There’s a law on the east coast that I never really appreciated or even consciously recognized until I moved out west. It’s an unspoken rule, a kind of social contract that everyone enters into “Thou shall mind thy own damn business.”
On the east coast we walk with our gaze fixed ahead of us, hands in pockets, with an “I’m on a mission” attitude that says without words “I got places to go and people to see. Don’t slow me down.” Don’t get me wrong, people are often friendly. We yield the right of way on the streets giving the mandatory wave; we smile at adorable babies and we nod empathetically at overwhelmed moms. But we don’t often offer our two cents. That’s not the case in California.
I first noticed it on the roads. And before you ask, I am a good driver with a clean license. I learned to drive in New York so I have no trouble asserting myself behind the wheel. But in California I found myself with an endless supply of backseat drivers, and they weren’t in my car. They were in the cars around me. Dozens of them. Pointing angrily at my front tires if they inched into the crosswalk. Waving disapprovingly if I answered my cell phone (and this before the cell ban law was passed.) And all too often flipping me the bird for whatever supposed infraction I’d committed.
Fourteen years in Philadelphia and I only recall being flipped the bird once. Yet in Cali, I’ve been told to “read between the lines” by a least a dozen civilian officers. Maybe living outside the city people feel they can “express themselves” without fear of being shot?
Where are the laid-back, bohemian, surfer, hippie types? They aren’t in the supermarkets either. Today in the P&W (not your warm and fuzzy Piggly Wiggly) with my three kids in tow, I got another dose of unsolicited advise. The market was empty, so I told the kids they could explore as long as they kept track of where I was. They ran off giggling and didn’t get down one aisle before an employee admonished them to “Stop running!” Ok, that was wise; I agreed. Not five minutes later, my little one ran up to plea for Twix yogurt, when a well-coiffed, silver-haired, schoolmarm asked me in semi-horror, “Are those your children?”
“Yes, they are. Is there a problem?” I asked.
“Well they are climbing the boxes in the detergent aisle!” she explained, lips pursed.
“I will take care of that,” I said. “Thank you for telling me.”
I turned to walk away, thinking that would suffice but it didn’t.
“You would think you could maintain some degree of control,” she went on.
I was rather floored. “Didn’t I just say I would take care of?” I replied.
“I would hope so,” she said.
That was it. I’d had had it. My default position is to be polite but when strangers stick their nose in my business –especially as it relates to my children, it just presses my buttons.
“Thanks for the input Grandma,” I sneered and walked off to gather my kids, who were enjoying an innocent game of hide and seek among the toilet paper packages.
Despite their laid back, sunny reputations, not all Californians model the “live and let live” lifestyle. In fact, I’m thinking the whole Silicon Valley could use a nice heaping portion of good ole East Coast “Mind Your Own Damn Business!”