Don't Let Them Turn Out the Lights

It's time for consumers to take back California

Last week, as I stood in the rain in front of a South of Market barroom awaiting a man called "Pud," I perceived the end of all that is good: of the idea of California, of America, of all hope for redemption in this modern world.

Pud runs a New York Web site called, dedicated to ridiculing failed Internet firms, mostly Californian. Pud, whose real name is Philip Kaplan, announced to his thousands of cultish followers earlier this month that he would be visiting the bar, so fans crammed inside until there was no room. Fifty more stood in the rain waiting an hour for their turn to see Pud.

To me this scene -- once-proud Californians braving cold rain to touch the sleeve of a man devoted to mocking them -- served as a perfect metaphor for how far we have fallen during the last couple months. Our amazing Internet industry has gone down the tubes. Our electricity system has fallen apart. We're the sixth-largest economy in the world, America's promised land, and we're a laughingstock. Monday's newspapers, which quoted our president and vice president gleefully telling Californians to shove it up our collective rear, seemed to confirm this.

"Can't California just go into the Pacific now?" said one of more than 350 FuckedCompany readers who posted comments about Pud's California visit. "All this whining and complaining that there's no juice to run the Jacuzzis and there's no way to heat up Hot Pockets in the microwave -- shut up, you causers-of-your-own misery!"

California's loss of face is tragic for all Americans. The rest of the country revels in our pain, but they know not what they do. The idea of California -- of limitless possibilities, of endless self-invention -- is the idea of all America. When New Jersey yokels sneer at us, they mock the possibility that their lives will ever be more than New Jersey lives. For them, for their children, we must redeem ourselves from this humiliation.

As redemption often arrives in unexpected forms, Californians must look to outsiders' most bitter complaints as we fashion our coming renaissance. If they say we are flaky materialists, then we must embrace and enrich our materialistic side. If they say we're trend-mongers, then we must aggressively court new ideas. If they say we're sanctimonious and arrogant, then we must rise and show them -- all of them living in that fetid sea outside California -- who their masters really are. To do this, we're going to need electricity -- lots of it.

To save our electricity system, our economy, and our dignity, California must tap into its most loathed, feared, and cherished primal life force: consumerism. If nothing else, California's energy crisis has shown that Gray Davis, the utilities, and the state bureaucracy have wound themselves so tightly together that they share the same sinews. It is inconceivable that this beast will propose a solution that is equitable for most citizens. If we are to prevail, the people of California must act in a way that gives them real power: in masses, as consumers. We must stake our own claim, then defend it, just as California pioneers always have.

Sadly, in the debate surrounding California's energy crisis, both sides seek to silence our inner consumer.

The 1996 "deregulation" scheme lobbied into place by PG&E and SoCal Edison positively prohibited true consumer choice. Indeed, one of the energy crisis' most humiliating moments came last week, when the last of the environmentally friendly "green" utility companies that were supposed to have represented "competition" under the new, market-oriented scheme quit the game.

"Due to the recent instability of the California electricity market, we are not offering Green Mountain Energy to California residents at this time," according to a note on the company's Web site. "We believe it is in your best interest to stay with your current electric service provider and do what you can to conserve energy."

The socialize-everything lefties among us, meanwhile, appear on talk shows demanding that the power grid be nationalized, or state-ized, as the case may be. Back-of-the-napkin calculations suggest such a measure would cost $50 billion just to buy plants now in existence. More billions would be required to buy generating potential now in the works, and still more would be required to battle years of "takings" lawsuits, which would, as sure as electricity turns night into day, enrich the out-of-state utilities that have made us buffoons. Presumably we'd obtain the necessary funds by decimating California's general fund, its bond rating, or both. All so we don't have to bother with having to choose. Choice is a burden, they say -- just look at the airlines, with their crazy fares, and the telephone companies, pestering us all the time. People don't really like consumer choice. They just say they do.

I might have believed these people had I not happened to find myself last week inside the cavernous interior of Costco. I don't go there often, and was therefore unprepared for the rush of consumerist energy that filled my chest. Witless, I bought 15 pounds of farm-raised trout, eight pounds of fresh pork loin and an extra-large bottle of Baileys Irish Cream. The millions of pieces of Costco merchandise produced a muted, euphoric version of Tourette's syndrome, which I shared with around 5,000 nameless kin.

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