The California Whimper


As the glint of the Golden State - rub worn by misdirection, doubt, and fear - fades just another little bit each day and its diminishment to darkness slinks on cat feet over the Sierras to hollow out a once enraptured nation, the pressure to preserve – if not for the practical present then at least for public posterity – the promise inherent in California grows on its people like an invasive vine, strangling and supporting, suffocating and sacrificing that which it encases, that which it is meant to save.

The disinclined decline of the dreamstate started years ago, proceeding slowly – even fitfully at times – until finally the cartoon character running in the air nature of the desperation became no longer sustainable and then the look pleading for help, or at least belief, then the fall, the tumbling slidewhistle, and finally the far-off thud of dust.

The dream has turned into the whimper of a Hollywood addict, once famous and feted, now foaming and footless, eyes tracking the sidewalk, hungrily looking for even a glimmer of recognition in the faces that swim by quietly, faces desperately negating the man who could once do anything who now can do nothing except remember and beg.

The California Dream was not just a pride of place – it was the deluxe box set limited collector’s edition of the American Dream itself, the avatar of what could be in a nation where anything can be.

It could happen anywhere, but it would happen in California. The end of that truth – that permanent progress possibility – damages not just our state but the state of the American experiment. The elimination of the heavenly goal, the subduction of the ever shimmering California answer to the quest of United States, to the question that is its national anthem guts the belief in the possible impossible of not just every American but of every single person on the planet who has ever heard the word “California” on the wind and been made even just a touch happier by knowing such a place existed.

The myth of California was its greatest strength and, as with all myths, when people stop believing the myth dies and can never be resurrected.

When talking to friends on the east coast, we always basked in the reflected glow of the California archetype - almost Jungian in its universality – and giddily enjoyed the brightly expectant jealousy on exhibit from those unlucky others.

The weather, the beaches, the wonders, the chances, the reinventions, the comfort, the calm, the pride, the work, the new, the joyous, the freedom were all on daring display to any and all.

As with the friend, if you happened to meet a stranger at an airport and they asked where you are from and you said “California,” their face would change, crow’s feet momentarily banished as they were immediately, primitively flooded with fleeting thoughts of a youth that might have been – is it really like that? Can you ski and surf on the same day? Have you ever met so and so? You nod knowingly, secretly deciding that seeing them at the grocery store was close enough if it would make this wistful stranger happy.

Read the rest of this piece at The Point.

Thomas Buckley is the former Mayor of Lake Elsinore and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at You can read more of his work at

Photo: courtesy The Point