Way to go, Fresno. After all these years, some finally made a joke about you to the rest of the nation. You finally caught up with Lodi. But, I don’t recall that back in 1969, when John Fogerty wrote and recorded his lament over being stuck in Lodi, the city’s residents rioted in front of Fantasy Records and burned Creedence Clearwater Revival albums.
I was born and raised in San Francisco, and when I enlisted in the US Air Force in 1974, I was astounded to hear the abuse that was hurled at my home town. I was not so much offended by it as mystified as to how people from other parts of the country had come to view San Francisco in these terms.
A few years later, when my family was living in Marin County, we laughed over many a glass of chablis at the stereotypes of affluent self-indulgence with which one of the big three TV networks had painted us in a so-called documentary. (And, yes, my mother’s villa in Sausalito has a hot tub.)
In the early 1980s, someone published a parody of the San Francisco Chronicle, and the banner headline of the Sporting Green section announced that a future Summer Olympics had been awarded to the sleepy little chicken town of Petaluma. Eventually, the joke was on me… I now live in Petaluma. Steve Martin’s 1991 LA Story was one geographic joke after another, and having lived in several places in the LA area at various times, I enjoyed every one of the jokes. I was once told that in 1906, as San Francisco was burning and residents were being evacuated on ferries, the saying went around, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may be in Oakland.”
So what gives with Fresno’s raising a stink? Well, it’s become popular to piss and moan over just about anything one can imagine. It’s become a federal case to look cross-eyed at somebody. Being offended by the least off-color remark is a cheap ticket to one’s fifteen minutes of fame. This touchy-feely, overly-sensitive culture threatens to reduce America to a whimpering mass of protoplasm. Take a page from my New Jersey cousins: “I got ya sensitivity right here!”
Can you imagine if in 1969 Lodi had complained to Senator Alan Cranston about Creedence Clearwater? If he had been polite about it, he might have pointed out, “You may have heard that there’s a war on, and that it’s not going particularly well, so with so much American blood being spilled over, and treasure being spent on, this debacle, someone slamming your fair city is not high on my list of priorities.”
In contrast, one cannot choose but wonder that Toyota’s little dig at Fresno rose straight to the top of Senator Feinstein’s priorities, even though there’s a war on, it’s not going particularly well, et cetera. Funny thing, when I spoke about pandering politicians during a panel discussion in Fresno just as this story was breaking, I had Senator Feinstein very much in mind. I was speaking on another issue, and I hadn’t heard yet that she had weighed in on the Prius controversy and had sent Toyota a nastygram. In so doing, she has given this already ridiculous flap an extended life.
One day she votes to confirm a US attorney general who isn’t clear on whether waterboarding is torture, and the next day the Senator is very clear on the question of Toyota torturing Fresno. How sensitive of her. Of course, like me, she’s one of those touchy-feely San Franciscans, and that’s lucky for me, otherwise she might have her new attorney general waterboard me for the things I write about her.
Actually, I’d rather be waterboarded than be forced to watch most TV ads, so I’m not at all sorry to have missed this “offensive” Toyota ad. In any case, anyone at all familiar with California geography understands how goofy the Prius commercial was, and that no one would stop in Fresno because they were low on gasoline. They’d stop in Santa Nella or Buttonwillow, perhaps, but never in Fresno. We’re all driving on Interstate 5.
So, come on, Fresno. San Francisco takes it, Los Angeles takes, even Petaluma and Lodi take it, and you can, too. Congratulations, and welcome to the big time. Now, suck it up and start acting like it.
Meanwhile, you Toyota executives might want to read up on bushido, so that next time you find yourselves in a jam, you don’t wimp out like round-eyes. You’ve learned too well from us.
And Senator Feinstein, stay the course. It’s good material for me. Operation Fresno Freedom. Mission accomplished.
Thomas Gangale is an aerospace engineer and a former Air Force officer. He is currently the executive director at OPS-Alaska, a think tank based in Petaluma, where he manages projects in political science and international relations. He is the author of From the Primaries to the Polls: How to Repair America’s Broken Presidential Nomination Process, published by Praeger.