Friday, Feb. 16, 2007 | It was only an overnight news bulletin, known in the trade as “filler.” It was about a university research project. Two professors, probably restless for some rewarding headlines, had announced a study showing that 1 million compulsive gamblers now live and work in California.
The interesting part of this incident is that no one of us on the left coast seems to have protested that charge. No, it was just another amusing attack on California’s lifestyle, another California example of, “So what?”
We Californians are assumed to be wilder than those more traditional relatives we left behind in the South, Midwest and especially in New England.
Different things bother us, or make us happy. We have widely varying concerns, and differing expectations of life.
Way back after World War II, when I decided to settle not in my native North Carolina, but in California, it was a minor breach of my family expectations. My father explained to his wide circles of friends, with some embarrassment, that I had gone west and stayed west. My move, and that of many of the several million young Americans leaving the military, was not as historically acceptable as my grandfather’s emigration from Wales.
The basic difference was that his family in Wales was hungry. But after wars, many young Americans who had been looking around at the world were eager to find stimulating change — something different from their pre-war, small-town years.
My own move was seen in my North Carolina town as an act of abandonment, even an abdication of family tradition and honor.
In the migratory sense, because of all this, we in California are often more open-minded than those we left behind in towns and farms that had been passed down by generations.
We still choose to believe that we came west with open minds, ready to accept whatever we found, and anything we chose to believe and to set aside the residue of past years.
My father was a minister, and my move alarmed him. But he never chided me. He flew out to California on visits; they were his first flights by jet. His glimpses of our carefree west, the homeland of secular Hollywood, brought both frowns of concerns and smiles of astonishment.
He approved of some of my friends and not of others. In California, he warned, large numbers of people seemed prepared to believe in any God or in any cult of the moment. His wisdom still guides me. When I saw the item about California’s 1 million gamblers, I imagined the furrows of alarm that such news would have carved in his wise and patient face.