Sunday it was 7 a.m. California time when I called my brother in the Bay Area to ask if he had died in the quake. He said no. I thought he sounded sleepy, but he could have been serene. It's hard to tell with those people.
I asked if he would be moving out of California soon. He said serenely that if he does move he will time his departure less by the threat of earthquakes than by rising sea-levels. When that surf is beating on the lobby door of his high-rise condo tower in Emeryville, he'll start tossing stuff in a duffel bag.
He'll never leave California. Not on two feet. He asked me what the weather has been like lately in Dallas. Triple digits, I said. As usual my wife and I saved several big outdoor chores for August. To my brother, that's like saying you have been staying busy in hell.
"Keeps you hoppin', eh?"
He thinks hot is bad? How about earth ... QUAKES? He always acts as if earthquakes are weather. I can never quite tell if it's a cover-up for being addicted to California, or if he means it, in which case he's lived out there among them too long.
We grew up in such a sane part of the country -- the American Ruhr, in Michigan, during the busy years there when everybody was working. People in Michigan back then were skeptical of people who wanted to go live in California or France or some place just because they thought it was beautiful and would make them happy, maybe because people in Michigan were skeptical of people who want to go around being happy all the time. What about working, eh? Ever think of that?
I can't say this to my wife, a many generations Texan and Dallasite -- it has an odd effect on her -- but I have always felt a certain tenuous spiritual connection between Dallas and Detroit. Nobody in Yemen or in Mississippi ever grew up dreaming of living within sight of the Detroit River, yet people from all over the world flocked there during most of the 20th century in order to find opportunity.
Dallas is like that now. Most of the people who move here don't even know we have a river. They think Texas is all sand dunes, cactus and the political equivalent of ISIS, yet they come here in droves.
Paul Krugman has a column in The New York Times this morning trying to explain why people are migrating out of the Northeast and into Rick Perry's Texas in such stunning numbers. In spite of my disagreeing with Governor Perry about almost every single thing in the world, it does make me a little bit proud that he gets under Krugman's skin so good.
No, listen, I am a serious Krugman fan. I agree with him about almost everything in the world, just not why people move to Texas. He says it's only because we have cheap housing. He says people leave good-paying jobs in New York and Northern California and go to Texas just so they can buy cheap houses. That's such an odd thought. If it's true and he can prove it, he should get another Nobel prize.
I think people come to Texas for the messiness. In messiness is opportunity. It's a shot for the guy who doesn't feel like he's got a shot where he is. You know what I mean. Texas has always been sort of piratical and anti-skiptrace, a good place to slip through cracks and start over.
Places that are super-organized and rigidly codified, like San Francisco, are great for people who've already got their own high-rise condos with views of the bay, but what if you need a different kind of breathing room, a little more margin of unpredictability?
View of the bay so what? Get a 55-inch flat-screen. Meanwhile instead of being on somebody's waiting list in Northern California to drive a truck twice a week, maybe you can own two trucks of your own in Dallas. A certain kind of person will trade the bay any day for owning his own truck.
A certain other kind won't. Years ago when he still lived in a house on the flats in Oakland, I visited my brother to discuss a family emergency. We were up late drinking beer when I felt his whole house do a big shimmy. He went right on talking. I was curious whether we were going to die. He was irritated with me for interrupting. About the earth ... QUAKE!
His attitude about whether the earth was going to open in a great maw and eat us alive was interesting. It was sort of, "Maybe, maybe not, but we have this issue to resolve in the family so we might as well stick to business while we're waiting to see." I admired it. I also thought it was really truly totally crazy.
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He said, "So, if it's the big one, what are you gonna do about it?"
"Insane question," I said. "Move?"
"Oh yeah where? Texas? Where it's triple digits?
Funny thing, none of us has ever even mentioned moving back to Michigan, and it's a lovely place. The ones who stayed there have a don't-let-the-door-hit-you attitude toward those of us who have defected. Good thing it's a big country.