When we moved to L.A. more than a decade ago, I came out on the train several days ahead of the rest of the family. I hadn't seen very much of the West, and I thought it would be fun to roll into California by rail.
I can still remember leaving the vast nothingness of Texas, where we lived at the time, rumbling along the sunbaked U.S. border and snaking into the desert stillness of New Mexico and Arizona. One tends to get rather pensive after a few Heinekens in the club car, and I imagined myself joining a great continuum, tugged inescapably toward the continent's edge--from Donner to Joad to Wartzman.
That scenic trip into the Golden State sprang to mind as I read Amy Wilentz's piece on the famous female skeleton found in the tar pits along Wilshire Boulevard ("L.A. Woman," page 22). Wilentz notes that La Brea Woman wasn't part of the tribe that lived in the area. "But then, California is a place for foundlings," she writes, "whether disconnected by accident or free on their own recognizance. La Brea Woman wandered in from nowhere."
Indeed, many others, like me, have continued to wander in over the 9,000 years since. In 1962, California became the largest state in the country, shifting the "balance of the most powerful nation in the world . . . from the Atlantic to the Pacific," in the words of then-Gov. Pat Brown. In one year alone--from July 1988 to July '89--California's population swelled by an astonishing 750,000. Last year, it rose by an additional 440,000 to 37.2 million.