After four years spent trudging through the snows of Michigan and 18 years before that on the slightly more temperate East Coast, it’s time to fulfill my manifest destiny. Amid the typical pre-graduation anxieties, suddenly and unexpectedly, I picture myself as a West Coast person. Spurred on by an irrational love for the Beach Boys, Sun Microsystems and a disturbing tendency to take at face value Jim Morrison’s drunken declaration that “the west is the best,” I have boldly shed my affiliation with the American East. My girlfriend also tells me that men look great in a good pair of Italian leather sandals, except when they’re wearing socks.
The carefree American with an ability for mobility, effortlessly dashing from state to state and coast to coast is one of the great traditions of this nation. Liberated from the fetters of language differences, Americans can roam across the breadth of the continent and explore it for themselves.
I have a few assertions about the East of my upbringing that need to be tested in the laboratory of experience. New York is not the center of the world. The city’s greatest sin is its infatuation with itself. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates? Nothing more than a mere clothesline featuring an abundance of your orange-loving aunt’s muumuus – an installation that would garner nothing but hoots of derision by the New York press if it were created in Cleveland. D.C. is even worse with its hordes of would-be lobbyists posing as idealists running around with megalomaniacal delusions of changing the world. Everything dreadful ever said by an American president about Washington is true, from John Adams’s complaints to John F. Kennedy’s quip about Northern hospitality and Southern efficiency.
Swept away from this sclerotic, statist, corporatist and crumbling world of the East and inextricably drawn toward the kaleidoscopic expanse of sunshine and surf. If Dave Eggers could do it, why can’t I? Buoyed by my soon-to-be-realized freedom, I looked at a map of the great West and slowly worked my way north up the coast, evaluating each metropolis for its suitability as a future hometown.
San Diego’s climate may be unsurpassed, but I was never impressed by the surfer culture. A city that’s greatest contribution to world history is “walking the nose” is insufficient for my needs. Los Angeles, in contrast, has the unique geographical and cultural advantage of possessing tar pits, but the dreck produced by most of the city’s studios do little to excite me. Most discouraging of all, my computer programming skills are inadequate for earning sustenance in the glistening Bay Area. There’s always the possibility of panhandling in Golden Gate Park, but after the death of Jerry Garcia and the emigration of Deadheads from the area, this option will never have the same cachet.
It is the colder climes of the Pacific Northwest that certainly hold an innate advantage over the East. Portland, Ore. with its verdant forests located just outside the city limits is the ideal location for a yuppie with cosmopolitan pretensions who also has a side interest in logging. One big plus: My police record is sufficiently nonexistent to secure me a spot on the Portland Trail Blazer’s roster. Seattle has a library and more software companies. Vancouver, the crown jewel of the Northwest, is off limits because of its unstable political situation, being part of Canada and all. But there is hope for those who still cling to the promise of James Polk’s favorite exclamation “Fifty-Four Forty or Fight.”
America has lost much of the obsession with its geographical differences. Nick Carraway’s intricate meditations on the innate differences between the humble Midwesterners and rapacious native New Yorkers who populate “The Great Gatsby” seem quaint in an America of the interstate highway system, Southwest Airlines and Starbucks. At the same time that physical distance is being obliterated by faster and more efficient forms of transportation, we are apparently becoming more similar in what we consume and how we spend our time. As important distinctions dissolve into trivialities, there is nothing left but to imagine differences where they no longer exist.
Peskowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.