LAS VEGAS — It’s dead inside Favorites bar this afternoon, where the propped-open door spills a bit of light onto the ancient Elvis pinball machine and the grumpy man puffing on a cigarette in front of the video poker machine.
There’s no food here, unless you count the vending machine against the green wall. Owner Ray Medrano had to make a choice: Close the kitchen or ban smoking in the joint altogether. His customers love their smokes more than their food, so the kitchen lost.
For Medrano, there’s only one despicable group of people to blame for Nevada passing a smoking ban that eliminates smoking in restaurants and bars that also serve food: Californians.
“California has a negative influence on our society,” he said, glancing around as cigarette smoke fills the stuffy place. “They should keep their world in their world.”
It’s a popular refrain from many in the West. When Californians move in, it’s always their fault when things change. They infect the rest of the region with their politics and questionable driving, and make housing prices soar.
Alive and well
Sure, it’s been 30 years since Oregonians first slapped “Don’t Californicate Oregon” bumper stickers on their cars, but, like the song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Californication” is still alive and well.
“I think it’s just such a common desire to say things were really calm and great here and then these people came in,” said Patty Limerick, history professor and faculty director of the University of Colorado’s Center of the American West.
Since 1991, the number of Californians moving out topped the number of people moving in to the state. And where do they go? The top five states Californians moved to between 2000 and 2005 were Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Washington and Oregon, according to William Frey, population expert for the Brookings Institution.
For many Californians, they want what eludes them in their state — open space, clean air and not so much traffic. So they sell their houses for a chunk of change, move somewhere else in the West, buy a bigger house and start driving up the housing prices, much to the dismay of locals.
Sherrie Watson has lived in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, since she was 16 and is quite fed up with Californians.
“They complain how cold it is. And they just moved here because it is cheaper and to ’get away,’ but then they keep saying things like, ‘We did it in California this way, so why don’t you change?’ ”
“They came here because they liked it the way it was when they visited, but then they want to change it. I don’t get it,” she said.
Picking on Californians has almost become a sport, with people trying to come up with the catchiest slogans or blogging about how annoying Golden Staters are.
Montanan Tom Heatherington runs a Web site called www.montana-sucks.com that sells T-shirts and bumper stickers that say: “Montana sucks. Now go home and tell all your friends.”
The products aren’t specifically aimed at Californians, but, let’s just say the point is taken.
“Most people just have this state of mind about Californians being, how shall I say it — different — than everybody else,” Heatherington said politely.
Shirley Vanderstelt, 34, is an ex-Californian who moved to Bozeman, Mont., four years ago. Mostly, she has felt welcome, but “there is definitely an underlying feeling of dislike for most Californians.
“I generally tell people where I grew up, then immediately follow that with ‘I’m not one of THOSE Californians’ because it usually starts with rolling of the eyes, a sigh and shaking of the head.”
When John Wilker and his wife moved from Riverside, Calif., to Highlands Ranch, Colo., in 2005, they were told to change their license plates quickly or they would be run off the road.
Very real tensions
Maybe, but that resentment and clash of cultures are very real.
For many Westerners, California is seen as a state of excess and an example of how things shouldn’t be done. (These also are the people who elected a movie star as their governor.)
Combine that with the frontier West, where residents aren’t so interested in a lot of government control over how they behave, and therein lies the problem.
Yes, Californians drive up housing costs, and some can even be blamed for falling prices because of the many investors who snapped up cheap houses, then wanted to sell, creating too much inventory in cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix. Many believe those cities are becoming suburbs of Los Angeles.
“Home prices go up and we all blame Californians,” said Jay Butler, director of Realty Studies at Arizona State University Polytechnic. “They are sort of like the West Coast version of the New Yorkers. They have the attitude.”
But what about politics? Are Californians starting to turn the West more blue?
“I think the Democratic Party is counting on it,” said Frey, the population expert. “If they shifted just a little bit in the last election, (they) could have elected a Democratic president.”
Colorado has gone from red to blue in the last four years, something ex-Californians may have had a hand in, said independent pollster Floyd Ciruli. But really the change just indicates what is happening in the rest of the country, he said.
Now, about that smoking ban. Nevada, where gambling and smoking are almost one in the same, previously had one of the nation’s least restrictive smoking laws. Now there’s no smoking in restaurants, bars that serve food or around slot machines in grocery stores or gas stations.
Connie Feulner is a bartender at Jake’s Bar in Las Vegas. When customers get to talking about the smoking ban that passed last November, she keeps mum. Don’t tell the customers, but she used to live in California.
“Damn Californians,” she said, repeating a familiar complaint. “All their fault, all the time.”
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