Around this time 10 years ago I was wandering around downtown San Jose on a sunny Saturday. I had a day to kill after my interviews at the San Jose Mercury News so I roamed the city’s mostly empty streets. People work and raise kids here, they don’t hang out downtown. A couple weeks later I had a job offer from the paper, which paid all the freight to move me, Melissa and our two cats to Silicon Valley.

Back then the valley was booming; now we’re working through our second bust, which has pummeled the paper and put many friends out of work. In three weeks I’m joining them.

I had an option of staying on while the Merc outsources its design and copy desks to Walnut Creek, about 50 miles north of here, but we decided it’s time to move on. We’ve worked under a cloud of doom for the past four years and we finally crossed our enough-is-enough threshold. The paper’s offering a modest severance package, just enough to get us across the lets-try-something-new threshold.

In the next three weeks we’re going to donate or sell everything that won’t fit into the Hiker Hauler. A couple days after my last day at the paper we’re going to pack up the car, head east to North Carolina and ride out the recession at Melissa’s mom’s place.

When we got here I published a series of pages called “The California Experiment” and have spent the past decade testing theories and observing behavior. Prime operating theories:

  • Vast wealth generated by the state’s abundant resources leads to delusional “we-can-have-it-all” attitude that generates government gridlock.
  • Vast wealth also creates pervasive “it’s-all-about-me” thought patterns (and their corollary, “it’s all about money”). There’s a great band out here called Me First and the Gimme Gimmes; it could not be from anywhere else.

Fundamental observations:

  • Staggering natural beauty encourages people to put up with aforementioned insanity. Just the idea of never hiking the trails around here makes my eyes misty (an improvement from yesterday, when the response was inconsolable grief.)
  • People come here and never want to leave, leading to permanent overpopulation.
  • If you put three Californians together, they will immediately start a suburb and a traffic jam.
  • Keeping your money in your wallet and away from those with superior claims is a full-time job. A sign at the Santa Cruz Municipal Pier just before you pull up to the toll booth says it all: “Have money ready.”

It feels like a good time to close down our California experiment and do something else with our lives, closer to family and sanity.

California seduces just about anybody with a trace of mad passion in their veins. But eventually you have to get out of bed and start living in the real world again.