California: it's a trip

Dateline: Thu 23 Aug 2007

There are people who smoke out here, and people who are fat. But not many.

In fact, you know you're in streamlined, PC Southern California by the sign inside the tres cool, 1950s-style Saga Motel on Colarado Boulevard, my crib for the past week: "WARNING. Chemicals Known To The State Of California To Cause Cancer or Birth Defects Or Other Reproductive Harm May Be Found In Foods Or Beverages Sold Or Served Here."

Lord have mercy. This gentle breakfast bar, where palm trees sway outside, these peachy interior paint tones, these bursting lush flowers -- concealing death? We're not talking toxic waste soup or nuclear holocaust juice at this brunch counter, or even bad coffee, but fresh bananas, oranges, apples, name-brand cereals, coffee, English muffins and bagels. But this is California: You've been advised that yes, there are hazards in life, even in a standard American breakfast. And that Rino in the governor's mansion is the least of the problems. The motel rooms as well carry sweet admonishments: let's save the earth and reuse a towel when possible. If you're OK with it, please don't request a daily change of bedsheets.

Given all that, one might think this is an uptight culture. But no, it's still California dreamin, blond and beautiful, Asian/Hispanic/Anglo/black beautiful, laid-back, elegantly casual. Proof? No pets allowed at the motel. But when an older gay couple made reservations and showed up with Brawn -- a darling cocker/lab, 12 years old, as well-behaved as a saint -- they were of course given a pass-go. Brawn shows up at the pool every morning, for his organic dog food treat.

Pasedena is in particular a gem: clean, shiny, both quaintly old and boldly new. Even the fire hydrants in Old Pasedena are polished steel, gleaming testaments to the array of fancy shops. Art and art museums abound; flowers flourish magically, despite a lack of rain. Beautiful. And serene.

Indiana could learn a trick or two. At the local Ralph's grocery, a chain of upscale groceries, they're selling environmentally correct mesh bags made of something recyclable: the better to do your grocery shopping with. Skip the plastic; forego the brown paper. For $1, you can buy a Ralph's bag; the idea is to do as they do in Europe -- shop daily, use your same bag over and over. Take a stand.

And then there are property taxes. This is all anecdotal, and obviously California homes are hugely expensive -- millions -- but the San Diego banker on the plane with me, a former Hoosier, if there is such a thing, said he pays less property taxes for his home and riding stables than many Hoosiers in Parke County are now paying (He lived in the West central part of the state, and was an avid Republican until Bush II came on the scene.) He's followed the news back home; he, too, is outraged. On our behalf.

So in some instances, I say let the West Coast take the lead. Someone, please, get those practical $1 bags into the Indiana grocery stores; and please, God, be merciful to us poor Hoosiers on property taxes. We may even quit smoking, if we get a break.

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