About a year after graduating from college, I packed my possessions into a rental van I’d split with a near stranger and departed my home state of Ohio. We steered onto I-70 West, bound for San Francisco.
At the time, I was less drawn to California in any specific way than determined to escape a state that was too conservative, homogenous, and religious for my tastes. Plus, oof, the winters.
But that soon changed. The more I explored California’s coastline, hiked the trails of the Sierra, stared up at the granite walls of Yosemite, and met others who felt pushed or pulled here, the more I developed what I jokingly call a “zeal of the convert” attitude toward the state. Today, more than two decades after I arrived here in that rental van, this allegiance manifests as knee-jerk defensiveness when others take shots at California.
And so it’s been heartbreaking to watch my adopted state suffer through some of the deadliest and most devastating fire seasons in its history. And it’s been infuriating to see commentators pounce on the tragedies, or the planned electricity blackouts designed to prevent them, and declare that they’ll doom the state or spark a mass exodus.
It’s an increasingly popular take, producing ridiculous headlines like “California is becoming unlivable, according to science” and “California is a failed state. How do we know? They’re moving to Arizona in droves.” (Links withheld out of pettiness.)
But I’ll admit that my reaction to such suggestions wasn’t as swift or aggrieved when this year’s outages and fires began.
Last month, the state’s main grid operator ordered a series of rolling blackouts, California’s first unplanned outages in nearly two decades, as millions of air conditioners strained to keep up with blistering