By PETE GOLIS
I drove through San Francisco last week and saw absolutely no one in a state of undress. It may be that folks otherwise tempted to disrobe anticipated the next day’s headline in The Press Democrat.
“Bare majority for nudity ban,” it said. (At times like this, newspaper editors can’t help themselves.)
The story recounted how a San Francisco supervisor named Scott Wiener convinced his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to support an ordinance banning public nudity.
The 6-5 vote responded to what the New York Times described as the city’s “habitual nudists.”
The Times, which reports only the most important news, explained: “The vote means that there will be no more lounging nude in the city’s plazas, parading up and down city streets sans pants, or riding subways and buses bare-bottomed.”
Somewhere in New Jersey, a Little Old Lady is imagining a city of naked people here, there and everywhere.
During the (very) public hearing, the Times reported, one dissident removed his clothes and shouted, “Recall Wiener! Wiener is a Republican!”
This story, of course, arrives ready-made for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and for almost anyone eager to believe that people in California are different from the residents of other states. This means almost anyone living east of Lake Tahoe.
To be honest, it’s difficult to argue that we aren’t different in this case. I’m guessing folks in Pascagoula, Miss., or Topeka, Kan., won’t be debating anytime soon whether nudity is protected by the First Amendment.
But, in California, we’re happy to oblige. We pass measures to outlaw traffic roundabouts. (Good morning, Cotati.) We debate ordinances to ban public WiFi. (Hello, Sebastopol.) We create nuclear-free zones. (Ditto.) We argue over prohibitions again chain outlets. (Hello, Sonoma.)
In this state, it turns out, we’re always happy to debate issues that matter to someone.
And even if we occasionally wander into the weeds, I would argue our unconventional politics is something to be proud of. Let people in other states be afraid of new ideas.
I like it that we’re tolerant of people’s differences. I like it that we’re disinclined to condemn anyone who doesn’t think or act the same as we do. I like it that people feel welcome to explore alternative lifestyles.
Usually for the better, California sets the standard for other states to follow. Social change starts here, and so do important breaks with convention that later become conventional wisdom.
Consider just one example, among many: In every state in the union, the air is cleaner today because this state insisted on limiting emissions from internal combustion engines.
By the way, there is a serious case to be made that innovation and creativity are more likely to occur in California because people aren’t mired in convention.
It’s not an accident that Apple is a California company. Its founder, Steve Jobs, grew up in the Bay Area, not Alabama. This self-described hippie and iconoclast loved computer technology, counter-culture music and Japanese design. Put them altogether, and you get the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad and all the rest.
Yes, there’s a price to be paid for our quirkiness.
When you meet them for the first time, Midwesterners or Easterners may ask where you’ve stowed your surfboard, or your marijuana. (The Atlantic Wire reported this week that California drivers are twice as likely to be high as to be drunk.)
It isn’t always easy being a Californian — surfing, smoking dope, running around naked and building the ninth largest economy on earth. All in the same day.
But we manage.
I have friends (who will go unnamed) who are forever complaining about the weirdness of California and of Sonoma County. If only California were more like such-and-such a state, they say, usually referring to somewhere the rest of us would consider boring.
It is a free country and my friends could move to their favorite boring place if they wanted to move, but somehow they remain Californians. Funny how that works.
We’re glad to have them, of course — so long as they keep their clothes on.
Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.