Wise words on gas caps and the future of California

Wise words on gas caps and the future of California

Sometimes you have to track down the wise man to fully understand what’s going on, whether the issue is filling a car with gasoline or unraveling the mystery of an economy in chaos. Two days brought two versions of this lesson at the end of a trip to California.

Driving a rental car nearing the end of its tank, I pulled into a filling station. Like most in this state, it was entirely self-service, which was fine until I discovered I could not open the gas cap. It was locked on the outside, which implied there must be a button or latch near the driver’s side door or in the glove compartment.

I found myself with doors open, prowling the floorboards and probing under the seat. No latch. The patience of the other motorists was soon exhausted. The only attendant was locked in a glass cubicle, hardly of any help as he robotically dealt with others.

Humiliated, I packed up and drove down the side road, looking for someone who might understand the mechanics of post-modern gas caps. At a small market the proprietor informed me help might be three or four miles onward, under the bridge and across the canal where there was actually a gas station with a mechanic.

Onward journeyed the hapless traveler and I found the new gas station. Indeed it had a mechanic’s stall – but no mechanic. Another robot manned another glass sales cocoon. He informed me the mechanic would soon return. Please wait. I did.

Finally, my savior emerged. He too looked along the doors for a latch. Then he circled the car. At last, he approached the culprit gas cap. He pushed it gently with his thumb. As it popped open, “There you go,” he said. I was 45 minutes delayed. I felt rather stupid. But I was overjoyed. 
I pushed on the next day to this coastal town to see Jim Hayes, a former professor, former writing coach of the Los Angeles Times and long my principal advisor on most things. It was at the waterfront after breakfast at Lola’s when I finally got around to the subject on everyone’s mind here: the future of the “Golden State,” facing the highest unemployment in the land, businesses fleeing to other states and un-payable public debts that rival those of Greece.

Jim talked of the business cycles he has seen before. He noted the strengths in California’s economy that many ignore, including a vibrant agricultural sector. But then he offered the primary reason for his optimism, the coming generation of young Californians.

“There’s a generation now coming of age that has the solutions for the age,” he said. Most young people in their 20s now speak at least one foreign language, unheard of in the past. There is rising awareness of the state of the world, of global politics, Jim told me. The young, finishing university today, don’t rush to work but often travel the world for a year or two developing insights scarce in previous generations. There is growing tolerance of difference, growing appreciation of diversity, he said.

“In the past, young people often had their sights on ‘more,’” Jim told me. “Today, the operative goal of young people is just to have ‘enough.’”

Wise words to a traveler, one confused both about the future of his homeland and just how to fill a new car with gasoline.