One of the minor pleasures of living in Southern California is that we enjoy the stereotype, if not the reality, of ourselves as others see us.
Journalists in the East and Midwest are especially zealous in picturing us as laid-back, greedy, showy, sun-crazy, car-crazy, sex-crazy, uncultured, given to strange religions and illiterate.
But perhaps the San Francisco Chronicle has been most vigilant in this unneighborly persecution, led by the ageless cheerleader, Herb Caen.
Lynn Hermstad of Seal Beach sends me a clipping from the Chronicle that is not by Caen, but by someone named Conti, who seems to be pitching relief. It is a sort of "What People Think" column, quoting several people evidently chosen at random at Justin Herman Plaza. The question: "Do Southern Californians differ from northerners?"
Ray Cranfill, 31, a lawyer, said: "Southern Californians are more hedonistic. Food, beach and fun is their raison d'etre."
Gregory Jackson, 33, law clerk: "People down in Southern California, they're more stuffy. More bourgeois."
Patricia Kovara, 42, graphic artist: "Southern Californians are more outdoors oriented. People in Northern California stay indoors more because of the weather, and, because they spend more time indoors, they read more and are more cultured."
Ada Plotner, 47, graphic designer: "I think the people in Southern California are more uninhibited. . . . Their clothes and hair styles are more like people you see on television."
Eduardo Robles, 30, waiter: "People down there like to have more fun. They're also more violent, more crazy, because of the amount of people. There are so many people nobody cares about anybody else."
Donna Montmorency, 54, telemarketer: (Remembering a woman she saw on the Mammoth ski slopes who had to put on false eyelashes before skiing): "They're basically gaudy."
Susan Stockdale, 30, insurance broker: "Southern Californians are more casual and fun loving, but also very, very materialistic and concerned on show. How they look and what kind of car they drive. There's more phoniness. The women all have rhinestone sunglasses and the tousled, wild hair look."
If we were really like that, why would anyone ever want to leave? Give me those women with rhinestone sunglasses and the tousled, wild hair look. Of course there is some truth in those allegations. Since my wife started buying my clothes from mail-order houses, I'm beginning to look like Don Johnson on Miami Vice, though not as young and handsome, of course.
In truth, though, the stereotype is just that. It describes an extremely small percentage of us--maybe 1%. There are millions of us who have never even seen the beach. Most of us drive Fords, Chevies or Toyotas, not BMWs. Even in Beverly Hills only about one car in 300 is a Rolls-Royce. We do spend time indoors. Otherwise how could we spend six hours a day watching television?
We go to the parks, we go to the ball games, we go shopping in malls, we work, we eat fast food, we make love, we marry, we have children, we divorce, we study English as a second language, we litigate, we drink, we go to church, we work out in gyms, we jog, we go to school, nearly half of us speak Spanish, we have cosmetic surgery, we run red lights, we litter, we go to museums, we go to the Music Center, we go to the zoo, and when the Santa Ana winds are blowing, we get irritable and depressed and are likely to commit acts of violence.
In other words, we are very much like Friscans. They don't go to the beach as often as we do because they have no choice. Have you ever gone to the beach in Frisco? It is so cold and clammy that they don't actually get out on the beach, they sit in their cars , with the heaters on, and look at the ocean.
I imagine that the ratings will show that Friscans watch as much television as we do, and their life styles are altered accordingly. That they do more reading indoors than we do, I doubt. Los Angeles is the second largest book market in the country, and San Francisco is not the first.
San Francisco is civilized, exciting to the eye, exhilarating and fun, and I have always loved it.
That's why we're going to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary there.