Sunday, October 02, 2005
We're Sorry; You Must First Dial A One To Call The Phone Upstairs
People who visit Southern California like to complain that as an occupied stretch of land, it's too spread out, too divided from itself, too much a gray, impersonal blur you tend not to look at as you drive past on a freeway on your way to wherever it is you're going. There's no sense of boundaries or borders that allow the kind of separateness that unifies on the city-community level. Instead of proud citizens of Riverside or Arcadia or Yorba Linda or Torrance or Dana Point, we're all People Who Live In Southern California, self-segregated in our little cars or inside homes, the front doors of which never, ever open. With a few exceptions, we have escaped even the communal bonds of family or ethinicity and become purely individuals abandoned and abandoning by mutual agreement.
And I'm sorry to say that, for the most part, the Hypothetical Complaining Overly-Verbose Visitors are correct. Mostly they're bastards with out-of-state plates who drive too fucking slow, but they're also the first thing.
Ask any SoCal-ian. Ask them anything about any other city in the region and I bet the only thing they could tell you about it would be a) what freeway it was off of and b) how many exits off said freeway emptied into that municipality. All of our civic knowledge we get from freeway signs.
In the never-ending mass of mass produced buildings, we're not even really sure where one city ends and another begins. The only borders we're sure of are mountains, deserts and oceans as they're the only parts of local maps that don't give us migraines.
One good thing about the advent and explosion of cell-phones (I mean explosion of use of course, not actual explosions of cell-phones, which I would find very little good to say about, especially if I hadn't been lucky enough to see it explode in person) is that the map has been shattered into a few dozen easier-to-manage regions with catchy three-number names: 213, 310, 562, 818, 714, 949, 909, 951, etc.
God bless the Area Code.
When it comes right down to it, what is it that people want more than anything? It's not fame or money or power or respect, nothing that can be promised you in a Gatorade commercial. What people want most of all is clearly identify those to whom they are superior. And then to laugh at them.
Area-code identification has allowed us to do that in SoCal more than ever before. Nothing builds community identity like the ability to stand side by side with your neighbor and mercilessly beat down the self-esteem of a third neighbor who happens to live just on the wrong side of the 626-661 divide. Sure, you feel kind of bad for him and you'd like to perhaps offer consolation, but you can't afford to be seen with people like that. Besides, if you got too close, decorum would demand you spit in his face and nobody wants that.
A problem is created, suddenly, when available numbers run low and an area-code must divide itself again. We did that about a year ago when western Riverside County was re-branded 951, separating us from the tortoise-dominated empty desert to the east and San Bernardino County to the north.
Suddenly we weren't "the 909" anymore. Sure, the fat-cats in 213 and 949 could still make fun of us, but now, my God, here was our chance to band together as a people to earn the right to belittle someone else!
It's sort of a dilemma. Before the split, there existed a sort of ethos about my home-area-code, 909. Giant monster trucks. Dirt bikes. Mullets. Malt liquor. Methamphetamine. Fatherless children. Say what you want about it, it was a wildly Republican, heteronormative identity.
Nevermind the reality of the strong homosexual community here, proud rainbow flags flying outside clubs like the VIP Club and Menagerie. Yeah, go ahead, make your jokes: Pops, how do you know so much about the gay scene in Riverside? You people think this crap writes itself? It requires a great deal of research, sometimes some deep, deep undercover work. I'm not saying what I did or didn't do to research the facts in this case, but I will tell you I think I sprained my prostate.
Anyway, as this is California, image is far, far, far more important than reality. If we want to distinguish ourselves from 909, thus earning the right to denigrate them in the same way people in 949 (and elsewhere) have denigrated us, we were going to have to change our cultural perception. It was quite a thing to ask. We would have to change from a common conception of us as White-Trash People of Action (what with the dirt bikes and meth-brewing and all) to White-Trash People Pretending To Be Fancy-Pants Non-White-Trash.
There has been a concerted effort by the powers-that-be and no small number of the OC transplanted (why would they come here, you ask? Giant houses and lots of Hondurans to watch their kids) residents to trade our brawny, mustachioed, dirty-wife-beater-wearing up-and-coming 951 masculinity for some effete status consumerism.
We would need a Nordstrom (check), a Hollister (check) and a California Pizza Kitchen.
As of two weeks ago on that last one: check!
That's right, bitches. We've arrived. Finally.
For anyone who doesn't know, California Pizza Kitchen is a restaurant that makes gourmet wood-fired pizza with all manner of crazy toppings like Vegetarian Eggplant, Thai Chicken and Pear & Gorgonzola. Now would a tall-boy-drinkin', cousin-lovin', trailer-livin' redneck worth his salt eat--or even sit--in a place that served Pear & Gorgonzola wood-fired pizza?
Absolutely not. The two things are 100% metaphysically incompatible.
These pizzas are a little smaller than your typical Pizza Hut pizza, with thin, bready crusts, not too much grease and individual ingrediants you can actually individually taste. Let's face it, it's not the manliest of pies. In fact, the advertising slogan for CPK has for many years famously been: "That's-a Some a-Gay a-Pizza!"
Offensive? Sure. But people love it. Eating there says: "Look at us eating pizza with avocados on it! No way we could be from the 909!"
We are the 951. We're not so much Us really as we are most definitely Not Them. It's a fine distinction but, I think, an important one.
This post on the Narcissus Scale: 9.0