I was having lunch with my friend Mike (of the “You Should Be Dancing” post) this past week and he mentioned casually that our mutual friend Chris was flying out to California to interview at Google. I set down my fork and looked him straight in the eye. “No, he can’t go.”
Mike, who is familiar with my grand pronouncements, just smiled. “Oh really?”
“We already lost Stephen to that…that place,” I couldn’t even bring myself name it. “I’m not losing any more friends to it. That’s final.” Considering the case closed, I resumed eating.
Stephen, a born and bred New Englander, was wickedly funny, acerbic, and irreverent. I looked up to him for those reasons and because he came from Massachusetts. I’m from Connecticut, which, truth be told, has little street cred in New England. Don’t get me started—I know we don’t have an accent and we don’t really have a quintessential tourist thing for you to come a thousand miles for, like a peak with the worst weather in the world or the Kennedy Compound. But I fixed that by moving to Boston, and becoming a proud Masshole. And Stephen was the finest example of the Massachusetts flavor of cranky, caustic New England humor. I knew him for years. And then. He moved. To Cali… to that place. I told myself that he was strong, he’d show them, those flaky LA people with their white teeth and vintage cars.
But then I had a flashback of another person I had lost to that vacuous geography. He was a friend from college who was born and bred in New York. Granted he wasn’t a New Englander, but New Yorkers invented snark and he was hard-core. Didn’t trust a soul and was paranoid. I loved him. But I should have known when he showed interest in my Eagles album, Hotel California. I had bought it, but—big surprise—lost interest in it. He was a huge Eagles fan, so I offered it to him. I still remember how wary he was about it. He made me repeat multiple times that I wanted nothing in return, now or later. I loved him for that, too. Finally he accepted the album. God knows how long he waited in silent paranoia for me to call him up and say, “Remember that Eagles album I gave you? Well, I have a favor to ask.” I would never find out because shortly after college, his career path in filmmaking took him you know where. He claimed it would only be for five years, until he got enough experience. At first he said he felt like an alien—people couldn’t understand him because they said he talked too fast. Guess what LA freaks, you listen too slow. But it didn’t last, and he was assimilated as sure as if a Borg ship had landed. That was 25 years ago. He ain’t coming back.
And then Stephen went out there for a job. Oh, sure he comes East about once a year, but that first year, I knew right away he was a goner. He had the gall to show up smiling. Happy. Soft. No snarky jokes, no cutting observations. He was nice. WTF? I had to goad him for a full five minutes before old Stephen showed up. Then he made a rude observation and said, “I missed you, Sandy!” No shit, Sherlock. You miss yourself! He’d clearly lost his way with all those vapid, soulless people in the freakin’ sunshine.
Which brings me to another problem I have with that place. Sunshine, my ass. You may be thinking I’ve never been there, and I’m making crabby, cranky unfounded statements. That would be an appropriate New England thing to do, but oh, no, I’ve been there. My friend Gloria (of the Prius and furniture post) and I drove cross-country a few years after college, a southerly route, east to west. Before driving to LA, we hiked into and camped in the Grand Canyon for a few days, where it rained a river in our small tent, and washed out one of the main water houses along the nearly 8 miles of desert trail. That meant we had to hike out, all uphill, hauling a gallon of water each (plus our full packs). I’ve never fantasized so much about breaking a leg so I could get helicoptered out. Why am I digressing? Well, after the Grand Canyon we drove west to LA to its youth hostel. When we got up the next morning, we saw it was cloudy. We’d grown up on “CHiPs” and “Starsky and Hutch,” all long commercials for this famous California sunshine. So a couple of crabby New Englanders assume we’re going to see some effin’ sunshine, and we were looking forward to it since we’d nearly bought the farm in the Grand Canyon. But it was definitely cloudy, like dark gray cloudy. Rain cloudy. We’re cloud experts, and we’d just been torrentially rained on in an alleged desert. We had earned the right to ask the question.
“Is it going to rain today?” To our credit, we said it in a puzzled tone.
The youth hostel worker replied in a haughty voice, “It never rains in California.” I could have respected him if he’d said, “Sure, just after monkeys fly out of your ass.” That’s straight shooting; that’s New England. But he didn’t have a personality, just a fake superiority springing from his lame brain.
Gloria, also born in Connecticut and honing her skills in Maine, retorted in her best crusty voice, “Yeah? It’s not supposed to rain in the Grand Canyon either, and we’re still wringing out our tent.” She didn’t add “pretty boy,” but it was clearly implied.
LA boy merely sniffed at us. “It’s smog, and burns off at noon.” Noon? NOON? Are you serious? That’s not full on sun, you LA people who can’t count. That’s HALF a day of sunshine. Not ALL day, HALF. So not only do we have to put up with the attitude and the cardboard cutout people, but we’re also supposed to sit here and swallow this bunk about the sunshine? I think not, you half-assed tools.
Understandably pissed off, but trying to be as generous as possible for two New Englanders, we decided not to Judge. Yet. We’d spent close to a month driving across country and had encountered many interesting and entertaining people, including a waiter in Texas named Laredo and a Grand Canyon blacksmith who had a handle bar mustache and kept us rapt with tales of skittish tourists and kicking mules. I can tell you, and Gloria will confirm, we did not meet anyone like that in LA. We met a number of assorted people and all were vacant and uninteresting. No accents, no tall tales, no weird little social rituals left over from the Civil War. Nothin’. And that gave us the right to judge. We did and still do. We did not meet another interesting person until we drove to San Francisco, where the people in the bar listened carefully to our LA tale and confirmed our suspicions. And no, they were not cranky people, they were strangely nice, but we didn’t hold it against them because they had personalities.
So maybe it’s LA I don’t like, but California is a big place and who knows how much of the blankness seeps out on yearly basis? Better safe than sorry, I say. That’s how we roll in New England. We hold grudges, we say what we mean, we tell you when we don’t like you, and we don’t fake our sunshine.
We are also loyal to our friends, so my final offer to you, Chris, is this: You can go to the interview. If you get the job, I prefer that you work in Cambridge, MA. But if you must, you may work in one of the offices closer to San Francisco. This thing called Silicon Valley didn’t exist when I visited, and for all I know it’s another LA sinkhole, but I hear they are nerdy, so that’s something.
Photo credit: Edison Avenue. The 80s band Missing Persons had it right with its song “Nobody Walks in LA.”