The past couple of days I drove from Los Angeles up to the Napa Valley and back, taking the unglamorous Interstate 5 route north through my semi-native state, as opposed to the more genteel Camino Real of Highway 101.
The 400-plus-mile route north took me from the Hollywood Hills, Beverly Hills, and Brentwood through the San Fernando Valley and then, once you clear the greater L.A. area past Santa Clarita, into the Central Valley — or, as I like to think of it, Victor Davis Hanson country. From Bakersfield up to Modesto, the Golden State Freeway parallels to the west America’s great breadbasket.
As usual, I was struck by the miracle of it all — but the miracle is visibly fading. The irrigation system is one of the wonders of the world, and a tribute to the can-do California in which I grew up, a spirit that created a mighty state out of a couple of coastal enclaves and some good weather. But now, thanks to the “environmentalists,” much of it is in disuse, in the name of regression. The great military bases and defense infrastructure, which once made California synonymous with patriotism and productivity, are dead or dying.
In their place has come you-know-who, led by their wretched governor, Jerry Brown (California has been ruled off and on by the Brown family since 1959, and this is Jerry’s second stint in the office), who sees his job as managing decline, choking paradise with taxes, regulations, and a stupefying number of state commissions, and driving the productive class away. In the end, the state will be down to where it began — San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, without an interior to feed them and water them — and that will be that.
Once in the Bay Area, or back in L.A., the moral and spiritual rot is less visible, and the Napa Valley looks better than ever; wine is something that sells in good times and in bad. But I can’t shake the feeling that this is all some dreadful family-tragedy novel — not by Steinbeck, who, for all his social consciousness, understood what had gone into creating California out of a Spanish mission trail, a gold rush, and a great natural port — but by Faulkner: The story of a state who wanted sons, and her sons destroyed her.