Monday, August 05, 2002

Things I Never See in California

To this easterner's eye, California is chock-full of bizarre things , such as palm trees, that would never be permitted in a right-thinking state (i.e., Pennsylvania, possibly upstate New York, and the more traditional parts of New England).That entry will have to wait, though, since California is also strangely understocked in certain essentials. Forthwith a list of indispensable items that are Missing Believed Lost.

Lilacs and tulips. I've heard that lilacs do grow here, but all spring long I looked for them and failed to find them. Tulips apparently don't grow. Both these plants require colder weather than we generally get in the Bay Area. I am trying not to gloat here. Besides, as pleasant as it is to pick ripe oranges from one's own trees in February, it's even better to have lilacs in May.

Bargains at Goodwill. It's so expensive that I refuse to shop there unless there's a sale, and even then I groan at the prices.

Rusty cars. Plenty of old cars, yes, but the kind of rusty clunker that's a familiar sight back east just doesn't exist here. No snow equals no salt on the roads equals no serious body damage.

Curtains. This one is weird. There are windows. Why no curtains? I have two theories: (A) Curtains rot too fast in the sun, and (B) everyone has blinds (vertical or Venetian). Occasionally one sees a bit of a valance, looking lost and foolish like an errant mustache.

Affordable housing. There's a trailer for sale in a local trailer park - for $148K, plus around $600 a month lot rent. I recently saw a shabby house split into three apartments for $799K and advertised as a student special.

Numbered exits. If ever there were a state fascinated, even dominated, by car culture, that state is California. Why, then, are there no numbers on any exits on any freeways in the entire state? I learned about this one when, obeying instructions, I got off a freeway at Mission Boulevard - the wrong one, of course - and spent thirty fruitless minutes searching for a building that was four miles up the road.

Pizza by the slice. It's everywhere back east. Here we have tacos, fruit smoothies, sushi, and plenty of other exotic fast food, but no pizza shops that sell anything less than a whole pie. I love the sushi etc. - but my God, I miss decent pizza.

Don't even think about bagels out here. Stick to sourdough.

Graveyards. I understand that California has its share of dead people, but I haven't seen a single tombstone since I arrived. Likewise no hearses, funeral processions, funeral homes. . . . it's disconcerting. Rupert Brooke said of the New World, "There walk as yet no ghosts of lovers in American lanes. . . . At a pinch one can do without gods, but one misses the dead." Apparently not widely considered a problem out here, where eternal youth and health are the ideals.

There are several practical reasons. One is that, unlike the East, California just hasn't had time to accumulate a lot of corpses. Though San Jose was settled in 1777, it wasn't densely settled for a couple of centuries. (It is, alas, catching up.) The vast haciendas didn't make for a lot of population. Few people = few graves, logically enough.

Another is, quite simply, expense. Real estate is so valuable that they don't waste it on the dear departed.

Another is a question of local culture. Many people are cremated and scattered or cremated and made into parlor ornaments. For those who prefer to be interred, there just aren't many small, local graveyards attached to a church instead there are a few vast centralized cemeteries. Colma, a town just south of SF, has traditionally served as the graveyard for the city. It houses more than a million of the departed, plus 1100 living residents. Nevertheless it has a large BART station. Best not ask who uses it.

Apparently in 1902 the city of San Francisco, daunted by the health issues of numerous small graveyards, outlawed burying people in city limits. They even dug up all but two of the existing cemeteries and banished the corpses to Colma. For more fascinating tales of dead Californians, check out

I have seen signs for Forest Lawn in LA, but I haven't been there, though I'd rather go there than Disneyland. The cast is so much more interesting. Anyway, Walt himself is, contrary to cryogenic rumors, resting peacefully at Forest Lawn.

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