Saturday, April 13, 2024 Apr 13, 2024
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A Local(ish) Perspective on the California Exodus

A few years ago, Daniel Earl Norman left Dallas for the West Coast. He returned to a land that is hardly recognizable.
| |Illustration by Maxomatic
Texas vs. California

You people have changed. When I came back here, where the grass grows tall and the cornbread is salty, I expected to find the old home on the range just as I’d left it. Instead, I found that the Californians had followed me back to Dallas.

Catching up with long-lost friends, I jabbered about all of the changes and the little influences that our new neighbors have brought. They met me with blank looks and dark suggestions about medication. So I set out to empirically vindicate myself through three experiments, to prove that, for better or worse, change is afoot.

First, to the roadways. There is a rough logic to Texas-style driving. The right-hand lane is a place of peace. You can watch YouTube, crochet, or argue with your spouse, and there is nothing to distract you. We funnel all of our lunacy into the far left-hand lane, the chaos on concrete, the bedlam on blacktop, the macadam-Mogadishu. Any psycho with anger issues or a twisted sense of humor can indulge in his worst instincts. Ravenous for speed, drivers jam Dodge Rams into an imaginary seventh gear and stand on the accelerators of their BMWs, heads hanging out the window. We keep things separate. Clean and compartmentalized. 

The Californians are different. The whole state is one big slow-motion car crash across a thousand miles. Camrys rattle recklessly through the right-hand lane, and automated Teslas whip through traffic wherever they can. It’s a totally different mindset, the jungle-spirit mindset. Grannies drive like fascists to get to their book clubs, and if you get caught under their wheels—well, that’s one less person cluttering up the roads. 

But our customs are falling apart.

The rules of the road are changing. I drove up and down Interstate 35E from Lewisville to Oak Lawn. Five times I drove like a Texan in the right-hand lane: placid, stalwart, stubborn. Then I ripped the roads up like a Californian and pushed my Ford Ranger to the gasping limit. I reached my destination quicker as a Californian, even accounting for the time that I spent getting ticketed. Choogling along as a Texan, my average time was almost twice as long, but my expenses were far cheaper. 

Interestingly, I got flipped off most as a Texan, while I went ignored as a Californian. The tastes of the road have changed. I observed a basic level of tolerance for the maniac school of driving, while the old ways brought me scorn. I have duly submitted the $1,400 in fines and impound fees to D Magazine.

My next experiment cost me far more than just money. When I left Dallas, the talking stage was not a custom here. That’s been imported, too. It’s customary in other places to talk for a day or two before meeting for a date, like an audition. This means that you need to wait a couple of days before you find out that the other person has a peg leg or wears a tail and barks at traffic. 

During the talking stage, you have to be a comedian, a therapist, and a part-time philosopher. Entertaining your mark is nothing new in dating, but apps have turned it into a ritual that you must abide by, like the dancing birds of New Guinea.

If my numbers on Bumble disappointed me, my experience on Grindr quickly healed my ego.

I downloaded Bumble and Grindr, for equality, and swiped until I got 10 matches on each. I engaged my victims until we established a date to meet, then I ghosted. That is the price of science.

The talking stage with women stretched anywhere from two to four days. There were a couple of outliers who invited me over immediately, but the average length was 3.4 days, or 81.6 hours. Despite my best efforts, that was my average and I am not ashamed to admit it. I found out that Hannah had just put her dog down, Maria does not like jokes about crime, and Nia has a bad relationship with her father. Also, if Leidy is reading this: Lauren wishes you were still friends.

If my numbers on Bumble disappointed me, my experience on Grindr quickly healed my ego. The talking stage, on average, lasted 1.7 hours. Right here, on this free app, I found the last haven of the Texas dating style. Face-to-face communication, forthrightness, and frugality with time was the rule. It refreshed me, and I was left with a lot to think about. If Grindr allowed women, it would be the perfect dating app for me.

I’ve got to admit that this experiment was interrupted when my girlfriend found out and refused to accept any of my perfectly well-reasoned explanations. She didn’t have any zeal for science, and I have submitted for a replacement from D Magazine

Those two experiments nearly broke me, but I still looked forward to my final one. I’m stupid like that. I’ve noticed, ever since I returned to the homeplace, that our relationship to the laws have twisted Californiawards. Over there, where the avocados roam and the vineyards mark the miles, the amateurs actually try to change their laws to fit how they act. When they meet a law that contradicts them or is loaded to fail, the Californian will obey it until it can be changed. They believe that laws are made to be followed, like how warning signs are made to caution.

This used to baffle us. Our laws are statements of principles, not guidelines for behavior. Texas laws are couldas not shouldas. Out of respect, we break the laws rather than change them. For us, the laws are made to be acknowledged, like how warning signs are made to release liability. Of course you shouldn’t drink beer on a Sunday morning, but what gas station will actually refuse to sell it to you? 

That’s exactly what I went to find out. I picked 10 gas stations throughout Las Colinas, the Little Silver Lake of North Texas, and tried to buy a six-pack before 10 am. I started at 7 am and finished around 9:30. Four gas stations refused to sell to me outright. I tried to laugh it off and force the purchase through, but they wouldn’t give in and told me to come back at 10 am. Another three sold to me without question. They didn’t even card me.

At two gas stations, the cashiers told me that it was illegal while they rang up the purchase. I guess they said it just to say something. And an outlier gave me the six-pack for free. I took my 24 beers home, drank them, and thought all of this over. I also took the opportunity to duly submit the cost of my upcoming rehab to D Magazine

Three years ago, it was like the blue laws didn’t exist. You could walk into any gas station, any hour, and buy exactly what you wanted. What happened? 

Back in 2021, the Lege revised the blue laws. Instead of noon, you only had to wait until 10 am. And just like that, the laws were enforced for the first time in decades. We approached the law like Californians and took a half-measure. The laws were to be taken seriously now. Even one of those honest cravings that comes after midnight has to be disappointed now. 

I’ve gathered plenty of raw data for the scientists and professors of the social arts but very few concrete conclusions, except one. If I can give a single piece of advice to my native Texan friends, it would be to avoid the Californian lifestyle. If you don’t, you might end up like me: an impounded, single morning-drinker.     

This story originally appeared in the January issue of D Magazine with the headline, “The California Question.” Write to [email protected].

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