California isn't necessarily all that it's cracked up to be.
That's statement is coming from me, a lifelong Californian who just took a road trip through four western states. Not to be boasting but I've also had the privilege of visiting all but 13 of the 50 states during my life so I speak from experience.
They say that familiarity breeds contempt. Maybe that's why, when I come back to the Valley after a long trip, I feel a little bit of that spirit.
I saw a lot of wide-open country last week on the trip to Littleton, Colo., to see my son graduate from the Denver Seminary. My brother-in-law Steve and I made the trip down Highway 99, through Tehachapi, into Barstow and up to Las Vegas. We had dinner in Mesquite, Nev., and reached St. George, Utah by dusk. We pushed on for Richfield, Utah for the night, logging in 777 miles.
I don't know about you but I enjoy places where things aren't as crowded as in California. The car felt lonely out there on the road over uninhabited desert and snaking through scenic canyons that I swear must have been the inspiration for Radiator Springs in Disney's "Cars"movie. The second day we took full advantage of the 80 mph speed limit in Utah and journeyed through Grand Junction, Colo., where gasoline was like 50 cents less than here. From there we went zipping through the ritzy Vail canyon area on I-70 and saw snow-capped peaks standing guard over scenic Silverthorne. It was clean air and sparse traffic. Glenwood Springs seems like an idyllic place to live and Idaho Springs had the feel of our Jamestown in the Rockies.
Denver's rush-hour traffic is less than ideal but off the freeway I noticed the interesting topography, the greenness of everything, the bicycle paths that are everywhere and the ample parks. In fact, the Mile High City boasts more than 85 miles of paved trails that connect to hundreds of additional miles of dirt trails.
On a visit to downtown Denver, I couldn't help but notice that the people appeared to be in much better shape than at home. The United Health Foundation ranks Colorado as the least obese state out of the 50. It was showing on the attractive people hanging around the 16th Street Mall as us native Californians made our way to Smashburger.
Littleton, where my son and his wife and two babies live, was ranked second best small U.S. cities to live by Yahoo. It ranked 28th overall quality of life out of a comparison with 1,268 cities. None of Yahoo's list of best small cities in America are in California, by the way. Yahoo does, however, put every one of its 10 worst American small cities in California (surprise). They are from 1 to 10: Bell, Huntington Park, Bell Gardens, Compton, Lynwood, Maywood, South Gate, Watsonville, Delano and Paramount.
Merced, Modesto, Stockton and Bakersfield consistently make the list of worst air quality in the country.
I'm from the Valley but that doesn't mean I have blinders on to our problems, which include the local homeless and drug-addicted population. While in Elko, Nevada, I did see one - only one - homeless person and one enthusiastic night-time sidewalk singer bellowing out his meth-induced musical lyrics, but on my road trip I didn't see a single tweaker peddling a bicycle down the street the wrong way as I do routinely see in Stanislaus County. I also was never once accosted for money at the many gas pumps I visited.
Upon entering California from Reno the temperatures grew hotter, the speed limit dropped, the traffic volume increased and Sacramento was absolutely aggravating to navigate - red light after unsynchronized red light down Sunrise Boulevard at 3 p.m. - to drop off my son in Rancho Cordova. It seemed the closer we got to home, the worse traffic became. We hit a traffic snarl on 99 at Ripon, probably owing to people who can't pace themselves consistently on the freeway because there was no accident ahead. The straw that broke the camel's back was pulling into the Wienerschnitzel near the mall for a necessary room stop only to find the facilities completely shut down. When I returned home my front lawn was close to brown (we have water Nazi policy here in California).
Quality of life is certainly dependent on the eye of the beholder. But traffic congestion is one factor that has to be taken into consideration. I know that our 99 morning commute compared to the 405 in SoCal is a cakewalk but if you don't think traffic is a problem just stand atop the Pine Street overpass facing south at 7:40 a.m. and watch the mindboggling Turlock-to-Modesto mass exodus to work. Then watch it unwind the different direction at 5:15 p.m.
The steady drip of reports of gang crimes is draining and makes one long for a state like South Dakota where buffalo outnumber people.
If you're into working, California leaves a lot to be desired. It rates 32nd worst in the unemployment rate, bested by South Dakota (#1 least unemployed), New Hampshire, Nebraska, Colorado, Hawaii, North Dakota (fracking), Vermont, Maine, Idaho, and Utah (which is attracting California companies) as well as states #11 to #31.
If it wasn't for family, the weather, the close proximity to Yosemite and the ocean, I'd be out of here for sure. We'll see what happens in my future. Each time I see a place like Joplin, Mo., or Stillwater, Minn., or San Antonio, Texas, I get a sneaking suspicion I'm in the wrong place. In the meantime, think long and hard about doing something about the quality of life in our part of the state by passing the half-cent sales tax for roads this November. Your quality of life will thank you.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org