Let us choose, among all the places of the world, a place to stand for an entire century of human history. There are candidates all over the world. Paris and London, Tokyo and South Africa, and all the great cities of America. For me, though, when I think of what people will think about when they think about the twentieth century someday, in the future, I think they will immediately think about old Hollywood, California wines, and the huge explosions of the cities of California with Silicon Valley, the huge farms of California, the slow food and organic food movements, the buy local movements, the hippies and drugs and rising tide of Asian influence, and the racism that exploded across Lost Angeles, and the gangs and illegal immigrants and washed out, wasted men and women chasing dreams, always chasing their California dreams, in the perfect day of sunny southern California. A place that stands for a century like no other place on Earth, this California place has been a part of everything the world has faced, and been on the leading edge of it. I don’t really know what language to use to explain that the state that gave us Reagenomics and Environmentalism and the sixties and the huge, empty suburban tracts, and the huge farms and orchards and all the people there that flooded in from all over the world to form polyglot, peaceful, joyful lives, is the dream of a future of plenty and more than enough and land prices that always go up and places that will be so beautiful for a thousand years, with trees older than people standing on the ground beside the trees. Oh, California, you were everything.
But, the very things that made California the great state of the human species in the twentieth century also turned to burn. The glare of Hollywood lights devoured the starlets and swallowed up failed dreamers who hitchhiked in from all over the world, pouring into the cafes and diners and nightclubs after dreams of decadence and beauty and they walked into the O of the Hollywood sign and stepped across like being sorted. Some OD’d. Some wound up working dead end jobs in tiny apartments until they died. Some made just enough glory to give them a taste before the burn came and swallowed their skin. Far more slept on benches than anyone wants to talk about, openly, these aspiring ones. And the ones who shone through the portal, burned so bright they carried the imaginations of the world upon the lines of their beautiful faces.
The flooding agriculture that filled the world with the greatest wines ever made, the greatest strawberries, the greatest broccoli and onions and all the vegetables and tree nuts of this country, and the great folk singers and musicians toured the fields, rallying the workers into strikes for better wages, and better conditions. The great labor movement walked the rows, hoeing and picking and spraying. The great innovations in agriculture that became the local food movement and the organic food movement began in California. The great social movements and counter-culture and peaceful revolutions of the 60s, all began on a farm in California, where musicians rallied workers for better wages, and the music never stopped. It just flowed into the countercultural movements, the open communities of love and peace, and the beat poets and bad poets and buskers and dreamers, oh it flowed from the radios all over the world until California Dreamin’ was playing from the speakers in Vietnam to the gunfire and bombs that California-influenced protestors forced to a stop.
And Silicon Valley, the industrialists and venture capitalists and the cross-cultural business explosion of the Pacific Rim that united east and west will wind down, now.
Everything is going to wind down, now.
There is no more water left to support everyone. People tell me that there were droughts before and there will be again, and I glance at climate models and shudder because you have no idea what’s coming, and no one really does, except that it’s going to be terrible and California will not be able to support much life anymore.
Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, his long fields of farms, are all dried up places that are drying up and drying up. The seas are full of run-off, acidifying away all the oysters and shellfish and marine life there. Soon, the old timers will stand where their mortgages demand they stand, underwater on their mortgages because there is no more water. The rest will flood the country. I expect Texas and Colorado and Oregon best brace for the flood. California’s very demise was built on the backs of the things that made the 20th century so amazing: gasoline, nitrogen-fertilizers, technology, and glorious, glorious media. The suburbs expanded, with all the loneliness therein. The traffic was deep and thick. The big box stores and shopping malls and shopping complexes spread out and ever out.
It was all of America. It was all of the world. Everything came to shore. Neighborhoods rose and fell in the shadow of the superhighways. Movies and more movies and even more movies… The films will move north to Vancouver. They’ve already begun the migration. The tech will move to Austin where the droughts begin anew.
Everything will change. Nothing will be the same. At the end of this phase, we will all remember California as she was, a beautiful state, wild and naked and free, a place where everyone came and built everything and everyone was so amazingly joyous and the way they lived was the very thing that destroyed the way they lived.
I should write a book about it. I should write every book about it. The century that was, and all it stood for, and all it became. The very things that made it such a wondrous place were also the things that drained the aquifers and stopped the snow. Goodnight California, and when the next dream comes, it won’t be in that blasted plain. The drought has come, as it always does, after every great civilization burns through the water and the soil and the ground.