About six weeks ago, I received an e-mail from my California reader-friend Bob who wanted to know how I was enjoying Pittsburgh's December weather.
For his part, Bob told me that he had spent his day biking along Newport Beach, sipping iced tea and making new friends of the opposite sex.
Of course, Bob was giving me a hard time. He knew full well that Pittsburgh temperatures hadn't been out of the single digits in days.
But Bob's e-mail reminded me of another one that I received while I still lived in Lodi.
Reader Nancy wondered how much time elapsed on any given day between the moment I left home and the instant I first set eyes on an illegal alien.
Here was my reply to Nancy:
"Well, it depends what the season is. During the winter months as long as three minutes may go by. I drive off, make a few loops out of my neighborhood, and turn into the Mini-Mart where I'll see several illegal immigrants filling up.
"But in the summer, I may spot one in less than three seconds. I'll open the door and right down the street someone is mowing a lawn or tearing down a roof."
Although I didn't quote my answer to Nancy verbatim to Bob, I did remind him that climate is only one ingredient in the quality of life. And I added that as much as I miss California's beaches and what they symbolize, during the seven months that I've resided in Pittsburgh, I've only seen a handful of individuals who may be living here illegally.
Days—perhaps weeks—pass without sighting a single alien.
The change is refreshing and energizing.
Several factors prompted my decision to leave California where, as one of only a small handful of native-born residents, I remember the Golden State back when.
Highest among them is that, after more than twenty years of teaching in the Lodi Unified School District and watching California's demographics rapidly shift toward what will soon be a Hispanic majority, I was disgusted and worn out.
The insistence by school bureaucrats, government hacks and ethnic identity activists that we all celebrate diversity even though it had been shoved down our throats mostly through illegal immigration became intolerable.
Today, I look back at California with enormous sadness.
Illegal immigration's stranglehold on California politics remains beyond comprehension. With the state struggling with a $42 billion budget deficit, illegal immigration is still an all but unmentionable subject.
In my Lodi News-Sentinel column this week, I wrote about my former Lodi Unified School District teaching colleagues fired because of the state's budget crisis. A friend who teaches physical education is circulating flyers to raise awareness among parents that she hopes will save her job. Yet, billions in services for illegal aliens continue virtually uninterrupted. [Lodi Unified Will Issue 390 Lay-Off Notices to Teachers, by Jennifer Bonnett, Lodi News-Sentinel, February 18, 2009].
This is California in the present day—your child may not have music, science or gym classes, but instruction for English Learners goes on. And you damn well better celebrate it too!
In the Los Angeles that I grew up in, people felt lucky and proud to be part of the community. The same held true for Lodi, referred to in 1986 when I moved there as "lovable, livable Lodi."
Now Los Angeles is a mess—more Mexico than America. Those whose professions keep them anchored in Los Angeles would love to trade places with me—the Southland's sunny climate not withstanding.
In Lodi the Hispanic population has soared to 35 percent according to 2007 census data. Non-Hispanic whites and African-Americans make up 38 percent of the school district's enrollment. As a result, Lodi's old-timers can barely recognize their city.
Compare Los Angeles and Lodi to All-American Pittsburgh where the concept of California life is beyond comprehension.
When you walk around downtown Pittsburgh, you may run into Steelers' owner Dan Rooney. If you recognize him—and he's so inconspicuous you may not—he'll be happy to talk football with you. Super Bowl champion Steelers' coach Mike Tomlin lives in Pittsburgh. You won't find him in Florida, Arizona or any other warm weather refuge.
The city's most popular restaurant is Primanti Brothers—not some in vogue fusion cuisine sashimi joint like Koi where your total entrée weighs eight ounces. Primanti's serves mile-high meat sandwiches piled with French fries and coleslaw stacked between the bread.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are just that—the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates don't offer "Mariachi Night" and Iron City, not Tecate, is the beer of choice at the ballpark.
We don't have a Spanish language Latino night like "viva los Dodgers", co-hosted by the Los Angeles baseball team and Mechista Mayor Antonio Villagraigosa.
Pirate entertainment centers on the "Great Pierogi Race". (Watch one here.) The announcers call the competition in Pittsburghese, an American dialect unique to Western Pennsylvania. At these events, everyone speaks English.
The pierogi, for those who don't know, is ethnic food Pittsburgh style. Take dumplings formed from unleavened dough and stuff them with cabbage or mashed potatoes. Then boil them and you'll have a stick-to-your-ribs treat straight out of a Polish cookbook. (Aside: pierogis taste better than they sound.)
If my affection for Pittsburgh sounds silly, then you haven't been pounded over the head for twenty years about the wonderfulness of diversity and how California would be nothing without immigration. And you most certainly haven't had to remind yourself repeatedly as you look around that you are in fact actually still living in the United States
The sad truth is that although I have many friends and happy reminiscences of my California life, I may never return. Seeing the state in its current irredeemable state of disrepair would be too heartbreaking.
I still own my Lodi home and as absentee landlord I might have to visit. But I hope I don't. The house in which I lived two decades is a now major sore spot for me. My solidly middle class neighborhood is devastated by the minority mortgage meltdown.
Consecutively, two minority, no-money-down, sub-prime owners occupied the house directly next door. In between owner number one and number two, the home stood vacant for nearly a year. The second owner, upon taking possession, never mowed his lawn let alone paint or put on a new roof. Now, falling apart, it is empty again.
As with other similar houses in the neighborhood, values have plunged. Long-time owners are bewildered about how it all happened—and why it happened so quickly. If I were still there, I could explain it to them. But would they understand that immigration pandering gone wild cost them hundreds of thousands of home equity value?
Saying good-bye to California where I was born, spent my youth and—after leaving and coming back again—thrived during my middle years is tough. Yet what choice do I have? The California I loved is ancient history.
Of course, California's story could have ended happily. But why rehash everything that's gone wrong? All of it is well-trodden turf, too familiar to everyone.
Looking ahead while being thankful for my great California years will serve me better than repeating a litany of things that might have been.
For now, I'll content myself with my new life in immigration-free Western Pennsylvania, counting down the days until spring and waiting for my California income tax rebate (reportedly it may be in I.O.U. form) to arrive in my mail box.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.