I visited California a while back to see my old friend George for the first time in many years.
“It’s great to see you after so long,” George said when I picked him up in my rental car to go to dinner, “and I’m sure glad you flew down instead of driving down.”
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Well, your car would have Washington license plates on it and everyone would know that’s where you’re from.”
“What difference does it make?” It took less than five minutes for the conversation to turn weird. I guess it was longer than I’d thought since I’d seen George.
“The difference is that you people from Washington come down here and then proceed to whine and complain about everything.”
This was a switch. Californians complaining about people from Washington. “What specifically are you talking about?”
“Well, let’s take driving for instance. It’s too crowded, we drive too fast, we – hey! Watch out! What are you trying to do, get us killed?”
Startled, I said, “All I did was honk my horn at that car that cut me off.”
“He missed us, didn’t he? Don’t do that again. People get shot at for things like that. By the way, you’d better step on it or move over to the right lane. You’re barely doing 70. Anyway, we get tired of the complaints about driving here.”
I tried to ignore the car behind me, hovering two inches from my rear bumper even though I was now doing over 70, and we finally arrived at the restaurant.
“And housing,” George continued after we were seated,” that’s another thing you constantly moan about. They all look alike, the lots are too small, and there aren’t any trees.”
“Well,” I said, “the approach to development down here seems to be to clear-cut a couple of square miles and build several hundred houses that look basically the same.”
“That’s right,” George agreed, “how else are you going to build enough houses to make some money?”
Perhaps it would help explain things a bit if I mention that George is a real estate agent.
Trying to be inoffensive, I explained, “In Seattle, we try to build houses among the existing trees and cut as few as possible.”
George frowned. “That doesn’t make sense. If you’d cut the trees down you’d have more room to build houses. Plus, you could use the wood from the trees to build those extra houses that you’d then have room for.”
“That seems a bit, ah, mercenary,” I said.
“You wouldn’t say that if you were selling real estate and getting the prices we get here. “
“What else bothers you,” I sighed, realizing that housing was a rat hole from which there was no escape.
“Wildlife,” George snorted, “You should hear these people go on about the wildlife habitat. It’s enough to make you wish you were deaf. In fact, I understand that the logging industry up there took a major blow a while back due to the polka-dotted owls.”
“That’s spotted owls, George. Some people think we should permit more logging and others think we should restrict it to protect the endangered owls. It’s a tough issue.”
“You people sure are backward. Why don’t you just round them all up and put them in a zoo, like with did with the California Condors? They’d be safe and out of your way – problem solved. Cripes, do we have to tell you how to do everything?”
That’s the point at which I lost it. “I’ll tell you what, George. Maybe we should just do what you’d do in California. We’ll level all the trees, build houses on half the cleared land, asphalt the other have, build office buildings everywhere else, raise the speed limit to 75 so can get to them faster, and issue hunting licenses for spotted owls!”
“Now you’re talking,” George said enthusiastically, “but let’s not be too ridiculous. The spotted owls should still be in the zoo.”