I got back in touch with one of my good friends from Atlanta over the weekend. Our conversation went as follows:
Him: So how’s life in Cali?
Me: Pretty chill.
Him: Have you learned to surf yet?
Me: No, not yet.
(five minutes of silence)
Him: But I bet you’re a bodysurfing expert by now, right?
Me: Oh, for sure. I’m in the water 24/7.
Him: Dude, I gotta head to Cali someday.
Oh my goodness, the “Golden State Blues” columnist went to junior high and high school in – gasp! sob! – another state. And not even on the West Coast, but in Dirty Souf USA: Atlanta, Georgia.
Living in California long enough gets people thinking that they’re the center of the universe, but we are only one state out of 50, after all. I’m the first and only person in the history of my high school to attend UCSB, for instance. Which is not to say that Atlanta is backward, because quite the opposite is true. Atlanta is the New York City of the South, with a metro population of 5,478,667. It’s the home of Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Turner, Outkast, T.I., Ludacris, Ryan Seacrest, Elton John and the culinary awesomeness of Chick-fil-A and Waffle House. Oh, and sweet tea, which is so scarce in this state that I could just cry.
And yet, even in a time when every town has the same look-alike franchises wherever you go, it’s remarkable how unaware we are of different cultures. The conversation I had with my friend reminded me of the perils I’ve seen befall other ATLiens trying to come here for college.
A perfect example: Only a couple of California colleges show up at the college fair at my high school. One, however, gets way more traffic than the others: University of the Pacific. University of the Pacific is like a cruel practical joke for an out-of-stater. Every year, the students who stop by this booth have excited looks in their eyes, filled with visions of surf and sun and waves. Imagine, if you will, coming to California for the first time, fantasizing of something like what we have here at UCSB, and – surprise! – this “Pacific” university is located in Stockton. Have a great four years!
Or what about Redlands [[the University of Redlands]]? You’re told that at Redlands, everything is within reach – L.A., the mountains, the beaches, you name it. One of my friends got into Redlands. She was super stoked, of course. Now that she was going to be in L.A., she could hit the beach and shop on Melrose whenever she wanted.
Two years later, though, she switched to a college back in the Southeast. Her Facebook profile, once dripping with praise for “Cali,” now doesn’t mention it at all. No offense to Redlands, which is a great school, but do you think she noticed that being “within reach” of Los Angeles means sitting in Inland Empire and L.A. traffic for 59 miles? Surprise!
The whole out-of-state perception issue is even more apparent to me now, as I keep up with my old high school friends and learn that a lot are making plans to visit California for the first time. Some of them are coming because it’s the home of a boyfriend or girlfriend, some of them because they want to make it in show business and some of them because “The OC” did more for tourism in this state than any of those ridiculous, celebrity-studded “Discover California” commercials.
I’m leaving my out-of-state friends a couple of handy tips. Feel free to give these to your own out-of-state visitors. I have limited space, but these are a good start.
Buying a map should be first on the list. Just as Georgia is not just a bunch of plantations and hog-calling rednecks, California is not one gigantic beach.
Secondly, don’t move to Van Nuys because of its convenient location and its cool name. True story? For one person I know, sadly.
And finally, for God’s sake, stop calling it “Cali.” This is no different from calling San Francisco “Frisco,” New York City “The Big Apple” or Atlanta “Hotlanta.”
And then enjoy yourselves. You should have come here sooner.