The dream of CaliforniaDidion came to see the whole pioneer mystique as bogus from the start. The cultivation of California was not the act of rugged pioneers, she decided. It was the act of the federal government, which built the dams and the weirs and the railroads that made the state economically exploitable, public money spent on behalf of private business. Didion called it “the subsidized monopolization” of the state. Big business had always run California. First, there were the ranches, then the corporate agribusinesses, and then, after the Second World War, the aeronautics industry, Boeing and Douglas, Lockheed and Rockwell. Defense contracts and government-funded infrastructure kept these businesses flush. Everyone else was a pawn in the game, living in a fantasy of hardy individualism and cheering on economic growth that benefitted only a few. Social stability was a mirage. It lasted only as long as the going was good for business. When conditions got cheaper elsewhere or defense contracts shrank or mergers became appealing, the plants were shut down, workers were laid off, and the middle-class dream vanished in the smog. “This process,” Didion wrote, “one of trading the state to outside owners in exchange for their (it now seems) entirely temporary agreement to enrich us . . . had in fact begun at the time Americans first entered the state, took what they could, and, abetted by the native weakness for boosterism, set about selling the rest.” When the social structure starts to crack is when the dropouts and the delinquents and the crazies turn up. These are not people who don’t know the rules. These are people who can see, without understanding why, that the rules no longer make sense. But, once people like that are thrown out of the system, once they become druggies or panhandlers or abusers of various sorts, no one wants them back in. They get scapegoated. Individual moral failure is taken to be the problem. It can’t be the system. Part of wagon-train morality was leaving the weakest behind to freeze in the mountain passes. Survival, not caring, is what Didion thinks that ethos finally boiled down to—“careless self-interest and optimism,” the California mentality. California’s answer to the problem of broken people was to build more prisons to put them in.
The veil falls for Joan Didion. Her moment of insight came in 1971 or 1972, during a summer visit with Quintana, then five or six, to Old Sacramento, an area of the city reconstructed to look like downtown Sacramento, where Didion’s father’s great-grandfather owned a saloon, circa 1850. She began telling Quintana about all the ancestors who had once walked on those sidewalks, and then she remembered that Quintana was adopted. Quintana had no relationship to Old Sacramento and its sidewalks and saloons. And this thought made her realize, as she put it later, that, “in fact, I had no more attachment to this wooden sidewalk than Quintana did: it was no more than a theme, a decorative effect.” Looking back, she decided that this was the moment when the story she had grown up with—“the entire enchantment under which I had lived my life”—began to seem foreign.
A new restaurant in LAAt Sqirl, a tiny restaurant in a strange neighborhood, a young chef is serving up “a sneaky sort of complicated simplicity”
The Big Big OneWhen the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west—losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries. Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, displacing a colossal quantity of seawater. (Watch what your fingertips do when you flatten your hand.) The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthquake begins. By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.” In the Pacific Northwest, everything west of Interstate 5 covers some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people.
San Andreas potencyEvery fault line has an upper limit to its potency, determined by its length and width, and by how far it can slip. For the San Andreas, one of the most extensively studied and best understood fault lines in the world, that upper limit is roughly an 8.2—a powerful earthquake, but, because the Richter scale is logarithmic, only six per cent as strong as the 2011 event in Japan
Water consumption can go way lowerAt the height of a severe drought a decade ago, Australians reduced their water consumption to thirty gallons of water a day per person—a fifth of Californians’ current consumption. “People were taking 30-second showers and collecting the shower water in a bucket and using it in their yards, and running dishwashers once a week,” says Kightlinger.
For the 200,000 attendees of San Francisco's Outside Lands Music Festival this past weekend, where a three-day pass cost $275, Uber's hated "surge pricing" scheme made sure that exhausted revelers ponied up hundreds of dollars to get a few miles across town.