Following with this summer’s motif of roommate roadtrips, I flew to California last week to visit friends from university and take a drive up the California coast.
We drove the Pacific Coast Highway, PCH if we’re using local vernacular, which made for a gorgeous trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. After two hours of weaving our way out of the largest urban region in the world – the Los Angeles megalopolis – we coasted through canyons and along the ocean on the one-lane highway.
Heather asked me to give her my “running commentary” of my impressions of California. Our conversations in the nine-hour car ride centered a lot around cultural differences between California and the rest of the country, especially on teaching state history in primary education. In Minnesota, state history centered on Les Voyageurs, Native Americans (though it skipped over the more violent parts), the frontier life, and farming. In California, young students learn about Spain and Jesuit missionaries. Heather told me the story of how the California flag came to be. Californians wanted to declare independence, similar to Texas, and needed a flag for their new republic. A man asked his wife to sew something together quickly, requesting a pear (to represent the bountiful fruit crops) to be the main feature on the flag. The woman misheard, and instead sewed on a bear (a more forceful symbol, anyway).
We talked about the vanity of cars in LA – because everyone spends so much time in transit, people are willing to invest loads of cash into their cars. Fancy cars I’d never seen (or admittedly heard of) sped by us on the highway. Many of these cars were white, which I took to be a clever way of avoiding overheating, since white absorbs less heat than darker colors. Heather told me that was a good theory, but that white cars are preferable because they need to be washed less often. It’s illegal to wash your own car in the city, due to drought concerns. Black cars show dust and dirt more clearly than lighter cars (a premise I didn’t entirely agree with), and so people prefer the cars they don’t have to take to the carwash as often.
During my trip earlier this summer that spanned a huge chunk of the country – from DC, through the Carolinas, down the Florida peninsula, along the Gulf, and back up the Mississippi to Memphis – I enjoyed watching changes in the landscape. Virginia forests look a lot different than the bayou, and it stunned me that so much physical variation could be contained in just one country. The California coast left me similarly surprised. From desert and sand dunes to forests with soil that feeds massive redwood trees, I saw so many different landscapes in the trip to San Francisco and back. There was no unattractive view from my passenger seat window.