On the coast, blue-chip universities like Cal Tech, Berkeley, Stanford and UCLA in pastoral landscapes train the world's doctors, lawyers, engineers and businesspeople. In the hot interior of blue-collar Sacramento, Turlock, Fresno and Bakersfield, well over half the incoming freshman in the California State University system must take remedial math and science classes.
In postmodern Palo Alto or Santa Monica, a small cottage costs more than $1 million. Two hours away, in premodern and now-bankrupt Stockton, a bungalow the same size goes for less than $100,000.
In the interior, unemployment in many areas peaks at over 15 percent. The theft of copper wire is reaching epidemic proportions. Thousands of the shrinking middle class flee the interior for the coast or nearby no-income-tax states. To fathom the state's nearly unbelievable statistics -- as the state population grew by 10 million from the mid-1980s to 2005, its number of Medicaid recipients increased by 7 million during that period; one-third of the nation's welfare recipients now reside in California -- visit the state's hinterlands.
But in the Never-Never Land of Apple, Facebook, Google, Hollywood and the wine country, millions live in an idyllic paradise. Coastal Californians can afford to worry about the state's trivia -- as their legislators seek to outlaw foie gras, shut down irrigation projects to save the 3-inch delta smelt, and allow children to have legally recognized multiple parents.
But in the less feel-good interior, crippling regulations curb timber, gas and oil, and farm production. For the most part, the rules are mandated by coastal utopians who have little idea where the gas for their imported cars comes from, or how the redwood is cut for their decks, or who grows the ingredients for their Mediterranean lunches of arugula, olive oil and pasta.
On the coast, it's politically incorrect to talk of illegal immigration. In the interior, residents see first-hand the bankrupting effects on schools, courts and health care when millions arrive illegally without English-language fluency or a high school diploma -- and send back billions of dollars in remittances to Mexico and other Latin American countries.
The drive from Fresno to Palo Alto takes three hours, but you might as well be rocketing from Earth to the moon.