Recently I had reason to drive down to California. L.A., to be specific. Slightly over an hour after leaving Las Vegas, one passes the final set of casinos and crosses the state line into California. There is a sign saying “Welcome to California” which puzzled me for a few minutes — several pieces of the state seemed to be missing and I was wondering if this was intended to portray the state as it might look after The Big One. But no, I realized, the missing pieces were actually part of the silhouette of the bear. This being the Bear Republic.
This is almost immediately followed by a sign that says “seat belt law strictly enforced.” Okay, fair warning. In Nevada we have a campaign that says “click it or ticket” with the picture of a seat belt. Not quite as authoritarian, perhaps a little catchier, but we all get the point.
“Don’t litter. $250 fine” came next. That was soon followed by “fines doubled in construction zones.” I was beginning to feel somewhat less welcome as I continued on down the road.
The next sign was of a man and his dogs. It said “Pets are people, too. Don’t abandon them in the desert. $500 fine.” Well, really, is this a problem with the people of California? Do they routinely take the animals out to the desert and dump them? I grew up in Southern California and I never heard of such a thing. Perhaps it’s a new generation — a whole different mentality, like, “What do you want to do this weekend, sweetheart?” “Oh, I dunno. It’s too hot to do much of anything.” “I have an idea, why don’t we drive Fluffy out to the Mojave desert and dump her out of the car?” “Oh, hey, we could do that. We’ve had her for six years now — it’s time for something else.” “Yeah, like maybe an iguana. Or hey, how about a Komodo Dragon?” “Don’t those get awfully big?” “Well, yeah, but we could take it out to the desert in a couple of years and turn it loose.” Really? I don’t believe it. The whole idea is inconceivable, but there must have been enough concern about this to get a law passed through the legislature. I’m beginning to wonder about some of those people. Not just the ones living in California — but their legislators, too. Maybe it’s something in the water.
Then comes the sign that says “Use a plastic straw, go to jail!” Okay, I made that up — the sign, I mean. But the law is real. You can get up to five years in prison for using or giving someone a plastic straw. You’d get less if you just gave them a gun. I had some reason to be concerned about this because I stopped at McDonald’s for an iced coffee and after I got back on the road, opened the bag and realized I had a (gasp!) plastic straw! After that, I kept a sharp eye out for the police, but saw nary a one. I was going to plead innocence and explain that the coffee and straw actually belong to my teddy bear who was riding shotgun. I was most relieved when I crossed back into Nevada two days later.
But wait, there’s more! Yes. There is a plethora of “Road construction next four miles” and “Slow, men working” signs. (And here I will lift a line from Rita Rudner’s routine. She noted that women work all the time and nobody notices, but when men work, they put up signs to tell the world.) Now the trouble with these signs is that there is almost never any evidence of construction, never anyone working. Occasionally there will be a couple of orange cones lying by the side of the road, flattened or shredded. But only twice in 600 miles did I see any actual machinery or men working. I have a theory. I think that one day in a warehouse somewhere, one of the workers said, “Hey, what’s this pallet of “road construction” signs here for? “Hell, I dunno. Been there for ages.” “Can’t we just dump them? They’re taking up space and we never use them.” “Naw, they were sent from the feds. There’d be the devil to pay if we dumped ’em.” “Well can’t we do something with ’em?” “Sure. Take them out to the interstate and pound ’em in. Nobody will even notice.”
And so there you have it. Signs — lots of them — welcoming you to California, warning you what’s going to happen if you don’t toe the line. I’ll tell you, I was never so happy to get back to the great state of Nevada and see that “Welcome to California” sign in my rear view mirror!
Sin City never looked so beautiful!