay Area become ever more spiffy?
Two years ago, I talked to Hung, a Vietnam-born Chinese living in Milpitas, and he dismissed my grim assessment of the US economy as nonsense, "The Chinese and Indians are coming over. They have money and skills. They will keep this economy going."
"What about the locals?" I asked. "Won't an influx of rich foreigners hurt the poor here?"
"No, these Chinese and Indians will create jobs."
"But they will also jack up real estate prices!"