We left Selma last week in a fog of smoke and other pollutants, the landscape looking like a black-and-white photograph as we motored north on The 99 past Fowler, Fresno, Madera and Merced.
Somewhere between Modesto and Sacramento a peek of blue appeared in the sky, and by the time we hit Interstate 80 the smoky haze was lifting.
So here I am in beautiful Nevada County, sitting on the back patio of the wooded estate belonging to some longtime friends we’ve known since our days at Fresno State.
In the 1960s, we were poor college kids, looking for love and careers. The careers completed and the love still intact, we are now old retired folks with creaky bodies hoping for a few more seasons in the sun. I’m writing this as that autumn sun slips down through the trees. It was lovely here today, 70s temperature, blue sky, some clouds and a soft breeze.
You might get even call it dreamy.
Which brings me to my topic of the week: Dreams. Specifically, the Great American Dream.
“Catch your dreams before they slip away.” That lyric from the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” is appropriate for those of us in the Grandparent generation. We were young when the Stones recorded “Ruby Tuesday.”
Many of us managed to catch our dreams — home, family, career, travel, etc. — and now we’re content to help our children and grandchildren work on theirs.
But the Stones followed that previous line with this: “Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind.”
And isn’t that what’s happening to so many Californians lately? Fire/drought/pandemic is the triple-whammy that has most recently gutted our version of “California Dreamin’.”
Throw in high taxes, the growing cost of housing and gasoline, as well as the hot-topic issues of homelessness, immigration and government regulation, and it probably isn’t surprising that in 2020 California’s population actually decreased by 182,000, its first-ever yearly drop.
A recent online posting from the Public Policy Institute of California reported that the 2010 decade had the slowest growth rate ever in our state. During that decade 6.1 million people moved from California to other states, while only 4.9 million people moved to California from other parts of the country. (California managed to grow a bit before 2020 because of international immigration and births still outnumbering deaths; but rates had slowed for both of those factors.)
Those numbers hit home last week when a couple of friends, lifelong Californians, announced they are moving to Texas — just a few years after my doctor also moved to Texas.
What in the name of Sam Houston is going on? Apparently Texas, Idaho and Florida are popular destinations for the California disenchanted — i.e., the Disney Co. has reported it is relocating 2,000 of its most creative employees from California to Florida because of that state’s “business-friendly climate and its lower cost of living with no [state] income tax.”
My initial reaction to such news is: Don’t our state’s strong points — mountains, beaches, fertile farmlands, Silicon Valley smarts and Hollywood glitter — make up for a few downsides?
Maybe not, when the mountains are burning, oil is washing up on the beaches, farmland is threatened by water shortages and middle-class working folks can’t afford to own a home in Hollywood or Silicon Valley.
Are Californians losing ground in their pursuit of the American Dream? Are lower housing costs and lower taxation — and, for some, a more friendly business/political climate —enough of a draw to get folks to leave the Golden State?
That is a major question our state, county and local officials must wrestle with moving forward. How can they keep us content in our longtime homes while friends and family are moving away — and after we were stuck in our houses during a smoky fall weekend that kept us from having a pleasant picnic in the park or cancelled our grandchild’s soccer game?
All areas of the U.S. have their joys and their concerns. California, with the world’s fifth largest economy, is no different. But because we are bigger and more diverse than most, we often become a visible example of all that is wrong — and right — with America.
So leave for Texas if you wish. Or Idaho, or Arkansas, or Nevada or Florida. Write when you can and send photos of your new digs.
For the many of the rest of us — including this old columnist enjoying my birthday week while deer graze in a nearby meadow — “California Dreamin’” is still a viable option.