The beauty of and danger to California’s Highway One

Over a decade ago, we planned a vacation that involved driving Highway One from San Francisco down the California coast. I had visited California several times before but had never driven this famous road. While our drive was relatively quick as we spent more time in urban centers, we enjoyed the scenery and the contrast of the roadway to typical straight Midwest roads.

With the recent washout in Big Sur, the need for constant reconstruction – and why – is interesting:

Highway 1 is a California spectacle, a Depression-era monument to the state’s quixotic ambitions and stunning beauty. It runs from the Orange County surf haven of Dana Point in the south into cannabis-cultivating Mendocino County, carrying heavy traffic over the Golden Gate Bridge and under the bluffs of Santa Monica, where it is better known as the Pacific Coast Highway, on its 650-mile route…

The engineering folly of a road built on sheer cliffs has meant that closures are annual events — the “whens,” not “ifs” — for the people and the economy it supports.

But the wild card now is the increasing frequency of wildfire along a roughly 100-mile stretch from William Randolph Hearst’s hilltop castle at San Simeon to Carmel, which is stripping fragile hillsides of stabilizing vegetation and causing more slides and more serious washouts across a region known broadly as Big Sur…

An even larger stretch of Highway 1 reopened in 2018 after a 14-month closure at Mud Creek about 20 miles south of here. The road was buried — not washed away, as in Rat Creek’s case — when the rocky ground above it gave way in hard rains.

This is one of the few times in my life where the road itself was a destination – and it was worth it. Keeping this corridor open is important even as it is a difficult stretch to maintain.

Does buying a vacation home in Mauritius really expose your kids to other cultures?

I just saw the end of a House Hunters International episode on HGTV and heard a justification for buying in a more tropical location that is often used on the show: it is good to expose kids to other cultures. On one hand, there may be some truth to this: the kids may indeed meet people very different from themselves as well as see other social and cultural practices. This exposure might be more significant if the family is living in the the new location full-time, as was the case in this episode as the father had a new job, versus flying to the location a few times a year for vacation.

However, there are some factors that are working against this significant exposure:

1. The family typically buys in a Western-style housing complex. This suggests they may be living more near other internationals or at least near more people with money.

2. The families typically are people of means, those who can afford to purchase a second home or have the kind of jobs that transfer them to foreign locales. This status would particularly stand out in developing countries.

3. At least on the show (which is not a good depiction of reality), the families are not typically shown doing “normal” things in the new society in which they live. No trips to the grocery store or market, hanging out in local eating establishments, or participating in social life with people who look different than themselves. Instead, we typically see shots of them on the beach or at the pool or enjoying their home.

In the end, I’m skeptical about the level of exposure to other cultures. This sounds like wealthier Westerners wanting some diversity on their terms and social standing.

Defining the middle class

A Yahoo! article lays out six markers of being middle class, according to an unnamed government task force. As the article suggests, middle class is a nebulous term in America:

People earning 20% of the average income and people earning 80% all claim to be part of the middle class. More than a few millionaires make the claim too.

Here are the six markers according to the task force: home ownership, automobile ownership, providing a college education for children, having retirement security, having health care coverage, and being able to take family vacations.

Looking at this list, I’m struck by three thoughts:

1. It seems quite American with its emphasis on owning a home, owning a car, and being able to take vacations.

2. This sounds like a life that has to be, or at least typically is, lived in the suburbs.

3. This would take quite a bit of money. Particularly with the point on providing for college, the middle class lifestyle is going to take a decent amount of income. Would the US median household income of $52,029 (2008 estimates from the American Community Survey) cover this? I’m guessing it would be difficult and it means most families would have to have two good incomes. Critical to all of this (and it was not mentioned) is to have a fairly high-paying career.