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As I start my long-delayed career as a writer, I’m struck by just how different the West and East (coasts) are. To be fair, I don’t live on the East Coast. I live in New Haven, Conn., home of Yale University (and famous New Haven pizza, and the controversial home of the hamburger). As a West coaster, anything from New York eastward was the East coast to me. My extended family lived in Ohio – in the Eastern time zone, even though Ohio definitely aligns more with Midwest flavors. I was told upon arriving in New Haven that New York is not New England and it’s not the east coast – it’s New York, (or New Yawk, or Neu Yowk depending on who you tawk to). Be that all as it may, after a little over a year in New Haven, I’m here to detail some of the differences between the West and the East.
I consider myself a West coast writer. The obvious bias in publishing still favors the East. New York is the publishing capital of the world and has been for well over a century now. The sheer amount of Ivy Leaguers making it in the publishing field is astounding and does not give credit to the vast creativity of those who live in the West.
Sitting in my small apartment, I was day-dreaming and looking at a loaf of bread on the counter. The emblem looked the same, but on closer inspection I saw the word “Arnold” within the shafts of wheat. What is this foolishness? I’ve been buying Orowheat bread for years in San Diego. Certainly this is a mistake. Turns out it’s the same bread but branded differently. A quick search on the Internet reveals that Orowheat started in California in 1932 and Arnold started in Connecticut in 1940 and Brownberry, a third variety started in the Midwest in 1946. All three are owned by Bimbo bakeries as of 2017. That’s one small difference between West and East (and Midwest).
Southern California is as much car culture as anywhere anybody can live in. Los Angeles traffic is infamous and nothing is improving much even in sleepy L.A. suburb San Diego. But other than in the rare rainy times when Southern Californians lose the capability to drive as if their driver’s training is completely forgotten, southern Californians are really very good drivers compared to all other places I’ve driven (New Mexico, Kansas, Connecticut – representative of Mountain, Central, and Eastern time zones). In Connecticut, people cannot drive, or do not drive well. Forget driving rules and laws. I’ve seen people cut across 4 lanes of busy traffic to exit the freeway. Left turns on surface streets – drivers gun out quickly and turn left BEFORE traffic goes when a light changes. They routinely flip off whoever is in front getting ready to go straight through the intersection. Because the lights are hung on wires across intersections instead of on light poles, one can’t line up in the left turn lane to wait for traffic to stop before turning left because you can’t see the light if you pull out. So you have to wait in the left turn lane for a left arrow or wait for the next light. Or you can do like the locals and gun it for a left turn before the flow of traffic starts.
People walk across intersections whenever they want or can. Pedestrian walk signs don’t align with the flow of traffic. Rather, there is a “walk” period in which traffic is stopped in all directions and the walk signs allow pedestrian crossing. That means, of course, that pedestrians walk diagonally into across the middle of the street too. Because of that, and due to the number of one way streets and No Turn on Red signs, pedestrians walk whenever they want. It’s the wild west out there in the East!
There is an attitude on the part of pedestrians too, the same brash New York/New Jersey attitude seen stereotypically on television. I found a place to park my car a couple blocks from where I live. One day, as I was approaching the small one way half circle street, onto which I must turn right off of a one way road to my parking spot, some guy was walking across the intersection. He was eating a sub sandwich wrapped in paper, and looking back over his shoulder. In other words, he didn’t see me as I stopped before turning right otherwise I’d hit him. So I stopped and waited with my blinker on. He turned and saw me looking at him as he was nearly across the street. His immediate reaction, through a mouthful of food was to say “Fuck you!” and flip me off. All because I didn’t run him down! That’s a nice introduction to the East.
Even the homeless population are much more brash in the very hot and humid summers and bitingly cold winters here in the East. In San Diego, there is a large homeless population, able to live on the streets year round due to the weather. Other than same creative signs – Need Money for Booze or Need Cash for Weed – the homeless people in New Haven are always on the move. One particular gentleman cries out “Sir! Sir! I won’t touch you” before asking for money or declaring “It’s my birthday! Can you help me get something to eat?” His birthday occurs several days during the week, rain or shine. Another doe-eyed young woman who can turn on the waterworks instantly (maybe a drama school drop-out?) approaches with a story – “Hi,” she says timidly, “can you help me, I’m seven months pregnant and …. ” She’s been seven-months pregnant for the 15 months I’ve lived here and the many times she’s approached me for help.
I started this journey as a teacher, my last year teaching freshman composition and development English at a University and Community college. Both jobs proved crazy-making, with lack of institutional support, something I never encountered in San Diego. That’s the subject of part 2 of West vs. East.