Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Originally posted May 15, 2005

After much debate in the Williams household I was persuaded by a vote of 1-0 in favor of restoring full cable TV service. While the financial aspects may seem trivial to most, the emotions run much higher than the 42 clams per month I'm now going to shell out. This act now overturns my only consistently successful budget control program in the existence of my seven year marriage. Through thick and thin, while we pissed away 10 times the amount of the cable TV bill on frivolous travel, dinners out and gifts for relatives I don't even like, I was always able to rally the Williams Family Appropriations Subcommittee to strike-down the monthly pleadings that referred to full cable TV access a "basic, God given right" to be satisfied along with food, water and clean diapers. Fancy cable TV channels like E!, The History Channel and CNN be damned, I was living large as long as I had $7/month, ultra stripped down cable service to satisfy my desires to watch 3 local zoning board meetings simultaneously on the only channels outside of the major networks my cheap plan delivered.

In order to soothe the pain of losing this budget battle, I took to watching an inordinate amount of programming on the Game Show Network. Coupling that with Nick at Nite (both East Coast and West Coast feeds, in order to get the full, diverse spectrum of nostalgic programming) viewership I found myself recalling from my days as a wee lad my ideas of what it would be like to live in California. If i were to pin down the data sources for my California lifestyle perceptions it would be something like 30% Price is Right + 20% Brady Bunch + 20% Partridge Family, with the balance filled out by Sanford & Son (before Redd Foxx left the show) and the inevitable "everyone goes on vacation to or moves to California" episodes of Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley. Perhaps if I were a smarter, more well read kid I might have also learned about California from an encyclopedia or another book. Well, no such luck.From that rich data source I feel compelled to document the disconnect between that viewpoint of my youth and my actual, real life experience I have from living in California in the past few years:

1. "At some point in their lives everybody in California is a contestant on a game show". As a 9-yr old kid this made living in CA seem like an obvious money maker. I could never fathom why my constant, helpful suggestions to my father that we uproot the family from NJ and move to CA were never taken seriously. I mean from my vantage point this ticket to the free and easy lifestyle was as simple as guessing the price on some floor wax or dressing up in a big stupid wig and picking the new car behind door number three. His reply was always the same: "they make you pay the taxes on the prizes, so if you dont have the money to pay the tax you can't have the prize". Having not yet mastered the concept of sales tax at that point in my life I figured this was an insurmountable obstacle. This little zinger dad laid on me was enough to keep me from selling the family possessions while they were out of the house and herding mom and dad onto a bus for California when they got home. Once I was older and figured out you could actually sell the prize to pay the tax, it was too late to act on my plans. From this I did gain a valuable lesson though - re-directing a conversation is only rivaled by deceit as a parents best weapon.

2. "Everything is new and clean in California, everything is dingy, old and ugly in New Jersey". Well half of this turned out to be true, but California is much dirtier than I would have ever imagined. Where I grew up in NJ the pollution is like the mafia, its always skimming a little cut here and there for itself out of your health and life expectancy but unless you do something stupid (like attempt to train for an iron man triathlon without aid of air filtration and breathing apparatus) it never gets up in your face and tries to kill you on your doorstep. In California, the thick air pollution pimps you like a bitch each morning out of the house, walking up and slapping you in the face. And when it really feels like showing you the backside of its hand it can make you cough and sneeze all day.

3. "Everyone gets along with each other in California, because they're naturally nicer than other people in the US": Coming from the NY metropolitan area where a fellow traveler would causually stick an umbrella stem in your eye to secure themselves the last seat on a train, it seemed amazing at how California managed to create this utopian state of egalitarianism, sharing and openness. I chalked it up to how gosh darn nice those people in California seemed to be. Friends come over after school, why shouldn't mom have snacks ready to feed them all? Better yet, have the housekeeper do it ala Brady Bunch style. And since I was a sheltered young kid and the television networks hadn't discovered a way to turn the Watts riots or San Francisco counterculture into a sitcom, how would I have known any better? It just seemed so much better than the crap we had in NJ. Now, of course, i've un-earthed the real secret behind the system - piles of regulations that get you to behave the 'CA Way'. You will conform to the vision of California living standards or face a fine of no less than $212 and / or 90 days in jail. The state government spends an inordinate amount of time worrying about how to mold the people of California and protect the people from themselves at the same time. Case in point, having banned smoking in all public spaces and private businesses theyre now trying to make it illegal to smoke in YOUR OWN CAR. Enough said.

4. "California police don't bother persecuting ordinary citizens for menial offenses such as speeding, since they spend most of their time tracking down killers or tending to multi vehicle traffic accidents that involve exploding vehicles (ala CHiPS)" When your day is filled with catching an endless array of diamond thiefs and gang tuffs plus dealing with evacuating victims from the scene of a about-to-explode tanker truck that has been hit by a car that somehow managed to go airborne after being rear ended you're not going to sweat the small stuff, right? Well, a few weeks ago this last illusion was shattered for me, as I was tagged going 80 mph on a 65 mph highway. I was zoned out unaware of my speed, until I saw Ponch pulling up right behind me and waving me over.

As time goes on I'm sure I'll uncover more of these nasty truths about "real life" in California. For example, I have yet to receive an invite to a hot tub get together with a bunch of scantily clad ladies. I'm still holding out hope.


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