The Seattle Times has a thing in one of the Sunday supplements where you can send in some kind of essay or article or op-ed thing and if they select it you are sort of a guest columnist for the week.
The background for this piece I sent in was that we'd recently moved to Washington from California.
Over the past 2-3 decades there's been a bit of resentment from native Washingtonians about the influx of Californians -- the increase in population made the traffic worse, home prices rose dramatically, and... well, I guess that's about it. But it's a natural instinct to reinforce one's "belongingness" by Them-ing other people when we can, plus everyone needs someone to blame things on, so the anti-CA sentiment still lingers. We encountered a bit of that when we moved here -- mostly gestures from other motorists who saw our plates, etc.
So aaaaanyway, here's the thing the Times printed about our experience; imagine it in two-inch columns on gray newsprint, with my picture at the top...
My name’s Bryan and I’m…a Californian.
I didn’t mean to be. When I was little, I was from Illinois, but my parents decided to move west, and now it’s too late. I’m Californian, and nothing can be done about it.
The problem is, I’m living in Washington.
I didn’t mean to do that either. Really. But my boss sent me here. He said, “Go to Washington for a year, then come home.” So here I am.
You see, I didn’t know being from California was bad. I didn’t realize just where Californians rank in Washington (right after locusts), or how many bad things we were responsible for (low labor costs, overcrowding, high labor costs, the Mt. Saint Helens eruption, tooth decay…)
I thought what was important was to be a good citizen. I have a job; in fact, I brought it with me. I pay taxes; I am polite to senior citizens; I do not drive like an idiot. I keep my yard clean, I obey the law, and I have learned to pronounce Issaquah, Sequim and Puyallup. I now know 16 different drinks that I used to call “coffee”, and five kinds of salmon. I have put my 49ers sweatshirt in storage, and signed on for a year of Seahawks, Sonics, and Mariners. I do my best to help my community and to fit in; I give blood, I contribute to NPR and the Science Center, and I have erected a small shrine to Bill Gates in my living room.
I have tried to assimilate, but nothing seems to erase the stain of my state citizenship. Before I replaced them, my California license plates were a scarlet letter, revealing my sin to the world. “Go home!” the young woman mouthed to my wife through the window of her Explorer. “Go home!” the young men shouted as they sped by on their bikes. “Go home!” said the middle finger of the little old lady at the stoplight.
But recently a wonderful thing has been happening: I have begun to blend in. My wallet was stolen (which made me feel like I was back home already) and I had to get a new driver’s license. Now, with Washington plates on my truck and my new (Washington) ID, my camouflage is practically complete. I go whole weeks without being identified as a Californian.
And now, with my awful secret safely hidden, I have begun to see a whole new side to the people here. They are sociable, helpful, even generous. They are capable and responsible. They care about family and culture and the environment and social issues.
I have even caught myself thinking that this would be a nice place to live. These are good folks, here. I can imagine myself living and working next to them. I even presume to think I’d be a good Washingtonian myself. I might even learn to love the rain.
Yes, sometimes I think living here might be just about perfect – if we could just think of some way to keep all the Californians out…