Somewhere between the nebula of moral affluence known as the San Francisco Bay Area and the carnal wasteland of human indiscretion that currently infests Santa Barbara County southward is a place that divides the region fondly referred to as NorCal and that other regrettable area — SoCal.
Due to its location on the precipice of disparity, this must be a place that exists in a kind of perpetual dusk, caught between the virtuously shining hearts and minds to the north and the vapid, rotten chasm of entropy to the south. But exactly where is this place that divides our state so starkly? After all, the familiar polarizing question, “Where did you say you were from? NorCal or SoCal?” often results in stigmatization by a native of the conflicting persuasion.
Everyone has an opinion, but when it comes to California provincialism, we have allegiances. We know where we stand if push comes to shove, or if you prefer, we know where we might stand if a clan of bearded hipster Jesuses were suddenly rushed by a group of bleached-blonde beach-bumming skaters and surfers. Or to use a different tag, if the Bay Area dot-com and tech industry suddenly found itself at odds with every production company in L.A. But why stop there — what about pretentious hippies versus the shallow Hollywood glam bloc? OC rich kids versus entitled political activists? It’s really a free-for-all — create your own!
But that is not to say that one is merely born into and stuck with one’s allegiance. Though at first wary and condescending toward the visitor from SoCal, a proud NorCal-er might eventually pause his prancing horse of self-righteousness to stoop down and welcome the misfortunate Southern Californian into his brethren’s ranks of nerdy self-glee — if the SoCal-er denounces the unnatural plastic womb of his origin.
These kinds of defections to the other side are common. Wayward souls tired of road rage and sunshine discover San Francisco and its quirky exuberance, fall in love and never look back. It’s like they were both unknowingly separated at birth and realized the mistake once finally brought together via the 5 freeway. I know more than a few who have fallen victim in this fashion.
In contrast to Southern Californians’ dispassionate ignorance of this rumored “norcal” (Is it a city? A town? A car dealership? A skate park?), in San Francisco the guard is up and on alert for fear of the invasive condition known as SoCal. Threat of corruption by the non-sustainable devourerers in the Southland is why the dignified Northern Californian must remain vigilant against the ever-perceived threat of the gas-guzzling, raving and loose habits of the Southern Californian. In order to protect the leafy, actually rainwater-fed fleshy hills of his homeland, a true Protector of NorCal must remain suspicious of the SoCal transplant and visitor so that he may frolic ever long in its mega bush. If immediate detection of the visitor’s unmistakably alien, soapy scent fails, and she manages to conceal her Valley Girl dialect, a simple exchange of phone numbers will often alert that specific breed of Northern Californian whose duty it is to scorn away a southerly outsider who could potentially disturb that day’s community panel on esoteric occultism. This is why when exchanging phone numbers, a 415 or 510 is met with that trademark of the Bay Area, the public smile (usually so long as the area code is shared; “The City” is sometimes reticent to fully embrace “bridge and tunnel people”). A 323 is met with, well, disappointment and the possible addition of the derisive moniker “Hollywood” into the San Franciscan’s iPhone and nomenclature regarding the suspect individual.
And previously, I mentioned a general state of ignorance on the part of SoCal about the existence of NorCal. But that is not to say some Southern Californians have not only become aware of NorCal but also enjoy repeated visits to its bounty of free thinking and personal expression. These Southern Californians recognize the fun of a trip up north to visit their old friends and defectors, and they also recognize the chance to escape enraging smothering traffic and experience the unique scenery the Bay Area has to offer. To their own detriment or not though, the rest of SoCal reacts with indifference or apathy concerning the prospect of NorCal.
The other day on BART I heard a middle-aged couple from L.A., in town for a niece’s wedding, remark that this was their first time in the Bay Area. Perhaps it’s all the time wasted sitting in traffic, celebrity gawking, laying out in the sun or taking in the beautiful scenery – human and otherwise – that divorces the Southern Californian’s blasé attitude about NorCal from the prideful, verging on sanctimoniously protective posture of certain San Franciscans. Or, maybe it’s just that Southern Californians are too busy looking over their shoulders trying to make sure that little sis isn’t about to get swooped up by a Bang Bros. producer.
Do I embellish? Yes, my friends. Have I offended? Only on purpose. I promise not to shy away from caricatures.
But if you do find yourself standing in that place at the boundary between dawn and darkness, and a commune-inhabiting militant vegan picks a fight with duplicitous, aspiring Hollywood scum, like me you’ll know to run!